Sunday, 18 March 2012

What's in a name?

My name is Andrew Child. I’m a writer, journalist and a director of the anti-monarchy campaign group Republic. This is my blog.
You’ll have gathered from that opening  - and from the blog’s title - that this enterprise is all  about promoting the idea that the UK should become a republic. This isn’t the first blog devoted to republicanism, though there are aren’t many. I’ve created it because I wish to write about my personal experience of challenging our moribund monarchical system, and to do so in a completely transparent way. There’s an evident fear about openly criticising the monarchy and in this of all years - Diamond jubilee year - it’s important to stand up and be counted. I will not seek safety in numbers or to otherwise shelter my views. 
So let’s start with the title, The Queen is Dead. It’s a provocative title, yes (as it was for a Smiths album 25 years ago). I make no apology for that. I wish to provoke a debate in a very literal sense. Any sort of proper debate about the role of monarchy is currently being denied us by our established media and our political establishment. But to be absolutely clear: I do not wish Elizabeth Windsor dead. I wish her a long, healthy life. As I do for all my fellow citizens. I admire the instinct of people who leap to the defence of “a lovely old lady” as many of her admirers believe her to be. I think that by and large age, and the wisdom which often goes with it are qualities to be valued and respected. I only wish we had the same regard for the humble octogenarian living next door or across the road. It is quite clear to me that as a society we don’t have the same sentiment for these octogenarians, who enjoy none of the privileges that the wealth and status of being the Queen confers. 
It seems to me that Elizabeth Windsor is being both idealised and idolised. This is not rational or healthy. Indeed it is the product of a sick political system. The positive individual qualities ascribed to the Queen are what many would wish her to be. They have no basis in reality. It is not possible for the public at large to understand the Queen as an individual and therefore to try to make an informed judgement as to whether she is a nice or nasty person, in the same way as say, we might reasonably do about the prime minister of the day. In other words I believe her to be an extremely opaque and remote figure, qualities which seem entirely inappropriate for a head of state. Her public pronouncements are few and by and large scripted for her by others. They are of the blandest, most impersonal variety. The one “personal” remark people recall is the infamous reference to her “annus horribilis”. Note hers, not ours. Ultimately she fails to speak either for herself or for the nation. While she has power, I believe she is a convenient figurehead - a puppet even - for our lacklustre politicians.
So beyond provocation, what else do I want the title to convey? Much of it has been captured in what I’ve already said. While I don’t wish Elizabeth Windsor a swift demise, I wish exactly that for the institution which leads us to refer to her as Queen. The irreverent tone it conveys is also important. The Queen is not and cannot be beyond reproach and scrutiny, much as monarchists tell us that any criticism of her is beyond the pale. She has had a job to do and therefore has a record which now stretches back 60 years. Indeed her supporters keep telling us that the jubilee is all about securing her legacy. Their attempt to write this history will not go unchallenged if I and my republican colleagues have anything to do with it. 
Most importantly, however, the title conveys my desire to look in the here and now beyond the Queen - the present head of state - to the very institution of monarchy that lies at the heart of our so-called democratic system. I’m tired of being told - most of all by other people who call themselves republican - that I must wait until Elizabeth Windsor’s passing for an open debate on whether we persist with monarchy or whether there is something better. I’m impatient for change, and as I say, I’m not impatient for her demise. The notion of playing the waiting game - often delivered as much in the form of instruction (i.e shut up), rather than ill-informed analysis - entirely misses the point. It’s not ultimately about individuals for the simple reason that the monarch is determined by the hereditary principle. A simple accident of birth. This is the most corrosive, anti-aspirational principle I can think of in the UK today. Removing it , I believe, would result in nothing less than the unlocking our democracy. The principle means that our head of state can never meaningfully represent the nation, as citizens are by definition ineligible for the job. The implied lauding of the principle by supporters of monarchy serves only to calcify social division and inequality. 
I sense that monarchists are stalling for time - figuring out how to massage public opinion into at least finding charles “acceptable” if not held in great affection, and then hoping that he quickly passes on the baton to Wills and Kate. The point is that if we elected our head of state, the spectre of the meddling, muddled Charles would never arise. And even in the unlikely event that such a figure were to stand and be elected, it would be for a fixed term, after which he or she could be voted out.
All of which is really a very long preamble, because I also wanted my first post to look at the early beginnings of my republicanism and why it took 20 years or more for me to become a campaigning anti-monarchist. 
But it is all to easy to for the writer to find him or herself apologising for the necessity of that rambling first post, to plead for patience from the reader and to promise greater brevity in future. So let’s call this part 1 of 2 of my first post, and I will return to you very soon with that story dear reader. 

Twitter: @andrewjchild

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