What I now feel able to say about Prince Philip

Nothing at all remarkable, just so you now know. Don’t read this posting for dazzling insights. It’s just that the last couple of days and the next few days are an example of a common thing, which is that everyone who is in the habit of expressing public opinions about this or that public thing feels obliged to hold back his or her regular opinions and instead to express an appropriately gracious and portentous opinion about whatever just happened.

For instance, BBC Radio Three, the classical music radio channel I listen to quite a lot, especially on Saturdays, was going to spend this Saturday concentrating on the life and works of Igor Stravinsky, no doubt emphasising what a fine composer the BBC thinks he was. But they scrapped this plan, and instead today merely played a succession of suitably profound and solemn classical selections, and also, I believe, a church service with lots of profound and solemn singing.

“Inappropriate” is typically now just a way of saying “wicked” without sounding like your great grandmother. But for once, this word is now, well, appropriate. Communicators suddenly fear saying anything “inappropriate”. Given that Prince Philip just died, will it make sense for us to be banging on about Stravinsky, or whatever it was were thinking of banging on about? Typically, it does not feel … appropriate.

Sporting events continue, because nothing can be allowed to interrupt that. But black armbands are liable to be worn and long silences endured by all present, during which all rebellious thoughts along the lines of “So bloody what?” are kept under heavy wraps of silence.

Above all, anyone who thinks that Prince Philip was, I don’t know, a horrid old racist, tends to keep quiet about that, for the duration of this strange public moment, or at least to be careful about who they say such things to. Or they do if they are wise, and if they do not want a storm of critical attention on social media, as some presumably do. We must not “speak ill of the dead”. Instead we say things like: “My thoughts are with his family”.

Which some of our thoughts probably are. I can’t be the only one now thinking that maybe the Queen will soon give up the ghost, having lost a husband she has been sharing her life with for so long, and by most public accounts very happily.

As it happens, the opinion I now find I want to express about Prince Philip, in carefully selected company, is a complaint although not that severe a complaint. I don’t think he was a racist; more like an equal opportunities tease, if only to get people to relax in his company and to stop trying to be so damn appropriate. But I definitely have one very particular and personal objection to this man, and by extension to his entire family. (It’s not a big enough objection for me to want them all denationalised, so to speak. As to that argument, I go along with the title of this posting at Quotulatiousness. If they got dumped, the likely alternative would be someone like John Berkow.)

But for now, in the event that you care what I think about Prince Philip and want to learn the particular way in which I objected to him, you will just have to wait.

For me to tell you today would be inappropriate.

7 thoughts on “What I now feel able to say about Prince Philip”

  1. Thanks for the link. The few times I’ve discussed the idea of Canada “moving on” from the monarchy with fans of the idea, they have amazingly unrealistic ideas about what might come next. If there really is some sort of amalgam of Gandhi, MLK, Nelson Mandela, and Marcus Aurelius just holding back from entering the political arena — as seems to be the expectation of Canadian republicans — that person is doing a _fantastic_ job of staying below the radar.

  2. We held a referendum in Australia in 1999 as to whether to become a republic, of course, which was defeated. It was reported over here mostly as “The Australians have voted to retain the monarchy. They love the Queen after all”. Reality, though, was that we had a huge bunfight about what the constitutional changes to make us a republic should be, couldn’t agree, and the proposal failed because of this.

    In particular, the elite republicans (led by Malcolm Turnbull, who later became PM) drafted a proposed republican constitution designed to ensure that the sorts of people who presently become Governor-General (who are old, boring, and competent – usually retired senior military officer, retired senior judges or retired legal academics) would continue to become president, whereas more radical republicans demanded that the president be elected. Inevitably, this would mean that the president would be a politician, and it would probably mean that the president would feel he/she had a mandate to actually use the immense powers that the constitution gives to the Governor-General, but which by convention he/she doesn’t use. To prevent this, you would have to rewrite the entire constitution.

    In any event, a weird alliance of monarchists, radical republicans, and people who thought that the elite was trying to steamroll the non-elite by not allowing them to vote for the president voted against the proposal, even though a large majority of people were in favour of a republic in theory. The republican movement will have another go when (a) Charles is king and (b) there is a Labor government in power in Canberra. This will happen some time in the next decade, most likely. They will still face the same problems, however.

  3. Nicholas: Australians are more cynical than Canadians, generally: we know that we don’t have anyone who is an amalgam of Gandhi, MLK, Nelson Mandela, and Marcus Aurelius.

    I see also that Canada recently had to sack a Governor-General for being a horrible bully to everyone around her, which doesn’t work well when the job consists mainly of shaking lots of hands and being nice to people. The PM clearly made the mistake of appointing someone glamorous but difficult (a retired female astronaut) to the job rather than someone worthy and competent but boring.

    A couple of decades back now, Australian PM John Howard made the mistake of appointing a retired Anglican Archbishop as PM. This was stupid from a church and state point of view – particularly given that Australia very explicitly does not have a state religion – but the man also had to be told to resign a year or so later after allegations came out that he had not properly investigated sex abuse allegations amongst his priests in his previous job. Ever since than Australia has gone back to very boring G-Gs, thankfully.

  4. It is possible that constitutional monarchies have their uses. In the First World War, apart from the constant visits, abstinence for the duration and investitures, George V would appear to have acted as something of a clearing house for information. The point is that everyone trusted him and felt free to speak their minds in his presence. This was useful when it came to the removal of Sir John French as Commander-in-Chief of the BEF.

    On the subject of de-nationalised monarchies, my understanding is that that is precisely what Serbia currently has.

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