Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee: Wet firecracker of an institution in decline or return to the heyday of 2012? –Alastair Stewart
The total symbiosis between a 95-year-old sovereign and the latest gadgets used in such a bureaucracy underlined how much everything has changed during her reign and how long she has been a monarch.
After all, this year’s Accession Day – February 6 – marked 70 years since the Queen took the throne.
The main Platinum Jubilee celebrations will begin in June. One wonders if they will reflect the success of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee or if it will be a wet squib.
The scandals of the last ten years have damaged the royal prestige. The magic is gone for the monarchy as an institution in its own right, and the positive endorsements center on the awe-inspiring stoicism of its leading lady.
The Queen’s family – most of whom barely deserve the appellation “royal” – do not seem able to convince anyone that they can justify the institution on religious grounds. When she dies, the problem will get worse unless the country happily accepts that she is a commercial enterprise and part of Britain’s soft power.
With that in mind, we should look to 2012 to find out how British prestige actually works. This big year had Skyfall, the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. Together they formed an interrelated affirmation of Tennyson’s poem Ulysses: “We are now no longer that force which once stirred earth and sky, what we are, we are.”
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Platinum Jubilee can only hope to break even with Diamond. 2012 was the pinnacle of what the monarchy can hope to achieve as a cultural institution aware of its own ridiculousness. Without losing the irony, it was the true expression of the type of “global Britain” that Brexit failed to unleash.
That year, former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson directly rebuked former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson who, in 1962, had famously commented on Britain’s post-imperial circumstances after the World War II, that “Britain has lost an empire but has yet to find a role”. British cultural power is far greater and far-reaching than military or even nuclear capabilities.
American political scientist Joseph Nye introduced the concept of “soft power” in the late 1980s. He argued that soft power is based on “a country’s culture (in places where it attracts others), its political values (when it respects them at home and abroad) and its foreign policy (when others regard them as legitimate and having moral authority)”.
Governments understand soft power when it suits them and an uncanny sense of grandeur informs most British foreign policy. We live in the shadow of greatness; our decision-making bodies are housed in imperial relics surrounded by murals depicting our majestic view of history. Journalist and writer Jeremy Paxman observed that to dismiss how this shapes the worldview of our leaders would be ignorant.
Military power matters less and less when it comes to strengthening Europe against Russian might in Ukraine. Britain can only work as part of a coalition, and unilateralism is dead in the water.
Our everyday international reputation puts us at the heart of global culture: anyone who has worked or traveled abroad will tell you that Union Flag t-shirts are a common sight and a fashion in themselves.
The great achievement of the Diamond Jubilee was the recasting of the monarchy as a cultural, not a political agent. It works best when he’s center stage as part of the British brand and shielded from political machinations.
It’s worth thinking about after the disgrace that is Prince Andrew and the ‘Megxit’ controversy. The monarchical institution has a coherent role to play abroad and a superficial role at home.
British soft power is a series of powerful cultural levers. Films, arts, music and literature make the country and its distinct nations perpetually relevant with a truly global reach.
And at its center is the Windsor brand. It unites other cultural exports under a strange ethereal banner of Britishness. Sitting around trying to articulate precisely what that means is just a waste of time.
If there is any doubt about cultural soft power and why there should be pause for reflection in 2022, consider weakness when it turns sour.
The war in Ukraine is perpetuated by a bookseller Stalin who has lost his mind or his humanity. But ordinary Russians are paying the price for Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian horror. The round of economic sanctions was predictable, but the Russians have a culture of literal rescission against them.
The vodka was rebranded, the original 100% Russian stock was replaced, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky was even scratched from an Italian university program (although they later backtracked).
American lawyer and university professor Philip Bobbitt noted that the West has evolved beyond the nation state and into a market state. Legitimacy derives from governments doing all they can to maximize global market opportunities.
Part of this export program is invariably highlighting the country’s best flagship attractions. Although we may be frustrated that Scotland can be reduced to features that border on the cliché, they are nonetheless a spectacular part of our tourism, our reputation and our economy.
This year, two camps will seize on the platinum jubilee: those who will dismiss it outright as a dated and pompous exercise for an antiquated institution and those who see it as a sales brochure for Brand Britain.
The truth is halfway between the two. The benefits of the monarchy were clearly demonstrated in the global extravaganza that was Britain in 2012. There will never be another year like this, and we can only hope that 2022 is getting closer to this enduring success.
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