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The good, the bad and the Queen

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The last day of August marked the 22nd anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Reflecting on that time now can feel like looking at another country. It is difficult to imagine an event dominating the consciousness of the divided Britain of 2019 in the same way, or inspiring such a prolonged outbreak of state-sanctioned mawkishness. It is even harder to imagine popular opinion turning against Queen Elizabeth II, as it did for a few days in September 1997.

Headlines from the time are even more striking today. “Your People are Suffering. Speak to Us Ma’am,” said the Mirror. “Show Us You Care,” barked the Express. “Where is Our Queen? Where is Her Flag?” asked the Sun. And, though largely forgotten now, disquiet at the Queen’s apparent froideur came at a time of renewed uncertainty about the monarchy.

In January that year, ITV hosted a rancorous live debate on its future. One third of the 2.5 million viewers polled backed abolition. Public intellectuals proclaimed it dead. “The first British election ever without the monarchy,” Tom Nairn, the political theorist, wrote the week before Tony Blair’s landslide victory. “Is this not how it’s likely to be remembered?”

Could anything provoke similar dissent now? Until last week, it felt unlikely, if not........

© New Statesman