If Boris Johnson is done for, as some predict, what will we have learned? Or will we choose not to reflect and learn at all, but simply wait for the next posh rabble rouser to come along and claim his or her place? I rather suspect the latter, since the British public does not, on the whole, go in for considering the longer-term implications of personality-driven politics. But perhaps this weekend’s celebrations, for all their jingoism, and the fluffed-up version of the fifties that has provided a backdrop for them (the fifties were bleak times to be growing up in), have reminded us all of what leadership is really about.
At the centre of these, at times rather forced, celebrations is a woman whose steadfast love, promised to her people on the day of her Coronation, has remained constant and unwavering. I would be surprised if this love always depended on subjective feelings. Feelings, and what her generation thought of as duty, do not go together, which is perhaps why the concept of duty feels so alien to people today. Duty has to do with faithfulness. But faithfulness depends on love, especially in regard to leadership.
Leadership is, on the whole, a very overblown subject, mainly because those of us who are privileged to live in a free democratic society are not, or should not be, people who are happy to simply be led. If we are to have leaders, then, they need to be people who remind us of our better selves and do so in a way which is consistent and truthful, a constant reminder of what we are all called to be and are capable of becoming.
In the quiet steadfast leadership of our monarch we have had this shown to us for seven decades. We could have learned something from it. We could have learned, for example, that loving service is at its best when it is accompanied by very few words. It does not need to promote itself. It simply is itself in the gracious demeanour of this particular sovereign. Some may not like the idea of a monarchy at all. As an institution it speaks of privilege and suggests power, although it has very little of the latter. It is an anachronism at best, but to do away with it would be to lay ourselves open to the pseudo-leadership that is all most of our politicians are capable of mustering. A president, elected or not, would make us vulnerable to the ego-driven hubris of a Donald Trump and to more of what we have now in such people as Boris Johnson.
Institutions too often fall short of what they are designed to be for, in terms of their benefit to society, but occasionally an individual will emerge from within them who makes us glad we have them. There will be an occasional Rowan Williams or Desomond Tutu in the institutional Church. And there will be monarchs who endure and who, as leaders, remind us that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and for the democratic freedoms we have, despite, or perhaps because of, a constitution of ‘convention’ which is somehow kept safe within this time-honoured monarchy. Ultimately, it is the trust we invest in the monarchy that may be the saving of us once Johnson has gone, whoever replaces him.