PETER HITCHENS: Diana's greatest legacy is the destruction of our monarchy
We are already living in a republic. We just don’t know it yet. Diana Spencer, perhaps the most brilliant politician of our age, destroyed the British monarchy 20 years ago.
The current Queen continues to occupy the throne solely because she has been transformed by skilled public relations into the nation’s favourite grandmother. Her survival is personal, not political.
She goes through the motions of being the Sovereign, but is well aware that one false step could bring the weeping mobs out again, not weeping but snarling, and who knows how that would end?
It began in those ghastly weeks in 1997 when all pretence ended that Britain contained a ‘silent majority’ which would one day assert itself and defy the moral and cultural revolution that was eating away at our country.
Millions, to be sure, whispered to each other in private places that they were not part of the strange semi-pagan festival of fake emotion, as the crowds piled up their plastic-wrapped flowers and shed tears over a person they had never met. But they had no rallying point. They did nothing.
They were cowed by a dictatorship of grief, even if the grief was largely self-pity. When the Blair creature appropriated Diana as a saint and martyr of New Labour, nobody contradicted him. For alas, it was true. She really was the People’s Princess, if by ‘the People’ you mean the new resentful Britain of wounded feelings, which utterly rejects all the old dutiful rules of behaviour, and which also has no time for, and no understanding of, hereditary monarchy.
In that moment was born the deadly, subversive idea that the true heir to the throne, Prince Charles, should never reign, but that we should ‘skip a generation’ and hand the vacant throne (when the vacancy inevitably comes) to Diana’s son – because he is her son.
New and credible versions of this idea have been floated in two fictional dramas, House Of Cards and Charles III. The Prince himself can do nothing about this. No matter how hard he has tried to fill the gap in his sons’ lives left by the death of their mother, no matter how thoughtful he is and no matter how seriously he takes his task, the gossip never ends.
What this means is monarchy based on opinion poll, not on lawful right. And that’s the end of monarchy. Let’s speculate further into the future. Charles abdicates to please the crowds. William takes the Crown. But he who rules by permission of the polls also falls on the whim of the polls. And when those polls turn on a once-popular William, as they will, he too will be gone, and Buckingham Palace will be a museum. I wouldn’t give it that long.
Does it matter? Yes. First because, by having a non-political monarch we can respect, we are freed to be properly disrespectful towards politicians, while remaining loyal to our country. Without a monarch, loyalty can demand political submission.
Also, the British monarch is like the king on a chessboard. He cannot attack. But by occupying his square he prevents others from doing so – politicians who long for the supremacy that monarchs have, who yearn to be escorted by booted cavalry and greeted with trumpets, and who want us to respect them even when they don’t deserve it. Especially when they don’t deserve it.
It’s not an accident that most of the longest-lasting free, law-governed countries in the world are constitutional monarchies. Yet we seem keen to throw this advantage away, because we no longer know who we are or how we came to be so free and happy.
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