Why we like our Queen

My first, and so far only, attempt to enter the world of political journalism came at the precocious age of ten, when I collaborated with some other eager young monarchists for an article in the Derby Evening Telegraph entitled Why we like our Queen. It might have been in connection with the opening of a new leisure centre in the city by the Queen in May 1992. The piece was illustrated by our drawings of our favourite royals, to which I inexplicably contributed a picture of a huge, infinitely jolly Sarah Ferguson in a purple dress.

The actual opening of the swimming baths may have soured my relation with the crown, as we stood in the pouring rain or the hot sun, or some other miserable sort of weather, for hours waiting for the Queen to turn up, and when she did all we could actually see of her was a disembodied hat. But nonetheless, at the age of ten I was apparently a staunch monarchist, and this affection extended even to minor, embarrassing royals.

With all the republican sentiments flying about on this wedding day, I thought I’d share the two reasons why I am still very much a monarchist.

Firstly, as a symbol and representative of the country, the crown has been pretty good. At any rate, they are better than politicians.

Bagehot noted of the Queen:

If she did not exist the Prime Minister would be the first person in the country. He and his wife would have to receive foreign ministers, and occasionally foreign princes, to give the first parties in the country; he and she would be at the head of the pageant of life; they would represent England in the eyes of foreign nations; they would represent the Government of England in the eyes of the English.

One thing the monarchy have been very good at are being decent– sometimes merely workmanlike, but sometimes exceptional– representatives for the nation. Imagine if Britain’s ultimate public face was Gordon Brown or, God forbid, Ed Miliband. We’d be putting maladroit humanoids before the world and saying, “this is the best in Britain.” This is a problem that the USA consistently has with its Presidents, which surely adds to its opprobrium in the world.

Secondly, and most importantly, the monarchy forbids from us the highest post in the country.

No matter how ambitious you are, or how successful, or rich, or powerful, you cannot aspire to the top job. The highest office is granted entirely by accident of birth. You can’t buy it, you can’t scheme for it, you can’t even kill for it. This is a necessary check on ambition, and should humble those who have ambitions for power – who, without exception, deserve humbling.

Bagehot writes of this in the ritual and social sense: as a check against politics becoming an arena for social scramblers.

We are not now remarkable for the highest sort of ambition; but we are remarkable for having a great deal of the lower sort of ambition and envy. The House of Commons is thronged with people who get there merely for “social purposes,” as the phrase goes; that is, that they and their families may go to parties else impossible. Members of Parliament are envied by thousands merely for this frivolous glory, as a thinker calls it. If the highest post in conspicuous life were thrown open to public competition, this low sort of ambition and envy would be fearfully increased. Politics would offer a prize too dazzling for mankind; clever base people would strive for it, and stupid base people would envy it. Even now a dangerous distinction is given by what is exclusively called public life. The newspapers describe daily and incessantly a certain conspicuous existence; they comment on its characters, recount its details, investigate its motives, anticipate its course. They give a precedent and a dignity to that world which they do not give to any other. The literary world, the scientific world, the philosophic world, not only are not comparable in dignity to the political world, but in comparison are hardly worlds at all. The newspaper makes no mention of them, and could not mention them. As are the papers, so are the readers; they, by irresistible sequence and association, believe that those people who constantly figure in the papers are cleverer, abler, or at any rate, somehow higher, than other people. “I wrote books,” we heard of a man saying, “for twenty years, and I was nobody; I got into Parliament, and before I had taken my seat I had become somebody.” English politicians are the men who fill the thoughts of the English public: they are the actors on the scene, and it is hard for the admiring spectators not to believe that the admired actor is greater than themselves. In this present age and country it would be very dangerous to give the slightest addition to a force already perilously great. If the highest social rank was to be scrambled for in the House of Commons, the number of social adventurers there would be incalculably more numerous, and indefinitely more eager.

Politics already attracts some rum sorts. It’s a career made for attention seekers. Imagine how much worse that might be if the wedding of a vulgar politician attracted the attention Wills and Kate are getting?

Published in: on April 29, 2011 at 12:46 am  Leave a Comment  

Dismiss No2AV ad at our peril

The general response of the Yes2AV crowd to the No campaign ad seems to be one of derision and mockery.

Some examples from my Twitter spool:

Are we absolutely certain that #No2AV broadcast wasn’t a spoof?

This #no2av advert is intellectually offensive. This is actually wrong

The #no2av advert was even more terrible than I thought it would be. Still patronising and implying voters are idiots”

Only Emily Thornberry MP, never knowingly correct on any issue, put a positive spin on the advert.

It’s easy to dismiss this ad as misleading. It distorts the arguments by presenting them in their simplest terms. It doesn’t even try to defend First Past the Post intellectually. It caricatures AV in the most unflattering way.

Which is all to say: the advert was technically very effective.

The No campaign have no arguments, but they appeal effectively to the emotions of the voters who will swing this referendum. They used Alan B’Astard to mobilise popular hostility to politicians and dislike of the coalition. They used easily understandable metaphors – and there’s a reason why Lib Dem Focus leaflets have successfully used the ‘two horse race’ graphic for years. They portray AV as confusing by showing real people confused by the technicalities of the count.

Is any of this true, or relevant? No. Does that make it a worse advert? Emphatically not.

As Drew Westen argued effectively in The Political Brain, election campaigns that rely on facts, and on actually being right, usually fail. Successful campaigns are those that bypass reason and tap directly into the emotional core of a debate.

In politics, when reason and emotion collide, emotion invariably wins. Elections are decided in the marketplace of emotions, a marketplace filled with values, images, analogies, moral sentiments, and moving oratory, in which logic plays only a supporting role.

The YES campaign needs to have a strong emotional narrative of our own to counter the No attack. We should probably go hard on the expenses scandal and the hostility people have towards the current political system, and on the No campaign being a very rum selection of political dinosaurs trying to save their own careers.

We need to go hard, on TV and on the street, with our strongest emotional appeals. Merely being right won’t win this referendum.

Published in: on April 11, 2011 at 10:30 pm  Comments (1)