I don’t need convincing that the era of glamorous republicanism, looking back to the glory days of Athens and Rome, is long gone. Also talk of the ‘hereditary principle’ in relation to a purely constitutional monarchy makes a pretty thin case. But in the case of 21st century Britain, there is a real problem which monarchy may not be able to solve. It is well illustrated by Prince Charles, who takes up some worthy causes, but then runs into problems – or ridicule – because he is simply not trained to make a case against opposition which may have a strong case of its own.
The Queen herself is given the task to ‘advise and warn’ the Government under the traditional constitution, but no one is authorised to return the compliment in a regular way. Tony Blair had, effectively, to instruct the Queen to return to London for Princess Diana’s funeral. Currently, no one is on hand to warn her that to talk of religion as the foundation of our society can give people the absurd idea that if, for whatever reason, they do not believe the religion, they need not take morals or civilised conduct seriously. For what it is worth, I believe we have already suffered with that notion in the past 50 years or so. Yet in a time when we know that, for instance, children suffer grievously with family breakdown there is no need to invoke religion. (Ann Widdicombe could convey the message of her novel Father Figure as an atheist.)
I cannot say whether the monarchy can deal with this problem, but I am not optimistic. However boring, a President or whatever could be more easily prepared for difficulties of this kind, whilst still fulfilling the necessary functions of a Head of State.