I'm sure he meant well. I'm sure, when Michael Gove suggested a little pick-me-up for the Queen and her subjects, he meant really well. I'm sure he was thinking of the moment when the Queen blinked and gulped and wiped away tears, when, in fact, for the first time ever she showed her grief in public, and that grief was for a boat.
I'm sure that when he said, in a letter to the Prime Minister last month, that if there was "not sufficient public money available then we could surely look for a generous private donation", what he meant was that he wouldn't dream of asking taxpayers to fund a single porthole. I'm sure that when he talked about a new royal yacht as a "gift from the nation", he didn't actually mean that it would be a gift from the nation, but one from a few very rich companies that happened to have their offices in it.
And I'm sure that the Queen was touched. I'm sure that when she learnt that someone thought she might need cheering up, even if it was going to cost someone £80m, she was really touched. And particularly when she heard that Michael Gove had said "the Diamond Jubilee must not be overshadowed by the Olympic Games", but "form an integral part of this great year for our country". And particularly since no one else seemed to think it was going to be a particularly "great year", and certainly not the Centre for Economics and Business Research, which had just said that the country was already in a double-dip recession.
The Queen might have said that she liked a party as much as the next queen, but that she thought parties were things you usually had when you were feeling cheerful, and had a bit of money to spare. And that she didn't mind a little bit of confusion over a boat, which she might or might not be getting as a present, and which might or might not be paid for by the nation, and which might or might not be shared with young people who were doing something educational, because when you were one of the richest people in the world you could cope with a little bit of confusion. But that confusion over big sums of what might or might not be public money didn't seem quite so amusing when you didn't have any of your own.
She might also have said that it would be quite hard for her jubilee celebrations not to be "overshadowed" by a party that was meant to cost £3bn, and was now costing £9bn, and looked set to cost even more. And that she understood that the bid to host the Olympics was made at a time when the financial climate looked quite different, but that £9bn seemed like quite a lot of money to spend when there didn't seem to be much of it around.
She might have added that the extra £30m that David Cameron had recently promised for the opening ceremony was also quite a lot, and so was the extra £39m he had promised to "boost tourism", which she'd understood that the Olympics were meant to do on their own. And that while she too liked the idea that the Olympics would, as Cameron suggested, "lift Britain out of recession", the evidence showed that they wouldn't. That the Olympics had, for example, damaged tourism in Australia, and in China, and that whatever they'd done to the Greek economy, it didn't seem to have been all that good.
She might have said that she wasn't that much of an expert on public transport, and that it was no skin off her nose because she never had to sit in traffic jams anyway, but that the plans for getting an awful lot of people from one part of the city to another, which included special lanes for VIPs, which might well piss quite a lot of people off, seemed to be largely based on keeping fingers crossed. And that that double-decker bus we'd had at the opening ceremony in Beijing, with that girl from that TV talent show, didn't suggest that opening ceremonies were things we always did all that well.
But she might also have wanted to remind her Government that what the Olympics was meant to be about wasn't traffic, or security, or property prices, or shopping centres, or even making money, but human beings who had worked very, very hard to show that there was something they could do very, very well. And that it might well be a good thing, when every single thing on the news seems to be about money, to be reminded that there are other things that also matter in a life, like, say, testing your ability to practise something day after day after day after day, and showing that you can do it better than anyone else.
And she might have wanted to remind them that the human body is a miraculous thing, and that for it to function in the way that human bodies seem to have been designed, or evolved, to do, with muscles that aren't just used to tap away at a computer, or waddle to a sofa, you don't need all that much money. What you need is a taste of the joy of feeling it move. That it doesn't matter whether you get that from playing polo, or stalking grouse, or from a 100-metre sprint, or a trot around the block, but that the important thing is that you get it, and, if you want to live a reasonably healthy life, get it again.
The Queen might well have reminded her Government that the Olympian who was now in charge of the Games had promised that they "would bring sport to life around the world for young people", and that they would do this partly by working with schools. But she might also have reminded them that it was Michael Gove who had made the decision to cut £162m of sport funding, and then, in the first of what appeared to be an awful lot of U-turns, give some of it back. She might have told him about a recent survey by the Youth Sports Trust which showed that most schools thought that, in the year of the Olympics, they were going to be offering their pupils not more sport, but less.
The second longest-serving monarch in British history would, I'm sure, think that it was very nice that the Education Secretary in her Government wanted to give her a present. But I think she'd think that she's had an awful lot of presents in her time, and wasn't necessarily going to be around for all that long, and that the important thing, when money was limited, and the country was already committed to a very expensive party, was to make sure that some of it was invested in the lives, and health, and dreams, of the people who were.Reuse content