Few people think that funerals are a good time to have a discussion about the merits of a person or institution they represented. As a rule of thumb, de mortuis nihil nisi bonum seems like good advice. Though there are obviously occasions where most do not feel the rule applies. For example, universally acknowledged wrong ‘uns need not suddenly be venerated. When you are in the business of commenting on what is in the public eye, and what is dominating the news cycles is the death of a person, it is necessarily there to be commented on. Whilst I maintain that a person’s funeral is – in the ordinary run of things – not an ideal time to pass comment, what is one to do when it is a funeral dominating the news?
Some would immediately argue that now is not the right time for critique. Which, again, in the ordinary run of things, I couldn’t agree more. But it bears remembering, the overwhelming majority of civil and courteous republicans would rather talk about this stuff at any other time than a funeral. Indeed, it is one of the many reasons why they would prefer not to have the system we do. But it is not the republicans who insist a funeral is the point at which these things will be discussed. That is the fault of those who support a system whereby the death of a person is the point at which the new monarch ascends to the throne and the news will run the story for it to be discussed. Those who favour electing the head of state would prefer a system where we can discuss these things following a ballot rather than a death.
Those who support the system, but insist funerals are the wrong time to raise these things, seem to forget that is the system they support. If these things can be discussed at another time, what they are saying is they can be discussed when nobody is talking about them and it would be strange to do so. That is, to all intents and purposes, to say it shall not be discussed at all. Either these things, positive or negative, must be discussed around funerals or we must install a different system that doesn’t rest on the death of the incumbent. Again, republicans would much prefer the latter so that we can discuss these things apart from the (entirely legitimate) emotionalism that attends the death of a human being. It is those who wish to maintain what we have who – though upset by dissenting voices – insist now is the time they will be heard or, rather, such voices should not be heard at all.
Arguing now is not the time for politics overlooks the fact that the monarchy – whichever way one falls on the question of its value – is a political institution. To admiringly affirm the greatness of the institution, to seek reform or to overthrow it altogether is to take a political stand. It is impossible to even mention it, or look on and form any opinion of it, without taking a political position. Again, it is those who support the existing system who demand that now is exactly the time for politics. Like most people, I would prefer funerals were not political affairs. But the answer to that is not to insist that some political stances can be announced with pride while other must keep quiet. That is, interestingly, a political stance all of its own and one that most people generally do not buy into under any other circumstances. We have typically supported people’s right to voice dissenting views in this country and if we don’t like them doing so surrounding a funeral, the answer is to support a system whereby death is not the mechanism of change.
It is interesting to see the over-eager efforts to insist upon respect are leading many tacit royalists slide towards a republicanism they would never have countenanced. Seeing Food Banks closing down, the NHS having to cancel procedures and doctors closing down all in the name of respect are some of the more obvious missteps. Those are not necessarily the fault of those organisations – many of whom have childcare issues that transpire, among other things – but have had such things imposed. There are similar moves by holiday companies shutting down people’s holidays and transport companies ceasing service. Whilst not nearly so serious, they are deeply irritating and frustrating to many. Many are unclear how shutting everything down in the name of respect is actually respectful of itself nor how it honours the memory of someone famously driven by duty and carrying on. There is something jarring about it.
But beyond this, there has always been something in the British psyche that has never taken well to being told what to do and even less what to think or feel. It is one thing for some to be deeply affected and find the pomp and ceremony genuinely moving, but fewer take kindly to being told that they must similarly think and feel because somebody has told us we must. I know of more than a few de facto monarchists – broadly favourable because they like the history, appreciate the tradition, believe what we have essentially works and are cautiously conservative about reform – who are sliding into republicanism because of self-appointed, heavy-handed royalists insisting on respect being shown in the way they demand, asserting that everyone must think and feel as they do and determining some views are unsayable. Stopping people from saying and feeling what they will makes many actively want to demur.
If we are all of the view that funerals are not a great time to be speaking about such things, perhaps we want to have a rethink about insisting on a system that ends and starts with The Queen is Dead. God save the King!