I'm no monarchist but I think the Queen has done a great job

Alex Kane

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an Irish News columnist and political commentator and a former director of communications for the Ulster Unionist Party.

Alex Kane is a fan of the Queen who has just turned 90. Picture by Chris Jackson/PA
Alex Kane is a fan of the Queen who has just turned 90. Picture by Chris Jackson/PA

HOLD onto your seats and put down your breakfast cuppa. I like the Queen. Not a surprising admission from a unionist, you might think; but I also happen to be a republican (no, not that sort of republican!).

I’m a very old-fashioned sort of democrat, the sort of democrat who believes that anyone with an institutional role in government or the constitution should be elected to office and removable from office. The sort of democrat who could just as easily live in the United States of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as in a United Kingdom: indeed, that would be my personal preference.

That said, I think the Queen has been a fabulously impressive head of state. She may have been born into the role, yet she clearly rose to the challenge. It’s hard to disagree with this assessment by Ruth Dudley Edwards: “She needed stamina, discretion, intelligence, tact, and, above all, patience and a sense of humour. How many of us could endure those endless hours of chatting to strangers at home and abroad and conveying an interest in another factory, another school, another parade, another row of regimental troops and so on and so on? How many of us could so dutifully have accepted for the sake of the national interest playing host to dreadful people like the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. And how many could have smilingly offered the hand of friendship to people who had wanted her and her family dead?''

So good has she been that there has never been a moment when I thought that an elected president could have done a better job. I acknowledge that the media’s obsession with the drama, celebrity, scandal and wealth of the royal family and the seemingly endless pictures of heirs and spares is something that leaves me cold; yet I also acknowledge that, in this new era of ‘celebrity,’ all public figures, particularly prime ministers and presidents, attract this level of attention. It goes with the job.

Yet the fact that she has somehow managed to rise above all of it tells you something about her as a person. Yes, her family and her background may be bizarre, dysfunctional and hugely entertaining—albeit, on many occasions, for entirely the wrong reasons—yet she is held in very obvious respect and affection by the overwhelming majority of her supposed ‘subjects,’ even those of us who rebel against monarchy.

There have been times in my lifetime—and I’m 60 and she’s the only monarch I’ve known—when it looked as though the monarchy would not survive the enormous pressures of public/political/media criticism and societal change. But at each of those moments her natural instincts about what was required from her as a person, along with her willingness to take advice before it was forced upon her, combined to save the institution.

The closest it came to collapse was when it looked as though Princess Diana had established what amounted to what used to be known as a ‘rival court.’ For a few years, helped by supporters in politics and the press—who wanted the benefits of being associated with the UK’s version of Eva Peron—she was more popular than the Queen. She certainly had more propaganda clout and attracted more attention than the Queen. Yet in a post-Diana world (and, please, spare me the conspiracy theory letters about Diana’s death) the Queen is more popular than she has ever been, while the monarchy itself looks very strong and very stable.

The celebrations that accompanied her Golden Jubilee in 2012 and now, her 90th birthday celebrations, have not been orchestrated with Russian or Chinese or North Korean precision and faux sentiment. People genuinely like her. They will attend celebrations in their millions, willingly and happily, because she means something very special to them. In some ways she even transcends the institution itself. It takes a very particular person to unite a country around a confident belief in itself and its values and she has proved to be that person.

So, as I say, even someone like me who disagrees with the institution and the ‘born to it’ dimension could never really convince himself to join any of the abolitionist movements. But I think my generation got lucky. We got that very particular, very special person. We got that someone who really did put her country before herself. We got that someone who knew what was expected of her. She was a head of state in whom we could take both pride and comfort. She has served us well. And it would be a very churlish republican who would say otherwise.