60 years, and what has the Queen done?

Her Majesty has promised to 'dedicate herself anew' to the service of Britain. But what has she achieved in sixty years on the throne?
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
7 February 2012

At the risk of being called “characteristically uncharitable” by Owly, a note is needed in OurKingdom’s part of the United Kingdom to mark the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne and her commitment to stay on it. The line that the Palace has decided upon to describe her achievement is that she is the “still, small voice” in our lives. “Lady Penn, a friend of the monarch since they were both 20, summed up her qualities in an interview with the BBC”. She said,

"She's got a very deep faith which is, I think, very important in her life. She's very kind. She has a lot of common sense and great wisdom, she really has. Somebody said to me the other day that she has been the still small voice of calm in a really social revolution in this country over the last 60 years - and she has."

Accordingly, her biographer Sarah Bradford told the Today programme that the monarch is “a small, composed, dignified figure” and indeed, “the calm centre of our lives”.

Whoever that "somebody" was who spoke to Lady Penn, he or she was skilful at PR and knew how to send a message as well as solve a problem.

The message was for those who know their I Kings 19. When the Lord spoke to Elijah, he was not in the wind, or the fire, or the earthquake, he was in "the still small voice".

Thus does modesty cloak the claim to divine right while trading on the population's ignorance of Christianity.

The formulation also neatly solves a problem by presenting inconsequence as an achievement. For what has the Queen done? I am aware that monarchs are just supposed to be. To be seen but not heard, as they say... But as Heads of State they can also achieve without being political. The problem with the Queen is that she seems not to have done anything except like racehorses.

At least her father and grandfather took a personal interest in collecting stamps.

It would have been too much for the Queen to have asked a committee of advisors to acquire for a modest sum a painting from two new young British painters every year, or a sculpture. Had she done so, even if half their choices had been poor, there would be a fabulously valuable and interesting collection.

But she could have asked for the best example of the work of a young British jeweller, or given an award to the best piece of engineering, or simply had a collection of superior pieces of British craftsmanship from tailoring to furniture. This would even have inspired a certain amount of local industry.

As it is, it seems she will leave nothing. A centre, or maybe an absent centre?

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Is this an opportunity for a realignment around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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