Editor's newsletter: Is a grown-up debate about the monarchy really too much to ask for?

King Charles will be crowned at the coronation on 6 May (Image: Getty)King Charles will be crowned at the coronation on 6 May (Image: Getty)
King Charles will be crowned at the coronation on 6 May (Image: Getty) | Getty Images
Once his coronation is over there's trouble ahead for the new King, with younger generations largely indifferent to the monarchy

The long, long build-up to the royal coronation in Britain - the first one in most of our lifetimes - has been a surreal experience, especially for those who are ambivalent or more actively opposed to the House of Windsor.

It’s almost like the nation exists inside a hermetically sealed tupperware box, an airless space where there is no room for serious, grown-up debate or analysis of the institution’s place in modern Britain. Instead, all the talk is about 400-year-old crowns and which minor celebrity or politician has been ‘snubbed’ from the Westminster Abbey seating plan.

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A tired old trope of the TV coverage around state occasions like this is something along the lines of “this is what we do best in Britain”, usually delivered in hushed, reverential tones by Huw Edwards or whichever historian has been wheeled on to explain the significance of the “coronation spoon” used by the Archbishop of Canterbury to pour the anointing oil over Charles, or the sacrifice of the royal goat at the King’s feet (OK, that last one was made up).

But there is no serious discussion about what this all really means. That it’s a piece of political theatre, a dramatised projection of obsolete power from an archaic institution, designed to seem timeless and sacred - as if the traditions were decreed by some divine power at the dawn of time, rather than simply dreamed up by the courts of various power-hungry monarchs over the centuries.

The royal family does not want the public to think about it in terms of the present day - it wants to project itself as built into this timeless, unquestionable state of perpetuity. With good reason: the last few years have been bruising to say the least, from Prince Andrew’s links to Jeffrey Epstein to Harry and Meghan’s damaging exit. The death of the Queen, who had been a symbol of the strength of ‘The Firm’ to endure crises like this, was a further blow. Buckingham Palace knows that when times are tough, they need to roll out the pomp and pageantry.

But this spectacle of soft power always comes with an undercurrent of old-school, hierarchical threat to its loyal subjects. The ridiculous ‘oath of allegiance to the King’ captures this grubbier side, forcing people into a binary choice of supporting the new monarch or rejecting him: ‘you’re either with us or you’re against us’.

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It creeps into other areas too. Thames Valley Police has said that there will be a "lower tolerance level" for disruptive protests at Windsor, taking a similar stance to London’s Met Police, which added there would be a “robust” response to any disruption. Why do we need to make laws more authoritarian around one event, just because it involves the monarchy? Can’t we have laws that work for any occasion? This is what the government's disastrous new Public Order Bill has led to.

It has also emerged that Chinese-made CCTV cameras that can capture “up to five faces at the same time” will be pointed at crowds on the procession route. The vice president of China, who presided over the brutal crackdown on liberty in Hong Kong and is one of the coronation guests, will no doubt be delighted.

There’s a fine line between managing security and harming civil liberties, and it seems that when the royals are involved, the government has no qualms about blurring it. It’s also worth remembering that this £100 million event is being paid for by taxpayers, not the monarchy, during a cost of living crisis - and that, in relative terms, it’s costing almost double his mother’s crowning ceremony did 70 years ago. This comes after NationalWorld revealed that the Queen’s funeral last year cost taxpayers £75 million in police and fire and rescue services operations.

Once the lavish and costly event is over on Saturday, Charles will try to bask in the glow of the coronation for as long as he possibly can. But there may be trouble ahead. As we reported this week, just 26% of people aged 18 to 24 said they thought having a monarchy was good for Britain. Charles also ranked lower than Meghan in terms of popularity among this age group - despite the relentlessly negative tabloid coverage of her life stateside. Granted, opinions change as people age, but this does not bode well for Charles’ reign.

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So, will there be a grown-up debate about the future of the monarchy in the UK? Don’t hold your breath. While it’s hard to see how the post-Elizabeth II monarchy stays relevant in the 21st century, they can count on pliant newspapers and national broadcasters, eager to mop up every scrap of royal spin. The Harry episode has shown that the power structure that the royal family is rooted in can be extremely ruthless, and will certainly cling on for as long as it can - whether or not that lasts long enough for William to enjoy his own coronation.

📧 Do you take a different view? You can email me with feedback on this or any story at [email protected]

📺 In this week's episode of our Screen Babble podcast, Alex reviews Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, Steven remembers The Royle Family and Kelly recommends Catastrophe - and check out the Weekend Watch mini-episode for more inspiration.

Have an enjoyable weekend - whether or not you're hanging up the bunting.

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