Saturday, June 09, 2012

The woman who saved us from President Blair

free web site hit counterIf there is a single word that has come to define David Cameron's premiership over the past two years - and one that is likely to continue to define it long into the future - it is almost certainly the word ‘austerity.’

But although circumstances have decreed that the administration which he leads is overwhelmingly focused on economic matters, this almost certainly wasn’t the way the Prime Minister originally planned it.

A few years back, the then opposition leader could be heard opining somewhat heretically that perhaps the role of policy-making should be more focused on making people happy than on making them rich.

Alas, after a couple of outings, the so-called ‘happiness agenda’ sank without trace in the face of the financial crisis that gripped the nation from 2008 onwards and which has continued to set the parameters of current day political debate.

Perhaps this week's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, however, have shown that Mr Cameron remains at heart much more of a social cavalier than the economic roundhead his opponents would sometimes like to depict.

Asked on Thursday whether other European countries would benefit from having Jubilee days off like Britain's, Mr Cameron replied with disarming honesty: ''It is not good for the economy, but it was good for the soul.''

The first point is pretty much unarguable, with the £700m boost from overseas tourism barely registering against the estimated £6bn in lost economic productivity over the course of the long bank holiday weekend.

But what the heck, we have all had a damned good party, and after what already seems like years of economic doom and gloom, perhaps that's just what we needed.

Mr Cameron is a not entirely disinterested observer, of course. Historically the ‘King’s Party,’ the Tories invariably enjoy a boost whenever the red, white and blue bunting comes out.

Furthermore, as I noted in last week’s column, the government was pretty much relying on this Jubilee weekend to draw a line under the post-Budget ‘omnishambles’ that has seen it stagger from crisis to crisis in recent weeks.

As the Tory blogger Harry Cole put it: “As a big shiny distraction from our economic woes and the political disaster that David Cameron’s government is perilously close to becoming, the Royal Jubilee weekend was pretty good.”

Whether it will work remains to be seen. But if a new ‘feelgood factor’ can emerge from the Jubilee and Olympic celebrations that will book-end this summer, then perhaps the Coalition can look forward to some sunnier times ahead.

What of the monarchy itself? Well, despite being given a frankly puzzling degree of prominence by the BBC, the Republican cause was pretty much routed by this week’s show of public affection for the Queen.

Left-wing commentators who blame the Monarchy for the decline in social mobility in the UK are forgetting that the first two decades of the Queen’s reign saw the biggest upsurge in social mobility in our history.

On a personal level, surely no monarch could be more deserving of the adulation that has been heaped upon her this week than Queen Elizabeth II.

As the historian Dominic Sandbrook put it: "We have had more exciting, more effusive and more colourful monarchs. But we have never had a sovereign who worked harder, served her country with more devotion, or better represented the innate decency of our national character."

For me, though, as has often been said, the importance of the monarchy lies primarily not in the power that it has but in the power that it denies to others.

And as such, my own debt of gratitude to the Queen is not so much for her devoted life of public service, nor even for the way she has held this country together in a period of unprecedented social change.

No, it is for the fact that, by her very presence at the pinnacle of our political system, she saved us from the baleful prospect of President Thatcher or, even worse, President Blair.

And for that, if for nothing else, I gladly join with the rest of the country in wishing Her Majesty a very happy Diamond Jubilee.

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