Who would have thought that after the annus horribilis of 1992 – really a decade of calamities for the royals rather than just a year – and above all after the mishandling of the death of Diana, the Queen today would be at such a pinnacle of popularity? There are some obvious considerations that stick out. The politicians have disgraced themselves by the expenses scandal and their seeming inability to resolve a slump of global proportions. The bankers and the City have become a byword for greed and selfishness. The Church seems unable to get over its divisions on gender and sexuality. The media has exceeded even its own usual unpopularity with the disgust over the phone-hacking scandal and the corruption it exposed. But the Queen is untouched by any of this: she is an oasis of calm and security.
That is perhaps her secret. It is her very silence and inscrutability that protects and elevates her. We know next to nothing about her real views, except what Prince Philip occasionally let out of the bag about his own predilections which she probably shares, though without the more jaundiced terminology. It seems clear she disapproves of her eldest son’s activities even though, to his credit, he is displaying for the first time in a thousand years of English royalty a deep concern and thoughtful interpretation about important public issues. The Queen on the other hand has only shown real interest in horses, corgis, the preservation of the House of Windsor, and perhaps even the deep regret over the decommissioning of the royal yacht Britannia (on which she dwelt at greater length in her Christman broadcast that year than on the death of her grandchildren’s mother).
So why is she, 60 years on in her reign and much more loved than Victoria at a similar point, so apparently popular? One reason is that she floats above it all – she doesn’t have to take hard decisions like the leaders of the other great institutions of state which inevitably and progressively hurt and anger significant sections of the population. In the midst of the mother of all financial crises she remains a steadying figure, aloof but unbowed in the English tradition.
But above all it is her unrelenting dedication to the service of the nation that has won her a special place in people’s affections. During a time of turbulent change over the last 60 years, in the midst now of a period of unprecedented confusion and uncertainty, she remains a rock of assurance and reliability. It is that symbol of stability and continuity which is her greatest gift to the nation and for which she is so res[ected and admired.