Drip, drip the horrid English weather uncharacteristically stole the show at the recently concluded Diamond Jubilee of her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, UK, and other Commonwealth realms. Next to the Queen, everyone talked about the weather. Brollies and flags were accessories that distinguished revellers. The weekend was not one many people would forget in a hurry. There were the crowds and the slow pace of movement on Sunday June 3 by the thousands who had lined the Thames to watch Britain’s “global best” display of 1,100 flotilla to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The underground stations, their staff, Metropolitan Police officers and hundreds of stewards ensured that there was visible crowd control. There were seas of people on rooftops, house apartments, lamp posts all rearing to catch a glimpse of the Queen in the flotilla entourage. The 86-year-old monarch and her 90-year-old husband, Prince Phillip, stood for hours in the rain and cold as they enjoyed the salutes from the excited citizenry. The extended holiday had provided UK workers with more time to celebrate the Queen’s reign. Celebration in the UK equates to drinking, drinking and drinking. As alcohol is cheaper in England than it is in Ireland, pub landlords in London experienced a boost in their profits from the millions of pints of alcohol sold. Not one to miss the opportunity to promote his ‘Big Society’ initiative, David Cameron, the British prime minister, admitted that “This (the Jubilee celebration) is something that has brought the country together.”
The monarchy has come a long way. There is a sense that the Queen and her team have modernised. When the Queen of Hearts, Princess Diana, died, the Queen and the British monarchy were the least favourites of the British media and people. Prince Charles himself struggled to get the public to accept divorcée Camilla (his true love). But eventually, the British public gave in. In what could have been a PR disaster, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, shared an open carriage with her Majesty the Queen to the delight of frenzied onlookers. Times indeed have changed.
This weekend saw the Queen’s popularity peak. Around the world, she was congratulated by prime ministers, President Obama of the United States, and heads of the Commonwealth, but there is a sense that the British monarchy is an old-fashioned institution which is responsible directly or indirectly for much of the world’s ills. For instance, the impact of colonialism is still felt many years after independence in many countries that her Majesty the Queen ruled. A cursory look at the origins of Nigeria’s present predicaments can be traced to the untidy way the North and South protectorates were hastily joined together. The British monarch has the blood of many heroes who died for their countries on her hands and that of the British government.
From Delhi to Accra, monuments of tyrannical colonial past remain a judgement against her Majesty the Queen. The truth though is that the fiercely loyal British public and their Queen are far removed from the fact that the British contributed to the destabilisation of the world and the oppression of millions, and that this Queen oversaw a large part of it.
It is often said that the British people like a good party. A little more than £10 million was spent on the Diamond Jubilee. It is thought that the cost of the weekend was borne privately by the Queen save the costs of security. The pomp and pageantry of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations come at a time when countries within the European Union, EU, are hurting, at a time when the United Kingdom is in a double dip recession, at a time when the houses have no value. The fact that the Queen would choose to spend all that money is disgusting. It tells she has no clue of how her subjects live.
The poverty level in the United Kingdom is staggering. There are 3.8 million children living in poverty in the UK today. That is 29 per cent of children, or more than one in four. Never mind the high unemployment rates. 12 Work does not provide a guaranteed route out of poverty in the UK. Almost two-thirds (58 per cent) of children growing up in poverty live in a household where at least one member works. It is common knowledge that benefits have been cut and the poorest people in England have been made poorer under the Coalition Government overseen by her Majesty the Queen. The unemployment rate in England and Wales is 8.2 per cent and 3.88 million people live in workless households. It is easy to conclude that in spite of the feelings of “Britishness” that pervaded the entire weekend, the timing of the Jubilee was distasteful, given the current financial positions of ordinary hardworking British people.
The Archbishop of Canterbury thanked her Majesty for “dedication and commitment” to the British people and the entire Commonwealth during the thanksgiving service at the close of the celebrations on Tuesday June 5, yet the Queen did not apologise to any of her previous colonies for the devastating effects of colonialism nor of slavery. The monarchy, an antiquated establishment, is hated in many parts of the world for what it represents. For many centuries, Great Britain oppressed and repressed the rights of many peoples, a majority of whom are embodied in the snobbishness reserved for non-EU members. This snobbishness to the lay black man on the street is translated as racism.
There are also elements of resentment in communities hardest hit by unemployment and the recession. People who struggle to make ends meet have neither loyalties nor pleasure in seeing taxpayers’ money being used to perpetuate a dynasty that is antiquated. In all fairness, perhaps the Queen needed to celebrate because she is the second monarch in recent history that has celebrated a Diamond Jubilee. In 1897, Queen Victoria celebrated hers.
The Queen possibly needed also to celebrate being the Head of the Commonwealth: from Australia to Antigua, Canada to Cameroon, the Commonwealth is a remarkable international organisation, spanning every geographical region, religion and culture. It exists to foster international cooperation and trade links between people all over the world. The Queen is head of state of 15 Commonwealth states in addition to the UK. She is also head of the Commonwealth itself, a voluntary association of 54 independent countries.
Her dynasty has courted the attention of Western media such that she and members of her family are established superstars. Other than The Queen, Prince Phillip, The Duke of Edinburgh, is the only member of the royal family to receive an annual parliamentary allowance to enable him carry out official public duties. Since 1993, The Queen has repaid the annual parliamentary allowances received by other members of the royal family. Most of the allowances received are spent on staff, their public engagements and correspondence. In 2000, the annual amounts payable to members of the royal family, which are set every ten years, were reset at their 1990 levels for the next ten years: Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, earns £249,000 per annum; Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, £141,000 per annum;
Anne, the Princess Royal, £228,000 per annum; Prince Edward, the Duke, and Katherine, Duchess of Kent, £236,000 per annum; and Princess Alexandra, £225,000 per annum. The Queen’s wealth dates back to 1760 when George III reached an agreement with the government over the Crown lands. The Crown lands would be managed on behalf of the government and the surplus revenue would go to the Treasury. In return, the king would receive a fixed annual payment, which is today known as the Civil List. The Crown Estate is not the personal property of the monarch. It cannot be sold by the monarch nor do any profits from it go to the sovereign. The Estates portfolio has a value of over £7.3 billion, from beef farms in the north of Scotland to Portland stone mining in Dorset.
Windsor Great Park is the only Royal Park managed by the Crown Estate. All other parks are administered by the Royal Parks Agency. Her Majesty the Queen is still believed, however, to possess private wealth last estimated to be more than £90 million. The Diamond Jubilee has ended, but across the world the Queen and her family continue to attract strong feelings of either hate or love.