Britain has been holding a party all its own. A most unusual party, what’s more, to celebrate the fact that Queen Elizabeth has been on the throne for 60 years. Someone had the inspiration that the Queen should sail in the ornate and historic royal barge down the Thames with a flotilla of a thousand boats following. Dressed in a white outfit without a coat, she was to stand in the prow of her barge hour after hour, in what would have been an ordeal for someone half her age.
The weather was miserable, with much cold rain. Nevertheless a million people at the lowest estimate lined the river’s embankments, and they cheered and waved Union Jack flags all day long. What explains the enthusiasm running so wild? Well, the boats were an unforgettable spectacle, a Canaletto painting come to life for an occasion that will never be repeated, with allusions to Handel’s “Water Music” and Dunkirk 1940. It was also possible to sense in the camaraderie of the crowd something more profound. The standing of the country is not what it was; the Empire is no more; nobody can be sure whether there are now any moral absolutes governing behavior; and tomorrow may see a variety of political and economic crashes. None of this is the Queen’s fault. She’s setting the example of how to carry on regardless.
On the day of this Diamond Jubilee, by pure coincidence, Hosni Mubarak, former president of Egypt, was sentenced to life imprisonment allegedly for having ordered his security forces to open fire on demonstrators. Mubarak was the latest in a line of army officers who had replaced the Egyptian monarchy. They were nationalist and socialist, or in one word, fascistic. King Farouk had abdicated the moment army officers had staged their coup, and in exile he let drop the remark, “Soon there will be only five kings left in the world, the King of England, and the kings of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades.” That’s the point. The British monarchy survives by representing everything the nation once was, and what the British people would plainly wish it still to be.