It is the least we can do. After 60 years on the throne she has proved the value of the monarchy in uniting the nation, and she has put the republicans to a spectacular rout. Yesterday the pages of supposedly Left-wing newspapers were dripping with royalist sentiment, and tear-sodden self-styled radical journalists were offering Go’-bless-yer-ma’am style apologies for their former belief in a presidential alternative.
In her 60 years on the throne she has seen the people of this country grow incomparably richer, healthier and (arguably) happier than they were in 1952. If we measure monarchical success by the growth in longevity or per capita GDP of her subjects, then she is the most successful monarch in history. The crowds on the banks this Sunday will have the best teeth of any generation of Britons; their barbecues will be furnished with the most exotic provender this nation has ever seen; their earholes will be stuffed with electronic devices of a sophistication and luxury that would have been unthinkable 60 years ago.
And in spite of the dismantling of the British Empire, they will be cavorting and gyrating in what is still the financial, artistic and cultural capital of the world. Yes, my friends, in its range and its accomplishment it is ever clearer that the age of the second Elizabeth is even greater than that of her closest rival, Victoria. Both queens served 60 years, and though it is conventional to say that Britain reached its imperial apogee under Victoria – and declined ever since – it is time for that judgment to be reversed. It is time for us Second Elizabethans to shrug off our inferiority complex. Let’s be proud of what we have done.
Take music. In the reign of the present Queen we have seen an inflorescence of popular music – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the whole explosion of the Sixties and onwards – that put London at the centre of the world’s number one art form and knocked Gilbert and Sullivan (charming though they were) into a cocked hat. Or take architecture. I grant you that the Victorians were grand; they were ornate; they went for scale. But look at the Gherkin or the Shard or the rest of the skyline of modern London and you could hardly fault the architects of today’s Britain for their ambition.
Yes, the Victorians were industrious, and they made breakthroughs from which humanity still benefits, but the present generation of scientists and writers is no less industrious or successful. It was the Victorian Londoner Charles Babbage who devised the first scheme for the machine I am using; but it was another Londoner, Chingford-born Sir Jonathan Ive, who came up with the present magnificent design. Yes, Dickens is still a big noise in China; but is he really any bigger than J K Rowling?
And then there is the last great field of endeavour for which we venerate the Victorians – engineering, and transport infrastructure. Again and again we are taking them on and beating them. In the 60th year of Queen Elizabeth we are seeing an extraordinary surge of new stations, new river crossings, new air-conditioned Tube lines and trains that proceed without the need of a driver.
There is only one thing more that we need. When in 1965 the Havengore carried the body of Sir Winston Churchill from the Tower to Waterloo, they turned all the cranes in the pool of London, and bowed them in synchronised respect. Those cranes are now gone from London, and so are hundreds of thousands of jobs. It was that failure to invest in infrastructure, in the first part of the present Queen’s reign, which set London back and caused a period of relative decline.
We are now making up for that mistake, and helping to lay the foundations that will deliver growth and jobs for generations. But if sea travel was the 19th- and
20th-century mode, aviation is the way forward. This week we celebrate the river that enabled London’s astounding commercial success – and yet the potential of the river is not exhausted.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, in the 60th year of Elizabeth, if the Government announced a final devastating retort to the Victorians and the creation of a 24-hour Thames estuary airport that lengthened London’s lead as the commercial capital of Europe?