THE Queen is 1000 years old, or thereabouts.
It must seem that way to the average five-year-old trying to imagine how anyone could sit still on that big throne holding up a crown for six decades. To a toddler given a wee flag to wave, that's 12 whole lifetimes.
Beneath the bunting, the child's parents and grandparents are also bewitched, as often as not. The monarch has surpassed venerable and is fast approaching the status of a monument, seeming, weirdly, always to have been there. For millions, that's no more than the truth. Even I would call it a decent shift.
The Queen has been on the throne, as the strange voodoo language goes, for longer than I have been around. A dozen individuals have occupied 10 Downing Street by appointment – hers, not yours – in 60 years. I have some fuzzy black-and-white memories of Churchill being given a state send-off. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary knew him when he was compos mentis, and met him when Britain's wars were worth fighting.
She has endured, in other words. Arguably, she is in better shape, all things considered, than the country over which she reigns. It is not a fact I applaud – being of the Bastille school of constitutional reform – but it is a fact I'd be stupid to deny. That kind of tenacity deserves a little grudging admiration. Over the decades the Queen has played some tricky hands with a certain adroitness. My views on the iniquities of the hereditary principle don't alter reality in the slightest.
That may be why we republicans have gone a bit quiet this year. There is no media demand for our services as one glance at the TV schedules and print supplements will prove, but there is also a sense that anti-monarchical chatter would be utterly pointless. The rest, the majority, even those who a few years back might have been open to an argument, don't want to know. The jubilee, a juggernaut designed to conquer hearts and minds, is unstoppable.
You have to hand it to the Windsors, therefore: they are masters of their peculiar art. No political party can match them. No national movement has their strategic stockpiles of magic dust. No West End musical – Monarch Mia! – has endured so many lousy reviews and bounced back so often with a new juvenile lead and a showstopping production number. They know their audience. And they know how to give the people what the people want.
This is revealing, of course. If republicanism remains a minority pursuit – though the minority is bigger than you might guess from watching the BBC right now – that should tell us something about the flag-waving majority. You could patronise them, but too many anti-royalists make that mistake. You could wonder at their capacity to forgive and forget, but that would not answer the important question. Why, where the Windsors are concerned, do so many want to forgive, and seem to need to forget?
Had you asked me on September 6, 1997, I would have said the question had become academic. Viewed from the cheap seats in Westminster Abbey at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, it looked like the endgame for Elizabeth's version of royalty. What sounded like rain on the roof when Charles Spencer was busy dripping contempt on the Windsors was the sound of the London mob, in the old sense, cheering and applauding what they took to be a denunciation.
Those besotted with Diana and hysterical over her death were not, by definition, natural republicans. They found nothing bizarre about the idea of a people's princess. But they were furious with the Windsors in general and with a remote and apparently callous Queen in particular. In the abbey that day I thought, in my common way: "It's all over for this lot." Afterwards, it was reported that close to 33 million "subjects" had been watching the spectacle on TV. Buck House should have become a PR Winter Palace.
Yet what did we witness last year? Street parties; another of those fairytale princesses; and over 26 million people glued to the box while Diana's eldest married and his contented, smiling grandmother looked on. There had been plenty of the usual scandals in the interval, from William's brother in his Nazi get-up to William's uncle consorting with peculiar foreign business types. No matter.
By the time of the latest wedding there were signs that forgiveness was being extended even to the Prince of Wales. Now he messes around doing the weather on Reporting Scotland and everyone calls it a laugh, not a stunt. Now the Queen is again revered – another odd notion – and no-one is talking about spoiled rotten, dysfunctional families. I confess it freely: this takes a kind of genius.
The monarch has plenty of help, of course. Broadcasters, as noted, are not keen to spoil the jubilee party by recognising the existence of divergent opinions. Politicians who require the notion of the Crown to achieve their ends can be relied upon for loyal rhetoric. The honours system ensures that there is a steady supply of people in the public eye ready to lend support, even – or especially – when it means casting aside the convictions of a lifetime.
The fact remains that the Queen doesn't just get away with it. She wins this game, hands down, time and again, decade after decade, as republican opinion ebbs and flows. She even seems to embody the supremely irrational idea that a monarchy can adorn democracy. One part of me still finds this outrageous and insulting; another part finds it hilarious. But as family firms everywhere are liable to say, you can't argue with results.
Amid the jubilee events she has the bearing of a woman vindicated. A satisfied smile is more in evidence than before. You can see her point. Whatever becomes of her first-born as and when she leaves the scene, her grandson is coming off the conveyor belt at just the right moment, bathed in popularity and affection, ready to carry the business forward for another half-century.
This, it seems, is what people, "the people", want. This is the kind of potency that reduces even a Scottish National Party, one supposedly dedicated to ending her Britain, to loyalty oaths for fear of alienating her fans. This is the kind of stage magic that causes even the history books to be rewritten. In this jubilee year, flying in the face of every fact, even those who know better are calling her Elizabeth II and there is barely a murmur of protest.
She endures while everything changes. Her people, as they like to be known, seem to cling to that fact. It doesn't get them off the dole or out of a recession. It doesn't fix their schools or dispel outrageous inequality. In a perverse way, that's why they take comfort from the simple fact of her persistence.
I could call it pathetic and daft, but most wouldn't listen. If a republican tribute to HM Queen is sought or required this summer, it would arise – as I never will – from that fact.
Still, a republican can take comfort from one of those monarchist cliches. The chances are that truly we will never see her like again. Then what?
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