Queen Elizabeth II: Golden Jubilee on the throne of a changed Britain

Sunday, February 3rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LONDON (AP) _ When Elizabeth II inherited the British throne in 1952, movie audiences were expected to stand for ``God Save the Queen,'' and royal privacy was closely guarded.

Today she and her family are regularly pilloried in the press, any tourist with $16 can get into Buckingham Palace, and the details of her children's marital disasters are global press fodder.

Yet as she marks the 50th anniversary of her reign Feb. 6, the queen can take comfort in an opinion poll indicating two-thirds of her subjects think highly of her and her family.

Often criticized in the press as remote, cold and unfeeling, the queen has always managed to hold the support of most of the country. Her approval rating rises and falls but doesn't stay down for long.

That doesn't mean the monarchy doesn't have its critics, and plans for the queen's golden jubilee celebrations have prompted the latest round of objections.

The official anniversary of Elizabeth's reign is Feb. 6 _ the date her father, King George VI, died. But most festivities are planned for the warmer months of the spring and summer.

``In 2002, we're uninspired by our politicians, disillusioned by the Windsors and ashamed of our public services. So we truly don't feel in a flag-waving mood,'' wrote Lynda Lee-Potter, gossip columnist for the mass-circulation Daily Mail, normally a supporter of the monarchy.

``The whole idea of golden jubilee celebrations is out of date,'' groused Roy Hattersley, former deputy leader of the Labor Party, a longtime opponent of monarchy, and now a baron-for-life in the House of Lords. ``It is part of the myth of Merrie England,'' he wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

The monarchy has changed a little, too.

The queen has a Web site, pays income tax and has taken most of her relatives off the public payroll; the huge Royal Yacht Britannia was retired in 1997 and the queen travels occasionally on scheduled trains rather than gearing up the royal train. She has let it be known that it is no longer necessary to bow and curtsy when you meet her.

But doing away entirely with the monarchy is an idea that never gets very far with the public.

A MORI opinion poll published last week found 48 percent of young people were more interested in the lives of ``The Simpsons'' on TV than in the royal family; 55 percent of the 1,000 adults surveyed in December thought the royals were extravagant, and 70 percent said they were ``out of touch.''

Still, 70 percent of the respondents wanted to keep the monarchy and two-thirds rated the queen and her family hardworking and highly respected. Eighty percent said they were important to Britain.

This apparent contradiction is very tricky ground for politicians, and most keep their distance from anti-monarchist ideas. Prime Minister Tony Blair excoriated inherited privilege as he evicted most of the old blue bloods from the House of Lords two years ago, but he jumped in on the queen's side in the shocking hours and days after the death of Princess Diana in 1997, and has remained a strong supporter.

When the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth succeeded her father, Britain's war wounds were just beginning to heal. Years of destruction and death, austerity and food rationing had left the country hungry for a better future.

The crowning of a very young queen, with her dashing prince and two small children, lifted many spirits and had even the cynical press gushing with optimism.

Elizabeth proved every bit as dutiful as her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, who were presented as a model of domestic virtue and helped steady the nation after the shocking abdication of her uncle Edward VIII to marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

This facade of perfect domesticity, doomed to crumble in an age of telephoto lenses and checkbook journalism, crashed to earth in the terrible 1990s, when the love lives of the royal offspring hit the headlines.

Now, some national newspapers say people don't care enough about the queen to hold the street parties that everyone expects. Some say the jubilee planners have badly organized the whole thing.

The palace, releasing its schedule of pop concerts, parades, fireworks and bonfires last week, pointed out that it's still only January, and too early tell how the nation will party. Jubilee organizers said the inquiries about the festivities are pouring in by the hundreds.

Columnist Jonathan Freedland, writing in The Mirror, contended that the nation was ``growing out'' of its support for monarchy.

``We now know that they divorce, row and cheat just like the rest of us _ if not more so.'' Freedland wrote.

And yet, at the end of his scorching column, he offered his compliments to ``a remarkable woman who has served with distinction in an impossible job.''