A real test is looming when the current reign comes to an end
Here in Deep England the village green and the pub over the road are resplendent with Union Jack bunting — a pattern repeated in many towns and villages hereabouts. We are girding our loins for the Jubilee fete on Sunday, with climatic contingencies covered by that most British of phrases, “in village hall if wet”.
All over the country street parties and other special events are taking place. On Thursday Central London saw a special Trooping the Colour ceremony, watched from that famous Buckingham Palace balcony by the Queen and most of the royals, minus the Californian branch of the family and difficult Uncle Andrew. For that splendid display the truly dedicated monarchists were setting up their tents for the best view as early as Monday and Tuesday. Even the French sent their best wishes, via their elected King Emanuel I.
We have heard from a few self-consciously “edgy” dissenting voices. The campaign group Republic have been tweeting furiously about how monarchy is archaic, divisive, racist etc. and how instead of having a knees-up with your nearest and dearest you should spend Saturday listening to an annoying man from Twitter grumble about the Queen.
On the whole, however, the mood is celebratory. Public displays of patriotism are everywhere. The monarchy retains high levels of support, according to recent YouGov polling. 62% favoured our current system over a republic, with only 22% favouring the latter. Her Maj is overwhelmingly popular, as is Prince William. Wise dissidents in public life are reading the room and keeping their heads down. I strongly doubt that Keir Starmer, that archetypal member of the progressive establishment, would choose to attend Trooping The Colour for his own pleasure and edification. I would be surprised to hear of his proposing a loyal toast at his own dinner table. But he will go through the motions in the expected way for the great national beanfest.
But when the dust has settled, and the joy of this unique and wonderful occasion has passed, royalists might be forgiven for having a few qualms about the future. It would be melodramatic to say that the storm clouds are gathering; nevertheless, the world is changing. The new Australian Prime Minister is known to favour breaking the link with the British monarchy. Canada may follow suit.
As Britain becomes more diverse, more secular, more insistently egalitarian, and less connected to its own past, the very concept of hereditary Christian monarchy rooted in tradition and history becomes less intelligible. Support for the institution has fallen in recent years, especially among younger age groups. The magnificent coronation service, parts of which can be traced back to before the Norman Conquest, will surely seem mysterious and even troubling to many modern people. It is possible that the broad and deep popularity of Elizabeth II as an individual — rooted in her longevity and her role as the nation’s grandmother — may not translate, after she is gone, into enduring affection for the Crown as an institution, and all that it represents.
Possibly all that is too pessimistic. Perhaps there is nothing to worry about. After all, this Jubilee weekend is a huge opportunity for the reforging of national unity around a great historic occasion. Britons from all backgrounds and walks of life seem to be entering into the spirit of the thing. The naysayers are ignored and mocked. Nevertheless, it is hard to escape the impression that a real test is looming when the current reign comes to an end, when some very important decisions will be taken about what monarchy in the new Britain will look like.