Queen Elizabeth's Platinum Jubilee: A damp squib of an institution in decline or a return to the heady days of 2012? – Alastair Stewart

The Queen recently held a virtual audience from Windsor to receive the Ambassador of Armenia at Buckingham Palace.
Queen Elizabeth's unfalteringly impressive stoicism is a central part of the institution of monarchy (Picture: Oli Scarff/WPA pool/Getty Images)Queen Elizabeth's unfalteringly impressive stoicism is a central part of the institution of monarchy (Picture: Oli Scarff/WPA pool/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth's unfalteringly impressive stoicism is a central part of the institution of monarchy (Picture: Oli Scarff/WPA pool/Getty Images)

The total symbiosis between a 95-year-old sovereign and the latest gadgetry used in such officialdom underlined just how much has changed during her reign and how long she has been monarch.

After all, this year's Accession Day – on February 6 – marked 70 years since the Queen acceded to the throne.

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The major Platinum Jubilee celebrations will begin in June. One wonders if they will mirror the success of 2012's Diamond Jubilee or be a damp squib.

The scandals over the last ten years have dented Royal prestige. The magic is gone for the monarchy as an institution in itself, and positive endorsements are centred on the unfalteringly impressive stoicism of its leading lady.

The Queen's family – most of whom barely deserve the appellation 'Royal' – does not seem able to convince anyone that they can justify the institution on religious grounds. When she dies, the problem will worsen unless the country happily accepts it is a business venture and part of British soft power.

With this in mind, we should look to 2012 for how British prestige actually works. That great year had Skyfall, the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics. Together they formed an interlinking affirmation of Tennyson's poem Ulysses: “We are not now that strength which in old days moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are.”

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The Platinum Jubilee can only hope to break even with the Diamond. The year 2012 was the apex of what the monarchy can hope to achieve as a cultural institution aware of its own ridiculousness. With no loss of irony, it was the true expression of the kind of "Global Britain" Brexit has failed to unleash.

That year directly rebuked the former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who in 1962 famously commented on Britain's post-Second World War, post-imperial circumstances that "Great Britain has lost an empire but not yet found a role". British cultural power is far more significant and long-reaching than military or even nuclear capabilities.

The American political scientist Joseph Nye introduced the concept of "soft power" in the late 1980s. He argued soft power rests on a country's "culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when others see them as legitimate and having moral authority)".

Governments understand soft power when it suits them and a strange sense of grandeur informs most British foreign policy. We live in the shadow of greatness; our decision-making bodies are housed in imperial relics surrounded by murals depicting our majestic take on history. Journalist and writer Jeremy Paxman observed that dismissing how this shapes our leaders' views of the world would be ignorant.

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Military might matters less and even less when it comes to bulwarking Europe against Russian power in Ukraine. Britain can only work as part of a coalition, and unilateralism is dead in the water.

Our day-to-day international reputation places us at the heart of global culture: anyone who has worked or travelled abroad will tell you that Union Flag T-shirts are a common sight and a fashion in itself.

The great accomplishment of the Diamond Jubilee was the recasting of the monarchy as a cultural agent and not a political one. It works best when it stands centre-stage as part of Brand Britain and free of political machinations.

It is worth reflecting on this after the disgrace that is Prince Andrew and the controversy of 'Megxit'. The institution of monarchy has a coherent role to play abroad and a superficial one at home.

British soft power is a series of powerful cultural levers. Movies, arts, music, and literature make the country and its distinct nations perpetually relevant with a genuinely global reach.

And right at its centre is brand Windsor. It unites other cultural exports under a strange ethereal banner of Britishness. Sitting trying to articulate precisely what it means is just a waste of time.

If there is any doubt about cultural soft power and why it should be a pause for thought in 2022, consider the weakness when it turns sour.

The war in Ukraine is perpetuated by a pound-shop Stalin who has either lost his mind or his humanity. But ordinary Russians are paying the price for Vladimir Putin's Ukrainian horror. The raft of economic sanctions was predictable, but Russians are experiencing a literal cancel culture against them.

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Vodka has been rebranded, 100 per cent Russian sourced stock replaced, and Fyodor Dostoevsky was even stricken from an Italian college curriculum (although they later backtracked).

US lawyer and academic Professor Philip Bobbitt noted that the West has evolved beyond the nation-state and became a market-state. Legitimacy is derived from governments doing their utmost to maximise the global marketplace opportunities.

Part of that export package invariably involves putting forward the country's best possible signature attractions. While we may get frustrated that Scotland can be distilled down to characteristics that border on cliché, they are nevertheless a spectacularly large part of our tourism, reputation, and economy.

This year, two camps will seize on the Platinum Jubilee: those who will outright dismiss it as a dated, pompous exercise for an antiquated institution and those who see it as a sales brochure for Brand Britain.

The truth is halfway in between. The benefits of the monarchy were resoundingly demonstrated in the global extravaganza that was Britain, 2012. There will never be another year like it, and we can only hope 2022 comes close to that long-lasting success.

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