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Inside Out
BOOKS: Joseph Stiglitz's discontent.
 
Love the Windsors? Why don't we swap?
 

 
June 7, 2002
God Save Us From the Queen

The Queen in all her glory.
If you can imagine being force-fed a whole box of mint chocolate creams, you can catch a whiff of the intoxicating atmosphere that is England today,” wrote Christopher Hitchens at the happy dawn of the Charles and Di fairy tale two decades ago. He could just as well have been writing about the present day, for June has been designated Jubilee month. With the promise of a public holiday and “street parties,” British citizens—sorry, subjects—are being invited to step out and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s accession to the throne.

I happened to be back in the U.K. in March when news came of the death of Her Majesty the Queen Mother (HMQM), and things weren’t much better. To be there was to appreciate what it must be like in a banana republic during one of those enforced periods of public mourning. Radio bulletins rushed to assure us that “Charles and the boys” had cut short their skiing trip to be with us at this difficult time. In fact, they would even be breaking with protocol by flying together on the same plane. Golly! (Meanwhile, Prince Andrew was hurrying back from a vacation in Barbados.)

Poor old Peter Sissons, the BBC newscaster on duty at the time, put on his best Walter Cronkite November 1963 impression—all furrowed brows and wobbling lower lip—yet still came under fire for the sartorial sacrilege of sporting a burgundy tie. For friends of the Windsors, it has been open season on the “Beeb” since its laudable decision two years ago not to cover the Old Dear’s centenary celebrations. That Prince Charles chose rival news station ITN to film his vomit-inducing eulogy to his “dear grandmama” was widely interpreted as a deliberate snub. These people aren’t ones for forgetting grudges.

The French prime minister of the early ’30s, Edouard Daladier, once described the newly acceded HMQM as “an excessively ambitious young woman who would be ready to sacrifice every other country in the world so that she may remain Queen.” This observation may go a long way to explaining her adherence to the doomed policy of appeasement that delivered country after country to Hitler. Naturally, the BBC omitted any mention of the monarchs’ role in the advance of the Nazis. Perhaps the most apt comment was uttered by one of the numerous geriatric flunkies wheeled out, who helpfully explained that “deference and dignity were paramount.”

In days gone by, critics of the monarchy would inveigh that none of them could possibly hope to hold down a job in the real world. At the time, this judgment could not be tested. Well, now we can lay the matter to rest. Prince Edward? Resigned from his failing TV company. His wife? Resigned from her doomed PR firm. Princess Anne? Nearly a decade of unabashed corruption passes at the International Olympic Committee before its most famous delegate bothers to say—never mind, actually do—something.

As for the old patriarch, Prince Philip, no self-respecting corporation would continue to employ a man who had made either of the following statements. Upon seeing an old-fashioned fuse box during a factory visit: “It looks as if it was put in by an Indian.” Or to a group of British students in China: “If you stay here much longer, you’ll all be slitty-eyed.”

It would be negligent if I didn’t mention the complicity of the American media. Toward the end of its miserable existence, Edward’s Ardent Productions was scraping by on commissions from American broadcasters. Somebody must have thought there was a demand over here for such garbage as Royalty from A to Z. If Fergie isn’t on Friends, then she can usually be found in the ad breaks. And whose cherubic looks is it that greet me from the cover of yet another magazine but those of young William?

Not long ago, I chanced upon a poll on the CNN Web site inviting browsers to cast their vote for who, out of Charles, Wills and Harry, should succeed the Queen. It would be futile to point out that Americans don’t have a say in this matter, that Britons don’t even get a look-in, and that to have voted for anyone other than Charles would itself have been an argument against the hereditary principle that is the very foundation of the monarchy.

So I have a suggestion. Since it no longer seems to matter how many votes a candidate polls in a presidential election, and since, in these post-9/11 times, concepts like the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments are clearly outdated, why don’t we swap? You get to have an unelected head of state who doubles up as the titular boss of an official national religion, while we’ll happily take from you such apparently antediluvian notions as freedom of speech and a Bill of Rights. But, hold on a minute. That wouldn’t be very constitutional, now would it?


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