Don't Panic

Diamond Jubilee: What did the Queen ever do for us?

After all the pomp and pageantry the boats are now moored, the uniforms are gone and the bunting has been taken down.

Queen Elizabeth with Prince Philip at the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant

Will the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee bounce us out of our economic gloom? Maybe not, but it was - at the very least - a welcome distraction from the grim familiarity of government indecision and double-dip recession.

So what has the Jubilee taught us about the monarchy and our relationship with it? First, the royal family seem capable of creating a genuine sense of national unity; opinion polls consistently give the monarchy at least two-thirds popular support, better than any political party in history.

Second, affection for the Queen possibly supersedes the love felt for the monarchy itself.
In an age of reality television, philandering sports stars and Etonian politicians, the Queen’s character remains indistinguishable to that of the UK itself. We don’t really know who she is as a person, and as such can project onto her whatever we like. The Diamond Jubilee was a celebration of this malleable character.

[Related content: More on the Diamond Jubilee]

But one trait we can certainly attribute is good manners. The scandals of the 90s are now a distant memory for a royal family looking youthful and involved once again, and it is precisely in times of economic and social woe that a stable human institution is needed. For 60 years, the Queen has acted as a familiar, benign head of state.

And while there’s an instinctive dislike of the idea of hereditary privilege, it is also true that nearly all of us - to some degree - subscribe to it. We buy education for our children, secure them jobs and internships, bequeath houses and money. In most free societies, family trumps politics.

Queen Elizabeth II with Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge wave to the crowds …

Currently, 44 sovereign nations in the world have monarchs acting as Head of State. Queen Elizabeth II presides over 16 of them. In Europe, the countries to retain monarchies are Spain, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Norway, as well as the micro-states Andorra, Monaco, Liechtenstein and, to some extent, Vatican City; stable, free countries governed by the rule of law.

And while there is a just principle for being a British republican, there can be little doubt our monarchy serves a practical purpose in limiting political power. In the nations of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland, the monarchy appear to exercise more political influence than any other single source of authority.
These countries are at the whim of an absolute ruler. To entertain such a thing happening here is absurd. The most whimsical thing about the Queen is her love of corgis.

So hearty congratulations to all concerned. Sixty years is more time than many of us will spend in any role, and to remain so steady and widely palatable a ruler is an achievement of great discipline.

We must remember that there are limits on elected leaders, as Tony Blair mentioned in his Leveson cross-examination, when musing on western democracy: "When you are elected, you begin at your least capable and most popular, and you end at your least popular and most capable."