I am a monarchist.
That doesn't mean my loyalty is defined by a willingness to line the streets when the royals come to town to swoon at the passage of their limousine. Nor do I share the compulsion that seeks to stamp "royal" on everything as if that magically transforms it into something meaningful and of value.
My loyalty in fact, has the opposite effect. I disdain the populism and consumerism that accompanies modern royalty and endure royal celebrations in a scrooge-like fashion. The royalty is about stability and responsibility; rising above the din of the masses to ensure that the constitution is properly respected by responsible governments. It recognizes the limits of democracy and that there is something deeper that holds us together than whatever our majoritarian whims seek at the moment. The old castles are supposed to remind us of our roots and the pledge to be loyal to the majesty's "heirs and successors" is a statement of confidence that the underlying principles of how we live together peaceably have enduring value. The monarchy is about much more than private titillation by princes and princesses; it's a public matter.
Thus, the official confirmation, brought about the Dutchess of Cambridge's hospitalization for morning sickness, of a royal pregnancy which, if all goes well, will alter the line of royal succession for the Windsor family is worthy of our attention. I'm less sure that this takes a 25-page spread in this week's Maclean's to explain, but the photogenic and winsome public personas cultivated by Prince William and his bride explain the editorial inflation factor.
However, the good news has been confused by a radio prank gone badly and a response that betrays a total public ignorance regarding the basics of social architecture.
The prank involved two Australian DJs who called the King Edward VII hospital ("renowned for its discretion and privacy") impersonating members of the royal family to inquire about the condition of Kate. The 46-year-old nurse who responded to their queries was distraught by falling for this prank and two days later, she was found dead as a result of an apparent suicide. The DJs are off the air, and the hospital and radio station are engaged in a long-distance PR war regarding the appropriateness of their policies.
From across the pond, it is impossible to know how seriously to take Labour MP Kevin Vaz's call for an inquiry. But the all-too-common impulse to think that royal commissions and inquiries are the necessary response to all tragedies should be resisted.
In no way do I mean to diminish the tragedy involving the nurse and her now-bereaved family and their right to receive full and complete explanations regarding what occurred, but to turn this into a public spectacle is to confuse the distinctions that the very existence of the monarchy should remind us of.
Different institutions have different roles and different lessons to learn. Families will continue to call hospitals daily for medical information on admitted loved ones, and all hospitals need to ensure appropriate protocols are in place and followed to ensure the confidentiality of this information. Radio DJs playing on-air pranks is a long-standing practice that will continue and, in most cases, is harmless fun. But all radio stations and DJs would do well to use the occasion to review their policies about what is appropriate and when. The bereaved needsto be supported in their grief by their family and a loving community. And the Royal Family, who while the focus of this episode were not really involved (after expressing their concern, as William and Kate graciously did almost immediately upon hearing of the tragedy), need to continue to prepare for their expected baby in the new year.
This is social architecture at work. When institutions do their work well and you throw in a good measure of personal reflection and responsibility on the part of every individual, you have the makings of a proper social order—the sort that a constitutional monarchy was intended to protect. Basic lessons we all should have learned long ago. No royal commission required.