Whatever the damage to his party, his country and dependent relations – should the crowdfunding start now? – the premiership of Boris Johnson increasingly looks, for the royal family, like an unprecedented blessing.
Imagine that you are continually reviled for being democratically illegitimate, lazy, greedy, philistine, pointless, absurd, spongeing, hypocritical, creepy, unprincipled and racist – when, as if to put the above in perspective, along comes an actual elected world king who is endowed with all these defects plus others unusual in UK monarchs since Charles II’s children almost doubled the size of the aristocracy. Better still, for the royals, the continuing insights into Johnson’s character coincide with a campaign for a new debate on the monarchy, “a broken institution” as Republic calls it, before Charles gets his hands on the crown.
With Andrew finally expelled, along with Charles’s former valet, in a pre-jubilee clearout, the prime minister’s incumbency could not have been better designed, like some inverted glorious revolution, to further beatify the Windsors and discredit the usual alternatives. Should the royal luck hold, they might even enjoy a Johnson-free jubilee; if he does feature in the pageantry, it can only be in a capacity guaranteed not to remind the royals of a funeral eve, a broken swing, a clinking wheelie suitcase. They have probably forgotten, by now, Jennifer Arcuri’s revelation that he was almost late to welcome them to an Olympics ceremony in 2012, being delayed by an inaugural sexual assignation with the talented tech entrepreneur.
Can a country that elected Boris Johnson ever be considered safe from electing a head of state like Boris Johnson?
It seems a pity Princess Margaret, generally admitted to be one of the most loathsome royals, could not have lived to see this rekindled dream of indefinite royal ease. Always, the rejoinder to anti-monarchists is: “Who would you rather then, Tony Blair?”, or its variant, “it can’t always be Betty Boothroyd”. Even a lifelong republican can see that the objection has recently gained a bit of purchase. Can a country that elected prime minister Boris Johnson ever be considered safe from electing a head of state like Boris Johnson? With his or her latest iteration of Mrs Johnson, their thirsty court and extended family also serving for some lengthy term as fellow figureheads in need of extensively refurbished accommodations?
True, a known associate of a paedophile and a sex trafficker is unlikely, in such an election, to be either a contender or beneficiary in the style too long enjoyed by Prince Andrew. His recent erasure may have been sufficiently thorough enough, however, to indicate an attractive new direction in royal brand renewal. Well before he was dispatched, the deployment of Wholesome William and Thrifty Kate, with their ever-so-humble royal ways, suggested some careful revival of the Victorian royal template. News that the wallpaper queen was too sensitive for the Downing Street flat coincided with the duchess’s reinvention as a moral leader whose £7 Accessorize earrings will always say more about her than any free fort that might become available.
From Johson’s arrival, the Queen benefited from the concern you’d feel for any very elderly person suddenly subjected to weekly visits from the sort of degenerate and unkempt-looking individual you would not wish to see prowling around sheltered accommodation. Was her handbag, you wondered, always in sight and firmly closed? Had secret cameras been concealed in pot plants? Had Johnson even washed his hands? Probably not. Dominic Cummings had to intervene in March 2020 to stop Johnson potentially infecting the Queen with Covid. There may have been some amusement on her part in being able to compare the Churchill impersonator with the real thing. And it’s not impossible she found Johnson preferable, initially, to Cameron, who had once said she’d “purred” at him, then further overshared in his autobiography.
To the insult of his appearance, Johnson would shortly add the professional discourtesy of illegally proroguing parliament. John Major, demanding an apology, warned Johnson: “No prime minister must ever treat the monarch or parliament in this way again.” Opting, as per, to defend the indefensible, Johnson thereby pulled off the notable feat for an elected politician of appearing less constitutionally observant than Prince Charles. Who has also grown in stature recently, in inverse proportion to his appearances.
Johnson pulled off the notable feat for a politician of appearing less constitutionally observant than Prince Charles
Whether or not the Queen cares about the behaviour of Johnson’s intoxicated and anarchic functionaries during the “period of national mourning” he had recommended, that too has been another valuable service. The reports allowed for a pointed updating of the Queen Mother’s “I’m glad we’ve been bombed. It makes me feel we can look the East End in the face.”
Thanks to the No 10 revels, we learned the Queen had declined the offer of a royal exemption from the lockdown mourner-limit on the grounds, according to Private Eye, that “it would be unfair… The palace told Downing Street that she wanted to set an example rather than be an exception to the rules.” If it was less impressive that the Queen subsequently allowed Andrew, semi-disappeared since his Newsnight interview, to stage a post-funeral comeback, then the palace compensated when his evasions were exhausted with an obliteration of exemplary ruthlessness.
Modern technology rules out a Stalinesque Andrew-vanishing from royal balconies, but the family website did its best, consigning him so firmly to the past that you wonder if it’s actually legal, what with the government’s new rules about never throwing anything out. “An important part of the Duke of York’s role was to support the Queen’s work as Head of State,” the family all but obituarises its demi-late duke. He “would attend a number of important occasions…”
Compared with this, the Tory party, still unwilling to evict an individual so colossally harmful to its elderly brand, is practically begging for abolition. If Boris Johnson makes the royals almost tolerable, the transaction works, alas, both ways. The royals have made his outfit look even worse.
• Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist