On June 2nd 2012, it will be 60 years since the coronation of Her Majesty, Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith (that’s the abridged version of her titles by the way).
She’s also now the second longest serving monarch in British history behind Queen Victoria who managed 63 years on the throne. You wont bet against QEII beating that record.
These days, you wont find many people who terribly dislike the Queen…the monarchy is all cuddly and even makes people smile. But it wasnt always that way. There was a time, not too long ago, where the monarchy represented an albatross on the neck of the British people and an all too painful representation of privilege in the eyes of the people. The purpose of the monarchy used to be to extract wealth from the ordinary people for itself. Everyone’s heard the story of how the ‘window tax’ was introduced by King William III in 1696 where houses were taxed based on the number of windows they had. Of course, this meant that people began to cover some of their windows with bricks to avoid the tax which then spawned the phrase ‘daylight robbery’.
Today, the Crown is subjected to budget cuts and the same level of audit and examination as government ministries. If Her Majesty was peeved at this, I havent heard her complain about it. And the better for her.
And this is the ‘secret’ to the longevity of the Crown. The sixty years of her reign have witnessed profound social, cultural and technological changes but somehow the monarchy has managed to remain relevant in a non intrusive manner.
Actually it’s not a secret at all – what has happened is that over the years, the monarchy has come to represent what the British people want it to be. The Queen will not be tolerated for long if she starts to have an opinion on the merits of a Keynesian approach to reviving the economy as opposed to a plan of cutting the deficit to make room for the private sector. The British people no longer wanted a family of unelected people to have a say over their lives and they have got just that from an obliging monarchy.
This really is the point – leadership ought to always reflect the will of the people it purports to lead. There is a whole industry out there of people who seek to abolish the monarchy but these movements never make any headway because the British people are essentially happy with the Crown as it is right now. The Prince of Wales is watched like a hawk whenever he tries to impose his will on any public matter and always receives a robust response for his troubles.
To remain relevant, especially for long periods, smart leaders know that it is always in their own interest to give up their own powers and have it dispersed as widely as possible. Any other way invites violence and especially encourages those who have real or imagined grievances to have a go at the symbol of power wherever they find it. Instead we get 2 days holiday to celebrate the Jubilee and those who cant make it into London to watch the events will most likely be watching on TV.
Viewed through these lens, Nigeria is a conundrum of sorts – the government doesnt work and has never refelcted the aspirations of the people. Yet it grows bigger and more powerful by the day, unafraid to legislate over the kind of sex people are allowed to have or the kind of bread it thinks they should eat. It does not care to deliver on old promises before making new ones. It spends the commonwealth like it’s going out of fashion and generally throws itself about like a bullying nuisance.
And when it comes to elections, the one time when the people get to have a say, everything is done to ensure that the will of the people is brought in line with a pre-determined outcome.
But none of this is surprising. What baffles is why we continue to put up with it? And more worryingly, how long do we intend to put up with it for. When will government sit when we tell it to and stand when we say so? As opposed to being the surest means of capturing the state’s resources for a narrow elite….
I will be pondering these questions as I toast Elizabeth Regina on the occassion of her Diamond Jubilee in a couple of weeks. It’s safe to do so now. What the monarchy represents today is something I can happily tolerate and live with as is the case I am sure with millions of British people across the country.
She’s done as she’s been told.