This is a preview of the leading article in the new Spectator, out tomorrow:
It would be easy to look at the alluring photographs of Prince Felipe of Spain and his young family stretched over their garden sofa and wonder whether the United Kingdom should join the current fad for abdication among European royals. In stepping aside in favour of his son, Juan Carlos joins Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands and Albert II of Belgium in having given up the throne over the past year, while Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope in 600 years to resign his post.
With a little nudge from her advisers in grey suits might our own Queen bow out to a graceful retirement and make way for her son, or better still her grandson, and the monarchy become the living embodiment of what Tony Blair used to like to call when he was still in his early 40s a ‘young country’?
It is something strongly to be resisted. For all the skill of Prince Felipe’s PR agents and photographers, the best advert for monarchy this week is the sight of Elizabeth II doing as she has done countless times during her long reign: making the short journey from Buckingham Palace to the House of Lords to speak at the state opening of Parliament. Here, in one dignified octogenarian and the sense of duty which she exudes, is encapsulated the advantage of monarchy over republic.
Anyone tempted to giggle at the pageantry misses the point. The country has been led by 12 prime ministers since the Queen began her annual or mostly annual visit to Westminster. The Commons has been cleared-out by 15 general elections, many of them angry and divisive affairs. Yet the head of state to whom has fallen the duty of reading out forthcoming government bills, has remained constant throughout.