Many decades ago, the late King Farouk of Egypt (he was the chap who was deposed by G.
A. Nasser and others) predicted that in the not-too-distant future, there would be only five kings left in the world: the king of hearts, the king of spades, the king
of diamonds, the king of clubs and the King of England.
I am not sure that Farouk was right. I think the vulnerability of his own position may have led him to under-estimate the longevity of monarchy. Certainly, you need only to look at today’s Middle-East to realise that there are more kings than can be found in a pack of cards. But his generalisation captured the conventional wisdom about the British monarchy. All those years ago, nobody had any doubt that the House of Windsor would go on forever.
I was in London several weeks ago, during the events associated with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and I marvelled at how well the conventional wisdom has stood the test of time. I was a student in England during Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee. At that time, we already heard the first rumblings of revolt (that was the year of the Sex Pistols) and we wondered if Republicanism was on the rise.
But, judging by the mass adulation that characterised the Diamond Jubilee, it was hard to believe that the House of Windsor would be under any serious threat for the years to come. During the silver jubilee, I had the distinct sense that the Queen was widely respected; loyal subjects were celebrating her reign. But this time, during the Diamond Jubilee, I had the sense that something had changed. It wasn’t so much that the Queen was respected. It was more that she was loved or perhaps, universally adored. These were not loyal subjects dutifully parading in the streets. These were people thanking a much-loved and familiar figure.
Looking back, I think King Farouk may have overstated the case. The reason why the British monarchy is in such good shape these days has little to do with the immortality of the Windsor line. Instead, it is a direct consequence of the way in which Queen Elizabeth II has done her job. A lesser Queen would have squandered the legacy of the monarchy.
For most of us, the Queen is the only British monarch we have any personal experience of. It is hard for us to even remember that the song is really ‘God Save the King’. We’ve just got so used to ‘God Save the Queen’ that it will be strange when one day the words are changed to reflect Prince Charles’ accession.
Diamond Jubilee tributes to the Queen have focussed on the fact that many of her Prime Ministers and ministers (David Cameron, certainly) were not even born when she ascended the throne. Her first Prime Minister was Winston Churchill and that single fact should tell us something about how she has been a witness to history. For most of us Churchill’s era belongs in the distant past. For the Queen, it’s just another chapter in her memoirs – not that she ever write them.
During that period, Britain has altered almost beyond recognition. The old class system is dead. The aristocracy is on the run. The Empire has vanished. And the old rules about respecting the royal family have disappeared: if the Queen’s daughter-in-law asks her financial advisor to suck her toes, rest assured that the toe job will be on page one of the newspapers.
Yet somehow, the Queen has endured. She seems as relevant to today’s Britain as she did half-way through the last century. How has she done it?
|"The only way to explain the adulation that greeted the Queen during her Diamond Jubilee is to accept that people loved her for more than just the way in which she performed her official duties."
My sense is that she has survived the tides of history by following a two-pronged strategy. At one level, she is entirely fair, almost to the point of blandness. There have been no temper tantrums, no fits of pique, no instances of outrageous behaviour, no personal scandals and no instances where she might be said to have put herself and her own interests ahead of those of Britain and its people.
Given the turbulent times she has lived through, that is no mean achievement. Most public figures sometimes let the mask slip or lose their footing. Occasionally, all of us show the world that we are all too human. The Queen is the only global figure I know of who has never behaved improperly. It is telling that the greatest crisis during her monarchy – her refusal to weep loudly for tabloid photographers after Princess Diana’s death – came about only as a consequence of her refusal to play to the gallery or to go with the public mood. But the truth is that the public mood changes easily and often. The Queen, on the other hand, goes on forever.
But there is a second prong to this strategy. The Royal Family, famously, is not allowed to have political views. But what’s interesting is that when we can sense the Queen’s true feelings are about any issue or individual, she rarely seems to be on the side of the right-wing or the privileged. For instance, the Prime Ministers she has got along best with were socialists. She had a famous rapport with Harold Wilson. And for 10 years, she found Tony Blair engaging and entertaining. (Till he wrote a book, in which he revealed too much, but that’s another story.)
On the other hand, she has never got along particularly well with Conservatives. She never warmed to Edward Heath, Wilson’s successor and it is widely believed that she loathed Margaret Thatcher though, of course, she was too proper to ever let this show.
When she has disagreed with Prime Ministers, it has been over issues that would generally be considered liberal or left-wing. For instance, she is supposed to have had serious differences with Mrs Thatcher over Britain’s support for South Africa’s apartheid regime. Similarly, as a country person at heart, she has always championed the cause of the environment against reckless development.
I suspect that at some level, the British people recognise that she is more than just the creature of the system that gave rise to the monarchy. They recognise that beneath that proper exterior there beats a kind and decent heart, one that identifies with human causes and not with wealth and privilege.
Most monarchs who do their jobs well are respected. But the only way to explain the adulation that greeted the Queen during her Diamond Jubilee is to accept that people loved her for more than just the way in which she performed her official duties.
They loved her because she represented an essential decency that should be at the heart of every nation.
It is not only the right thing to do on an intuitive level but also entirely in accordance with the principles on which this nation was founded.
My point is that in a country as large as ours, a numbers game makes no sense unless you look at the larger picture.
It is tempting to see the revolt as a failure because Pawar got nothing of consequence in Delhi. But it would be a mistake to do so.
This was an unnecessary reshuffle, forced on the nation by Manmohan Singh’s unwillingness to hold on to the finance portfolio.
And the end has an emotional power that is unusual for comic book pictures. What a pity it is the last movie in this trilogy!