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16 - 22 June , 2012

Britain's Greatest Extravaganza In Living

Britain's Greatest Extravaganza In Living
Britain has just lived through one of its greatest extravaganzas in living memory after a four day diamond jubilee celebration marking sixty years on the British throne for Her Britannic Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The most spectacular events to mark the occasion were a boat pageant along the Thames in which over a thousand boats took part and a rock concert in front of Buckingham Palace for which the roundabout was converted into a amphitheatre. For the river pageant, a royal barge was specially commissioned for the occasion at a cost of one million pounds but which, in the event, was not used by the Queen. Over 1.2 million people had lined the banks of the river to watch and the atmosphere was overflowing with patriotic bonhomie, if that is not a contradiction in terms. Young and old, rich and poor – mostly the poor – stood in drenching rain and cold winds for hours to wave their union jacks. The fact that at the end of it no more than just five hundred people needed hospital attention speaks volumes for the remarkable health and constitution of the British people.
Among the 1.2 people were a small group of anti-royalists, numbering barely a hundred, who waved placards pointing out that such extravagant expenditure – and we do not have a confirmed figure of what the total bill might have been – amongst the hardships brought on by a double dip recession was somewhat less than thoughtful. Of course, in the population at large the ratio of anti-monarchists to monarchists is not 100:1.2 million, so the obvious conclusion is that "the establishment" must have taken good care to ensure that the presence of anti-monarchists was in no greater number than demanded by the requirements of democracy and a free society. But the anti-monarchist prayer for bad weather was answered in no uncertain terms as the sun never emerged and temperatures struggled to get into double figures. For some, the obnoxious weather, a mixture of cold, wind and rain, only served to make the occasion more British, but it was clear during the river pageant that neither the 86-year-old monarch nor her 91-year-old consort felt that on top of a barge on the Thames taking the salute of a thousand plus boats passing by was the best place to be. In fact, it was all a bit too much for the Duke of Edinburgh who landed up in hospital the next day with a bladder infection. He was therefore unable to take any further part in the festivities and the following day at the rock concert the Queen looked in decidedly better mood, although this is not even vaguely to suggest that the absence of the Duke had anything even remotely to do with it.
Unexpectedly enough, Pakistan got a rare positive coverage in the British electronic media in connection with the jubilee celebrations when a local BBC TV channel highlighted the fact that a private lunch was Britain's Greatest Extravaganza In Livingbeing held by some people in Islamabad in honour of the Queen, replete with a young lad beating on a drum. There was also a boat representing Pakistan in the boat pageant by rather understandably, it got a bit lost among the thousand.
There were, over the four day holiday period, almost ten thousand street parties held up and down the land and some 4200 beacons lit around the country and indeed around the world, showing that old habits of imperial grandeur die hard, no matter how incongruous and anachronistic they may have become. The only other British monarch to have celebrated a diamond jubilee on the throne was Queen Victoria way back in 1897 when the British Empire was the height of its pomp and splendour. The term 'double dip recession' had not even been coined then.
For the government, the Queen's diamond jubilee celebrations could not have come at a better time. The Leveson inquiry into media ethics which has now become an inquiry into relations between the media and leading government personalities, has now honed in on the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his handling of Rupert Murdoch's bid to take over all of BskyB, the major satellite braodcasting outlet in the UK. Hunt was dealing with the bid, the responsibility being given to him after LibDem Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was originally given the responsibility, was caught on video boasting to two young ladies who later turned out to be newspaper reporters, that he had it in for Murdoch. He was therefore deemed not to have the objectivity and neutrality to be handling something as important as the BskyB bid and so the pendulum swung the other way with the bid being trusted to Hunt. The inquiry – and for that matter the general public – has heard some of the text messages that were being exchanged between the Chancellor and the Culture Secretary and the Culture Secretary's aide and a Murdoch official that would appear to leave little doubt as to the complete lack of neutrality in the proceedings. Mr Hunt, however, staunchly continued to protest that whatever his personal feelings he approached the bid issue with a totally neutral mind and if the inquiry believes that, it should have no trouble at all in believing the story of Jack and the beanstalk.
Nor is the Leveson inquiry the only thing to worry the government. The pickle that the Tory Chairperson of Pakistani origin, Baroness Saeeda Warsi, landed herself into with allegations of claiming payment for accommodation that was offered to her allegedly free of cost, gets stickier all the time.
She now faces new questions over trips to Saudi Arabia alleged to have been funded by the Saudi government. There are said to have been two such trips, covering a total of about twenty days and on one of the trips, which is said to have taken place after she became a member of David Cameron's government, she was reportedly joined by her husband. This incidentally is her second husband, the Baroness' first marriage, from which she has a daughter, having ended in divorce. Baroness Warsi has denied the claims but the House of Lords standards watchdog is investigating. She has declared both trips in the House of Lords register of outside interests, but the amounts involved have apparently not been mentioned. The Baroness has said that there was nothing improper about either of the visits and has clarified that her husband met his own costs. But it is "highly unusual" as one Labour MP put it, "for a Minister to go on an overseas trip paid for by a foreign government", and one report has it that Scotland Yard has revealed that a member of the public had filed a complaint of theft in relation to the earlier expenses allegation against the Baroness. One of course hopes that it all ends well for Lady Warsi; at the moment all that one can say with any degree of certainty is that in Test match terms, developments so far signify only the first day's play.

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