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A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 3)

By Dr George Venturini  

On 6 February 2012 Elizabeth II addressed her subjects: “In this special year, as I dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope we will all be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship, and good neighbourliness, examples of which I have been fortunate to see throughout my reign and which my family and I look forward to seeing in many forms as we travel throughout the United Kingdom and the wider Commonwealth. (Royal Household (6 February 2012).The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee message’. Queen’s Printer, 8 February 2012).

At the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, then British Prime Minister David Cameron had announced the creation of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust, which was officially launched in the United Kingdom on 6 February 2012. Chaired by former British Prime Minister Sir John Major, the trust was intended to support charitable organisations and projects across the Commonwealth of Nations, focusing on areas such as cures for diseases and the promotion of all types of culture and education.

In early 2012 then Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard had announced the Australian Crownin-Council would make an AU$5.4 million contribution to the trust and the New Zealand Crown-in-Council later made a similar AU$1 million donation. (Ms. Gillard had been a member of the Victorian Left faction of the Labor Party and proclaimed republican views).

The Canadian government announced in April that former prime minister Jean Chrétien would be Canada’s representative to the organisation.

In February 2012 a senior adviser was quoted as saying that the Queen had set two guidelines for the planning of her jubilee: the use of public funds should be minimised and people should not “be forced to celebrate.” (E. Renzetti, ‘Queen’s Diamond Jubilee poised to outdo Royal Wedding’s pomp’, The (Toronto) Globe and Mail, 5 February 2012). The adviser had been  quoted as saying that the Queen had set two guidelines for the planning of her Diamond Jubilee: the use of public funds should be minimised, with most of the expenses, apart from security, being paid by private individuals and sponsors, and people should not “be forced to celebrate.” The wish of the Queen was emphasised!

Such announcements never happen by accident. They are, in this case, part of a long-planned programme designed to maximise the advantage of modern media and at the same time to maintain a maximum of that benefit that Walter Bagehot retained essential for the preservation of the British monarchy when he wrote: “Its mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic.” He wrote this in The English Constitution, dated 1867, the same year in which the Reform Act of 1867 was enacted, and that Bagehot considered nothing but calamitous. What? Allow a parliamentary vote to the unskilled labouring class?!

The timing of the senior advisor’s announcement had been calculated to coincide with 6 February, the anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II father’s death, which is known in royal circles as Accession Day.

There was hardly to be any rest in 2012 for then-soon-to-turn 86-year-old monarch, while she was preparing to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. The Queen and her Consort Prince Philip had toured Britain since March as part of celebrations to mark her 60th years on the throne, while other royals were, and still are, travelling the globe, from Canada to Tuvalu. The Queen and Prince Philip had visited Australia for ten days in 2011 on the occasion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Perth from 28 to 30 October.

As in most events surrounding the Queen, the ‘Royal Family’ and in general the institution of the monarchy, information is hard to come and when it does, it better be whispered – almost religiously. It is not therefore surprising that news was left to journalistic scavenging and imagination.

“We are infantilised by our surreal (plodding) monarchy.” Noted a reader of the Guardian from Bromyard, Herefordshire on 3 June. And she went on: “Worse though, the jubilee and Olympic jamborees are nothing but diversions from the hard realities of many millions of British people’s lives (Met faces legal challenge over pre-emptive arrest tactic, 28 May). The blind eye that most of the media is casting in this direction as it tries to whip up enthusiasm for these diversions is callously avoiding the real story, i.e. the lukewarm reception they are generating, especially outside of London, where most people actually live. The level of understanding that we are being manipulated again is really quite widespread – and consciousness is rising.” [Emphasis added]

And from the other side of the world, a whinging Anglo-conformist lamented on the same newspaper, same day: “Last year, when waiting on the Mall hoping to glimpse the Queen during trooping the colour, I was taken away by the police and questioned on account of my suspicious appearance – wearing a clerical collar and black suit. I very narrowly escaped being transported back to Australia for the offence, which was commuted to public humiliation.

This jubilee weekend I am taking no such risk of being catapulted to another hemisphere after waiting too hopefully behind a barricade, and so celebrate from the safety of choral evensong at St Matthew’s Albury back in Australia. We trust that even from this distance Her Majesty feels the warmth of our affection, without the threat to national security that a traditionally attired Australian archdeacon occasionally excites in London. Archdeacon Peter Macleod-Miller, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, Albury, New South Wales, Australia.[Emphasis added]

From an initial calculation as at 1 June 2012 of a cost of 307 million pounds being ‘invested’ by consumers for the occasion, no estimate of the total cost had been made available, but much of the burden looked set to fall upon the taxpayers.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (altogether, now!), which was responsible for co-ordinating the government’s role in the celebrations, referred the Guardian to the government Olympic communication press office, which appeared to be minding the shop over the long weekend.

“I’m afraid we don’t currently have figures for costs,” said a spokesman. “We’ll only be able to provide accurate figures after the event.” (Diamond jubilee events: taxpayer likely to foot most of the bill, 6 June 2012, theguardian.com).

The first major international event of the jubilee celebrations was the Diamond Jubilee Pageant, also branded The World Comes to Windsor, a cavalcade held at Windsor Castle to celebrate the Queen’s visits to and tours of over 250 counties, as well as her passion for horses. The show, which featured 550 horses and 1,100 performers from around the world, was performed in the evenings between 10 and 13 May, after the daytime events of the annual Royal Windsor Horse Show had taken place. The Queen attended the final night.

On 18 May 2012 the Queen hosted an informal lunch at Windsor Castle for more than twenty current or former monarchs from other countries. In the evening of the same day, the Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall hosted a dinner that most of the monarchs also attended, although the Queen herself was not present. (L. Donnelly, ‘A feast fit for Kings and Queens, hosted by a Prince’, The Telegraph, 18 May 2012).

The Queen ‘kicked off’ the celebrations on 2 June at the races, watching a horse with the courtly name of Camelot win the Epsom Derby. (Diamond Jubilee: Queen Elizabeth II kicks off celebrations …, thestar.com). A distracted reader would miss the ‘related item’ at the bottom of the page: “Half of Britons to face fuel poverty by end of 2012.” It was referring to the then new study released by the SwitchGasandElectric.com which had revealed that “around 30 million of the British people [were] to suffer from fuel poverty by the end of 2012 as the number of households struggling to pay their energy bills [was] to rise.”

The lighting of thousands of beacons across the Commonwealth took place on 4 June. The number of beacons was originally set at 2,012; by the closing date for registrations, approximately 4,000 had been submitted in the United Kingdom alone.

The figures of the four-day celebrations were quite impressive.

  • It was estimated that the jubilee celebrations brought £120 million (AU$ 214,096,175) of sales to London’s businesses according to the New West End Company, which represents more than 600 businesses in Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street.
  • 9,500 street parties were estimated to have taken place in England, with another 100 in Scotland.
  • 1.2 million people were estimated to have lined the royal pageant route along the River Thames to watch the 700-boat flotilla go past which took 75 minutes.
  • A 60-gun salute was fired by the King’s Troop during the carriage procession which also included a R.A.F. Flypast and a feu de joie. The ‘Royal Family’ watched from the balcony at Buckingham Palace.
  • 10,000 ballot winners were treated to a picnic in the garden of Buckingham Palace. The hampers created by Heston Blumenthal and the Queen’s head chef included tea-smoked Scottish salmon and Eton Mess.
  • 14.7million people tuned into the BBC’s coverage of the Jubilee concert on Monday night – the biggest TV audience of the year. (Queen’s diamond jubilee: in numbers, theguardian.com, 7 June 2012).

On 5 June 2012 a pre-recorded message by the Queen was released and aired on television around the world, so to say. Elizabeth stated that: “the events that I have attended to mark my Diamond Jubilee have been a humbling experience” and also expressed her thanks to those who had organised the celebrations over the extended weekend, ending by saying: “I will continue to treasure and draw inspiration from the countless kindnesses shown to me in this country and throughout the Commonwealth. Thank you all.”(Diamond jubilee: Queen “humbled by experience”, BBC, 5 June 2012).

Several problems emerged after the events.

Some Jubilee job seekers complained that they had remained unpaid. The former Deputy Prime Minister in the Labour government 1997-2007, who now goes by the resounding name of Lord Prescott,  as a life peer with the title Baron Prescott, accused the government of “exploiting cheap labour”, but the prime minister’s spokeswoman dismissed the treatment of the job seekers as a “one-off” and an “isolated incident.”

Actually, of up to 30 job seekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages had been taken to London by coach from Bath, Bristol and Plymouth on the Saturday before the Jubilee as part of the government’s work programme.

They were asked by the Close Protection UK security firm to sleep under London bridge before stewarding the Queen‘s celebrations over the weekend. As Close Protection UK managing director defended the use of unpaid workers, she claimed that “The only ones that won’t be paid are because they don’t want to be paid. They want to do this voluntarily, [to] get the work experience.”

A prime minister’s spokeswoman said: “We understand that the company involved has apologised. But more broadly the work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable … The work programme itself offers experience and the chance to develop those skills that people really need to get into sustainable jobs.” One wonders whether the word hypocrisy would fit here.

Two of the job seekers were particularly vocal: told the Guardian that they had to camp under London bridge overnight, to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.

One of the females employed as a steward said: “London was supposed to be a nice experience, but they left us in the rain. They couldn’t give a crap … No one is supposed to be treated like that, [working] for free. I don’t want to be treated where I have to sleep under a bridge and wait for food.”

In truth, many unemployed workers were being forced into such miserable schemes under the ‘Work Programme’ as a means of throwing them off unemployment benefit. And up to 270 voluntary organisations and charities had signed up to the programme.

There were the usual complaints by the trade unions, foot-balling of responsibility between local authorities, but the kerfuffle soon died out. (Unpaid jubilee jobseekers: Downing Street dismisses criticisms, theguardian.com).

While pompous festivities were taking place, with millions celebrating, some found it hard to get festive among the job cuts, slashed wages, petrol hikes and rising education costs.

The usual experts predicted that Britons would have spent several hundred million on ‘patriotic’ – really Carnevale like – purchases such as hats, flags and different Jubilee memorabilia.

The authorities had repeatedly emphasised that the Jubilee celebration was for everyone, urging people to take part in festivities. But among those who took to the streets some did so for quite different purposes.

The amount of money spent on the celebrations remained undisclosed but was likely to equal the annual budget of a small country. The weekend celebrations included the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant consisting of up to 1,000 boats assembled from across the United Kingdom and a televised Diamond Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace.

Some felt that the money could have been better spent with the country in a crisis and slashing public services and introducing drastic cuts. “It’s kind of disgusting to be perfectly honest. We’re in the midst of a double-dip recession, people are really feeling the pinch, with wage freezes, unemployment. The standard of living is really suffering but yet our queen has made no acknowledgement of that,” said Andrew Child, a director of the campaign group, Republic.

“They say the jubilee is for everyone but if it was really for everyone, we’d be celebrating by balancing the inequality of power and wealth in this country. Instead we’re celebrating monarchy, armed forces, obscene levels of wealth and all at a time of austerity – this is not a celebration of the British people,” said a Labor activist. (‘Costly affair: UK marks Queen’s diamond jubilee amid crisis,’ 4 June, rt.com).

By 5 June 2012 it was possible to estimate the cost to Britain and its taxpayers of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to be as much as £3 billion (AU$5,351,521,632). And this at the same time when many of the unemployed, disadvantaged and poor did not have enough to pay for basic necessities, including food, energy and water.

The huge cost to the country of staging the Queen’s celebrations could have risen even more when the effect of the extra bank holiday on businesses was taken into account.

The figures from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport highlighted what many people saw as the hypocrisy of the middle classes and wealthy celebrating the monarchy whilst those who are less fortunate starve.

With less than 40 per cent of the subjects were expected to celebrate the Jubilee whilst 60 per cent would not have done so – many having chosen to go abroad instead and to celebrate the comparative weakness of the Euro to the Pound – TheOpinionSite.org was not alone in wondering why so much public money was being wasted on something which is both anachronistic and irrelevant in a modern world.

Whilst the Jubilee might have caused a very temporary ‘feel good factor’ among conservative MPs, the wider establishment such as the police and with those who still believe the monarchy is necessary, the unnecessary spending of so much of public money would have done little to help anyone. (Queen’s Jubilee costs £3 billion – and possibly 3 and half million – while poorest families starve, 5 June 2012, theopinionsite.org).

The Queen might very well have thanked her subjects for a ‘humbling experience’, as she said in a two-minute televised address. She might have extended herself into some confected lyricism by saying: “It has touched me deeply to see so many thousands of families, neighbours and friends celebrating together in such a happy atmosphere.”

But at the end of so much enthusiasm she put it quite bluntly. She spoke of her desire her desire to have a Jubilee celebrating her reign every year from now on, as she thoroughly enjoyed her sixtieth Diamond celebration so much. [Emphasis added] (R. Hendrix, ‘Queen Wants Jubilee Celebration Every Year’ – The Daily Squib, 6 June 2012).

The Queen was speaking at Buckingham Palace whilst addressing the nation on all channels. She said she that she would have spoken “to Whitehall (the metonym for the British civil service and government), policy makers and the Prime Minister so the new law – presumably establishing the Yearly Jubilee – can be approved by parliament.”

“It is her majesty’s desire to have a Jubilee celebration every year for the rest of her life, therefore as her subjects, we are obliged to agree to her wishes,” a snivelling Prime Minister David Cameron echoed from Number 10 on 5 June 2012.

The cost to the taxpayer of continuous four-day celebrations every year could be huge.

And a Tory politician was quoted by The (London) Times as commenting: “It’s not just the cost of the Queen’s celebrations which go into the multi-millions; but loss of productivity for the economy as well as the security cost involved. I guess we can get more poor bastard benefits slaves to sleep under Waterloo bridge and do unpaid work in the freezing rain, at least this way we’ll claw back some of the cost. So what if the poor fuckers die of hypothermia, they shouldn’t have been unemployed and receiving benefits in the first fucking place, the vile scum.” Ah, yes, the vile scum. (C. Davies  and P. Walker, ‘Diamond jubilee: Queen describes ‘humbling’ celebration in TV address,‘ 6 June 2012, theguardian.com).

[In pectore republican] Quentin Bryce, then Governor-General of Australia, had got in early and announced that the Diamond Jubilee would be celebrated “with a host of national and community events throughout the Commonwealth.” (Office of the Governor General of Australia. ‘Queen’s Birthday Message’. Australian Government Publishing Service. Archived from the original on 14 March 2012).

Continued Saturday – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 4)

Previous instalment – A cast of characters: The Monarchy (part 2)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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