QUEEN AND COUNTRY

Brenda BarbieAmidst all the silly ceremonies and inexplicable rituals set in stone so old it has a vintage comparable to that lot on Salisbury Plain, there was one glaring absence from the State Opening of Parliament this time round: the bejewelled crown was present, though the head upon which it traditionally sits wasn’t. Naturally, there were no Charles I-type shenanigans responsible, merely a monarch too elderly to undertake a task only pregnancy had previously excused her from – and the last time that happened was almost 60 years ago. Her past understudy in such exceptional circumstances was the Lord Chancellor, but so throwaway is that ancient office these days that the prospect of incumbent idiot Dominic Raab reading the Queen’s Speech prompted Brenda to bring Brian off the sub’s bench he’s occupied for the last seven decades. Indeed, it would appear the Prince of Wales is gradually taking on the role of Regent in all-but name, and notable public events his mother has always been the hostess of, such as Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Sunday, will probably be ones old age will force her to host by proxy from now on.

Obviously, with this year characterised by the unprecedented spectacle of a Platinum Jubilee, Her Majesty’s presence at one or two of the big celebrations to mark the unique occasion seems necessary, so it’s possible she’s conserving her energy by prioritising them over more routine duties. At the age of 96, however, it’s pretty clear that whatever is planned for this summer’s Jubilee schedule will most likely be the final outing for the ageing sovereign at a major public event. The Queen has already announced Buckingham Palace will henceforth be no place like home; Covid prompted the flight from London to the seclusion of Windsor and it would seem the relocation is now permanent. As is commonplace with anyone of such advanced years, she also appears to be quietly settling her affairs now that mortality is close at hand. Not every 96-year-old has such a prestigious roll-call of possessions to bequeath, of course, so she has a little more to attend to than simply deciding which of her kids inherits the dressing table.

As for the State Opening of Parliament, it still seems odd not to see Her Majesty occupying the throne in the Lords with old Philip alongside her, what with the pair of them having been a guaranteed fixture of the event from before most of our mothers met the milkman; but then there are several elements long associated with the ceremony that are gone now – especially the one-time highlight of waiting for whatever witty remark would emanate from the Beast of Bolsover when the moment came for Black Rod to march into the Commons chamber; no Dennis Skinner, no Duke of Edinburgh, and now no Brenda – no, things ain’t what they used to be where this particular occasion is concerned. Apparently, the Queen watched proceedings on the telly at her retirement home of Windsor Castle, though seeing someone else sitting in her seat, and flanked by Camilla and William to boot, was possibly an even more surreal experience for her than the average viewer. As for what followed the somewhat different pomp and circumstance part of the occasion, however, nothing much had changed at all. It was the same old flannel.

Coming in a post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis, this Queen’s Speech presented the Opposition with plenty open goals, but the leader of HM Opposition was still busily preoccupied with last year’s crisis. In an effort to sell himself as an honourable man prepared to fall on his sword in a way Boris declined to when he was charged and fined for breaking Covid restrictions, Sir Keir Starmer has dramatically declared he will resign as Labour leader if found guilty of similar misconduct in the so-called (wait for it) ‘Beer-gate’ scandal. Yes, maybe now those who formulated, implemented and supported the restrictions will belatedly realise precisely how ludicrous it was that someone could be fined for the unforgivable crime of having a drink and a bite to eat in company. I don’t doubt Starmer will be exonerated, something he himself probably knows or else he wouldn’t have volunteered to make the Labour Left’s day by promising to quit. Again, a politician assumes the electorate is stupid enough to take a statement at face value and not see through the wafer-thin ulterior motive; but, hey – plenty people fall for it, so why wouldn’t Starmer engineer such a stunt?

A story emerged on the same day of the Speech that a customer in a Brighton branch of Tesco had come across a distinctive tin of budget baked beans on the shelf, described as ‘Boris Beans’. According to the blurb on the packaging, Boris Beans come in a ‘tasty austerity sauce with misery guaranteed’; it sounds like a Banksy product, and being right-on Brighton, chances are it probably is. At the same time, it could be seen as an ingenious riposte to Environment Secretary George ‘Useless’ Eustice, who advised the plebs to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket in order to save money – as though the idea had never occurred to them or that they might actually have no choice but to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket with food prices up 2.7% on 2021. What this episode highlights is the widespread anger at the state of affairs this administration is presiding over whilst seeming both careless and clueless when it comes to solutions – not to mention not giving a f**k.

News that BP recorded a £4.9 billion profit during the first three months of 2022 hardly helps alter the popular perception that the people are being shafted by The Man in all his numerous guises. The Government is particularly perceived as being out of touch, with even a minor Minister like Eustice exhibiting the ignorance that comes with detachment from the reality of life lived beyond Westminster Village. There’s no reason why someone from a privileged or at least materially comfortable background can’t empathise with the less fortunate and try to improve their lot – the majority of the institutions established to help the needy during the Victorian era were founded by the wealthy and powerful, lest we forget; but all too often today it feels as though there isn’t the desire there to do likewise by those in a position to act. It just seems like most couldn’t care less – and that indifference appears at its least empathetic when embodied by a rich Tory MP. It was highly visible in the Con-Dem Coalition of a decade ago, of course, and nothing seems to have altered since.

It goes without saying that there is usually at least an effort on the part of a Government when delivering the promise of a ‘package’ in a Queen’s Speech to give the impression they care. Ordinarily, the Queen’s Speech tends to be loaded with tantalising offerings intended to persuade the people the administration in power isn’t merely a collection of indifferent political freeloaders blind to the sufferings of those they purport to serve. Having said that, there appeared to be very little in this one that offered anything to the vast chunk of the population paying for the disastrous policies of the past couple of years; calls for an emergency budget on the part of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP to help those struggling to survive were brushed aside by Boris. ‘However great our passion and commitment,’ said the PM, ‘we cannot simply spend our way out of problems.’ Considering the state of the economy and the size of the national debt, he has a point; but who’s responsible?

In less than a month, the working week will be put on ice once more, though not so we can all be confined to quarters again; this time we will positively be encouraged to indulge in the kind of social gathering Keir Starmer is threatened with a retrospective fine for indulging in. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee ‘long weekend’ will begin on a Thursday and last till Sunday – four whole days in which we can pack up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile, smile; none of us (nor Brenda) will ever have an opportunity to do so again, so we may as well.

© The Editor

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NO SWEAT

AndrewThe best part of 20 years ago I recall catching a snippet of a ‘documentary’ about perma-tanned harpies preying upon young footballers at the kind of social gatherings that so excite the authors of online headlines. None of those interviewed on camera expressed any signs of victimhood and were fairly brazen re their intentions when approaching said sportsmen. Not that they were a new breed, mind; had they been around 30 or 40 years earlier they’d have behaved the same around rock stars, who were the footballers of their day. Rock mythology of the 1960s & 70s is abundant with the user-names of groupies who were as much a fixture in the hotel rooms of the era’s musical aristocrats as the TV set poised to be hurled through the window; even though their roles reduce them to anecdotal footnotes in the overall story of cultural conquest, it’s something they themselves don’t appear unduly concerned about (if their kiss-and-tell autobiographies are to be believed, anyway).

Uncomfortable as it may be for contemporary commentators to accept, the fact is that some young women in their late teens and early 20s are predatory when it comes to famous, wealthy men – however physically unattractive, charmless and retarded such men might be. They take the commonplace craving for a man who will provide them with financial security to the max, pursuing their intended target with a ruthless determination that says as much about their own absence of probity as it does the moral compass of their intended. Therefore, should anyone really be surprised that the prospect of sleeping with a member of the British Royal Family might be regarded as an impressive notch on the bedpost of such a character? The sob story of Virginia Giuffre is a case in point.

Had any genuine non-consensual sex between the-then 17-year-old American and the Prince taken place, one assumes no out-of-court settlement would have sufficed; said ‘victim’ would have rejected a monetary package and would have demanded her day in court, to prove once and for all that she had been subjected to a bona-fide sexual assault for which the perpetrator being named and shamed was belatedly punished. As we all now know, however, Ms Giuffre (or her legal representatives) has accepted a payment from the Duke of York amounting to between £7.5 and £12 million. The result of this field day for the legal profession is that both parties can claim a hollow victory – Ms Giuffre playing the ‘MeToo’ card and receiving a pay-out that implies her alleged abuser has something to pay out for, and Prince Andrew sweeping the whole sordid business under the carpet with a handsome donation to the Giuffre hush fund.

It’s telling that the main topic to arise from the entire grubby affair is the source of the settlement paid out by the Queen’s favourite child. Ever since his ill-advised TV grilling by Emily Maitlis in 2019, Prince Andrew has undergone a humiliating financial dressing-down; his days as a ‘working royal’ came to an abrupt end following his televised summit meeting with the ‘Newsnight’ hostess, when his delusional arrogance was exposed to the nation and his numerous military titles were quietly removed as a consequence. The truth of his association with the disgraced, deceased pederast (not paedophile, despite the MSM’s tiresome assertion) Jeffrey Epstein has forced him into a grovelling apology, publicly disassociating himself from the glorified pimp and his effective ‘Igor’ Ghislaine Maxwell in order to save his own skin. The fact that his equally desperate ex-wife Sarah Ferguson has done likewise as she attempts to distance herself from the man who loaned her £15,000 in 2012 to pay off a debt amounts to jack shit in the eyes of HM’s subjects, who are being encouraged to feel aggrieved that their taxes are being spent to bail out Brenda’s son. And Andrew’s own income doesn’t necessarily paint a portrait of penury.

His Sunninghill Park Windsor residence – a wedding present from Her Majesty in 1986 – was sold-off through an offshore trust courtesy of the good old British Virgin Islands for £15 million in 2007; he also receives a Royal Navy pension of something in the region of £20,000 a year as well as a stipend from the Duchy of Lancaster revenues. However, the fact his post-Maitlis reduction in income (a loss of around £250,000) has cost him dear perhaps leads to speculation that Brenda herself will have to raid the piggy bank in order to cover Andrew’s legal fees and/or expenses for dining out with his daughters in Woking. Of course, the Queen’s income itself is a well-documented and endless source of fascination for Fleet Street; the thought that Brenda might be forced to root around her purse to fund Andrew’s pay-off to Virginia Giuffre is something which we are supposed to be getting hot under the collar about, though I suspect we’ve all known individuals whose mothers routinely come to the rescue of when indiscretions committed by their precious boys need burying. A current ITV series on the Krays has served as a reminder of how some mums will always turn a blind eye to their offspring’s activities if they contradict the perfect picture the matriarch cherishes in her head.

Mind you, Brenda has enough to worry about where her ageing sprogs are concerned; the first media missive launching her Platinum Jubilee year may have been an attempt to finally lay to rest any lingering Cult-of-Diana resistance regarding the late Saint’s replacement in the marital bed, yet any concessions to Queen Camilla have been somewhat overshadowed this week by the news that police are embarking upon a ‘cash for honours’ investigation into Brian’s charity, the Prince’s Foundation. His ex-valet was chief executive of the Foundation until last November, when he was reported for allegedly having offered an honorary knighthood to a Saudi citizen. Although HRH is not directly involved with the running of the charity, the news that Inspector Knacker is investigating an organisation of which he is president – under the Honours (Preventions of Abuses) Act 1925 – means another unsavoury story encircling a leading member of the House of Windsor threatens to deflect attention from Brenda’s 70 years on the throne.

In some respects, reaching an out-of-court settlement means ‘the firm’ will be spared the further embarrassment that would undoubtedly have arisen had the Duke of York been let loose in a US courtroom. His old man certainly couldn’t be relied upon to avoid saying the wrong thing in public, but Andrew’s capacity for putting his foot in it is now recognised as even more potentially disastrous. The Emily Maitlis interview was a sublime example of just how clueless he is when it comes to the huge divide between his own perception of himself and how he is perceived by the general public. From the pizza anecdote to the claim he is incapable of sweating, Andrew’s attempts to salvage a reputation damaged via his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein failed spectacularly and reduced him to a laughing stock. The fact he expressed no regrets over the Epstein connection during the Maitlis interview – something he has now finally backtracked on – didn’t help either.

As Ghislaine Maxwell is left to rot in gaol as the sole can-carrier for Epstein’s sex-trafficking empire, Prince Andrew may have evaded a similar fate, yet his association with such a sleazy pair is something that has not only cost him (or his ma) financially; it has also fatally scarred him as a public figure probably for life now. A token offer of a donation to support victims of sex trafficking has been received with both scepticism and outright opposition by charities, though Andrew’s advisers have no doubt viewed such a gesture as one of the few remaining avenues with the faint prospect of redemption left open to him. But it’s too late, anyway; the damage has been done and it seems pretty permanent. Even if he isn’t a ‘nonce’, the fact a sizeable chunk of the public now think of him as such is a belief from which there is no going back. If you come across as an already-unlikeable individual and then have that label attached to you, it’s pretty much over.

© The Editor

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