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Wednesday, June 06, 2012 

The shape of things to come.

As you might have noticed, I decided not to pass too much comment on the jubilee. With the exciting four days of fun, frolics and relentless sycophancy finally past, it would have been nice if the same policy had been adopted in general. Almost every single article or broadcast could have been done in advance, with a sub or work experience kid left to edit them as appropriate, such was the predictability of it all. From the papers on the right that couldn't hold themselves back in praise of this Britain that they wish still existed, to the Guardian treating the whole thing semi-ironically, everything you expected to be written was and nothing that might have enlivened proceedings was allowed to puncture the atmosphere of stifling conformity.

It also proves once and for all that whatever the BBC does, it will get criticised for it. Having decided to televise the Thames pageant almost in its entirety, it was left with the task of making something inherently tedious that lasts for hours as interesting as it possibly could. This it did by not focusing wholly on the sight of boats slowly making their way along the river, but by occasionally switching to segments presented by the likes of Tess Daly and Fearne Cotton. Asking for it as this perhaps was, the idea that these segments were in any way worse than the interminable shots of the Queen and the rest of the family, equally bored as the rain poured down, is ludicrous. If the BBC hadn't brown nosed enough (and it's worth remembering that the tabloids complained that Peter Sissons wasn't wearing a black tie when he announced the Queen Mother's death) then the press would have screamed just as loudly; as it turns out, if anything the Beeb's been critiqued for being too obsequious, but then it always has been towards the royals. Anyone subsequently claiming that the organisation is dominated by Trots should be forced to watch the BBC's entire output of the last four days, Ludovico technique style.

Doubly ironic is that Monday's concert, widely regarded as the best of a bad lot, was entirely funded and produced by... the Beeb. Then again, it didn't exactly have much to compete with, especially when so many in the face of all evidence declared that the torrential rain on Sunday hadn't dampened the pageant, and if anything improved it. Yes, some really do seem to be back in the old habit of trying to convince themselves that regardless of how bleak everything seems, the reality is that Britain always comes up trumps when the moment arrives. And look at the selfless dedication of the monarch and hangers-on regardless of the unpleasant conditions: they sat there and shivered like everyone else! Hardly anyone dared to suggest that the whole thing would have been a bit shit even if there hadn't been a cloud in the sky; about the closest we got was Simon Jenkins suggesting it would have made sense to postpone it until a clear day, and that some of the rowers, having been on the water for 8 hours, were angry and in distress by the end.

The whole weekend suggested though that if there's one thing the establishment doesn't have, it's sense. You would have imagined for example that there would have been hundreds, if not thousands of people prepared to volunteer to act as stewards for the Sunday, even if they required a crash course to do so. The last thing you thought would have been allowed to happen was for some of the job to be farmed out not just to the private sector, but to firms taking part in the DWP's inaccurately named work programme. Having been burned over those forced to work for their benefits in the likes of Poundland and Tesco, only something on the scale of making a group of the unemployed stand in the rain for 16 hours, having dumped them under London Bridge at 3am without anywhere to sleep, wash or change clothes could reignite the protests over workfare. The juxtaposition of hereditary patronage, unearned wealth and class superiority all being fawned over while this sad crew monitors it for either £2.80 an hour or sweet Fanny Adams, with the empty promise of a job doing the same at the Olympics the only sweetener really couldn't be starker.

Downing Street shoots back that it was a "one-off" and that Close Protection UK has apologised. In truth, they only thing they've said sorry about was dumping them under London Bridge at 3am when they weren't meant to be there until 5; leaving them with nowhere to change and without access to toilets for 24 hours is apparently part of the job, as is then taking them to a camp site in a swampy field. Buckingham Palace has naturally not commented, although the Queen or those who represent her are astute enough to recognise that this was the last thing they would have wanted.

Regardless of whether you support the principle of the monarchy, are indifferent towards it or loathe it with a passion, there was at least the possibility of avoiding the whole thing, or just dipping into it if you felt like it over the past 96 hours. The viewing figures suggest that despite the hype, far fewer were interested this year than they were for the wedding 12 months previous. There might have been 3,500 street parties, but to claim this was a nation united is absurd, or indeed that there has been communion simply isn't true.

What's more, there's no such opportunity for escape when it comes to the aforementioned Olympics, when there's not just four days of it but a whole three weeks, all of which are work days even if it's during the silly season. London is essentially going to be shut down for the duration, and MI5 and friends are already hyping up the supposed terrorist threat, as though there hadn't been an immense target they decided to ignore on Monday night. Even if the cost of the jubilee was far more than the £15m claimed, it's small change when compared to the £9bn spunked on an extended sports day. The only consolation is that at least when it's over, everyone involved goes home. We seem to be stuck, if not with Liz who you can warm to, then her spoilt obnoxious offspring for some time to come.

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