The King’s Speech is really bringing them out of the woodwork. Following the epic ruck about a week ago between Midlands politico Sion Simon and Colin Firth, star of the afore-mentioned film, over the latter’s public support for the Liberal Democrats (although, to be fair, most of the rucking was on Simon’s side, the Firthster having maintained a dignified silence on the matter), Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian has waded into the fray. This time the argument made is at least vaguely relevant to the film’s plot. For all those who’ve been on a mission to Mars for the past few weeks, this centres on George VI’s unexpected accession to the throne and in particular his efforts to overcome a crippling stammer. Freedland, an avowed republican and admirer of the American system of government, apparently sees the film as more evidence of the grip of the monarchy on the popular imagination as “chief vessels of our national imagination”, in particular because of their connection with “our finest hour”, the Second World War, and of the challenge facing republicans seeking to replace the Windsors.
I can’t claim to have ever been deeply inspired by the Royal Family, either the official pomp and circumstance or the tabloid-driven celeb stuff that has increasingly become part of its raison d’etre (of which The King’s Speech is essentially a higher-brow example, as Freedland points out). However, as I’ve said elsewhere I’ve never been able to work up much righteous fervour against them either. They’ve never done anything to me and I can’t see them as constituting the kind of gross offence against social morality that some people do. OK, they take a slice of my (and) our taxes, but it’s a relatively small amount and if it wasn’t wasted on the Royals, it would probably be wasted on something else no more socially valuable. Agreed, they’re laden with unjustified wealth, but then so are Philip Green and Jordan, and I’m not eaten up with resentment of them. I concede that monarchy is an undemocratic way of choosing a head of state, but in a parliamentary system you probably want to avoid a head of state with much democratic legitimacy – that would give them clout they aren’t meant to have.
To be honest, I can work up more fervour against left-ish intellectuals of the Jonathan Freedland school, or for that matter flaming right-wingers with the same profile, than I can against the Queen. After all, she doesn’t turn up in my newspaper/on television/on the internet on a regular basis lecturing me on every topic under the sun in the hope of earning money in one way or another. Big Liz just takes her money and delivers a couple of platitudinous (and eminently ignorable) speeches a year – much better for the blood pressure of all concerned. Those who oppose the monarchy, rather like fervent opponents of lots of things, are prone to state that they detest what it symbolises, in their view at any rate – social inequality, privilege and unearned wealth. I’ve never really bought arguments based on the importance of symbolism, since it rather suggests the person advancing them hasn’t got strong proof that whatever they’re arguing against is practically significant. It’s the equivalent of the dreaded phrase “It’s the principle of the thing,” and, of course, when you hear those words you know you’re dealing with the stubbornly dogmatic.