Britain's "scaled back" decline and fall?

The central part of the UK's identity, the constitutional monarchy, may be more beleaguered and unpopular than ever, and now it is willing to cede ground.

In an earlier post, I expressed doubt about whether removing the monarchy is likely or possible, and concluded that the population would not support this. However, they probably would not do much to stop or reverse such a change if it simply happened, either.

The point about our country being a reactionary power is more a comment on the status quo-supporting mindset of people in the UK than a good basis to judge how the future will go. Eventually, things do change. If things have changed by stealth, regardless of what wishes people expressed, Brits tend to support whatever new status quo we are up to.

Bad signs for the Crown

There are signs that the monarchy really is on a slow path into history's dustbin.

The British people would not vote to get rid of the monarchy. However, they may well do nothing about it diminishing and disappearing out of public view. For most people, there would be apathy about this.

The worst wound to the monarchy is the Prince Andrew sexual abuse scandal. Now that that this has ended in an out of court settlement, paid possibly by the Queen using taxpayer money, many see Andrew as certainly guilty. He will not regain his titles.

Rather than plough through popular objections, reassert the Crown with new images of splendour, and spend ever more lavishly on themselves, the monarchy is beginning to yield to common complaints. We see this in the promise of a "scaled back" coronation of Charles and Camilla. This concession, made for cost, is likely unprecedented, considering that each coronation in the past would have been made with increasing fanfare. It is astonishing that Charles does not see the the danger.

Has the monarchy chosen to fade away?

With monarchs, it is all or nothing, at least in the public eye. A frugal monarch who removed the diamonds from the Crown, out of humble submission to the crowd, is nothing much to respect, and the image of that monarch will be greatly diminished in many minds.

One can compare this to the way the Roman Catholic Church has slowly adjusted its doctrine with time, taking no firm stand, to accommodate modern sensibilities. Perhaps the Papacy too will begin to shed its wealth, overwhelmed at last by changing perceptions toward the privileged. In their case, too, there would come a point at which placation became capitulation and the core identity of the Roman Catholic Church was lost.

For these ancient institutions, reform eventually becomes the exit strategy from their own existence. Ironically, budging for the demands of critics and spending less lavishly actually makes it more likely that there will be calls for such institutions to be eliminated completely, as they will start to look shabbier.

Those who would have held on to these institutions for merely the image of splendour would likely be the last to leave. Were the monarchy to find itself in a position where it inhabited dull offices rather than palaces, it would not take long for these offices to be closed as well. In other words, the monarchy may gradually fade so that it is not in the hearts of the next generation or two, such that it just gets abolished and quietly buried without anyone noticing it was ever there to begin with.

Consequences less severe from slow change

The removal of the Crown should be steady rather than abrupt. Sudden abolition could have a destabilising effect in parts of the Commonwealth, creating a number of new republics that may not not know how to forge ahead. It may mean the end of the Commonwealth entirely. The effects will not be contained in the UK.

We also have the movements for independence in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Were the monarchy to diminish or disappear, these movements would grow increasingly strong and the country could dissolve into republics and federations, while Ireland may unite. In such an event, whatever the UK turns into should maintain the Westminster system of government, as the former colonies did, and maintain the palaces in their splendour as the Russians did.