New Labour sells a New Monarchy: Tony's still waving his flag. Are we?

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The Independent Online
New Labour, New Queen? It looks very much like it as the Dianafication of the monarchy takes place before our eyes. The speech made by the Queen at the banquet hosted yesterday by Tony Blair to celebrate her Golden Wedding had a strikingly different tone - confident, warm and informal.

She promised to listen to the people and admitted the royals often found public opinion hard to read, ``obscured as it can be by deference". If this was New Labourish, Tony Blair returned the favour at a ``people's banquet'' in Whitehall, calling her ``unstuffy, unfussy and unfazed by anything, with a keen sense of humour and a mean ability for mimicry.'' He was placing the mantle of New Labour popularity around her.

But it was the Queen's speech which was most striking. While we saw her edging towards the mores of the 20th century after Diana's death when forced to grieve in public by popular demand, her speech at that time revealed her bewilderment , uncertainty and inability to connect sufficiently with the emotions of the day.

Yesterday's speech by Prince Philip demonstrated the same strained formality. The most he could say about his wife of 50 years was that she had been tolerant. Yet Philip always did seem the unlikeliest candidate for the great royal make-over. Trying to get him to emote in public is as ludicrous as making Victor Meldrew swim with dolphins or sending Basil Fawlty on an aromatherapy course.

The Queen, on the other hand, displays flashes of wit and humanity - the line about not actually surfing the net but listening to other people talk about it - as well as a genuine awareness of how much the world has changed. The voice is less shrill and more chatty, demonstrating a self-awareness that we have not seen much of before. She is talking to us rather than down to us.

She has learnt to personalise rather than generalise which is the secret of the new intimacy that reigns supreme. Thus she talks of the Beatles and Margot Fonteyn rather than the sixties or the ballet. She talks directly of her husband's love and help, though one can't help feeling that the man she reserves most affection for is in fact Tony Blair, the boy who in his short trousers excitedly waved flags for her and who in his long trousers is still doing much the same thing.

Whatever the extent of Blair's influence, one can feel the hand of the image managers - the spin doctors - in everything the royals do at the moment, whether it is cavorting with the Spice girls or lunching with "commoners".

Astonishingly, the Queen anoints Tony and Cherie as the new in-laws when she talks of them celebrating their own golden wedding anniversary in the year 2030; and this she does in the fashionable language of inclusion - "as one working couple to another". She is just like us though she is not one of us.

This is a remarkable trick for a monarch to pull off and one that shows how much life there is in the old girl yet. With a breathtaking lightness of touch that hides its sheer audacity she pulls together the monarchy and the top representatives of elected government as though they were all part of the same family, as though one kind of power is interchangeable with another. For while she embraces the spirit of informality, meritocracy even, we should not forget that these principles are the opposite of the rituals and privileges that sustain the monarchy.

Indeed, the Queen suggests that the gulf between hereditary monarchy and elected government is really not so wide. "They are complementary institutions. And each, in its different way, exists only with the support and consent of the people". The real difference, she suggests, is that one has greater access to public opinion, politicians through the ballot box, whereas the poor old Royals have to flounder around trying to "read" what the people want. Assuming absolutely that they do want a monarchy, she indicates the part that the Prime Minister has played in helping her understand the messages sent "from people to sovereign".

The cosiness of the relationship between the Prime Minister and the Queen, revealed in both their speeches, amounts to a mutually beneficial love- in.

Despite the Queen's efforts to humanise herself and the brutal system (as she called the electoral system) which she heads up, we should not be blinded to the fact that a radical government would be doing something about hereditary privilege - especially a government that prides itself on its modernity.

Where is Britain's motor of change to come from while Labour laps up the trappings of old establishment power and the monarchy craves the populism of the new touchy-feely government as well as the common touch of its dead daughter-in-law? The one ray of hope comes for the fact that this bizarre affair is being conducted in public.

This is a first. Although the manufacture of consent is the business of government, it is now also being actively sought rather than simply assumed by the monarchy. Some may suggest that the government is merely helping the monarchy modernise itself but at the moment it looks more like a merger than anything else and who, I wonder, ever gave their consent for this further monopolisation of power?