Wednesday, April 17

Why was the jubilee a success? Because republicans had nothing as jolly to offer | Stephen Bates

yescanning the jubilee press coverage, the Buckingham Palace media teams must have allowed themselves a glow of satisfaction. The four days passed off more successfully than perhaps they might have feared. Her Majesty was nursed through the celebrations and potential pitfalls were skilfully evaded: Prince Andrew’s dose of Covid proved convenient; the Sussexes did not draw too much attention to themselves.

Better still, from the monarch’s point of view, they were seen playing happy families. Prince Charles had Camilla firmly by his side from him and was even seen to be dandling Prince Louis on his knees during Monday’s pageant, while his parents from him, Prince William and Catherine, looked almost like normal parents, minus the hassles most have to endure . Prince George, meanwhile, betrayed the boredom of small boys everywhere, forced to listen to his parents’ sort of music: oldies he’d never heard of at the concert. Normal people, yet not normal at all.

More importantly the Queen was able to show off the dynasty on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, a select group containing three potential future monarchs: her heir Charles, his heir William and his hey George. If they have inherited their matriarch’s genes and nothing too untoward happens, that secures the House of Windsor into the next century – the succession being a prime consideration of monarchs throughout history.

They could all gaze down the Mall, at the thousands of enthusiastic faces and convince themselves too that the institution is unassailable, at least under current circumstances. The enthusiasm stretched far beyond central London too: initial figures suggest that nearly 17 million people took part in community celebrations during the weekend – a quarter of the population being more than passive spectators. The BBC says that Saturday night’s Platinum Party at the Palace was the most-watched program of the year.

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Quite a few kings and queens have reigned long enough to have had the possibility of jubilees, but it seems to have been a Mrs Biggs in 1809 who first suggested that a celebration of George III’s 50th anniversary on the throne might engender what she called “a spirit of loyal enthusiasm”. It worked to treat then with banquets, parties and parades, paid days off for workers, monuments and even civic projects such as the installation of street lights in Oswestry. “The number of people in the street … was immense,” wrote the MP George Rose, a friend of the king, “and the illuminations remarkably beautiful.” Shades of last weekend. Sadly, the old king could not enjoy them as his final bout of madness set in on the very day of the anniversary.

Crowds came out for Queen Victoria’s two jubilees and for George V’s silver jubilee in 1935: “I’m beginning to think they must like me for myself,” the gruff old king remarked. As Kingsley Martin, the editor of the New Statesman, wrote: “People constantly reiterated that he was ‘a father to us all,’” and indeed when George died the following winter a ditty circulated through the streets: “Greatest sorrow England ever had / When death took away our dear Dad/ A king was he from head to sole/ Loved by his people one and all.”

The jubilee did exactly what was intended, but it might not have been so. It is only a few months since Prince Andrew’s disgrace and a couple of years since Harry and Meghan walked out. What was manifest therefore was a mixture of emotions: clearly relief at being able to get out and party with a good conscience after the pandemic and the other traumas and upheavals of recent years from Brexit to Partygate.

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There was also humor and irony, that very British celebration of the eccentricity and self-deprecation that led to chaps in tweeds pedaling push bikes down the Mall or pootling along in a round car looking like an orange. A defiant national pride too in displays of union flags dangling from windows in even deprived areas and adorning the waistcoats of plump middle-aged gentlemen at street parties.

But it would not have come off without the figure of the slight woman in pastel shades on the palace balcony. Whatever one thinks of the institution, it’s very hard to attack a frail, very elderly woman, particularly one who has evidently pursued her sense of duty. As a young queen in the 50s she was accused (by a peer of the realm) of sounding like a priggish schoolgirl; 70 years on she can twinkle through a skit with a CGI image of a much-loved fictional bear, swapping marmalade sandwiches.

All that and an uplift in commerce as a result of the jubilee too. And young people taking a conspicuous part in the celebrations. They will be lucky to see another jubilee any time soon: Charles won’t make a silver, though William may, as an elderly gent decades hence.

The debriefs will go on, but the fact is that until republicans can come up with something similarly joyous for the majority of the people they are going to struggle. There was a spirit of loyal enthusiasm. Despite all their vicissitudes the royals have pulled it off again.

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