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Whittling Away at the Monarchy
It doesn't take a bloody revolution to bring down a monarchy. That's just the headline-making way of doing it. Whittling away here and there will do it just as well. There are signs - small but significant - that this is happening to the British monarchy. Even if it's not deliberate, it has the same effect. Earlier this year, for example, the latest bit of whittling was the decision of BBC Radio 4 to drop the tradition of playing the National Anthem twice, at 7am and 8am, on the Queen's birthday, 21 April. This year, the Anthem was played only once, at 7am. A BBC spokeswoman explained that there was a big review process going on, and the Anthem was just part of it. What's more, she revealed, the BBC was "looking at" the Queen's official birthday, on 10 June, presumably with a view to cutting that out, too. At least, though, she didn't mention the cost involved. That's an argument that's been used all too often to explain the downgrading of things royal, as if the Queen and her family are some commercial enterprise that has to make a profit or bite the dust.

The fact remains though, that the monarchy is being downgraded when an organisation as important and influential as the BBC can't play a recording that takes seconds and doesn't greatly interrupt their programmes. This sort of thing is much more subtle than the reduce-the-royals publicity of last March, when it was announced that the Queen was being asked to take HRHs away from everyone apart from her children and that more minor family members like Princess Alexandra or the Duke of Gloucester should lose some of their privileges. Also made ripe for downgrading was the pageantry of ceremonies like the State Opening of Parliament when the Queen, dressed in full state gear and crown, rides to Westminster in an elaborate coach accompanied by the Household Cavalry. The Queen - good luck to her - has fought and won a rearguard action against that.. She regards the State Opening as second in importance only to the Coronation when it comes to royal ceremonial.

If this sort of thing goes on much longer, Britain is not only going to have a cheapjack, cut-price monarchy but one which has no real meaning. And when monarchy becomes irrelevant, that's the end of it.. Britain has the best and most colourful pageantry in the world, but there's more to it than wanting to preserve pretty pictures in the press or providing tourists with something to gawp at. British royal pageantry is the outward expression of the grandeur of monarchy and the special character of the Royal Family. Paraded through the streets or on television, it tells everyone that here is a focus of loyalty which gives the British an individuality as a nation. Treating the monarchy like some economic lame duck that needs to be trimmed down so that it looks good in the books does the reverse of that.

Of course, pageantry looks old-fashioned and out-of-date. Of course the Beefeaters in their 16th century costumes and the Household Cavalry in their high furry bearskins don't look like ordinary men in the street.. Wearing crowns isn't going to start a new fashion in headgear, and we're not going to chuck our cars in favour of riding about in carriages, either. But that's precisely the point. The outward show of monarchy has to be timeless and continue from generation to generation or it has no purpose. Making it "modern" or "now" - which is, apparently, what's driving all the proposed changes - just puts a sell-by date on it. It's natural for "modern" and "now" to change with time, sometimes quite rapidly, but with monarchy, it's continuity that counts.

The BBC hasn't yet said so in so many words, but if they decide some time i the future that the Queen's Official Birthday on 10 June each year isn't "significant", then that's a step in the wrong direction. The Official Birthday, quaint as it may seem, is actually more important than the Queen's own, personal birthday. First of all, it's a compliment to Prince Philip, whose own birthdate is 10 June, and all he has done for the British monarchy in the last fifty years. Second, the Official Birthday puts the Queen on show as Queen. If the National Anthem isn't played on the BBC that day, it won't be the end of the world, of course. Crowds will still gather on Horseguards Parade in London to watch the Queen take part in the ceremony of Trooping the Colour and later, outside Buckingham Palace, to greet her and her family as they stand on the famous balcony at the front of it. But a little bit of what monarchy means will be lost just the same. Buckingham Palace called the BBC's decision to cut down the playing of the Anthem "sad". You bet it is.

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