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18 February 2022

What will happen when the Queen dies?

Britain's apathy will keep Charles on the throne, for better or for worse.

By Eleanor Peake

What will happen when the Queen dies? The BBC will announce a timetable of mournful national television. Labour will probably go down in the polls. Prince Charles will be crowned. But after that? 

Commentators like to toy with the idea that the monarchy will end; perhaps not quickly, but eventually, a painful jog to the finish line. They will be doing so again now that it has been announced the Queen will miss the state opening of parliament because of mobility issues. They predict that the UK’s tolerance for a system that makes no logical sense in a democracy will, rationally, cease to be.

The evidence for this is largely based on occasional temperature checks of public mood. In 2021, a YouGov survey reported that at least 41 per cent of young people aged 18-24 would prefer an elected head of state, compared with the 31 per cent that admitted they still wished to have a king or queen.

The warmth towards the monarchy among the UK population as a whole is, to a large degree, down to the popularity of the Queen; a woman whose face has been on our currency for as long as most of the population has been alive. In fact, a recent poll found that more than 70 per cent of people in Scotland approved of the Queen. In contrast, support for Charles was just 41 per cent.

These low poll ratings will probably continue to drop for Charles as the Metropolitan Police begins its investigation into claims that his charity offered honours help to a Saudi citizen. And let’s not forget about the Queen’s other son.

Prince Andrew’s damning payout to Virginia Giuffre, around £12m, has left a rancid taste in the public’s mouth as we learned that the Queen’s money helped Prince Andrew pay his settlement, with a donation of £2m to a charity for sex abuse survivors.

Surely then, once the Queen is no longer the ruling monarch, the country will wash its hands of a family whose basic existence is unreflective of modern Britain?

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But these commentators miss one crucial thing: the population’s total indifference.

While the majority of the UK don’t outwardly celebrate the monarchy, they also don’t outwardly oppose it. Just as it has come to passively accept the inoffensive hum of the Queen’s afternoon speech in the background of Christmas dinner preparations, so too has it become accustomed to the embroilment of drama and dishonesty that has tainted royal families throughout British history.

There was a time when the people did get angry enough to become a republic. In 1649, it even chopped off King Charles I’s head for good measure. Tellingly, though, our 17th-century compatriots couldn’t hack republic life for very long. Eleven years later and they were begging for the worn structure of the royal figurehead to return. Maybe this was where the national Stockholm syndrome began.

If a united disgust at the royal family’s alleged racism, sexual abuse and secrecy has not yet been strong enough to topple it, perhaps there is something more powerful at play: unwavering apathy. As preparations begin for the Queen’s platinum jubilee amid a cloud of royal scandal and corruption, challenging this has become increasingly urgent. As long as the monarchy stays within the confines of Christmas TV and royal weddings, Britain’s lukewarm nonchalance will keep Charles on the throne, for better or for worse.

[See also: Prince Andrew might have paid up – but he’s hardly been exonerated]

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