Queen Elizabeth II is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee. A year or two more, and she will have been on the throne longer than her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Her intention is to visit every county in Britain, and yesterday was the turn of Powys, in Wales. If you live here you had better get accustomed to rain. My father used to say, “I’m Welsh, I don’t get wet.” Yesterday the sky was extremely grey and low, and everyone got wet.
There are few grand houses hereabout, but one of them is Glanusk. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh flew in by helicopter at midday for lunch, and drove through the park afterwards in a motorcade. Perfunctory, you might say, merely fulfilling an obligation. I suppose you might also say that it was merely the occasion for a day off for the thousands of people present. Most of us in Powys are sheep farmers. Tents and marquees and stalls stretched around the park; children from almost 50 schools were taking part and singing; the brass band played; the flags flapped.
Since I am in the business of generalizing, I would say that most people here take life as they find it, with a sense that government is going to be against you, much like the weather. And here they all were soaked to the skin and slipping on mud underfoot, yet with expectation rising as the moment approached when the Queen would drive past. And there she was, in the back of a Rolls Royce driven at walking pace, dressed in turquoise blue, waving through the open window and looking half her age.
What can this lady mean to these cheering and excited people? Continuity, I suppose, though the country today is very different from what it was when she began her reign. Duty, perhaps responsibility, just being loyal to the things it is right and proper to be loyal to. Walter Laqueur is one of the most experienced and far-sighted political analysts of the day, and his new book After the Fall lays out how Europe has come to a dead end, with no way out of the inextricable mess its foolish leaders have got the continent into while the Queen has been getting on with public service these 50 years. In a judicious questioning tone which is particularly convincing, he unfolds why the nations of Europe have no further part to play in history. And yet the emotional energy of the crowd at the sight — really only a momentary glimpse — of the lady who is the national emblem made me wonder whether for once Walter Laqueur mightn’t be wrong, and in fact the world hasn’t heard the last of Britain.