I have said it before but it needs saying again, religion is and should be just a hobby. It is something people do in their spare time. It should also be something people do with their own money, their after-tax income. It should not be paid for out of taxation and it should not be granted special favours and tax breaks. A church should be treated for tax purposes exactly the same as any other private club with members, property, bank accounts, pension funds and paid staff. It should be treated for tax just like the Conservative Club or the village cricket club.
This is the secular way. Society allows people to have a religion if they want, but it doesn’t require them to have one, certainly not a specific religion, and it doesn’t give religions any special status.
England is, of course, different. We have the monarchy and the established church. I don’t think that it would send out a good signal to disestablish the Church of England now while we face an unprecedented challenge from Islam. I am prepared to call a truce on the matter and keep that truce going for centuries if needs be. If they don’t push to extend the powers and influence of the Church I won’t go calling for its disestablishment or its removal from the state. The English constitution has always involved cant, hypocrisy and turning a blind eye to gross anachronisms. That’s part of what makes England the best place to live in the world.
I used to be a great republican, that is in the sense of advocating a republican government structure for my country. But I have mellowed. What is the point of telling the people what they want when they know what they want? The people like the monarchy. They like the linking thread with our past. The royal family represents the theme of continuity with the past going forward into the future.
We now have the perfect model for royalty in the shape of the household of the Duke of Cambridge. A man who would be king, a man who has the bearing of a king, a beautiful wife and a pair of wonderful children. Catherine will make a great queen, bringing modern British middle-class values into the royalty. The traditions of family and caring and nurturing which are much more honest and natural than the forced starched feelings of the old royal family. The Middleton family are the best thing that has happened to the British royal family since the restoration. They are a functional family with solid virtues, and the great thing is that William made his choice in the modern way. He found a young woman he found sexually attractive and interesting and intellectually stimulating. He found her, she wasn’t selected for him. Fortunately, she passed every test. Let’s hope she continues to do so and she makes wise choices when some obnoxious magazine editor suggests she’s losing her figure or showing her age.
Just how exactly is having a monarchy meant to damage a country? So my son could never be king. And? Is being king the best job in the country? It’s unique, certainly, but I am not sure I would say that it is the best job in the country. King isn’t being David Bowie or David Attenborough or even Jeremy Clarkson. I’d be prouder of a son who could be something and somebody of his own devising rather than somebody who just held a title and had respect given to him by virtue of that title and nothing to do with his own personal qualities. So there’s one job he can’t do by law. Just add that to the millions of jobs he can’t do because he hasn’t the aptitude, qualifications or desire to do. I can live with that and I’m sure he can live with it too. If that sort of thing gnaws away at the inner parts of your soul you’d better not contemplate the unfairness that means you were not born God, or Jeremy Clarkson.
Are monarchies or republics the nicest places to live? Spain or Portugal? Sweden or Switzerland? Britain or America? Germany or Norway? Are people more likely to visit historical Rome or historical London? It is one of the lamest arguments ever in favour of the monarchy that it is somehow the reason why tourists come to Britain. They come to Britain to see the queen. Riiiiight. Like tourists go to Hollywood expecting to meet Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. This is both a nonsensical idea and a very bad reason to have a particular form of government. Tourists come to see the palaces and to see the guards and they’d still come even if the woman they almost certainly won’t get to see was not constitutionally the head of state. Think about tourism to Graceland, how much more lucrative that is now there is no danger of ever coming into pistol range of The King.
A few years ago I won a city break to Vienna. Looking at the palaces was hardly ruined by the knowledge that there were no Habsburgs anywhere inside the palaces. Similarly no doubt fewer people would go to Versailles if there was a resident royal family there getting in the way of the sights. London and Paris and Rome will always be great cities full of history and great tourist magnets regardless of whose faces are on the banknotes and who may or may not be lurking somewhere deep inside the palaces.
There is only one reason for keeping a monarchy that should and does count: the people want it that way. That’s more than enough for me.