THE HOYOS FILE: Getting rid of the monarchy
I WAS WATCHING A MOVIE about a royal family the other day, called A Royal Christmas. This particular hound dog bore all the trademarks of the modern royalty-aristocracy movie genre, including more recent ones you may have seen, The Princess Diaries and What A Girl Wants, which is the aristocracy version.
In Diaries, the nerdy teenager finds out she is actually the princess of Genovia, and that the commoner-turned-aristocrat Eliza Doolittle (no relation to the present government) is actually her granny, while in Girl the pretty American teen finds out her dad is actually part of the British aristocracy. Not bad going, when you think about it.
But while those movies were saved by their wit and the knowledge that they were parodying their own genre, Royal Christmas was a dull affair despite all the “‘puttin’ on the Ritz” in palaces, the necessity of having two waiters to serve afternoon tea (one for the tea itself, the other for the sandwiches), the dinners at impossibly large tables where everyone is dressed to the nines, and the grovelling of the staff before the highnesses.
Reminded me of the Bajan waiter at Greensleeves who had to carry a lot of plates of food out to a royal party. He was told that, according to protocol, the first person he must serve was Princess Margaret. Anxious to please, the young man swung out of the kitch full of dishes and sang out: “Who de princess?”
These modern versions of royal movies, at least the romantic comedy versions, are almost all about one thing: the introduction of a comely commoner to re-invigorate the tired blue-bloodline. Whether she remains a commoner or finds out she already has some of the blue stuff is no matter: In the end, as it must, the bloodline will be refreshed.
Of course, this modern royalty-commoner romantic pairing is what, in real life, has spared the surviving monarchies in Japan, Jordan, and Britain, among others I’m sure, of much anti-monarchy grief, and prolonged their existence.
George Bernard Shaw perhaps opened the batting with his play Pygmalion, which was later turned into the Brodway musical and movie My Fair Lady. Shaw’s sarcastic point was that the one thing separating the poor from the rich in Britain was their accent, and he sets old ‘Enry ‘Iggins on a mission to prove that a poor flower girl who can’t talk properly can metamorphose into a successful fake duchess, just by teaching her proper enunciation and how to handle cutlery.
But although you can modernise the bloodline of a monarchy through the now wholly accepted, and perhaps demanded, selection of a commoner to create the future, if watered down, royal generations, you can’t do it with a country.
The closest a commoner can get to a royal office outside of marriage is to become the governor general, who is the monarch’s proxy. There are no elections to be king or queen even among the royals themselves, far less the commoners in all the former British colonies.
So if you come to realise as a country that your continued allegiance-swearing to the monarch is a direct contradiction of all you have done as a sovereign nation in terms of charting your own way in the world, then it only takes a nano-second to realise that you must get away from this last vestige of being “ruled” by kings and queens.
The brilliance of the British strategy is that it is so easy to stay in the monarch club. You get the pomp and circumstances for free, and no one actually intervenes in your affairs. Trust me, they don’t want to. All Britain wants you to do is to buy their goods, services and culture.
So we keep the monarch out of tradition, I guess, and there was also the Catch-22 in the backs of our minds when we went for independence almost half a century ago: if any of these political leaders get too uppity with us, we can always ask the Queen to throw them out. As she did once in Australia – and never, ever again, as it would have re-cast the vanilla-flavoured monarchy which the British had perfected into something potentially more sinister.
However, since we have thankfully done away with Her Majesty’s Privy Council as our final court of appeal, there is not even this last bit of rope to hang on to. Constitutional crises, if unfortunately one ever erupted here in Barbados, would be settled in Port-of-Spain by the Caribbean Court of Justice.
So what is left? And who really cares? Not much and no one, I would venture to say. And it seems that the majority of Bajans agree, if the thunderous silence which greeted an embattled prime minister’s last hope for a legacy is to be correctly interpreted.
I thought the unspoken response was more like “wait, we still a monarchy? Wha’ you saying’?” Stay or go, we don’t care, is my best summary. But if you are doing it now only because your approval ratings are the lowest they have ever been, then I say you are doing it for yourself and not the country. You should run on it as part of your election platform and if you get the Government, then go ahead and do it.
That way, you would put to rest any lingering suspicion that we dumped 300 years of history, not because it was the right thing to do and were mature enough to handle it, as we are, but because a woefully unpopular Government was grasping at straws as it drowned in its own incompetence.