Our longest reigning monarch: Queen Elizabeth II

The class of 1926: Queen Elizabeth II and Bob Skinner

The class of 1926: Queen Elizabeth II and Bob Skinner

The Queen reached a landmark this week: she is now Britain’s longest reigning monarch. On Wednesday she overtook Queen Victoria’s record of 63 years and 216 days on the throne.

For most of us, she has always been there – a constant presence. The photograph at the start of this post shows the Queen with my father Bob Skinner earlier this year, at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill’s death and the creation of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust as the great man’s memorial. Dad was an early beneficiary of this noble trust, which offers British citizens the chance to travel overseas to learn a new perspective on their personal or professional lives. Bob spent time in Japan studying how that country’s great cities communicated with the people – a fascinating perspective given that London and Tokyo were similarly sized world cities in 1971. Dad found that Japanese mayors were far keener to engage with their public. His boss quickly dismissed the idea of holding public surgeries. How things change..

In 2015, a monarch wouldn’t be anyone’s obvious choice of head of state. How could you possibly decide that a family chosen by fate centuries ago should lead you country? Yet we’ve never found the idea of President Blair or Thatcher more attractive or compelling. We recognise that the monarch holds no power. So why change? Overwhelmingly we admire the Queen’s 63 years of service to the nation and the Commonwealth. (It’s striking that Australia, Canada and New Zealand have been no more enthusiastic about ditching the Queen, despite being confident independent nations.) Time will tell if that changes under Charles III.

I’ll end on a personal note. All my grandparents were Victorians, born in the reign of that extraordinary monarch. Nan, Dad’s mother, turned 10 the year Victoria died, yet lived through 42 years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign to the amazing age of 102. Continuity is a huge factor in British history, and that applies to any family.

Diamond Jubilee reflections

The Queen’s diamond jubilee has met expectations. It was a great excuse for a party. The rain came but the party went on as we convinced ourselves that we were having just as good a time in the cold and wet. And a small band of republicans protested against the cost of the jubilee and the anachronism of choosing a head of state on the sole qualification that they’re the son or daughter of the last one.

I’m not a monarchist, but I take a different view. To paraphrase Winston Churchill rather ironically, a monarchy may be the worst way of selecting a head of state but the alternatives don’t strike me as an improvement – for Britain. At a time when politicians seek new and outlandish ways of making the people despise them (step forward David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt, ministers for Murdoch), the idea of making the head of state a political appointment is one most of us can easily resist.

Others will find this appalling. Yet they have to accept that they are in a minority (except perhaps in Scotland and the obvious parts of Northern Ireland). No one was forced to take part in street parties this weekend. No one told us to buy bunting. And no one was fined for not displaying it. It showed that communal moments still unite the nation, whether they’re royal occasions or television events such as Strictly or Britain’s Got Talent. We still like to be part of a crowd. We still want to share experiences.

Our unusually undemocratic system also has benefits for our civic society. The Queen is a figurehead. She has no political power. She stands above the fray, letting the politicians get on with governing. She provides dignity and continuity, something few politicians of the modern era have achieved. In an era that doesn’t produce statesmen and women (can you imagine dignifying David Cameron, Nick Clegg or Ed Milliband with that description?), the Queen represents the nation.

All this may change, of course, when the Queen dies. Charles has been more opinionated than his mother. But republicans shouldn’t assume. The modern monarchy has had its crises, notably the rise of republican clubs after Queen Victoria became a recluse after her  consort Prince Albert died. Victoria reinvented herself as Empress of India, and her jubilees sealed her renewed popularity. Prince Charles as king may yet prove as popular as Queen Victoria’s heir, the hedonistic Edward VII.

One last thought. Will Charles reign as Charles III? Or will he choose a different name as king, like his grandfather George VII? This may be one of the greatest branding decisions of the 21st century. Assuming he doesn’t break with tradition and abdicate immediately in favour of his own son William.

Diamond Jubilee: party time

Diamond Jengalee, Chalfont St Giles

Our village went red, wet and blue today as it celebrated the Queen’s diamond jubilee. The centre of the village was one big party, and children played Jenga on the zebra crossing.

It’s a familiar pattern: the Golden Jubilee was well marked here as well.

My mind went back to Britain’s only previous diamond jubilee: Queen Victoria’s in 1897. The world is a totally different place today, yet I have a personal link to that far-off celebration. My late grandmother, born in 1891, told me how her brother had climbed a tree to see a procession go by during the queen empress’s jubilee. I wish I’d asked her for more details when I had the chance. I assume it must have been an event in her hometown, Cardiff rather than the imperial procession in London.

Jubilee joy

More than 11 decades later, our son Owen had a similarly joyous time at another diamond jubilee.

Jubilee party