HERE IN THE SUPER, soaraway summertime UK we have no end of excitement to prevent us dwelling on the cruel joke that is the British Summer. The Olympics loom ahead, of course (and we may return to those later). Tennis at Wimbledon (now with roof to keep the rain off) is in full grunt.
But the biggest deal so far was of course the celebrations last month for Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond jubilee. Diamond jubilees don’t come round very often, so this one prompted comparisons with the last such occasion, which was in 1897, when Queen Victoria also reached sixty years on the throne.
1897: Victorian Values
The Royal Splendor blog (‘your guide to the world of royalty’) tells us that: “Alexandra, Princess of Wales, held the biggest banquet in the world and fed some 400,000 of London’s poor. She staged a series of vast Diamond Jubilee Feasts where everyone was welcome no matter what their background or what state their clothes were in. More than 700 tons of food was needed and 10,000 waiters with the meals sponsored by millionaire Sir Thomas Lipton. Diners ate roast ribs of beef and veal and ham pies, followed by dates, oranges and a drink of English ale or ginger beer and then pipes and tobacco.”
Meanwhile, the Kensington palace pages of the Historic Royal Palaces website tell us that: “With her husband and daughters the Princess visited four of these dinners, including one for crippled children held at the People’s Palace in east London.”
And in Manchester (according to the Daily Telegraph in February this year), there was a charitable breakfast party for 100,000 children.
2012: Modern Values
On 4 June 2012, the Guardian newspaper reported:
“A group of long-term unemployed jobseekers were bussed into London to work as unpaid stewards during the diamond jubilee celebrations and told to sleep under London Bridge before working on the river pageant.
Up to 30 jobseekers and another 50 people on apprentice wages were taken to London by coach from Bristol, Bath and Plymouth as part of the government’s Work Programme.
Two jobseekers, who did not want to be identified in case they lost their benefits, said they had to camp under London Bridge the night before the pageant. They told the Guardian they had to change into security gear in public, had no access to toilets for 24 hours, and were taken to a swampy campsite outside London after working a 14-hour shift in the pouring rain on the banks of the Thames on Sunday.
Close Protection UK confirmed that it was using up to 30 unpaid staff and 50 apprentices, who were paid £2.80 an hour, for the three-day event in London. A spokesman said the unpaid work was a trial for paid roles at the Olympics, which it had also won a contract to staff. Unpaid staff were expected to work two days out of the three-day holiday.
A 30-year-old steward told the Guardian that the conditions under the bridge were “cold and wet and we were told to get our head down [to sleep]”. He said that it was impossible to pitch a tent because of the concrete floor.
Another said: “London was supposed to be a nice experience, but they left us in the rain. They couldn’t give a crap … No one is supposed to be treated like that, [working] for free. I don’t want to be treated where I have to sleep under a bridge and wait for food.”
You would, of course – to paraphrase the late, great Bill Hicks – be a fool and a communist to suggest that there is any conclusion to be drawn from these two entirely unrelated events. At all. Ever.