State-sponsored patriotism will do the Queen more harm than good

'She could do herself a favour by issuing a royal command that spontaneity will be the order of the day'
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The Independent Online


God save the Queen from her prime minister, ministers and all politicians! If it isn't already, that should be the jubilee prayer being offered up by Buckingham Palace; the last thing they need is for government departments to stick their oar into Her Majesty's shindig to celebrate her 50 years of opening hospitals, power stations and launching ships.

The prospect of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport or the Home Office raining on her parade must fill courtiers and the Royal Family with horror. Apparently, the Home Office, which used to be responsible for state events, could not wait to get shot of the project, which has now been taken over by the Department of Culture. After the way the Queen was subjected to total humiliation two years ago, when she was forced to link arms with Tony Blair and sing "Auld Lang Syne" during the millennium celebrations, she needs the politicians, from this or any other department, taking charge of her knees-up like a hole in the head.

Rumours even abound that Lord Falconer is to be put in charge of the arrangements. "Off with his head" should be the royal response. As Nicholas Soames, the Tory MP, squire and arch royalist said yesterday, many senior Labour politicians are closet republicans anyway, and they would be bound to make a mess of the arrangements because of their secret lack of enthusiasm.

Quite why anyone who has the Queen's best interests at heart should want too much of a poppy show made of the event is difficult to understand. The Firm has not done itself much good recently, and its own contribution to a pretty poor reputation should not be underestimated. Frankly, Buckingham Palace will be doing the best service to the Head of State by persuading her not to have any public fuss made at all.

What on earth are we doing with a "Golden Jubilee Office", set up by ministers to "co-ordinate events"? Apparently, this bureaucratic outfit has so dismayed Lord Levene, who had been chosen by Buckingham Palace to organise celebrations in London, that he has resigned.

Fine, if the Queen wants a bit of a do, then the obligatory horse and cart, accompanied by the Household Cavalry and a military band, to St Paul's Cathedral followed by a bow on the Buck House balcony ought to be quite enough. Although, given her bad luck with the weather on such occasions – it poured during the Coronation – I would still counsel caution. Maybe even a banquet or two and a couple of extra garden parties on the palace lawn for the usual mix of ambassadors and lollipop ladies would also be acceptable. Certainly an extra bank holiday is always welcome. But beyond that, it is time to recognise that state-sponsored patriotism and flag-waving, badly organised by the Blair mob, will do her more harm than good.

Times have changed since official celebrations were once able to capture the public imagination. The silver jubilee, in 1977, was judged a success by a country that was still deferential and where many citizens could still remember the Coronation and, even, the jubilees of previous monarchs. My own parents celebrated with the rest of our village by holding a street party, during which they reminisced about their childhood memories of the silver jubilee of King George V in 1935. But since the Charles and Di wedding in 1981, a popularity peak, it has been downhill for the royal soap opera.

Too much fuss will cause more and more of our citizens to wonder if it is not time for a change in the structure of a hereditary monarchy. The breakdown of family life, not least in the Royal Family itself, a more ethnically diverse population and the propensity of young royals to steal the show for all the wrong reasons, suggests that the monarchy is seen as less relevant in the modern age. I am not arguing for its abolition. Goodness knows how much worse things would be if King Tony were able to be head of state as well as head of government.

But an excess of pomp and ceremony, with politicians muscling in on the act, would be far more likely to undermine the long-term prospects for the monarchy's survival than if the event was left as a low-key operation.

The late George Thomas, speaker of the Commons during the celebrations in 1977, reveals in his autobiography how the then prime minister, James Callaghan, tried to keep out of the event as much as possible. When the Queen came to Speaker's House (the first time a monarch had dined there for 150 years), Callaghan pleaded that he had other engagements and could not attend. Only when Thomas remonstrated with Number 10 to stress that all former prime ministers would be present did Callaghan agree to turn up.

The Callaghan approach was to allow the monarchy to take the limelight without the politicians getting in the way. Few doubt that the silver jubilee was a success. But this time the mood of the country is different.

Something tells me that the Queen herself recognises the potential for disaster if there is a repeat of the "Cool Britannia", Dome-style attempt by the politicians to give her image a makeover. An unnamed spokesman has been reported as saying that Buckingham Palace is not trying to ramp up the jubilee as the most fantastic few days of people's lives. "I am not going to complain if people say it is going to be a bit bleak," he is reported as saying. Absolutely the right attitude, which should be communicated firmly to the Government.

Then there is the fuss over the red tape imposed by councils and bureaucrats that threatens to undermine the street parties. Local authorities manage to be natural killjoys at the best of times, and Buckingham Palace would help itself if it hinted that this method of celebration has probably outlived its usefulness.

All in all, the Queen could do herself a favour by issuing a royal command that spontaneity from her subjects will be the order of the day. What makes the annual celebrations of the Queen Mother's birthday outside Clarence House far more successful than any state-sponsored event is that most of the organisation is kept to a minimum. Cringe-making events dreamed up by New Labour hangers-on, destined to create press rows, will not best serve the future of the monarchy.

mrbrown@pimlico.freeserve.co.uk

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