Less Bread, More Circus

Wednesday 06 June 2012

The Office for National Statistics found the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton last year seriously dented the economic growth figures for that quarter. It could have been as high as 0.7 percent but celebrations slashed that by a third. No lessons appear to have been learned. Instead, and in spite of the rain, England has been celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee quite recklessly.

There was the Epsom Derby on Saturday  – odds-on favourite Camelot won by five lengths with the Queen rather than King Arthur in attendance. Multitudes street-partied and Jubilee-lunched on Sunday. In the afternoon they thronged the banks of the Thames to watch a flotilla of a thousand boats accompany the Royal barge in the Jubilee Water Pageant. The Queen remained standing, serenely, for hours. The dismal weather did not spoil things in the least.

Monday was even jollier, a Bank holiday with jubilee concert and fireworks at Buckingham Palace. Ten thousand got seats by public lottery, the rest filled the Mall as far as the eye could see on TV. Knights of the realm, Cliff Richard, Elton John and Paul McCartney were readily forgiven for ghoulish performances. Stevie Wonder tweaked his homage to Martin Luther King into a personal tribute to Her Majesty. Rolf Harris croaked ‘Two Little Boys’ and the Royals could be spotted singing along unashamedly. Mock-ups of streets of terraced houses were brilliantly superimposed on the palace as Madness played ‘Our House’. The Queen signed-off  at 10.45 pm, lighting the last of 4,200 jubilee beacons, this one with a six metre flame.

Tuesday was a double Bank holiday. The Queen attended service at St Paul’s in the company of the elite, spiritual and temporal; tens of thousands observed outside while the rest of the country, excused from further physical exertion, crowded around the box/plasma screen in the living room. Later in the day, the Royal Family traversed a processional route from Westminster Hall to Buckingham Palace. The finery of the horses, the livery of the coachmen and the resplendence of everything else said ‘made in Britain’. In the final balcony scene the Queen waved to the crowds under an RAF fly-past. Love was in the air, everywhere.

The media has been hard at work reflecting these momentous events back to the nation and itself, moment by breathtaking moment. Tonight Royal correspondents will pen their final words recording this latest routing of the Republicans at the hands of the masses and couturiers. There will be souvenir pages in broadsheet and tabloid. Accountants will tote up the sales of Union Jacks, commemoration mugs and more select offerings.

Sadly this mighty effort by the nation – involving billions of pounds in investment and tens of millions of man, woman and child hours of work – appears to be a folly. The top business lobbying organisation, the Confederation of Business and Industry, says all this celebration is simply going to flatten growth. In a couple of months the Office for National Statistics may have little alternative but to confirm this pessimistic prognosis in the midst of a deepening recession.

Anxious times lie ahead.The UK has till now been the market leader when it comes to pomp and pageantry. It has a cachment of millions of experienced and talented extras quite difficult to replace even with phonetically cultured Indian call-centre staff. Such a comparative advantage is not to be trifled away.

But growth is an elusive butterfly these days and opinion is clearly divided on how to catch it. Prime Minister David Cameron attended the service in St Paul’s along with his wife. Later he reminisced about being part of the crowd as a student, camping out likewise on the streets of London to catch a glimpse of Royalty. He praised the resilience of the celebrants in the rain. Still he is all for austerity and many suspect if he had his way Britons would have to save-up for bread and circuses in the future. At Royal pubs like the ubiquitous Prince Albert more dangerous ideas are afloat. The regulars believe that full employment is possible if only people were paid a decent hourly wage plus expenses to celebrate.

They argue there will be good work for all those enabled to attend culturally elevating concerts, organise socially meaningful street-parties, spark democratically inspirational beacons or fill numerous other related vacancies. All of this is wonderfully concentrating the minds of helpless students and hapless young people in search of work.

How ideas fly. Rumours have spread that a minimum wage is guaranteed. Contingents of Greeks are apparently now on their way to add authenticity to the crowds outside the Olympic stadia that open for business soon. ‘Celebrate’ the UK’s largest trade union has declined to comment.

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