By Norman St John-Stevas, MP
As the old year ends and passes away from us (as far as I am concerned I am not at all sorry to see it go) the embers of an old controversy will be rekindled with the publication of Mr William Hamilton's latest onslaught on the monarch and all her works and pomps, his hook, "My Queen and I," an oddly proprietorial title for one who is such an indefatigable critic of the Queen.
I have often crossed swords with the Labour Member for Fife, both inside and outside the House, and the latest instalment of our running battle over the monarchy will be broadcast on independent television on the afternoon of New Year's Eve.
Inprivate Mr Hamilton is a kindly enough, indeed even a charming person, but he has an obsession with the Queen, dating, it is said, from a traumatic experience as a child when he was brought out from a penurious home to cheer some visiting royal, flashing by the Hamilton cot in an outsize Daimler.
Whatever the truth of this Mr Hamilton is the most dedicated republican we have got and never tires of launching broadsides against the Queen and members of her family. I wonder whether she thinks as much about him as he apparently thinks about her.
Republicanism is not a popular cause in Britain but there has been an undercurrent flowing against the monarchy since the middle of the 19th century. Charles Bradlaugh was probably the most noted antimonarchist of the last century. It's interesting to note that the cause of Victorian republicanism was that the public did not see enough of the Queen.
After the death of Prince Albert in 1861 she became the widow of Windsor and this did not suit the English people who like to see and enjoy their monarchs. It was only in the last decade of her reign that she threw off some of the mourning and subfusc and as soon as she did so republicanism declined.
Does the monarchy have important functions today in our contemporary world or is it a mere picturesque anachronism waiting to be swept away into the lumber room of history? I believe that the monarchy is a most valuable asset to the entire nation. Its primary role is symbolic. It represents the entire people. In Britain, however fierce the party strife, no citizen whatever his political views has ever to be against the country.
The difference in this respect between ourselves and the United states, for example, is marked. There, because the President is both a symbolic embodiment of the country and a partisan figure, one half of the nation finds itself in the embarrassing position of appearing to be opposed to the aspirations of the country, when in fact all they wish to do is to reject the nominee of a particular party.
The loyalty which in Britain constellates around the monarch finds a centre in the United States in the flag but an abstract piece of bunting is a poor substitute for a symbol of flesh and blood. Countries which separate the head of the executive from the head of the state by artificial means do not fare much better since the President in such circumstances is either an extremely dim and shadowy figure, or if not, tends to become a focus of political divisiveness rather than of national unity.
The whole world knows who is Queen of England but how many people can name the present President of Germany? One recalls with dismay the near political catastrophe which threatened to engulf Italy at the time of their last presidential election, when the inability of the parties to agree
on any candidate discredited the entire republk.
The monarchy symbolises not only the political life of the nation but its moral and religious life as well. Indeed, this aspect of the monarchy is more important than ever today when both the established Church and nonconformity are in decline.
Again in a society which has grown steadily morepermissive — a process which despite the strictures of Mr Muggeridgc is both good and bad — the example of a united family life set by the Queen, her husband, her children, and close relations is a real contribution to the national morality. It was just over a hundred years ago that in a famous speech Disraeli declared that the influence of the crown was not confined to political affairs, "England," said Disraeli, "is a domestic country. Here the home is revered and the hearth sacred. The nation is represented by a family the royal family — and if that family is educated with a sense of responsibility and a sentiment of public duty, it is difficult to exaggerate the salutary influence they may exercise over a nation."
Of course, the monarchy is not a cheap institution but in his strictures on the pomp and pageantry surrounding the Queen, Mr Hamilton rather misses the point. They exist not for the Queen personally but for the nation.
Instead of feeling envy at what, after all, is in many ways a hollow splendour one should feel sympathy for one who has to sacrifice so much of private life for purposes of state. In any case I don't think a simplified monarchy on the bicycling Scandinavian lines would suit the British people. We are a theatrical people and care about the show. And if you are going to have a show you might as well have a good one.
There is something to be said for a splendid monarchy, and something to he said for a republic, but for a mean monarchy there is nothing to be said whatever. So my New Year wish is God Save the Queen and may she preside over a happier year for our country than the one that is now leaving us.