Mark Steel: No, there is still no future in England's dreaming

'Emotions for the Golden Jubilee could be hard to rouse on either side; the biggest ever party flop'


The trouble with most assessments of the royal family is that they concentrate mostly on the royal family. For example, it's assumed that when the Sex Pistols roared their magnificent 1977 tirade "God Save the Queen", they were making a statement about the Silver Jubilee.

In fact, it was a scream against the whole miserable package that a generation had been brought up to revere; the full ironic title should have been "God Save the Queen, Stars on Sunday, Max Bygraves, Sing Something Simple, box-sets of James Last, uncles who say 'Take my advice, sonny, get a trade', and being told three times an hour 'gaw blimey, and to think we fought a war for this lot'."

For 30 years after the war, the older generation had believed the uncertainty and instability of their youth had gone forever, along with whooping cough and means tests. Each year, bit-by-bit, everyone became a little bit better off and a new gadget arrived; a fridge, a telephone, a television.

It was assumed that a life could be gently planned. "What are you going to be when you grow up?" grown-ups would ask as soon as you were seven. And if you didn't know, they'd do the "get a trade" line, then do that wink which that generation did for some reason.

Then, suddenly, in the mid 1970s, the pound collapsed, unemployment went over 1 million, and the sense of crisis was back. Many people responded by clinging to their old values and blaming anything modern, sometimes with racism, more often by blaming the decay on the kids today who had no respect. My generation spat back with punk, determined to be as offensive as possible about any symbol of respectability, and in the middle of this angst came the Silver Jubilee. So while half of us tried to enjoy hanging tatty triangular flags from drainpipe to drainpipe, the other half screamed "there is no future in England's dreaming".

Since then, the England that the royalists of '77 were trying to protect has become so remote that even bigots have given up on it. Back then, Alf Garnett was obsessed with the royals, the modern patriot would hardly bother to learn their names. Due reverence to Her Majesty must seem a little distant when you can't even be sure of keeping the pound.

Now the royals survive not from public enthusiasm, but on the slogan "well what would you replace them with?" The paucity of the royal case is demonstrated by the fact that one of the most common arguments for their retention is "they bring in a lot of tourists". But do the tourists who visit Paris, stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower, and think "Hmm, well it's quite a nice view, but the lack of a monarch seems to spoil it"?

Besides which, what sort of society selects its head of state on the basis of who brings in the most tourists? Would royalists be happy if we sacked the Queen and replaced her with Andrew Lloyd-Webber?

So emotions for the Golden Jubilee could be hard to rouse on either side, and the royals could end up setting a record for holding the biggest ever failure of a party. Four hours after it should have started, they could be stood around with Norman St John Stevas and 25,000 unopened packets of Twiglets, occasionally putting the phone down and saying something like "that was Richard Attenborough, apparently he can't get a babysitter either".

In an attempt to present a modern image, it's been declared that part of the celebrations will include pop music. It's unlikely this will attract the estimated 500,000 people a week who go to clubs; though it is just possible to imagine Prince Philip as a DJ, yelling "this one's going out to all my darkies and fuzzy-wuzzies from the west side". While Prince William taps Harry on the shoulder and asks "Is one sorted for whizz?" More likely is the biggest collection ever of stuffy people trying to appear youthful by shuffling from one foot to the other during "Every Breath you Take".

In these post-modern days, when nothing means anything and anything can mean nothing, the Jubilee may even include a homage to punk, as was attempted in the procession for the Queen Mother's birthday. Maybe the whole thing will kick off with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards playing a medley from the first Damned album, as arranged by James Last.

A great deal of effort will be spent presenting a modern royalty, one for all its subjects, including those that roared "God Save the Queen/ of the fascist regime/our figurehead/ is not what she seems" 25 years ago. But the generation of '77 did that because the royals were at the heart of a set of beliefs that mattered. This time, with the bank holidays rearranged to make a four-day Jubilee weekend, millions of the Queen's subjects will celebrate this landmark for Britain by leaving Britain for places like France or Ireland.

The Golden Jubilee will come and go without mass protest, not because the royals have recovered, but because only a few people care. The enemies now are elsewhere. I suppose that means we won.

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