Two nonagenarians who continue to serve their Country
Yesterday the organisers of our local street party being held today to commemorate the 90th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II came to see me. It is one of only 3 street parties being held in the city and amazingly the key organisers are a German and a Spaniard! Or are they? They both came to live here more than a decade ago. They love living here, have jobs here and have begun to bring up their children here. They may speak English with a peculiar accent but then so does every Scouser!!
These are people who fit in with a British way of life because, dare I say it, that is essentially a European way of life. Relaxed, congenial, communitarian and engaging. Contrast that with the pictures of our so called football supporters in Marseilles today. English, I must point out and not those of the other home nations competing. But not football supporters. The vast majority of the men and women who have gone to Europe want a drink, some sun and to enjoy the game in the company of like-minded fans. A tiny, tiny percentage go abroad for a fight and seem determined to show up our Country.
It reminded me slightly of the BBC Radio Merseyside debate on Europe last Tuesday. There were three speakers for both Remain and Leave and behind us were those with similar views who were able to contribute questions and join the debate. There could not have been a greater contrast between the two sides. I was clearly the second oldest on the Remain side. Predominantly those who came to take part in the debate for Remain were young, articulate and educated. Had I been on the other side I would have been one of the youngest. There was a huge difference in behaviour between the two sides as well. The young people sat quietly and calmly making pertinent points and asking pertinent questions. They listened in silence to the other side but that was not reciprocated. It was the older generation on the Leave side who jeered, interjected and just brought opinions with very little idea of the facts of the matter in hand.
And that made me think ever more so of what is Englishness. You don’t need to like Royalty to understand that the way we do it here is quintessentially English. In my view we would do better to have a slimmed down Royal Family on the Dutch or Scandinavia model. But I would not remove the monarchy to create a political presidency. Having a neutral head of state outside the political spectrum has served this Country well. 30 years events relating to the Monarchy were hugely popular. There would not have been 3 street parties but hundreds. I experienced this soon after I came to Liverpool when the City celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Queens accession to the throne. There were more than 200 street parties throughout the City for that event.
Of course, ostensibly, it was a ‘Royal’ do. But in practice the celebrations were those of the community. An excuse to close streets, set out the tables, give the kids jelly and cakes and have a good old ‘Knees-up”. By such means communities are made, formed and perpetuated. Alas too few people are prepared to make the commitment to the community involved in such an event. We have become too ‘me and mine’ oriented to think of the benefits of pursuing activity for a wider public good.
So perhaps the German and the Spaniard, who come from countries where community and neighbourhood seems so much more important than here, have captured the true English spirit today. Perhaps we could do with some more like them to recreate the community sprit which, many English have left behind.
A couple of years ago I spoke at a meeting of the American Conference of Mayors when I shared a platform with a Canadian Mayor and said that all three Countries shared the same Monarch. I said that because whenever I am in London and there is a royal event on the City swarms with Americans. The flights get booked almost overnight and the Yankees camp down the Mall or outside Westminster Abbey to get a good view of the Queen going by. At the time of the last Royal Wedding the two main US television news companies brought more than 70 staff to the UK and for two weeks ran most of their news stories out of London. The Royal Family are good for the tourism trade!
But the Queen is not only popular with Americans but with us Brits as well. Hers is a story yes of privilege but also of service. When both Erica and I received our CBEs I wondered what went through the mind of The Queen. Week after week she stands there giving out goings to people for whom that day of recognition is one of the most memorable days of their lives. She can stand for up to 1.5 hours shaking hands and making small talk. It can’t be thrilling for her, particularly at her age. It must be duty that impels her actions.
In theory, of course, it is Her Majesty’s Government that takes the decisions although they are challenged by Her Majesty’s Opposition. What the Monarch could actually do in the event if a national crisis of a political nature is questionable. Yet there is no doubt that the presence of a neutral Head of State influences things. All those who have been Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister have commented on the good counsel provided by the Queen. Perhaps that is not what really happens. Perhaps it is the fact that they talk to someone knowledgeable, experienced but out of the political fray that enables them to benefit from such meetings take place.
Yes there are too many Royals. Yes they do struggle to have anything like a normal life giving the expectations on them to do ‘public duties’. Yes we do need some more transparency in the way that money is dispensed and taxes avoided. Yes we could spend less money on some of the activities.
But I wouldn’t scrap the system. It’s a bit like the Europe debate really. Those that want to Leave are unable to articulate what Leave would be like. Those who wish to abolish the Monarchy are unable to say what they would put in its place and how it would work.
So today I will be having some jelly and a drink at the street party in Olivedale Road. I will pleased and proud to sing the National Anthem at 12.00 and have a toast to the health of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.