The Perse School

Queen, Country and Commonwealth

I will sound like a Brylcreemed 1950’s headmaster addressing a school assembly prior to the singing of the national anthem, but the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations reminded me just how fortunate we are to live in the UK, be part of the Commonwealth, and have Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State.

Poor weather and the hospitalisation of the Duke of Edinburgh could not dampen national spirits on the Diamond Jubilee weekend.  The traditions, ceremonies, pageant and concert that made up the jubilee celebrations were marvellous adverts for the UK.   They reminded us and the world, of Britain’s democratic values and the benefits of an apolitical constitutional monarch.   The Jubilee concert showcased British creative talents in a sound and light extravaganza, and emphasised just how important the creative arts are to the economy and wellbeing of Britain.  Schools must not forget this and whilst Music, Drama and Art may not feature in the Government’s English Baccalaureate qualification they are of critical importance.  Britain is one of the entertainment capitals of the world, and as the global average working week falls and the number of ‘retired’ people rises the entertainment business will become even more economically and culturally significant.

The Queen is a remarkable example to us all.  She is on duty 24/7, 365 days a year.  She can never let her guard down; one injudicious comment, one moment of indiscretion could find its way into the press and be broadcast around the world in minutes.  Politicians rarely survive for more than a decade under such constant scrutiny, Elizabeth II has been in the spotlight for sixty years and has scarcely put a foot wrong.   The Queen is a defender of our civil rights, but in protecting the rights of her citizens she has given up her own right to privacy and the ability to speak her mind.   She knows that as Head of State she must be the ultimate good example to us all; people look up to her and she cannot let them down.

The commitment to service was exemplified by her actions on the royal barge ‘Spirit of Chartwell’.  She could have sat for her journey down the Thames, but mindful of the crowds gathered to see her and the lack of seating for others she and Prince Phillip stood for over two hours in the cold and wet.  Selfless acts, which may have contributed to Prince Phillip’s hospital admission (probably the only way of stopping him from carrying out his duties.  One suspects Prince Phillip is either in hospital or at work; there is no middle ‘resting’ ground).

The obvious affection still felt in many parts of the Commonwealth for Queen Elizabeth II is evidence of the very real historical and cultural ties that link the English speaking world together.  As the 54 boats carrying the flags of Commonwealth countries made their way down the River Thames, I was struck by the demographic and economic size of the Commonwealth.  The Commonwealth contains nearly a third of the global population, and enjoys an average rate of economic growth that EU countries can only dream of.  In the 1970’s politicians argued that our future lay in Europe and not the Commonwealth, but in the twenty first century the relationship may reverse as Europe falters and the Commonwealth booms.

As Britain and the Commonwealth celebrated 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II, six thousand miles away in Beijing the Chinese government was ‘removing’ protestors who were highlighting the Tiananmen Square massacre of June 4th 1989.  Chinese censors even went as far as blocking internet access to the Shanghai stock exchange as it was recording a loss of 64.89 on the 4th June.  The freedoms of speech and action enjoyed in Britain and embodied in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II may be taken for granted at home, but are still denied to many abroad.  We have much to celebrate in Britain, and many positive messages to communicate around the world.

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