The succession bill puts a ludicrous spin of equality on an institution that's inherently unequal.
How to make monarchy less discriminating? You can't. Monarchy is the ultimate discriminatory institution, because, as Graham Smith of Republic points out, it discriminates against everyone in Britain who does not wear the crown. Even so, the coalition government has presented republicans with, seemingly, the ultimate moral conundrum, as it presents the succession to the crown bill, which will supersede the Act of Settlement of 1701.
This will throw out male primogeniture, and also anti-Catholicism, so we can have that oddest of genetically modified creatures preening in the regalia – a monarch who could theoretically be endorsed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It was announced on the same day as it emerged that the recently beatified Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant, a sort of modern evocation of fountains running with wine, or the royal laying of hands on those repellent, or common, enough to claim benefits.
What to say? Does one tie oneself in a progressive knot and support the proposal, because discrimination on the basis of gender is worse than discrimination on the basis of age? Or does one side with the arch-monarchists, and say none of this makes sense and if you try to make sense of it you will end up with nothing but statues of dead kings in a palace of dust – and why not go full Jacobite? The Jacobite heir, Duke Franz of Bavaria, is still hanging around in Munich, waiting for the call. He looks like Sven-Göran Eriksson.
Monarchy is sacral-religious Cheltenham voodoo. It does not bear intellectual examination, and its cleverest defenders know that. That is why so many people who write about monarchy sound insane, as if trapped in Barbara Cartland's knicker drawer, and why the arguments most often used in defence of monarchy do not actually defend what it is, or does. No one says we raise the Windsors high because they embody, or transcend, or adore us, because it is obvious that none of these things are true. Instead we endure nonsense about their being "good for tourism", as if the royal family were a giant branch of Legoland, or that the Queen, far from being the human foundation and incarnation of a class-ridden society, is actually the opposite – "humble" and "dutiful" and even, ignoring the shameful rise in her personal income during this age of austerity, "thrifty". There is very little defence of monarchy on monarchy's own terms, because that would be nonsensical.
Sixteen Commonwealth states must endorse the proposal and eight acts of parliament must be amended, or beheaded. And what then? Will the laughably nicknamed "Royal Equality Act" make the royal family more popular? Will the prime minister get his dearest and most necessary wish, a female bump in the polls, while not sacrificing his economic agenda? Or is it a march to chaos? No one can say.
It was revealed this week that the Prince of Wales has told the government he fears "unintended consequences" should his unborn grandchild marry a Catholic: if the child of that marriage wishes to be a practising Catholic, the status of the monarch as head of the Church of England will be threatened. There may be an abdication crisis, and eventually perhaps, my dearest wish – after a republic – a Jewish king of England. Other possible outcomes include warring noble families as daughters challenge primogeniture based on the royal example. Ancient weapons will be torn from the walls of Chatsworth and Goodwood and Arundel. Tatler will break. But that is the obvious problem with hereditary power: if you scratch at the edges of its essential irrationality, the whole edifice creaks. The monarchy should probably consult the Vatican. They know all about this: they too are walking a tightrope into the future.
I considered the proposals for possibly three seconds. Man, woman or corgi – who cares? Any finesse that makes the class system seem reasonable is toxic spin, a manipulative superimposition of fairness on an institution dedicated to the opposite. This particular progressive cause, I fear, is a dud.