Tuesday, 7 August 2012

CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT

I was going to comment eruditely on the popular reaction to HM's Diamond Jubilee celebrations over the last 5 days.  But I think most of it has been said now.

I was constantly amazed.  Not because The Queen is unpopular particularly, but just simply at the gushing outpourings of affection and support.  There is, it must be acknowledged, an anti-monarchist, or Republican, or a purist democratic, movement in the UK, which I kept expecting to see or hear disrupting events.  But there was nothing anti.  Even the official, organised, pro-Republic demonstration could raise no more than 50-odd people chanting 'Down with Liz', as opposed to the millions cheering and singing in support.

We booked our spot on the river to watch the flotilla at 8am, even though The Queen didn't lead the boats past until 2.30 that day.  But there were people on The Mall who had camped overnight to make sure they saw The Queen glide by some 20 hours later.  And that was just a couple of carriages, not the 1,000 boats that we saw. 

After the Buckingham Palace concert, the band struck up the National Anthem and, remembering the chanting at football matches and the silence at other public events, I thought, 'oh no, they're going to dampen the concert euphoria or spoil the success of the event'.  But, no, the crowd sung with gusto and raised three cheers afterwards for The Queen.  They even chanted support for The Duke of Edinburgh who had been taken ill the night before.

With recent royal cock-ups and a succession of PR difficulties since Diana's death, despite a pretty successful Golden Jubilee 10 years ago, I felt that public enthusiasm for the Royal Family had waned in Britain (and in parts of the Commonwealth for that matter), particularly among the young.  But I appear to have been wrong.  It seems to have been impossible for interviewers to find a member of the public willing to say a downbeat word about The Queen.  Far from it - nearly every sentence spoken seemed to include great affection and, not to put too fine a point upon it, loyalty and devotion.
 
There were even frequent spontaneous chants of 'God Save The Queen!', as though we were fanatical subjects in North Korea, rather than democratic and irreverant Britons.  There were plenty of irreverant references too of course, not least the number of masks worn.  But even they showed affection; ridicule was far from anyone's mind.

Of course the story might have been different north of the border, for all I know.  And I'm not entirely sure how the Commonwealth felt.  But I noted that even the Australian Premier's message of congratulation and admiration was gracious in the extreme, when again it could have been more subdued, given her antipathy towards the Crown.

But what really struck me was the way the celebrations had united people.  I mentioned in my earlier post that The Monarchy works much better here than a putative Presidency might.  As was pointed out in one of the newspapers today, there isn't a President that hasn't proved divisive (or totally irrelevant) in their own country in some way.  Yet, apart from a residual minority view that maybe she shouldn't be there at all, there was no sign of any of the divisiveness that our political masters have managed to achieve. 

The second feature was that that unity was formalised under the Union Flag.  It may seem odd to some of you that I say this, but our flag, except maybe in times of war, isn't really held in the same reverence as many other national flags are by the populations of those nations.  We tend to like it as an emblem and, from the swinging sixties onwards, have decorated everything from cars to home accessories with it.  And indeed, this last weekend, most people in the crowds were wearing red, white and blue, if not Union Flag clothing from head to toe, painted faces or nails, etc.  I even saw a Union Flag scarf on a Muslim girl by the river.  This patriotic upsurge is unusual for us in the absence of outside attack or physical national achievement; seeing it to celebate simply the survival of one person, however important constitutionally, was heart-warming, but still a surprise.  If nothing else, this inclusive, non-religious, non-political coming together under the national flag has done more for Britain than any other achievement that might be found in the 60 years of her reign.  And yet it is an achievement purely of passive survival.  We are merely celebrating the fact that she hasn't died or abdicated.

Finally, the other notable point highlighted in the press was the number of children and young people celebrating in the crowds.  I'm not sure many of the very young will have understood exactly what was going on and in fact many of their parents were not that clear either - there were a good many comments such as, 'well, we won't ever see it again', which made me wonder if they were there for the spectacle alone or maybe for the party.  One reporter, trying to inject a modicum of seriousness, asked one lady whether she was there because she supported the Monarchy per se or whether it was simply to recognise The Queen's achievement, but she looked a bit puzzled and just mumbled something about 'once in a lifetime'.  But those kids will be monarchists for life.  I remember even now collecting my commemorative glass at school and watching the Coronation on our new TV.  That event shaped my enthusiasm for the royals for many years.  There is now a new generation of enthusiasts coming through.

So here's to the next 60 proud, patriotic years . . .

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