After four days of royalist reverie, the imported Union Jacks are starting to sag—drooping disconsolately as the proud people who “never ever shall be slaves” shake their heads free of the spell. There will not be another Diamond Jubilee in our lifetimes—and an 86-year-old woman has rushed to her sick 90-year-old husband’s bedside.
Graham Smith of the anti-monarchy group Republic, whose supporters include some of Britain’s most distinguished bores, had long been gearing up for the “biggest anti-monarchy protest in living memory.” He waxed incandescent about how the Crown Prince of Bahrain’s presence was “a catastrophic error of judgment”—as well as royals from other countries with their “poor human rights records, limited political freedoms, and histories of state violence.” The celebrations, he concluded, “will forever be associated with some of the most repressive regimes in the world.”
In the end, around 1,200 Republicans rolled up to make the People’s Point—a display of strength which doubtless made a deep impression on the 1,500,000 non-Republicans.
Republic supporter Yasmin Alibhai-Brown contributed to the cause in a characteristically measured column decrying royalism’s “revolting dogma.” Matthew Norman was less ambitious. The Jubilee showed the jowly one that “in some significant ways, though far from all, we are impressively at ease with ourselves.”
This comforting cogitation was sparked by witnessing a homely scene in a Dorset setting he knows intimately (“we rent a little cottage”) and is careful not to caricature (“this Jurassic redoubt of unimpeachable traditionalism”). While enjoying a cream tea or three, he watched as locals delicately ignored a lesbian couple with their child. The same-sex setup “seemed the most natural thing in the world (as indeed it is),” he ruminated fondly. Yet even while the Queen is teaching Britain “how to become senescent,” there is still work to be done by brave radicals as the country awakes from a 60-year “schizoid nightmare” because there are still “slave labourers patrolling the Thames,” and “this Government would have us regard others as lower forms of human life, whose ill fortune in the accident of their births deservedly robs them of what we regard as fundamental human rights.”
The striking images from the Thames were unhappily accompanied by a BBC sound commentary so inept as almost to constitute lèse majesté. The BBC, the default narrator of national events since the 1930s—and honored (chiefly by foreigners) for independence, professionalism, and clipped vowel control—is experiencing a backlash from thousands of Britons who had hoped against all experience that the Beeb might besprinkle the extravaganza with some of that old “Auntie” assurance. But those who turned on their TVs to commune vicariously with their fellow subjects and forget for a time just how unlike 1952 the year 2012 is were not allowed simply to revel in the comforting illusion of continuity.
There were stories by the score that could have been explored—a patriotic panoply of people who had come from great distances and made great sacrifices to be in London on this day, working and rehearsing tirelessly in sheds and schoolrooms around the country to sail their tug, fly their flag, play their instrument, and raise their singing voices in defiance of the deluge. There were countless dramatic possibilities, historic parallels to be drawn, and perhaps even lessons to be learned.
There could have been serious thinkers to place things in perspective—and make comparisons with 1953, when the “New Elizabethan” Age was ushered in with the end of rationing, the conquest of Everest, and what a sonorous Times editorial of April 1953 called “a feast of mystical renewal.” There could have been all this—even allowing for the weather and the austerity-aware staging. Instead, we got a junior newsreader and a presenter of a weekly waste of bandwidth known as The One Show—of which the Daily Telegraph’s Stephen Pollard noted acerbically, “Lightweight is being charitable.”
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