Reflecting on the Coronation, tradition, and the Royal institution

Head of Criminology, Sociology, Politics and International Relations, Andrew Moran, asks whether The Royal Family finds itself exposed without a matriarch.

Date: 05 May 2023

In 21st Century Britain - a democracy which tells its children in school that we are all equal and everyone has the chance to be whoever they want to be (whether true or not) - it seems counterintuitive to have a monarchy. After all, a privileged institution, linked to colonialism and slavery would seem out of place in that narrative. 

And yet, talking to a partner institution in a former British colony recently I was surprised by how excited one member of staff was about the Coronation. “Oh yes”, he told me, “”When I was young my bedroom was full of posters of the Royal Family”. He even knew of people who were travelling halfway around the world to watch the Coronation in London. Wait a minute, I thought, but what about the horrors of colonialism in your country – the subjugation of people, the taking of natural resources? Or the fact the next three monarchs will all be elderly white men.

In a sense, the Royal Family provide a smoke screen for the negative legacy of empire even though it is there in plain sight. They provide a diverting family drama for some, an important sense of continuity for others. 

This should be, however, a moment for the monarchy to be reassessed. The Royal Family finds itself exposed without a matriarch who, whether you support the institution or not, provided a reassuring presence for many, all at a time when ever growing millions are cast aside and living in poverty. You can sense that nervousness in the Palace with the continued use of the phrase ‘working royal’ and the apparent slimming down of the Coronation. 

I have been fortunate enough to see the Royal Family at work, at charity events working a room with ease, raising money for countless causes. I have seen them do good work away from the prying eye of the media. Maybe Elton John could do the same, but there is something about the Royals that really makes a difference. 

I have often wondered what would happen if we did abolish the monarchy? Would we be like the end of The Truman Show, simply switching channels and moving on to the next thing, or would there be an existential crisis amongst some members of the British public. Of course, if you abolish the Monarchy, where do you stop? There is, after all, a wider privileged establishment hiding behind it.

So, this weekend there will be the millions who hold street parties and line the Mall celebrating in the coronation of a new King and there will be those demanding a republic. The rest will enjoy the long weekend, maybe catching up with friends and family, decorating the house or gardening. Whatever, it should be a time of reflection about the type of country we want to be, what values we want it to have, and where the monarchy, if at all, fits in with that.  

Buckingham Palace