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The World at Large: Eighty and still reigning.

So the Queen of England is eighty and still not showing any signs of wanting to retire. The Royal Family may be sexist, but nobody can accuse it of being ageist.

I do feel that I’m missing out on something: I was living in Berlin during the Golden Jubilee and at least got invited to the Embassy for a drink. Since I’m not 80 years old, I didn’t get invited to this special birthday party the Queen threw for selected citizens born on the same day as her. John Humphreys — a well-known radio personality and feared for his hard-hitting political interviewing techniques, did manage to ask the Queen why she hadn’t invited Fidel Castro, which would have been a fair point if Castro were a British citizen, which he isn’t (at least, not to the best of my knowledge).

Just in time for Her Majesty’s birthday comes the news that most British people are actually quite fond of the Royal Family after all, which is a spectacular turnaround from the days when they couldn’t do anything without making the wrong sort of headlines. I wonder what brought that on. Even Camilla, once regarded almost as the devil incarnate, seems to have one the grudging admiration of the public.

Elizabeth vs George

Let me just say that I’m not the sort of flag-waving monarchist who stands for the National Anthem and collects portraits of the Queen (unless they happen to be on banknotes). I just think that, as undemocratic institutions go, the British Royal Family is preferable to having an elected President whose main qualification for the job is his sex-appeal (admit it, would you actually vote for a woman who looks like your grandmother?). Or, in the case of President Bush, his… er… well, his ability to win elections.

Which actually proves my point, in a way. We have an unelected head of state who’s not actually allowed to do anything much except visit Hindu temples and shake hands with the President of South Africa; America has an elected President and look at the result.

Indeed, if you will permit me (or even if you don’t), I’d like to compare these two heads of state, since the news has also broken that a large number of American historians believe that Bush will go down in history as the worst President for a hundred years, if not the worst of all. So, let’s see…

The Queen, of course, wasn’t elected, which is a definite point against her; on the other hand, it’s still not exactly clear whether Bush won any elections either. I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. In terms of foreign policy, Bush has led his country into approximately two wars, one of which he just about got away with (Afghanistan), but the second has proved to be disastrous in terms of money and lives; the Queen has been on state visitors and said very little about Robert Mugabe — so she wins simply by not collecting any minus points. In domestic affairs, Bush has run up terrific debts while the Queen is paid to smile at people and take criticism about how much she costs the nation — probably a draw there. As for entertainment value, Bush gets his words muddled up and falls off bicycles; the Queen herself doesn’t do much, but her family constitute a real-life soap opera, a sort of cross between Dallas and Big Brother; she wins hands down.

Her Majesty the Gap-Filler

What can I say? The Queen offers us better value for money because her grandchildren dress up as Nazis and punch press photographers. That sounds really harsh, but when you analyze it, it’s not too far from the truth. The point about the British monarch is that the head of state, in whose name everything is done and every law enacted, is a sort of mythical entity. The Queen isn’t the head of state at all, she just plugs the gap where a head of state would normally be. She doesn’t really do anything — she has wide-ranging powers but is under strict instructions not to use them. As a ceremonial figurehead (like European-style Presidents) there’s no point in electing her. If we’re going to have a figurehead head of state, at least make it interesting.

Ah well. Perhaps I am just a little tiny bit patriotic, in a British non-offensive other-countries-deserve-to-be-proud-too sort of way. I still reguse to sing the National Anthem (at least until they write a new one — is there anything quite so dreary as the British National Anthem?), but I do feel I should perhaps acquire a large Union Flag, which should probably, rather like the country it represents, be a little tattered at the edges and a little bit faded, and pin it to the wall over my desk.

Unfortunately, I have to secure the prior agreement of my wife. She’s very patient with me, but even she has her limits. It would, you see, clash horribly with the curtains…

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