Why Brits still love to honour and obey

One thing Ed "Claymation" Miliband won't do in his search for a "narrative" to unite the Labour Party under his leadership will be to espouse the least little hint of republicanism. On the contrary, if he's still the top Gromit come 29 April, you can be absolutely certain he'll be sitting in the Abbey with the rest of the paltry and the compromised (latter-day versions of "the great and the good"), all grinning and gooey-eyed as Will and Kate make their vows.

The palace - in association with the coalition - has of course already cornered the narrative market with its X Factor fairy tale of how the daughter of a flight attendant and a flight despatcher nabbed her regal helicopter pilot. On this reading, the nuptials represent just another chapter in the long democratisation of the monarchical principle; a story of ordinary sceptr'd folk that began in a meadow at Runnymede and will end . . . well, never, for while the Windsors may aspire to the condition of salty earth, they can never achieve it, being ineffably, um, royal.

Royal flush

In the current era of crazed quantification, the monarchy's detractors and its supporters tend to frame their arguments financially. So, no analysis of the wedding is complete without the figures being trotted out: the Queen's £300m personal fortune, the £10m and more to be spent by her, Chucky and - preposterously - their new commoner in-laws; the policing bill to be footed by the taxpayer; and the estimated £6bn to be lost by the British economy because, with the extra bank holiday, millions of subjects will cop an 11-day foreign holiday (and how patriotic is that?).

But while this may seem to be the very meat of the matter, the truth is that it's a useless garnish of persiflage, for the true lifeblood of the monarchy is, was and always will be the madness of the crowd, not the capacity of the citizenry for rational calculations of cost benefit. The statistics have remained remarkably consistent over the years: broadly speaking, two-thirds of the British public support the monarchy, while a third oppose it. Under such circumstances you don't need to be a focus groupie of old New Labour to grasp that republicanism of any kind is electoral folly. But is it, really? Because when you ask people why they support the monarchy, their answers reveal a great deal of this column's favourite symptom: cognitive dissonance.

Almost everybody believes that while they themselves understand that the royals, as people, are deeply flawed, if not entirely useless, they nonetheless cleave to the notion that there exists a heartland out there of boneheaded proles who need an organic Duchy Original political principle to keep them in line. The political class, this unreasoning goes, cannot possibly expect to command the full assent, let alone the respect, of the masses, so the best that can be hoped for is a kind of adoration-by-proxy. That Tories should cling to this patronising drivel is understandable - it's encrypted in their DNA - but that supporters of what was once a proudly socialistic party should endorse it as well is frankly deranging.

Hypocritical mass

And so the long tables will be laid with paper napkins and the little Union Jacks will flutter and the whole tawdry spectacle of willed ignorance will continue. Oscar Wilde asserted that the English were a nation of hypocrites, but nothing exemplifies the genius of their hypocrisy more (besides looping in the Scots, the Welsh and even the Irish to the charade) than this capacity to mouth "democracy" while bending a collective knee to all the baubles of autocracy.

Of course, were Miliband to propose a republic as part of his grand policy review, an entire swath of vexed constitutional questions would be thrown sharply into relief, from devolution to the European Human Rights Directive to reform of the second chamber. But that would be far too genuinely progressive; that would imply that a key aspect of democracy is that sovereignty truly resides in the will of the people, rather than the will of the elite.

And we wouldn't want that - oh, no.

And so the monarchy will endure, crouching like a jewelled toad on the blanched body politic, and from time to time it will spawn in a disgusting fashion: the well-oiled pornography of primogeniture, gloated over by a voyeuristic multitude.

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Vietnam: the last battle