Lots of people have been talking about the new son of Prince William and Catherine Middleton lately. An obscene amount of column space has been dedicated to trivialities, and some obscenities such as with OK! Magazine who immediately after the boy’s birth started to talk about the Duchess of Cambridge’s weight. But there is one aspect that gets lost in the torrent of articles about it.
Imagine that this child had been born to a President, or a Prime Minister, in some other country. Would there be such a focus on the birth then? Would newspapers from the Hindustan Times to the New York Post actually write about it? Would there be any interest, beyond the immediate demographic of the affected voters?
I consider myself a soft republican, and by that I mean that I generally think that a republic is preferable to the monarchy. But I also don’t spend any time arguing about the monarchy because as it is with all the monarchies of Western Europe, the democratically elected governments could have a republic tomorrow if they so wished. There is nothing to stop them because the kings and the queens do not have any actual powers, beyond the symbolic ones who are fastidiously constrained.
Case in point is the Royal Assent of same-sex marriage in England and Wales the other week. There is no way to be certain what the Queen actually thinks of same-sex marriage. She could be an ardent opponent of it. But she could not refuse to give the royal assent to a bill passed by parliament even if she wanted to. Her signature on the bill is purely symbolic.
If she had refused to sign the bill, it would have meant a constitutional crisis in this country, and the United Kingdom could very well have turned into the Second British Republic (Cromwell had the first one). This, or the queen would have been forced to abdicate. In this country, the principle of parliamentary supremacy is strong. It will not be vetoed by an unelected monarch any more.
With this state of being, what is the urgency of getting a republic? The monarchy persists because of democratic assent. The Queen retains her throne because the Parliament allows it. Parliament allows it because the British public is firmly in favour of the monarchy. The queen has no power except to cut ribbons and look majestic at times. She is a symbol, a symbol of a connection to the thousand-year history of this nation, and as such she is a symbol for all regardless of political colour and ideological bent.
And thus the birth of one child among many thousand on this day reverberate through the world, and is covered from Sydney to Toronto and from the Falklands to The Arctic. And it will make Americans, the Japanese, the Chinese, Indians, Africans pay good money to travel to this cold damp isle next year. They won’t do that for the birth of the child of a Prime Minister or President. And all this because the public consent to confine the royals to their big houses and their ribbon cutting.