'Happy and Glorious:' Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee

Ahead of Diamond Jubilee, Britons have positive outlook during “Second Elizabethan Age.”

Britain's Queen Elizabeth 390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Britain's Queen Elizabeth 390
(photo credit: Reuters)
This weekend, Britain celebrates the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.  The Diamond Jubilee comes only weeks before the world’s attention turns to London for the Summer Olympics.  Despite the continued bite of austerity, and the unrelenting economic turmoil across the Channel in Europe, many Britons are reflecting quite favorably on their lives during this “Second Elizabethan Age”.
Preparations for the Jubilee have been going on for weeks.  Flags hang high across London and other cities and town in Britain.  Bunting has been hung and street parties have been planned.  The largest flotilla assembled in 350 years will conduct a floating pageant in the Queen’s honor, involving over 1,000 vessels of every shape and size.
Although “republicans” still surface occasionally as talking heads on news broadcasts, they have had little success in dampening enthusiasm for the Jubilee.  Even those newspapers that regularly trumpet Left-leaning causes and sentiments could not escape the Jubilee’s celebratory nature.
Politicians, who anti-royalists favor instead of a monarchy, have decreased in recent years even further in people’s estimation, if such a thing is possible.  The public frenzy that erupted upon Tony Blair’s election as Prime Minister in 1997 was quickly squandered.  Blair was welcomed as a unique agent of change, similar in many ways to Barack Obama’s initial arrival at the White House.  Eventually, however, Blair’s heavy reliance on spin over substance created an insurmountable gulf between him and the British people.  Meanwhile, the monarchy remains a key institution of British public life, despite voters’ regular disenchantment with each new wave of political leaders and fashionable political orthodoxy.
Much has changed for Britain over the past 60 years.
When the young princess first ascended to the throne, her country was still counting the costs of World War II, but also held together a vast empire that stretched around the globe.  At 86 years old, Queen Elizabeth has seen dramatic changes in her subjects’ lives, as well as twelve different prime ministers occupying 10 Downing Street.  Britain is healthier and richer today than in 1952.  It has maintained an important position of influence in the world that most larger and wealthier countries can only aspire to hold.  The dismantling of the British Empire has done little to detract from Britain’s international prestige.
London draws to it from around the world both the successful and those who crave for success.  At the same time, Britain has managed to maintain and grow civic institutions, such as the National Health Service, that seeks to assure that all Britons are included and protected from unacceptable outcomes.  Notably, in a nationwide survey to determine the favorite British film of the past 60 years, many might be surprised to hear that “Trainspotting,” the homage to heroin addicts in 1980s Edinburgh, took the honor.  Despite the difficult subject matter and the graphic portrayal of violence, poverty and addiction, this dark comedy beat out “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” as well as the Harry Potter films.
Clearly, significant political missteps have occurred over the years, such as the invasion of Suez, the repeated nationalization of unproductive industries and the wide-spread closure of state-funded, competitive entry “grammar schools” that represented for many young Britons the best chance of progress and achievement.  But Britons, like many of us, have a deep-seated need for a common purpose and a sense of unity.
The Queen’s six decade reign demonstrates how effective the monarchy has been in uniting a nation.  Britain now possesses a confidence and certainty about itself and its prospects that was much harder to maintain in the uncertain years after World War II.  Even today’s austerity is a much different proposition than the austerity that existed at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
What is the proper relationship within a country between market, state and individual?
Contemporary Britain shows us one possible configuration.  Over thousands of years on this small collection of islands, a culture and a society has developed incrementally and naturally to produce social, political and economic developments that have been copied around the globe.
Britain has always been a leader in adapting to change.  And the monarchy has continued through the centuries because it is a natural and organic feature of British life that has performed its role very effectively.
While other countries in times of uncertainty and challenge may revert to introversion and creation myths of divine exceptionalism, Britain and its monarchy are able to hold on to the best aspects of their heritage and traditions, while boldly adapting to the new world unfolding around them.
The first Queen Elizabeth led her country at a time when it was little more than a distant backwater realm, outside the main thrusts of history unfolding elsewhere.  During her reign, England soon positioned itself to be the center of revolutions that would change modern life on all continents.
The second Queen Elizabeth took the throne when many would have easily written off her country as a “has been,” past its prime and ready for a quaint irrelevance.  Instead, through a sense of public service that finds few equals elsewhere in the world today, this Queen has played an important role in leading her country to where it is today - confident and prosperous and looking to the future.
The writer is a commentator who divides his time between the United Kingdom and Southern California. He has appeared on CNN, CNBC, BBC and Sky News, and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Financial Times and The Economist.