A royal jubilee is no time for republican hectoring

'I say that for doing a difficult, arduous job for half a century, the Queen deserves heartfelt thanks'
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The Independent Online

It would be a pity if celebrations of the Queen's golden jubilee became confused with the debate about the future of the monarchy. The one looks back in gratitude, the other contemplates the serious issue of how the next head of state and those thereafter should be chosen. In our private lives we try to avoid muddling up the two things.

It would be a pity if celebrations of the Queen's golden jubilee became confused with the debate about the future of the monarchy. The one looks back in gratitude, the other contemplates the serious issue of how the next head of state and those thereafter should be chosen. In our private lives we try to avoid muddling up the two things.

We don't say thank you to somebody for a job well done over many years and at the very same ceremony, so to speak, when the presentations are made and the speeches given, loudly discuss whether it couldn't all be done better in the future. We leave that for another day.

Let us cast our minds back 50 years. On 6 February 1952, King George VI died in his sleep. His valet discovered the body at 7.30am. It was nearly noon in London before the news could be given to his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, who was thousands of miles away in Kenya. She had taken the King's place on a Commonwealth tour. A courtier saw her as she was preparing to return to London. She was sitting erect, no tears, colour up a little, fully accepting what lay ahead. The new Queen was 25 years old.

For the first 11 years of her life, that is until the abdication of her uncle, King Edward VIII, neither she nor her father had expected that they would, in turn, ascend to the throne. It was the last thing that her father, who loved a quiet family life and had a disabling stammer, wanted to happen. He was initially terrified.

But the Queen's father didn't turn away like his brother. He did his duty. The Queen has followed this example. This aspect of the Queen's upbringing and character needs to be taken into account if the many assessments that will be made of her during this golden jubilee year are to be fair. In the hereditary system the task falls to you. Your only choice is whether to do it conscientiously or not. Even to do it to the best of your ability, unremittingly, for 50 long years and more? Yes, if that is how it turns out.

When her father was king, Elizabeth used to look through the windows of Buckingham Palace at the people and cars in the Mall wondering what they were doing, where they were going, what they were thinking. Nobody else has had such a life, with its isolation, with its ceaseless pressure, with its stern requirements.

When still only 21 she made a famous public vow in a broadcast during a visit to South Africa: "I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong." Substitute "Commonwealth" for "imperial", and it can be see that she has fully kept her promise.

Now I say that for doing a difficult, arduous job for half a century, the Queen deserves heartfelt thanks. On this point, it is irrelevant whether one is a monarchist or a republican. Indeed, the monarchical system is the more unforgiving. We watch and we criticise whomever the hereditary principle places, willing or unwilling, capable or incapable, on the throne. Many years ago the Queen told her riding master that had she not been who she was, she would like to have been a lady living in the country with lots of horses and dogs.

How should the nation's thanks be expressed? Many local authorities remain reluctant to organise or finance celebrations. They are waiting, I think, to read the public mood. This hasn't yet formed. But it will become clear. At the last jubilee, 25 years ago, the result was that a large number of spontaneously organised street parties took place all over the country.

On the death of Princess Diana, a completely different feeling quickly manifested itself. It was grief-stricken, but also cross with the royal family for its cool response. The golden jubilee mood will be, I think, warm, grateful and respectful. Street parties may well seem inappropriate this time. That doesn't matter. For the plans already in place are quite sufficient for the occasion.

Starting with Cornwall on 1 May, the Queen is making a series of visits to all parts of the United Kingdom. She finishes in Lancashire on 5 August. In the middle of this period will be a concentrated four days of festivities. On 1 June and 4 June respectively, free classical and a pop concerts will be held in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, on 2 June jubilee churches services and bell ringing will take place across the country and the next day a procession with the gold state coach will go to St Paul's Cathedral for a thanksgiving service, followed by lunch at the Guildhall.

In 1960, the Queen asked President de Gaulle, who had come on a state visit, what he thought her role should be. He perfectly understood: "In the station to which God has called you, be who you are Madam, that is to say the person in whom your people perceive its own nationhood, and by whose presence and dignity that national unity is upheld." Presence and dignity. Those she has provided.

aws@globalnet.co.uk

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