Oh dear. I do so want to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Like millions and millions of her subjects in Britain and in Commonwealth countries overseas, I give her not only my full loyalty but also my warmest admiration. She is a woman of courage, of sincere and humble Christian faith, and a magnificent sense of service. She has that rare thing, a true sense of duty. Down all the years since her accession to the throne, she has never wavered in it. We love her for it.
The problem lies not in offering thanksgiving for her service and duty – I am glad to do so, and to show my gratitude to the Queen for all that she has done and continues to do. The problem lies in the idea that we should celebrate the nation that Britain has now become.
Of course there have been some changes over the past sixty years that have been splendid and good. Racial bigotry and prejudice are now rightly deemed vile and wholly unacceptable – jokes and cruel remarks, and denial of basic services to people on the grounds of race were once regarded as quite normal and it’s good to see that go. And the advances in material wellbeing at all sorts of levels – dentistry, availability of good food, decent coffee – are all good news. Medical treatment has improved – look at the cure of diseases that sixty years ago would have proved fatal or crippling, the advances in care of the elderly and handicapped, the control of pain.
Oh, and much more: educational opportunities, travel opportunities, leisure pursuits – all these are available on a massive scale compared to that of 1952.
But…just look at us in Britain and ask if we are happy, or generous to one another, or honest in our dealings, or secure as we hurry about our everyday business. We aren’t. Huge numbers of people every day have their homes wrecked by burglars. Children face the break-up of their families: more than half of those born last year will never know a childhood with two married parents who stay faithful to one another. Theft has become commonplace – shoplifting, car-stealing, workplace fraud. Among young people, suicide is now known on a scale unthinkable in the 1950s. Drunkeness, especially among teenagers, and especially in public places such as shopping centres and parks, is now very normal on Friday and Saturday nights.
In the country of Shakespeare and Dickens, we are semi-literate. Large numbers of young people cannot write, and know very little history and practically no literature at all. Universities have had to start offering simple lessons in grammar and composition in order to get students to a position where they can start to make use of the teaching offered by professors and lecturers.
We have big problems with boys and girls becoming addicted to dangerous drugs. We have large numbers of boy and girls suffering from sexually-transmitted diseases.
We abort large numbers of babies every year: as a nation we are now dying, as the number of children born is inadequate to replace the numbers of people growing old.
We are angry with one another: crimes of violence form a large part of the criminal statistics, schools struggle to cope with the verbal and physical attacks that pupils make on teachers, public notices at railway stations and in banks and post offices beg people not to shout or abuse the staff. We are hurt and confused: the symbols of our common values are routinely denounced as being offensive or sexist or – a weasel word that crops up again and again – “inappropriate”, so a crucifix worn around the neck, or a picture showing a happily married man and woman with their children, or a Bible on public display, are denounced.
We are frightened of the future: having children seems to be something that requires risk-assessment, and anyone with a good-sized family is regarded as rather odd. We are worried about this so we try to pretend that everything is all right by soaking ourselves in the latest sordid gossip about the sexual antics of television actors or politicians; we eat too much; we engage in daft expensive schemes of plastic surgery in attempts to look younger than we really are.
In too many ways, the Britain of the 21st century is a sad and dreary place, differing from that of 1952 in the essential spiritual values that really make life feel worth living. The Queen still exemplifies those values: belief and trust in God, openness in worshipping him, service of neighbour, commitment to duties to the community. We all want to live as though we honoured some decent values too. Perhaps the Diamond Jubilee will enable us to get a grip about doing so. We must hope for this. I do so want to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.
Joanna Bogle writes from London.