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More important now than ever: The Queen, during a visit to the helicopter carrier HMS Ocean in Plymouth (photo Joel Rouse/Ministry of Defence, OGL v.3)

When in July the Sun published pictures of the Queen as a child giving a Nazi salute, apparently under the supervision of her uncle the Prince of Wales, the most striking aspect of the slightly surreal episode was the response. Outrage was directed not at the monarch but at the newspaper, and it came from all sides, including those who could be best termed the unusual, unsympathetic suspects.

The unfairness and opportunism of it all confirmed Sun-haters in their contempt for the paper, while others pointed to the long-standing republicanism of Rupert Murdoch as the main motivation. Certainly, the timing seemed suspicious. If it had not been dismissed so quickly, it would have seriously impaired the marking this month of the Queen overtaking her great-great-grandmother Victoria to become the longest reigning monarch in our history.

The fact that it has not is evidence of the universally high regard in which Elizabeth II is held as she celebrates (in her customary low-key way) this extraordinary milestone. She is virtually beyond criticism now, her popularity at the same level she enjoyed at her accession in 1952, when she was adored, revered in fact, as some sort of quasi-mythical figure, the youthful symbol of a new Elizabethan age. Of course the respect she is accorded now is based on something quite different. It has been earned, and attaches solely to her.

During the intervening 63 years, deference as a characteristic in British society has completely disappeared, and the point or otherwise of the monarchy as an institution is more openly weighed up. The Left oppose its imperial privilege, free-marketeer ideologues dislike anything which cannot be bought or sold, and the purest Eurosceptics dislike the crown’s tendency to give royal assent to EU treaties. Like Victoria, Elizabeth has also endured periods, most notably the “horrible decade” of the 1990s, when republicanism enjoyed a short lease of life. The fact that the institution now enjoys great public support in such a transformed landscape is partly down to the embedded, obstinate position it holds within the British psyche, and partly to a tangibly increasing sense that anything deemed organically of this nation must be held on to when so much appears to be going. But also, of course, it is down to the Queen herself.

As she opens Parliament or stands before the Cenotaph for the 60th time, she appears as permanent as those edifices, embodying in flesh and blood the history and traditions that they represent in brick and stone. Attributes for which she was once mocked — her voice, her manner, the wave, the style which seems immune to fashion — are now seen as illustrations, as symbols, of an unchanging and imperturbable quality which most people not only accept about her, but actively appreciate. It is the gnashing and wailing of the Diana years which today appears odd, alien and faintly embarrassing.

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David Warwicker
August 30th, 2015
12:08 PM
In my local Co-op that evening, the Newspaper shelf was empty apart from the Sun, which had clearly remained untouched all day. I actually took a photo to remember the good taste of all that shop's customers that day :-)

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