Thursday, 2 December 2010

Taking on the Roundheads

First printed in the Bath Chronicle on November 26

It has certainly been an interesting week for royal watchers both nationally and locally.

Within the space of just 48 hours last week we saw the wedding announcement of Prince William and Kate Middleton and then we enjoyed having The Duchess of Cornwall switching on our Christmas lights and charming many who had the pleasure to meet her.

It all meant that from Twerton to Twickenham and from Widcombe to Wycombe people could once again join in the old Monty Python-style debate “so what have the royals ever done for us?”

I nailed my royal colours to the mast in a column here a while back when I admitted that after being a punk rock inspired ‘non-believer’ in the 1970s as I got older and saw the royals in action first hand I started to realise the special appeal they had, and the amazing way their presence lifted people. I have been lucky enough to attend a number of royal functions and quite a few big political ones too and there is no doubt which group have the most impact on people. You may remember the odd word of a meeting with a major politician but I guarantee you would remember every word The Queen said to you if you met her.

I was, however, in somewhat of a minority among a group of my colleagues when I expressed my interest in the wedding last week. It led to a spirited, passionate debate but, whereas I sympathised with many comments from these latter day ‘Roundheads’, I just couldn’t find one killer point of theirs that could lead me to rejoining the ‘off with their heads’ team.

‘They cost us too much’ was a frequent argument (last I heard it was the huge sum of 67p a year for every taxpayer) and ‘they represent elitism and cause class division’ was another (but would abolishing the royals remove such distinctions or just make oil barons the new aristocracy?). I also heard on a radio phone-in someone say ‘they have lost their magic because of their failed marriages’ to which I would reply with a couple of sentences that may well include words such as pot, greenhouse, kettle, stones and black.

I think my main arguments against the naysayers is that the royals represent something which is truly unique to Britain’s appeal and, quite frankly, that our lives would be so much duller without them.

They are one of the primary reasons people travel to the UK for tourism (£500m a year was a figure I heard for the money generated by the ‘old firm’) and, when The Queen in particular travels away, the goodwill she generates is incredible. I remember watching a documentary which showed President Bush practically quaking in his boots at the thought of meeting our monarch. Would a US president be nervous at the thought of meeting messrs Cameron, Clegg or Miliband? Sorry fellas, but no chance.

Of course I do understand the reasons why I shouldn’t ‘get’ the royals. Why should a person assume the head of a country by birthright alone? It is madness. And, if we were starting a new country now such an idea would be as daft as, I don’t know, giving massive bonuses to bankers. But we are not a new country. We have 1,000 years of history behind us in which we have had a monarch and I can’t believe our modern day lives would have been enriched, made more colourful or indeed more egalitarian if we had decided to ditch that legacy in recent years and instead have elected a President Thatcher or Blair.

No, the British monarchy is not perfect but then again we are not a perfect nation either. What the royal family is, however, is something to inspire and enthuse millions of people worldwide and which is seen as a great and original asset to this country on the world stage.

Not bad for 67p.

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