Editorial: Dignity and duty

20:12, Jun 04 2012

The Diamond Jubilee of the Queen's accession to the throne is only the second such anniversary in English history.

Having reigned for just over 60 years (actually 60 years and 118 days up to the weekend) the Queen has reigned for only slightly less than Queen Victoria's 63 years and three months.

Given her robust good health and the fact that the Queen Mother lived to beyond 100 it can be expected that the Queen will outdo that record by a considerable margin.

The celebrations in Britain of the jubilee at the weekend show the abiding respect and affection with which the Queen continues to be held. It is something that baffles those who seek some more rational arrangement than one by which the head of state is arrived at by the accident of heredity. It can be explained, in part at least, from the fact that the Queen has played her part with an unswerving adherence to duty.

The monarchy, as the great English constitutional theorist, Walter Bagehot, once explained, is the "dignified" part of the constitution. This is the imposing, venerable, symbolic part that gives the nation a sense of itself and a connection with its history. (The other part is the "efficient" part which is modern, useful and involves all the rancour and messiness of politics). Almost every outward thing about the Queen is anachronistic – her accent, her clothes, her rural English upper-middle-class way of life – but she has performed her dignified, symbolic role over 60 years with scarcely a false step.

The closest England collectively has come to serious discontent with the monarchy in recent years came about with the death of Princess Diana. On that occasion she appears to have misread the popular mood and in so doing failed to reflect it in the way expected of her. Even there, the Queen tends in retrospect to be forgiven because there are many who find it still hard to interpret the strange spasm of emotion that swept over the nation at that time.


In any event, the moment passed and any threat to the monarchy has faded. There is no chance now that the Queen will abdicate – if nothing else, the horrible spectacle, which she witnessed, of her uncle deserting his role is enough to ensure that. And, as time has passed, disdain towards her likely successor, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla, has faded, and the youth and glamour of Prince William and his wife, Catherine, have restored some lustre.

A notable feature of the Queen's reign has been her genuine interest in promoting that vestige of the British Empire, the Commonwealth. Without that interest it is possible the organisation might have long since disappeared. Instead, it has continued and has even attracted new members, such as Mozambique, which have no link to the old empire. It may not be a strong force in the diplomatic world – it has notably failed to dislodge Robert Mugabe or curb his despotic excesses – but it is at least a benign one as shown by the greater regard for democracy and human rights among most of its member states.

Occasional twitches of republicanism are heard in New Zealand. But as Prime Minister John Key has said, any change here will evolve over time rather than occur suddenly. Canada and Australia have stronger republican movements and even there the impulse to change is not strong. New Zealand is almost certain to be part of the Queen's realm for as long as she reigns.

The Press