Marr on the Monarchy

by | November 12, 2012

“I am an unashamedly populist storyteller”, Marr explains, and with figures approaching six million for his recent royalist romp, The Diamond Queen, to deny his adherence to the folk narrative of 21st century Britain would be to do the man something of a disservice. As he sees it, Britain is royalist, and the royal family is fundamental to Britain. Whether labelled fulsome obeisance or detached admiration, Andrew Marr has plenty to say on monarchical matters and the ‘Diamond Queen’.

He may be a “populist storyteller”, but his support for the monarchy is without doubt as academic as it comes. Having been a republican for most of his life, his ideological U-turn took place ten to fifteen years ago. At the core of his cerebral brand of royalism is an appreciation of the apolitical continuity that the Queen provides – something he believes has served to “distance individual governments from the state” and “allows you both to kill and keep your king”. His admiration of the Queen seems unmitigated, particularly when it comes to her unwavering respect for her primary constitutional duty, as he sees it: not expressing political views, however strongly she may feel them. It is this “iron self-discipline” that has not only made her such a successful monarch, but has also made her Marr’s single favourite argument for the whole monarchical system. It all seems to hinge on  a very particular view of what the monarch should do and how he or she should behave.  Does such an argument come crashing down when one considers the potential conduct of her successor? Marr concedes that the “placid water” that the royal family is currently enjoying “will not last forever”, and that “Charles will be a very different kind of monarch” – perhaps posing the question: will this mean a rather different kind of monarchy?

Despite the criticism levelled at his “slightly stodgy” documentary and the accusation that he is increasingly behaving like a courtier, Marr remains a peculiar type of royalist. He refuses to be called a spokesman for the royal family – “I am not a spokesman for anything” – and is keen to emphasise the ambiguity of his position. He is not “an unequivocal enthusiast for everything about the monarchy” and remains steadfastly unpersuaded by the honours system. The latter seems to reflect the left-wing political outlook of his younger years – a political leaning that may have sat uncomfortably with his gradual drift towards the royalist camp. These days, however, he is confident that the two can be satisfactorily reconciled. In a culture of “little cliques and nexuses” – in which our society’s claims to be democratic and egalitarian are patently proved false – Marr argues that there is something acutely comforting in the way the Queen is “just there because she’s there” – no pretence, no arrogance, no hypocrisy, nothing.

Yet does all this justify the saturation of royal family material currently being churned out by BBC?  “Look,” he responds tersely, “the BBC was always going to cover the royal wedding, that’s one of the core things it’s there for.” As for his own series, its popularity is justification enough. With popular opinion so important to his understanding of the monarchy, it is difficult to fault him for pursuing a populist trajectory in his contribution to the public debate on the subject. An ‘unashamed populist storyteller’ with a serious academic belief in the monarchy, he is unfazed by republican criticisms of his documentary: “I knew I would get a fair kicking, I wasn’t surprised at all.”