The glitzy Queen's Diamond Jubilee provided an occasion to forget the all-pervasive economic gloom for a few days.
Bad weather, cynical comments by anti-monarchists, questions about the appropriateness of having massive celebrations at a time when the national economy is in serious difficulty — these were some of the things that led some commentators to assume that the celebrations throughout the country of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee would turn out to be a damp squib. They could not have been more wrong.
Thousands of people lined the river Thames to watch a vast procession of vessels large and small on Sunday. The atmosphere, in spite of heavy rain, was of enjoyment and excitement.
On Monday evening, again, thousands of people stood in the Mall, in front of Buckingham Palace, to listen to the concert, by a wide array of famous pop stars in honour of Her Majesty. The crowd was hugely enthusiastic, and people were clearly enjoying themselves.
Around the U.K., there were equally enthusiastic celebrations of the jubilee, and although members of the public were dampened by the weather, to put it mildly, their enjoyment did not seem to be.
The Queen's response to all this was appreciative. For example, on the long ceremonial journey down the Thames on board the magnificently decorated Spirit of Chartwell, the 86-year-old monarch stood throughout, waving and greeting people along the way, and did not take the chance of sitting on the special throne sited on board.
Some of the ways chosen to celebrate the jubilee could be described as over the top. For a dairy to decorate a milk bottle with a Union Jack, for example, seemed merely ridiculous. Similarly, some of the excitable comments made by people in the crowd — egged on by some pretty pedestrian questioning by some of the television presenters — reflected immaturity; but to be fair, the celebrations were not designed as intellectual commentaries on the Constitution.
When the celebratory weekend was all over, one thing that emerged was that, whatever some of the pundits expected, and whatever those scathing about the monarchy hoped, the weekend's celebrations were by any standards a huge success.
What conclusions can be drawn? It can be pointed out quite accurately that an occasion of this kind provides an opportunity to forget for a few days the gloom of all-pervading economic problems and replace it with a bit of glitz and glamour.
In my view, however, there are some more significant factors to take into account. One is that the Queen, throughout her long reign, has given a true example of service. It is of course the case that she, and her immediate family, lead lives sheltered from the realities that affect most of the population. That does not alter the fact that she has a clear idea of the duty she assumed when she became Queen, and it has always directed her behaviour. Service comes as second nature to her. Many of the things she is expected to do are inherently dull, and must become even more dull when they are done for the umpteenth time. She does them without complaint. Furthermore, she does not even have the satisfaction of exercising power. In earlier eras, a monarch could, and did, exercise political power; not now.
That leads me to another factor, namely the mistrust that increasingly large numbers of people have for politicians. In the past few years, it has often seemed that the word “politician” is a term of abuse, and it is not difficult to see why. There has been financial chicanery, and many examples of abuse of power. In the light of that, the idea that the ultimate reward as the summit of a political career might be to become head of state would now command very little popular support. It would no doubt appeal to dedicated republicans, who are sometimes vocal — but their voices are convincingly drowned by the voices which cheered the weekend's events.
The figures seem to bear this out. A recent Guardian/ICM opinion poll showed that 69 per cent of those polled felt that Britain would be worse off without a monarchy. Support crossed party political boundaries, age groups and social class. It would be foolish to draw too many conclusions from an opinion poll. What seems absolutely clear at present, however, is that royalty is popular, and equally clear that politicians are not.
Probably most of the people celebrating the jubilee with such obvious enjoyment did not spend much time pondering deep constitutional issues, but that does not detract from what appear to be some underlying constitutional truths.
Keywords: Queen's Diamond Jubilee