But it was a bad week for republicans, their voices drowned out by cheerleaders for the Queen, especially in the media
Ok, ok, I'll not bang on about the cost, but, if you wish to know, it was in the region of £1.3 billion; and, I do get the point about the need to “lighten up” occasionally even in the midst of deepening gloom. But shutting down the entire nation for four full days just to humour the Queen?
Forget the party-pooping republicans and sulking businessmen who complained about the loss of revenue and productivity as a result of the longest holiday weekend in living memory to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee. At 86, even the Queen, well-preserved and sprightly though she is, must have been exhausted after four days of non-stop excursion dashing from one “amazing” event to another with a permanent grin on her face.
When it comes to the royal family, particularly the Queen, Britons have form on fawning, and nobody fawns better than the media. And here I am not talking about the usual suspects, The Telegraph, The Times, the Daily Mail or the Sky. The BBC, allegedly packed with loony republicans, out-fawned them all prompting The Times writer Philip Collins to comment: “I thought the BBC was meant to be a nest of Lefties. Where are they all?”
A three-part BBC documentary on the Queen's 60-year reign, screened in the run-up to the jubilee, was widely criticised for not presenting a single dissenting voice. The campaign group, Republic, accused it of acting like the Palace's “cheerleader-in-chief”.
“For the past 18 months, our national broadcaster has sought to promote the institution and its incumbent family and to join in the royal celebrations. Rather than act as an impartial commentator, the BBC has become cheerleader-in-chief for an institution that is controversial and contested,” it said.
In one of the many cringing moments, a star BBC presenter looked on with awe and excitement as an executive of a supermarket chain revealed the “wonderful” contents of a Jubilee picnic hamper created by celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal and royal chef Mark Flanagan. The camera rolled on as the man waxed eloquent about “chilled British country garden soup”; “tea-smoked Scottish salmon”, and specially spiced-up “Diamond Jubilee chicken”!
The royalists were still not impressed and took to social networking sites to complain that the Beebs did not always get the tone “right” — on one occasion referring to the Queen as “HRH” rather than “Her Majesty”.
“Low grade, celebrity driven drivel. How did Beeb get it so wrong?” asked angry Tory MP, Rob Wilson.
It was not a week to be a republican in Britain. Realising very early in the build-up to the jubilee mania that they had no chance against the rising tide of “we-love-Her Madge” hysteria they sensibly kept a low profile restricting themselves to an odd comment on the absurdity of the hereditary principle. A few republicans who tried to hold a protest during Sunday's jubilee river pageant were booed and abused with one Union Jack-waving, lager-drinking royalist shouting: “These guys are scum. The royals are the best thing we've got going for the country”.
With such a strong pro-royalist mood, backed by opinion polls showing a whopping 69 per cent support for the monarchy (an all-time high, attributed to public disillusionment with elected politicians), sceptics trod carefully. The Guardian, seen as the repository of republicanism, devoted five pages to the jubilee pageant with an editorial that hailed it as “party to remember”. Earlier, the newspaper took care to balance a critical piece by Polly Toynbee (“Queen's diamond jubilee: a vapid family and a mirage of nationhood. What's to celebrate?”) with a tub-thumping pro-monarchy article by Simon Jenkins on the same page arguing that, “To will a British republic on the weekend of the Queen's diamond jubilee is like asking the Pope to renounce God at Easter, or a field marshal to turn pacifist.”
The New Statesman, which has historically opposed the hereditary principle, was so cautious that its editorial, “Misunderstanding monarchy”, almost sounded like a qualified support for it. Its jubilee issue featured a portrait of the Queen on the cover with a soft piece inside on how the British monarchy has “rebranded” itself. Plus an article by Sunder Katwala, a former head of the Fabian Society and an erstwhile diehard republican, explaining why he has converted to monarchy and why he believes this “jubilee is not only about the Queen” but “it is about us”.
“Perhaps it would be asking too much to suggest that the Left should learn to love the monarchy, but it could learn quite a lot if it were to pause and try to understand the popularity of the British Crown,” he wrote.
Even as the magazine reminded readers of its historical republican roots by reproducing an essay critical of the monarchy which Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in 1955, it pointed out in an introductory note that the British monarchy had since changed beyond recognition suggesting that Muggeridge's criticism was no longer valid. “Republishing the article today shows how far we have moved in Queen Elizabeth II's reign, and what a lot she, and the royal family, have learned in the meantime.”
The fact is that rationalising, if not defending, monarchy (“I'm not a monarchist but...”) is the new political correctness and nobody wants to be caught on the wrong side of it.
So, as the NS edit put it: “Enjoy the festivities, Ma'm!”
Keywords: Queen's diamond jubilee