The Queen is dead

As everyone knows by now, the queen is dead. Indeed, you’d be hard put to escape the news of it. Coverage of her life, her death, and what comes after is so pervasive that a random switching of the TV channel is likely to bring up another account of it. Much as I liked the queen – as, it seems, most did – there is something obscene about the wall-to-wall coverage. To my eye, it has become more than a celebration and commiseration of her life and death. There becomes something cynical and opportunistic, cloaked in mournful tones.

I liked the Queen. Most Australians did, even those advocates for a republic, as I am. We recognised her devotion to duty and common decency, her sense of humour and stout human values. She was a strong woman and ever-present in our cultural life. She embodied a view of Britain and Britishness which has perhaps become archaic in recent decades but which remained true in her. Whether it survives, her death will be interesting to see.

Though I don’t believe in the concept of monarchy, no one could claim she didn’t fulfil her ‘duty’ in the highest sense of the word. She was on the side of the people and shared herself with us.

I believe that inherited authority and privilege, as is embodied in a monarch, is an abomination. That it’s anti-democratic never gets a mention these days. And why should one set of people, one family, as such, be accorded such devotion and power by virtue of lucky birth?

Speaking for myself, I can’t recognise that authority over me. I find it mildly sickening how so many fawn over regals, but then it seems something human nature needs in some form. Like religion, it’s the craving for belief in a higher, benevolent power. I’ve never had that need, neither emotionally nor spiritually, and intellectually I can’t believe in it. Every man is entire to himself. You may choose to subvert yourself or choose independence.

I say all that and recognise at the same time that the queen gave herself to the institution. Perhaps she understood the privilege she was born into and was determined to repay it in public service. No one could ask anything more of her than what she gave. She was a great leader in her way and a splendid human being. A non-believer, I respect and admire her. I mourn her loss, and the world will be a lesser place without her.

In truth, I’ve always felt some sympathy for the royals. Much as I might decry their unearned privilege, much is expected of them. They’re born, live and die in the public eye. Every move they make is recorded in minute detail by the media – there’s even a scabrous set called ‘royal watchers’. They’re expected to do their duty, often at the cost of any private or personal life. They are hijacked from birth by an expectation they never asked for. For the most part, they give themselves over to it. There are few, like Harry, who escape it – though he still rides its coattails, nonetheless.

We have now entered into an absurd twilight with her death. Though it’s sad, it isn’t the tragedy some might think. I said to a friend a month ago that I had the feeling that the queen would die within a month. That I was right doesn’t make me Nostradamus – the Queen was 96, and this moment was coming. She led a full life and had a good go at it.

Aside from the media coverage, which we’ll have to endure until after her funeral, there are other absurdities, such as parliament shutting down – as if the world stops with her death. There was no sport played in England to honour her. And it’s been announced today that even here, in faraway Oz, there will be a once-off public holiday to mark her passing. I love a day off, but it’s becoming ridiculous.

When the dust settles finally, it will be interesting what the new world order that will emerge. While the Queen’s role was largely ceremonial, she was a great figurehead, and her personality was the glue that held much of the commonwealth together.

It’s long been said that Australia would never become a republic while the Queen still lived. The clamour for it has never gone away and has become louder in recent years. After a seemly pause, it will come again, and I suspect some of the coverage in recent days will drive more to the cause.

I suspect it will have further ramifications for the UK. I expect the case for Scottish Nationalism will re-surface. And there are already signs of a burgeoning Welsh independence group. Then there’s Ireland.

The monarch now is King Charles III. He’s a different character from his mum, but I’ve always liked him. I expect in his reign that we’ll witness much that changes.

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