The problem with the royal family is that there is no “don’t care” option. The default, I believe, is to love them. Monarchists always give you some reason for it: they love all the tourists the family attracts; or they love having a neutral head of state, because that definitely keeps the politicians on the straight and narrow; or they love the way their coats always match their handbags, which is actually just the natural consequence of having so many coats and so many handbags.
You have to admire all these rationales as feats of reverse-engineering, because the real thing royalists love is that there isn’t a reason: there is absolutely no basis in reality for having any feelings for this remote and illegible family at all – and isn’t that the purest kind of love there is? Well, I’m guessing here.
Republicanism, meanwhile, is a perfectly respectable creed with sound logical foundations – or at least it used to be respectable, before the fever of fake patriotism that either caused or was caused by Brexit. But that leaves a huge mulch of us who genuinely don’t care. Pollsters represent us in grey on their bar charts, as if there is something colourless and drab, maybe a bit depressed, about the “don’t care” position.
I find this weirdly insulting. I don’t care about Coachella, either, or Formula One, or the private lives of strangers. This is because I’m an adult, not a baby, and that is how I want to be represented on a bar chart, whatever the colour for “adult, not baby” is.
We are good for social cohesion, though, because we are very unreactive. Royalists and republicans get into scraps; they clash about their core position and have other, satellite arguments, about Prince Harry and Princess Michael of Kent and primogeniture and taxpayers’ money. I don’t think I have had an argument about the royal family since the 1980s, and even then I was just sharpening my blades for other, more important, arguments – about animal vivisection and whether or not feminists should shave their pits.
This is why, had anyone asked me, I would have advised against inviting Britons to swear an oath of allegiance during the coronation ceremony. It will be known as the Homage of the People, either for hashtag purposes or for the annals of history, should anyone wish to mention it in the future, which I don’t think we will.
“I swear that I will pay true allegiance to your majesty,” we’re meant to say, “and to your heirs and successors according to law. So help me God.” Across the country, in pubs where people previously drank together in peace, on sofas where marriages rubbed along perfectly well, people will give voice to this absurd word salad; a great chorus will go up from those of us who have been silent for years.
No, I’m sorry, this is ridiculous. What does “true allegiance” even entail? How would it differ from false allegiance? According to which law? I mean, sure, I’m happy not to murder you or steal your stuff, if those are the kinds of laws you are talking about. If the successor is different from an heir, does this mean I’m swearing allegiance to someone who might hypothetically depose you? If so, do you have any concerns about the quality of my allegiance? Which god? This is nonsense!
The people who are in the middle of swearing the oath will be incensed. Nobody likes to be called ridiculous at the best of times, but it’s uniquely painful when you are mid-oath. There you are, suspending your disbelief, committing to the moment, and someone you thought you could trust – at least enough to share some salt and vinegar McCoy’s with – is trying to burst your bubble. There will be tears after this homage. There will be people who miss the bit where the crown goes on his head because they are too busy arguing – a once-in-a-lifetime moment, eclipsed for ever by discord.
Not me, of course. Because I don’t care.