Sunday 10 June 2012
The Queen offers a sense of continuity in a restless world
Jubilee festivities struck a chord with ordinary people as the Queen marks 60 years, writes Ruth Dudley Edwards
I walked through London's Chinatown on Thursday. The Chinese enjoy celebrations, and the bunting for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was still festooning several streets. Each piece consisted simply of Union Jacks alternating with Chinese flags. It was a simple way of showing that loyalties can be complementary, and in the same spirit as the Muslim woman I saw wearing a Union Jack hijab.
If I'd had the ability or the money, I'd have created British-Irish bunting for the modest party with friends to watch the Thames regatta. Like many Irish people who live in Britain, I am Irish and British and love both countries. I have lived in England for most of my life; but not having been born there, I would never call myself English. Britishness is different: it encompasses complex identities and loyalties.
There were many immigrants out on the rainy streets cheering Queen Elizabeth. For those who came from Commonwealth countries, she has always been part of their lives, a frequent and well-informed visitor and in some cases their native country's queen. But in truth there are few places that don't know of her. She is the most famous woman on earth and she offers a sense of continuity in a restless world. The Americans don't want the monarchy back, but they love British royalty.
For the party I wore a red, white and blue fascinator, with attendant corgi, made by an American friend: she will go home eventually, but she loves the richness of British heritage.
Mass immigration to the United Kingdom over the past few decades has been a source of communal tension, not least because those who opposed it were denounced by the liberal elite as racists and bigots. The Jubilee provided an opportunity for these immigrants to say -- as many of them did on radio and TV vociferously -- 'Thank you for having us. We subscribe to your values and we honour the woman who is now our queen.' It did far more for social harmony than tens of thousands of well-meaning speeches from politicians and clerics.
The Queen fulfils brilliantly the symbolic requirements of her job, but she does not work alone.
"A family on the throne," said Walter Bagehot, the great constitutional commentator, "is an interesting idea ... It brings down the pride of sovereignty to the level of petty life." In other words, we can identify with her in a way we can't with the abstraction that is a constitution.
Onlookers fretted that she was looking cold on the barge, they loved the moment when the ramrod-straight Prince Philip jigged to the tune of the Sailor's Hornpipe, they got worried when he was carted off to hospital and they empathised with the Queen when she had to carry on without him.
Seeing her laughing with her daughter-in-law Camilla helped towards the rehabilitation of Prince Charles after the tragic fiasco of the Diana years. And Charles's speech after the concert, his evident affection for 'Mummy' and his request for a shout of goodwill for his father struck chords with ordinary people.
For royalologists, the most significant event of the four days was the deliberately low turnout on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. For the Royal Wedding, it was crammed. This time, it was restricted to the core (minus Philip) of what the Queen calls 'The Firm'. The heir to the throne was there with his wife, a countrywoman who likes dogs and horses and reading, but who is earning the affection of the public because they recognise she loves her husband enough to apply herself industriously and with grace to public duties she had never coveted. William was there with Kate, whose impeccable behaviour as consort has contrasted so impressively with her late mother-in-law. And the extrovert and dashing Prince Harry, the spare heir, was there lightening the spirits.
'We go on as we always do,' was the message. 'The Queen won't be abdicating and the succession won't skip a generation. As human beings, we have had our problems, as all people do. But we have been bred and trained to do our jobs and we know our destiny and our duty.'
A sad, bearded man led 1,200 or so protesters at Tower Bridge denouncing the undemocratic nature of monarchy and calling for a Republic. But there is no taste for it, not least because what Britain has is not undemocratic. The monarch has no power and could be removed if parliament so wished.
The journalist Rod Liddle recently announced that he converted from republicanism when he realised that in its absence the UK would probably end up with a president like Baroness Ashton, an unelected and rather untalented woman who is making a poor fist of being the EU's High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
Game, set and match to The Firm.
Ruth Dudley Edwards