Loving the Queen, Hating Politicians: Our Strained Relationship With Democracy

Loving the Queen, Hating Politicians: Our Strained Relationship With Democracy

Described as 'one of the most stable political trends in history', support for the monarchy has remained at around about the three-quarter mark amongst the British public for decades, whilst governmental approval barely manages 40% in a good month. Perhaps its a bit like family: you can't choose it so you just have to learn to love it.

Indeed, stability may well be the key to the monarchy's success: it is (ironically, given its own history and the personalities of many past monarchs) seen as the one stable constant in a modern Britain struggling to adapt to globalisation, immigration and Tinder. Prime Ministers come and go, as do those that serve under them, but Old Liz has well and truly worn a groove into the throne after 63 years of perching on it. She has helped us survive the Cold War, flared trousers, Margret Thatcher and Katie Hopkins: truly a rock in otherwise turbulent waters.

Still, even though not always in power the Labour Party has existed for more than a century, and the Tories for several, neither of which, it is fair to say, seem to command quite the same amount of adoration. Maybe it is because the Queen doesn't really do anything that we love her so: she knows not to get involved. Perhaps we want stability, as well as someone who doesn't meddle. Politics by its nature meddles, and this usually involves annoying someone. The art of modern elections seems to be making sure you are annoying the same people each time (poor people, disabled people, young people) to minimise the number of people who then hate you. If you're really crafty you'll annoy them in a way that means they end up off the electoral register or, even better, dead, meaning they can't vote for any of your rivals. So, doing stuff is a big no-no, but then not doing stuff doesn't go down too well either. Indeed, we seem to hate idleness so much these days that you cannot even claim out of work allowances without being forced to work for them, a self-defeating policy if there ever was one.

Perhaps, as well as being a source of stability and someone who is wise enough to not do stuff, we also love the monarchy because they do actually do some stuff. This seems contradictory at first, and it bloody well is but it is also British politics so get used to it. The Queen is often seen doing useful useful things, like cutting ribbons and delivering speeches on the necessity of living within our means from a gold encrusted throne. Perhaps this is why we love her? But then, don't we get a bit annoyed with politicians who go in for that sort of thing? Who trade in empty gestures and claim for mansions for their ducks and spend thousands on hobknobs but don't do anything much more useful than go to fancy dinners and dream up new ways to avoid blaming the rich?

Ah, money- that's it. The Queen brings us in bucket-loads of money (how much money can you actually get in a bucket?) so her slightly racist, extravagant and well, large family can be tolerated, even loved. It is only a minor detail that royal places barely feature in the country's top tourist destinations, and even if they did you don't need a still functioning monarchy to rake money in through their old haunts. These are unimportant details that only pedantic republicans would bother to pay attention to. We should be grateful because the Treasury gets a nice cheque from the Crown Estates every year. Rich people decided at some point in the distant past that a chunk of land was theirs, kept it well cultivated by the labour of the lower classes, and then used the proceeds to later justify continued unelected rule over said lower classes. A beautifully simple con: getting us to sell our democracy for something that should probably belong to us anyway. Thanks Liz.

Perhaps that's just it. Above all, this stable rock that nobly stays above politics except for when she gives killing people legitimacy and when she gives us money that should probably be ours anyway is simple. We understand the Queen and her bizarre entourage. Monarchy and divine right to rule and all the rest of that nonsense is old and familiar and doesn't require all that much of us. Democracy, on the other hand, is messy. Democracy is confusing. Democracy demands something more of us than we seem willing to give.

Perhaps the most fruitful line for republicans to take is in attempting to entrench Parliament into national pride in the same way that the Palace is. Kings and Queens and the game of thrones make for interesting history lessons in school, but there is plenty of intrigue, scandal and humour in the history of the Commons and the fight for democracy too. Not only can teaching children the history and the inner workings of the mother of parliaments help give them something to own and be proud of that is chosen by them too, but it can also be a chance for greater political engagement, something we desperately need.

Perhaps this shift in focus in our education can not only topple an institution that is the epitome of class privilege and inequality, but it might also empower people to give the extra that democracy demands of us. Perhaps it can be the start of a conversation around how we approach our political system and how we engage with it (and how it engages with us) that goes beyond empty platitudes or laying the blame at the very feet of those that are being let down. Perhaps we can learn to love our democracy like we currently love our monarchy. Not politicians, that will never be, but our democracy and our Parliament should conjure up a sense of pride and excitement. Perhaps it can be the start of making everyone feel like they have the power of a king.


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