When I was about thirteen or fourteen, I went on a school trip to parliament. I don't remember much of the trip, other than being phenomenally bored by the tour and the dreary accounts of various bills passed by the Commons (I have since been on many more interesting tours of parliament), but one thing that did leave a sharp memory was when our tour group bumped into Dennis Skinner as the trip was coming to a close. The so-called 'Beast of Bolsover' went on a characteristically persuasive and enjoyable rant against the Royal Family, hitting on all of the lefty talking-points. At the time, I was completely convinced. Why should this family be given millions of pounds of public money just to sit on their behinds and occasionally open railways and cheese-factories?
For a long-time, it has been quite trendy on the left to oppose the monarchy. Supposedly, the Queen is an unelected relic of a bygone era, and the whole idea of a royal family should have been flushed down the drain along with the blood from Charles I's severed head. Jeremy Corbyn's reluctance to sing the national anthem was met with praise and nodding agreement from his supporters. But here's the problem: in spite of being unelected (or perhaps because of it), the Queen is incredibly popular. A poll by YouGov in 2015 found that while 68% of people believe that the Queen is good for Britain, fewer than 10% believe she should be given the boot. Even the most popular politicians' ratings pale in comparison to her majesty, and even though Jeremy Corbyn's personal ratings have just overtaken David Cameron's, his net approval rate of -22 is still rotten compared to the Queen's +59.
There are very few certainties in politics, but if there were a referendum on whether Britain should become a Republic, we can be pretty certain as to what the result would be. People don't just like the monarchy, they love it. If you think that the audiences Jeremy Corbyn was attracting during the Labour leadership contest were big, you should sit down before you hear how many people watched the Royal Wedding: it was a staggering 24 million. George Orwell had another interesting idea about the purpose of the monarchy: "[The King] has, or can have, the function of acting as an escape-valve for dangerous emotions ... modern people can't get along without drums, flags and loyalty parades, and it is better that they should tie their leader-worship on to some figure who has no real power. In a dictatorship the power and the glory belong to the same person."
Sometimes you will hear that the Royal Family are no better, or in fact worse, than a benefits cheat. They are, it is claimed, a leech on the public finances that receive fantastic amounts of money for very little work. In an immediate sense this is wrong, as the Royal Family actually do rather a lot of charity work, as well as being under 24/7 scrutiny by the media and the gossip pages. But even ignoring that, the Royal family put in far, far more to the treasury's coffers than they take out of it, even when not accounting for added revenue from tourism.
As the Queen gives her speech today, she will come under a lot of flak from Momentum and the Labour left. One problem with the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is a perceived lack of patriotism. We might not like to admit it, but Cameron hit on something in PMQs when he criticised Corbyn for not singing the National Anthem. So often in politics, something that appears completely trivial, especially to the left-wing twitterverse, is much more important to ordinary people than politicos realise. The Royal Family is one of these things. This is why Jeremy Corbyn needs to pick his battles: focus on opposing austerity, not royalty. Then maybe we can give the Tories, not the Queen, the boot in 2020.Suggest a correction