The British monarch is the ultimate nepo baby. It’s the last thing you’d choose for a modern country

Queen Elizabeth was a blessing for the British establishment. King Charles may turn out to be a curse. And Prince Harry could yet prompt a revolution

The day of Queen Elizabeth’s funeral, September 19th, 2022, I logged into work in London as usual. No one else was online, and the streets outside my apartment, in Hackney, were deserted. I’d just come back from Spain and didn’t know a public holiday had been declared. Hours passed before I realised what was going on.

The shops were shut except for a Sri Lankan grocer down the road who sold me some milk. We exchanged knowing nods. I’d like to think it was what her majesty would have wanted, two old colonial boys doing a shift while the English put their feet up.

Even the most ardent republican would have to concede that Queen Elizabeth played her role masterfully, unlike the succession of democratically elected chancers and oddballs who have humiliated Britain on the world stage in recent years

No serious country starting from scratch in the morning would think a political system headed by a crown-wearing, tax-exempt nepo baby was a good idea. But by a rogue strand of good luck the late British monarch just happened to be good at her job, despite having no actual qualifications for it.

Even the most ardent republican would have to concede that she played her ceremonial role masterfully. Unlike the succession of democratically elected chancers and oddballs who have humiliated Britain on the world stage in recent years, the queen was arguably the most talented public servant the UK had.


A royal visit to a foreign country was diplomatic dynamite, deployed by the British political establishment at critical moments. Queen Elizabeth’s superpower was the illusion of grace. Like teens taken to Lapland, presidents and prime ministers found themselves bowing to her, as if her supernatural stateliness might somehow be transferred unto them.

She was no less effective at home. Romanticised by the British people as a living link to a glorious past, the queen was able to maintain a medieval system of privilege in a country with some of the highest rates of poverty in Northern Europe.

Equality is a foundational principal of republics such as the United States or France, enshrined in their constitutions. No such constitution exists in the UK. If Britain did have a written constitution, it would be implicit that some families were better than others by virtue of birth. The British class system isn’t just a quirk of national character: the monarchy effectively codifies it into law.

Whatever legitimate grievances against his family he might have had, Harry surely noticed the pitchforks and torches glimmering on the horizon

Strip away the pomp and you see that the power structure is unambiguously discriminatory. The law was recently changed to allow a royal to marry a member of another faith or even a same-sex partner, but the monarch must still be a Protestant: the head of state is also the head of the Church of England and so must be “in communion” with it. Britain could never have a Muslim king or a Jewish queen. It is remarkable that the arrangement survived the Enlightenment, never mind all the way into the 21st century.

Misty-eyed deference to Elizabeth spared her much meaningful scrutiny. Her skill was to remain as inoffensive as possible, smiling sweetly as she drip-fed the public nostalgia like an opium dispenser. Unfortunately for royalists, it is becoming painfully obvious that her sons and grandsons were not blessed with her self-awareness, elegance or cunning.

If Elizabeth embodied a pride in a magnificent past, then King Charles has come to represent shame at a diminished present. Appalled by scandals such as his brother Andrew’s relationship with the billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, many would prefer to look away.

Barbados formally cut ties with the British crown in 2021, and Prince William’s tour of Caribbean nations last year was met with protests and calls for reparations. In the 15 commonwealth “realms” that remain, the slow march of republicanism is probably now irreversible. The psychological impact this final phase of decolonisation will have at home in Britain remains to be seen, but the once-bombastic fanfare around the royals is starting to sound like a death rattle.

The United Kingdom without a monarch would ask profound existential questions about what it means to be British. The public debate and constitutional ramifications would be like Brexit on steroids.

The immediate appetite for such an ugly fight is minimal, but the longer-term relevance of Charles and his hangers-on looks bleak. It is within this context we must appreciate the minor genius of Charles’ second son, Harry.

Whatever legitimate grievances against his family he might have had, he surely noticed the pitchforks and torches glimmering on the horizon. In an inspired sleight of hand, he has managed to co-opt the language of social justice and weaponise it against the very institution that enriched him in the first place.

Consciously or unconsciously, he may have raced for the exit at exactly the right moment, pocketing millions in media deals in the process. The great irony of Harry’s betrayal is that he is exactly the sort of disrupter his family needs if it is going to reinvent itself.

I never thought Irish people could relate to a royal, but look at Harry: a ginger emigrating to the United States in search of work. Perhaps we’re all not so different, after all.

Peter Flanagan left Ireland in 2016 to perform stand-up comedy in London. He is on Instagram and Twitter

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