I became a monarchist in the late afternoon of 19 November 2009; a dark and chilly day, damp brown leaves blowing balefully along the gutters, the smell in the air of a hard winter to come. This ended more than 30 years of what I considered principled soft-leftish republicanism; the notion that however practically effective and traditional the royal family might be — all those tourist dollars, plus a sense of national continuity — it was still sort of wrong. Monarchists would argue with me, saying listen, if we didn’t have the Queen, we’d have Tony Benn or Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson as an elected president — an idea which rather appealed, frankly. And I would counter by saying well, hell, I don’t mind that — but we might even have Richard Dawkins or Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali or Cheryl Cole, and how wonderful would that be?
And then, on 19 November last year, Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, was appointed High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and suddenly my whole ideology was snuffed out with an audible phffwt, the sound of a cigarette being extinguished in a cup of coffee. Because it became absolutely clear to me, on that cold and frowsy afternoon, that Baroness Ashton is exactly who we would have imposed upon us if we were ever to abolish the monarchy.
It wouldn’t be an entertaining self-publicising political maverick from the left or the right, or a famous clever person, or even someone with no sentient opinions but who you might conceivably want to shag. It would instead be a person who had moved ineluctably through agitprop bollocks to quango after quango, from CND to the, Christ help us, Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work and then on to the Employers Forum on Disability, building up the PC brownie points with every new position, never having said anything of interest to anyone, someone perfectly attuned to the requirements of the deathless civil political appointment, someone whose name was writ, badly, in water. Someone like Baroness Ashton, with a face like a bag of spanners and utterly unsuited to the task at hand, a creature — even more than the Queen — of anti-democracy.
So it was on 19 November that I finally fell in love with the royal family — and especially Prince Philip. (I ought to admit that even when I was a republican I rather liked Phil, especially when he offended foreigners. I liked him still more recently when he took the mickey out of some deaf people and made jokes about them not being able to hear anything, which is about as un-PC as it is possible to be. I’m not sure why he picked on the deaf, maybe his stock of foreigner jokes was running a bit low.)
Right now, though, the royal family are under attack on a number of fronts — largely as a consequence of our parlous financial situation, when such things as continental holidays, Waitrose and the Windsors seem to be unnecessary luxuries which we could all do without; instead go to Devon, shop at Aldi and have Baroness Ashton running the show. But also because a former member of the royal family, Sarah Ferguson, has been stung by the tabloids, caught offering something called ‘access’ to her ex-husband Prince Andrew for half a million quid, with the (empty) promise that he might be able to help industrialists in some way or another through the consequence of some utterly meaningless honorific appointment he holds.
Now, if I had any capital, I would pay quite a lot of it to avoid ever having to meet Prince Andrew, regardless of my recent conversion to the Crown. Andrew reminds me too much of my ex-wife’s meaty and narrow-eyed brother for comfort, a man I never truly took to, if I’m honest. So far as I can see, the only person to profit from this exchange was a non-royal, Sarah Ferguson (apart from the News of the World, which also profited indirectly). There is no evidence that anyone other than tabloid journalists have ever expressed even the vaguest wish to be introduced to Andrew, nor that Andrew could do them the remotest good even if they were so introduced. This is flammery, a non-story; embarrassing for Ferguson, if she is remotely embarrassable, but not for the institution of the monarchy.
And indeed this is where the monarchy has its strength; its weird, shuffling, decrepit homosexual minions always said, sotto voce, that Sarah Ferguson was unspeakably ghastly and vulgar and not really ‘one of us’. So it has been proved, beyond all reasonable doubt. And you might argue that the same whispers were true, much earlier, about the Princess of Wales, regardless of how appalling and tragic her end might have been. In a sense this is the strength of the monarchy — the ability to cut the most awful oiks dead with a whispered aside, even those who opportunistically marry into ‘the firm’. Imagine if Catherine Ashton had been implicated in a similar scandal; there would be endless inquiries, paid for by you and me, an eventual sacking, most likely, and the immediate payment of redundancy money, and then the Baroness re-emerging as the boss of the RSPCA, or chairperson of the Press Complaints Commission. With Fergie, nothing — just the faint but lingering smell of ordure. Of the two kinds of non-democracy, I know which one I prefer. The one which offers no pretence to the world that it is anything other than an absurd elitist institution, well beyond the remit of ordinary mortals. Inheritance over purblind political patronage.
The royals have also copped it recently because they have been away on holiday — apparently for ages and ages. Amanda Platell, over at Dacre Towers — that repository of firm moral sense for the nation — has been having a pop at Harry or Wills, I forget which one, for having spent too much time on vacation when the rest of the country — Platell excepted — has been mired in the most appalling poverty and unable even to conceive of taking a break. This seems to me emblematic of the times; first the politicians, then the bankers, then the BBC and now the royals, all hung up for a ritual vilification. It is about time we smug and pious journos got it in the neck too, then. But we think we should be immune. I wonder what the public thinks?