With the incessant barrage of adulation unleashed by the media on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, the bigger picture has slipped down the back of Britain's national sofa yet again.
While we have heard lots of twaddle about what a subtle manager of the national psyche she is and how similar to us she actually is (minus her diamonds, caviar, and gilded carriages), nobody seems to have much of a grasp on what monarchy in the 21st century actually is, or of the rationale behind it. The gap where that unasked and unanswered question lies seems for the most part to be clogged with trashy platitudes like "if we didn't have a Queen we'd have to have a president" and "I suppose it's good for the tourists." Very profound!
The problem the Queen has is not only that she doesn't rule but that everybody, including the tourists, knows that she doesn't rule. We even know that the Honours List isn't her doing, but merely something the leaders of the Labour, Tory, and Lib-Dem Parties cook up between themselves to give worthless cronies like Baroness Warsi the kudos they couldn't achieve at the ballot box.
The fact that the Queen exists in this odd vacuum explains all the irritatingly deferential talk she generates about what a graceful and dignified woman she is. As this positive public perception is a bit forced, its corollary is that most people have a largely negative attitude about her successor Prince Charles, with most people hoping that his mum will outlive him so that 'Wills' can take over (hopefully before he divorces Kate and after he has sired the next generation of tabloid fodder).
This is the approximate state of thinking vis-à-vis the Royal Family in the nation at large at present, and, of course, it completely misses the point. Whether Queen Liz has a dull, tweedy dignity that gradually grows on 'one' or whether Prince Charles is a bit of blithering nincompoop with a penchant for fads is utterly irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the essence of royalty.
Monarchs who don't rule – and British monarchs ceased ruling sometime in the 18th century – can only have one function, that is, to act as talismans or lucky charms for their nation. If they succeed in bringing luck, then they can be considered to have done their job, regardless of their other imperfections, whether these include talking to trees (George III), marrying American divorcees (Edward VIII), or stuttering (George VI). Selection, it should be remembered, is not by ballot, but merely consists of appearing in the right birth canal at the right moment.
Monarchy without power not only has a hint of the mystical about it, it is in fact entirely mystical and nothing else but mystical, and it must be judged in these terms, rather in the same way as you would judge the juju from your local witch doctor (a real possibility in modern Britain).
So, what are we to make of Liz? What kind of totem or lucky charm has she been to the Great British nation? Luckily – or rather unluckily – her long stint as monarch has made this abundantly clear. While Queen Victoria's reign saw Britain maintain and even expand its position as the leading country of the world, and the reigns of George V and VI saw Britain successfully, but with great cost, ride out two terrible world wars, Liz's reign has seen Britain tumble not only off the roof but deep into the basement, where a mineshaft is now threatening to re-open.
Back in 1952 Britain had a massive manufacturing sector, with a leading position in some of the world's cutting-edge technologies, like jet travel and nuclear power. It also had an extensive if somewhat reduced overseas network of colonies and semi-colonies. To these assets could also be added a socially harmonious and hard-working population that did not need to be policed by hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras and thought crime legislation. In an era before welfare moms, gay marriage, and rocketing divorce, the family structure, the basis of society, was in particularly good health. Street parties in 1952 were natural and spontaneous. Not contrived and awkward as they are today.
Following Lizzie's coronation – which probably broke some unknown taboo by being televised – the country's overseas influence has evaporated, with foreign policy parcelled off to Washington and everything else to Brussels and a home-grown, Stasi-like, nanny state commissariat. The once proud manufacturing industries and stable social structure lie in ruins as the country becomes a dumping ground for Third World exports, immigration, and cultures. While many countries have faced similar problems, there is no denying Britain’s shocking relative decline since 1952, during a period when we faced no serious wars or enemies.
Of course, none of this is directly Liz's fault in the same way that the achievements of Vickie's reign were not directly or even indirectly her doing, but if there is any point in having a powerless monarch, surely that point is in having them as a 'lucky piece' or glorified rabbit's foot. This was often how kings and queens were considered by the ancients. The Chinese even coined a phrase for it: "the mandate of heaven."
Yes, Lizzie can look back on 60 years of behaving in a dignified manner and not shooting too many deer on her Balmoral Estate, but at the end of the day this is a woman who simply does not have the mandate of heaven, and while she has sailed serenely enough through her own reign, the country has sunk around her.