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James Downey: Why the jubilee party is well and truly over for the British


THE celebrations of Queen Elizabeth's diamond jubilee were thoroughly English: magnificent and colourful but far too long drawn-out.

The most spectacular event, the Thames pageant, proceeded down the river at a pace of one, yes one, mile an hour. No wonder the Duke of Edinburgh fell ill.

His wife's stamina, which we admired so much in Ireland last year, was never in doubt. Neither was her immense popularity.

A recent opinion poll named her the "greatest British monarch", followed by Victoria and Elizabeth I, with the rest nowhere. People who make judgments like these can't know much history.

For my money, the top spot should go to Henry VII. He ended 30 years of civil wars -- more by some counts -- and married his daughter to the king of Scotland. In time, this would lead to the union of the two countries.

He also restored the finances of a bankrupt country. His methods of doing so, and enriching himself in the process, were not what you could call scrupulous. Neither were his rather similar methods of breaking the power of the nobles. But they worked. England needed a strong monarchy, and he supplied it.

Like Ireland, and like a great many other countries, Britain could do with some strong leadership right now. It isn't getting much.

Visitors who see only the fashionable parts of London must find it hard to believe that the city, or the country, is in any trouble. The statistics tell us that Britain is in a double-dip recession, but London is booming. Theatres and restaurants are doing a roaring trade. Arabs and Russians buy houses for £30m (€37m), sometimes much more. Quite ordinary houses in "gentrifying" areas can fetch more than £1m (€1.2m).

Compilers of figures seem uncertain whether house prices are going up or down. That reminds me, and must remind any Irish person, of 2007.

If it looks like a bubble and floats like a bubble, there's a good chance it will burst like a bubble.

Serious people feel strongly that it could be a bubble, and are desperately worried about coming events that might burst it.

English people, by and large, have a disturbing reluctance to take Europe seriously. They imagine that their refusal to take part in further European integration protects them from Europe's woes. Some know better. Britain is already affected by the continental crisis. If it takes, as is all too likely, a turn for the worse, British trade and industry, including the all-important financial services industry, will take a big hit.

And even those least aware of the dangers have little or no confidence in a Conservative-Liberal Democrat government whose incompetence has given birth to the glorious term "omnishambles".

Almost from the beginning, prime minister David Cameron and chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne have been ridiculed as "posh boys who don't know the price of milk".

The reality is worse. They were born posh. They don't have to know the price of milk. But they should know something about the world they live and work in.

Neither has ever had what you or I would call a proper job, and they are not alone in the government in their limited experience.

That helps to explain why Mr Osborne has had, to date, made 29 U-turns (as counted by 'The Guardian' newspaper) on the proposals in his recent budget.

These included a tax on Cornish pasties -- mostly eaten by the poor -- and a reduction in the tax relief on charitable donations -- mostly made by the rich.

Some Conservatives give millions to charity. They were furious. And they are influential.

How could Mr Osborne behave so stupidly? How could civil servants let him do it? Part of the answer must lie in "government by special adviser", a syndrome not unknown on this side of the water.

The Leveson Inquiry into the Murdoch scandals has turned over many stones and uncovered many shocking things under them, like bribery of policemen and the amazing closeness of politicians to Rupert Murdoch, his family and their henchpersons.

Last week the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, gave evidence. He was generally judged to have done well enough to survive as a minister, although he appears to have broken the rules which govern the conduct of ministers. One special adviser has been sacked. Evidently Mr Cameron does not think it necessary to sack Mr Hunt. That may change.

But what struck me most was the tone of the text messages that passed between his department and Mr Murdoch's people. Not only did they display total partisanship in favour of the Murdoch empire, they read like messages passed between schoolboys rejoicing at winning a football match. What do such fellows learn at schools like Eton, where they must have some of the best teachers in the world?

And what has become of Sir Humphrey Appleby, the fictional (or not so fictional) star of 'Yes, Minister'?

Sir Humphrey spent a lot of his time explaining to people why they couldn't do things. Some of these things were important, often desirable. The activities that have come to the notice of Lord Justice Leveson were highly undesirable. Why did Sir Humphrey's successors not prevent them? Did they even know about them?

The original Sir Humphreys were not invented in the television age. They came to birth, along with much that is valuable in modern administration, in Queen Victoria's time, when Britannia ruled the waves.

Britannia no longer rules the waves, but the English have continued to be, on the whole, pretty good at ruling themselves.

Is the monarchy part of the secret? I don't think so. Over the centuries, they have had more bad kings than good; and the admirable Elizabeth II has no political power, only the power to "advise and warn".

She and they have had a splendid celebration. Now the politicians need to rediscover the art of government. Over here, in the meantime, we could do with finding some who know that such a thing exists.

Irish Independent