In other words, what if America had a queen?
As Britain celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, it’s also grappling with a host of thorny issues. Consider: The country is in a double-dip recession, with unemployment at 8.2 percent and joblessness among youth around 20 percent. Its continental neighbors — to which it is shackled through the European Union — teeter on the verge of fiscal collapse. Prime Minister David Cameron is dealing with government workers striking over pension cuts — tens of thousands joined protests last month, and more strikes are planned this summer — as Cameron himself seeks to survive a lobbying scandal and to avoid further embarrassment over ties to the phone-hacking inquiry that has rocked Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Yet there are some things Britons are not arguing about.
You can see a unifying force in the flags, banners and ribbons festooning storefronts, boats and homes from the quiet of the Cotswolds to the tourist-packed streets of London. (The Daily Mail reported Friday that Britons in Randwick set a world record for “the longest line of continuous bunting after stringing up 14,583 triangular flags for four unbroken miles.”) Or in the bottled water advertised as “queentisentially British.” Street parties to celebrate Elizabeth’s 60-year reign are planned across the nation this weekend — which the government has decreed a holiday — along with an official concert, a service of thanksgiving and a thousand-boat flotilla up the Thames. For the concert marking her Golden Jubilee, 10 years ago, Queen guitarist Brian May belted out the national anthem, “God Save the Queen,” from the roof of Buckingham Palace. This time, organizers are rumored to have arranged for a band to perform on top of the monarch’s official residence in London.
“She’s the host with the most,” said Martin Fidler, a 61-year-old butcher in Bucklebury who attended the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton last spring. Fidler’s Bladebone Butchery is up the tree-lined road from the home of Michael and Carole Middleton, parents of the Duchess of Cambridge, as Kate Middleton is now known. “She’s the head of the country.”
Only one current world leader, Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, has reigned longer than Elizabeth (by about five years). Elizabeth is now Britain’s second-longest-reigning monarch, behind only her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria. She was 25 when she ascended the throne and has been served by 12 prime ministers.
Having a head of state who is above politics is key to the British system. It is the queen who opens Parliament with an address — written by elected officials — that outlines the legislative agenda for the year. It is the queen who appears on currency; the military branches are her services; taxes are levied and laws are carried out in her name.