News that The Queen OK’d a public comeback appearance for the Duke of York at this week’s Order of the Garter ceremony in Windsor says more about her than it does her disgraced son.
Elizabeth’s mucky move was yet another blatant attempt to rehabilitate Andrew back into public life following her walking down Westminster Abbey’s aisle with him for the recent Duke of Edinburgh memorial – a callous and high-profile act of sticking two fingers up in the faces of all the young people abused by Andrew’s friend and some-time house and private jet-mate Jeffrey Epstein.
Perhaps all the acclaim over the Platinum Jubilee prompted her to think she could parade Andrew through Windsor and her cheering fans would just be alright with it. Seems her eldest son and her grandson heir to the throne told her straight that the public would have none of it and she was forced to think otherwise.
Or is that ‘the Palace’ thought otherwise? Because no matter what happens in the Royal Family it’s never The Queen’s fault is it. Other members of the Royal Family from the utterly hideous Andy, through gaffe-ridden Philip, three-in-this-marriage Charles to moody celeb-conscious Harry et al, may all err but the Monarch Matriarch reigns on (and on, and on…) pure as driven snow.
Royal racism and Meghan? Mysterious figures were to blame but The Queen herself was never part of that was she.
Maybe. The Queen doesn’t exactly come over as a racist but of course you never know. No-one outside a rarefied, select group knows what The Queen is really like as a person. We, her subjects? Well, how would we know? She’s never actually been on a talk show or grilled by Andrew Neil. Odd that. Our Head of State, the person who is top of our Nation’s tree, and we don’t have a clue what’s she’s actually like in person.
The point is that any public discussion about The Queen, either in the mainstream media, or politically, or through major organisations from the Forces to charities, is very rarely personally criticised. The ‘Royal Family’ and the ‘institution’ certainly is, often, but The Queen, the person, hardly ever or the criticism is wrapped up in the wider context of ‘The Firm’.
Pure as driven snow?
There’s a lot of spoofing elsewhere. The Queen gets ribbed on Spitting Image and Have I Got News For You etc but they veer off anything personal. Even the left- leaning press when it attacks generally goes for the Royal Family as a unit or other members of The Firm and only extremely rarely The Queen.
The Guardian’s recent stories about The Queen perusing Government papers involving Royal interests ahead of their final form, before she as Monarch signs them off, ran shy of gunning for Elizabeth herself. Who knows if she or her people are changing bits of legislation they don’t like, might cost them money or force them to comply with regulations everyone else has to? Like other stories that crop up now and then uncovering potential or actual Royal dodgy dealing, The Queen is always allowed to slip by and bask in her flawless reputation.
The one area where people’s opinions can now run loose is on social media, and there is indeed plenty of it. But you won’t find any TV news programme or newspaper concerned with that. Twitter and other social media comment stays in the internet ether for now but the level of serious scrutiny there reveals widespread unease with the Monarchy and its Head.
What is lost in all the Royal scandals, intrigues and accusations over the years is that The Queen – the person – is the one who bears the final responsibility. The media and all the fawning politicians and commentators are quick to say The Queen runs everything with a rod of iron – look how ruthlessly she showed Harry and Meghan the door when they threatened The Firm’s stability – but they never point the finger at her when things go wrong. Then it’s ‘The Palace’ or the ‘Family’ who will sort things. Always the collective that protects the actual individual who is in the end in charge.
Our current Prime Minister is changing the political rules of the game in terms of taking direct responsibility for government failings and personal scandals. But The Queen has never accepted direct, personal responsibility for any Royal failing right across her 75 years on the throne. In fact, she’s has hardly accepted any failings at all.
The two major examples where Royal criticism has shaken The Queen’s own equilibrium were both palmed off. The death of Diana, when even the arch-Royalist Daily Mail asked ‘Where Is Our Queen?’ for leaving her nation to grieve for itself, and in recent times the Meghan racism claim, were both side-stepped.
The Queen eventually turned up in London to see the huge banks of flowers and mourners outside her house for Diana then proceeded to do a TV speech largely exonerating herself for being missing in action for her people and feigning grief for her wayward daughter in law. And as for Meghan’s issues and Royal talk of babies and what colour they might be, that was something the Family would deal with in private. The Guardian’s intro to the story then said it all:
‘The Queen has sought to draw a line under damaging racism claims made by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, saying that issues will be dealt with “privately” by the royal family.
The monarch expressed her “concern” over allegations of racism and her sadness on learning exactly how challenging the couple had found life as working royals, though she said some recollections of events differed.’
Note how the Monarch is seeking to ‘draw a line’ and expresses her ‘concern’ so making sure to keep her personal distance. Nothing about saying this shouldn’t have happened (if it did) under her watch, why it was allowed to happen (if it did) in the first place and what responsibility she was taking personally as the one in charge of the regime and culture in the Family throughout her reign.
The Queen's TV speech when Diana died. Not me guv'...
The issue here is not Monarchy v Republic. The Monarchy ought to be abolished - it is utterly out-dated and emphatically not consistent with a modern, forward looking democracy - the UK is apparently one of the world’s most advanced democracies and our Head of State is not elected but chosen by chance of birth. But getting rid of the Royal Family as an institution, whilst right, desirable and already favoured by many more people than the powers that be imagine, is not at all likely for some considerable time.
Whilst The Queen still lives her reputation amongst probably the majority of the UK population makes the idea fanciful. The Queen might operate in an almost non-criticism bubble which is categorically wrong, only pulling the wool over her subjects, but nothing outside of a miracle this side of the grave is going to change it. There have been too many years of media and public fawning, too much public nostalgia and history, too many Christmas Day talks to the nation, too many look-backs and references to the war and her father, too much of too much. Whatever the fate of the Monarchy, it lies in the years, hopefully not too many, of King Charles and King William.
No staunch opponent of The Monarchy and the Royal Family, however, should say why The Queen should incur more investigation and criticism, without accepting her apparent qualities.
Without knowing what The Queen is really like – for which ordinary subject outside of the inner-circle does? – she has always operated and represented Great Britain and the Commonwealth with exemplary outward dignity. She has never said much but what she has said has always been in general positive and caring, in keeping with the tenets of her Christian faith.
Her undeniable devotion to what she sees, which so many understand at home and abroad and feel a huge sense of pride in, as her duty in carrying out her role (whatever that may be, there is no job description) is highly commendable. For 75 years The Queen has been a constant in the life of the UK and the lives of its people. For so many this has been a constant comfort and a stable truth in an ever-changing world. So many will be devastated when she finally passes away.
However, the notion that somehow the UK would be so much the poorer today if there had been no Queen Elizabeth on the throne for the last three-quarters of a century and either a King Charles for a lot of it or a succession of Presidents if the Monarchy had been abolished is also fanciful. No-one could ever know. Our democracy would be much the stronger without a Monarchy I am sure but, whatever the case, The Queen has continued to reign and, yes, the UK has not descended into chaos – well, not quite yet but give Boris Johnson time…
It would be interesting to ponder though how The Queen’s reputation would have fared under the same constant barrage of venom as directed at the EU by large sections of the media and politicians during her reign. What if the wall of abject sycophancy had come down years ago and instead there had been the same drip, drip, drip of attacks and nudge-nudges about her conduct whatever the truth. Front page headlines like ‘Liz… Are You A Rascist?’, ‘Your Maj… Are You Doctoring Our Laws?’, ‘The Queen is a Remainer’, ‘The Queen Seen Eating a Bent Banana’…
Accepting the reality that The Queen is loved by so many and a Royal Family will continue to ‘rule’ after Elizabeth’s reign ends does not alter the fact that any UK Head of State – Queen, King, President or whatever – should be subject to continuous and rigorous public scrutiny and shouldn’t be given the free-ride the current Monarch has enjoyed to a huge extent since she was crowned.
In her 75 years on the throne, The Queen has done so many things. Opened countless buildings, launched fleets of ships, unveiled numberless plaques, attended numerous events, toured almost every country in the world, met so many world leaders, shaken millions of hands, opened major sports events from the Olympics to the World Cup, the list is almost endless.
But in doing so The Queen has, in a way, achieved hardly anything herself personally. Of course, millions will point to the fact that she is loved and has remained a constant in the life of the Nation as her unique, special achievement. Success by staying the course, still being there, the enduring recognisable face of Britain. Yet, outside of ‘annus horribilis’ can anyone remember anything meaningful she has ever said? Or, outside of all those shaking hands and plaques, anything that she has personally achieved with all that power and influence she has wielded for so long? Even the Duke had his Edinburgh awards scheme and Charles his Trust. Where’s The Queen’s personal legacy?
You could argue that The Queen has simply been The Queen for all those 75 years and been content with all the openings and ship launches. And many would say that simply being The Queen is actually why so many people love her and what’s wrong with that? Undeniably, they have a point.
But you could also counter that The Queen has been all too happy to do the countless public engagements on auto-pilot whilst loving all the fawning and devotion which she still enjoys yet still creating nothing tangible with her own personal stamp. So much opportunity to make a direct difference in her people’s lives and so much wasted.
Which brings us to Platty Jubes and The Queen’s latest, massive missed opportunity.
A deeply Brexit-divided nation, a cost of living crisis, energy costs soring, food banks all over the country, an economy and a nation just emerging from the ravages of COVID, climate change, war in Ukraine… and the Platinum Jubilee served up the same old stuff – flypasts, a second-rate concert, a meaningless pageant, non-stop mindless fawning guff by commentators on The Mall, days and days across the media of ‘We Love the Queen’ – and all, it should be said, with barely a flicker of a mention for the millions who either couldn’t care less, avoided the Jubes like the plague, believe the Monarchy has no place in a modern State and we shouldn’t have a Queen at all.
Platty Jubes was a huge chance, perhaps her last, for The Queen to do something really personally meaningful and not just lap up all the glory. But, as always, she blew it.
With even a little thought the 75 years could have been the trigger for a huge out-pouring of national action to celebrate The Queen’s reign in ways that could have made a dramatic difference to people’s lives. Action beyond mere street parties, Diana Ross, drone corgies in the sky and a competition to dream up a pudding. Just think, the nation’s Head of State leading the nation to bring real support to her people at a time of growing hardship and worry. What a real way to mark Platty Jubes.
Instead, as usual, The Queen was content for the benefit to flow one way – to her. All those cheering subjects in The Mall bellowing for her to come out on the Buckingham Palace balcony, all the sycophancy at the concert, all the papers and the TV on repeat at how great she has been. No doubt huge numbers enjoyed it all, happy to praise The Queen’s longevity, the street parties were fun. Absolutely no problem with that as far as it goes.
But The Queen could still have had all this yet also seen Platty Jubes make a major mark on the life of nation. The hoards would still have turned up, the street parties would still have been staged irrespective.
We could have done without the concert though and all the other activities costing the public purse millions at a time when so many are worrying about their gas bills and how to feed the family. A concert too that even tried to convince us that The Queen has been a tireless eco-warrior with an old speech being blasted over the speakers. Funny, I don’t remember The Queen saying anything when COP 26 was happening in her own back yard in Glasgow, haven’t seen a special Damehood going Greta Thunberg’s way and I doubt if the Monarch’s Rolls Royce is electric. Another example of crediting The Queen with a reputation she hasn’t deserved.
So what could Elizabeth have done to make this special mark for her 75th. Just a few off the top of head examples:
- She could have written a public letter to 75 billionaires in the UK asking them to fund special projects over and above their current charity asks to assist poorer people and those with special needs. This would not have been a ‘political’ act. The billionaires would not have been able to say no. Easy money. Easy help to her people.
- She could have put 75 major items she (the Royal Family) owns up for public auction to benefit a Jubilee special social fund. This could have stimulated many copycat auctions from people up and down the UK.
- Instead of any public money at all being spent on events, she could have said publicly that she wanted it to be used for this fund and/or public benefit. The cost of flypasts, police security for The Mall tribute etc could still have been met from tax-payers and no-one would have begrudged this if they knew the Queen was taking such a lead.
- She could have asked people leave £75 quid, if they are able, to her fund or other charities, in their wills. A massive boost to the charity sector’s will activity which, as so many do not even think of leaving cash to charities in their will, would have reaped huge rewards into the future.
- 72 people died in the Grenfell Tower fire. She could have specifically urged, led by a considerable contribution to it from Royal assets, that as a mark of her reign all those affected were re-housed etc, if they have not already been, within her 75th year and that three green lights – the difference between 72 and 75 – were left to shine day and night for a year in the grounds of Buckingham Palace as a reminder that such a tragedy should not happen again. Again, this would not have been a ‘political’ act.
- She could have publicly asked each Premier League club to offer a season ticket to an additional 75 people in their area who normally couldn’t afford it as a Jubilee gesture. And an additional 75 (or even 75 x 75…) to be funded by the Premier League. Every major sport could have joined in.
- She could have designated 75 acres on her lands, and/or 75 acres in each large enough, to be turned over to growing food to be used specifically for those in the country that need it – perhaps linking with food banks. Again, a social/charitable act, not a political one. The Royal assets to pay.
- She could have asked for 75 new songs by new musical talent to be recorded. The Royal assets to pay and the profits from sales to go to the Jubilee fund.
And so on, and so on…the possibilities endless, none of it hard. It just needed the will and the imagination to take the lead and make a mark.
The Queen has done so much in her reign. But, at the same time, when you consider all the power that she wields, all the influence, all the wealth and resources she has personal control over (of which much belongs to the State anyway) and all the public goodwill she enjoys, she has created so little.
Platty Jubes could have been so different. Having worked in the charity sector for many years I know many brilliant people who could have made the Jubilee sing for the nation and be something The Queen could have been really proud of. If only she had wanted this.
Sadly, she didn’t. Instead, when it was all over, blind to public outrage and concern she wasted no time in trying to get her disgraced son back in the Royal saddle.
When The Queen does pass away and the unavoidable deluge of praise is over and when Charles takes the throne, we may hope in time for a serious review of the Monarchy. It may take longer than many of us would hope but perhaps Prince William’s words in his speech at the Jubilee concert will give a signal from even the Royal Family itself that things can be different.
‘…They won’t accept the status quo, they won’t accept that change is too difficult to deliver. Never before have we had so much power to change the big things.’