WASHINGTON -- Back in the '60s, before women had been freed of their shackles, and most of their diamonds, too, we struggling girls would have terribly earnest conversations about why there weren't any women leaders in the world. Then someone would eventually suggest reticently, "Well, there IS the queen of England."
We would all shake our heads and purse our lips. Yes, but ... was the queen really a woman leader? Part of the problem was that she looked, dressed and acted like our mothers: a middle-class woman with good taste in suits (less in hats) who always played the part beautifully, but didn't say much, wisely. Not exactly our idea of a female Che Guevara.
Well, I'm happy to report that all those women, and probably every woman in our age group, are quite convinced that Queen Elizabeth is one heckuva woman leader! In fact, had I been in London over the weekend for her 60th anniversary, I would have invaded some of the 10,000 block parties, sneaked aboard at least one of the 1,000 boats on the Thames, and bought a couple of ales for the British journalist who called her "the greatest celebrity in the world"!
When you think of all she has had to do to fulfill the historic nuances of her position -- how she learned "to reign and not rule," how she kept herself from socking one of her mouthy prime ministers in the jaw and disowning at least two of her children -- it makes the limited political jobs of most of the male leaders seem terribly simple.
Of course, there is her devotion to horse-racing, but they are HER horses. Less forgivable, but something that shall go uncriticized here, is her devotion to those unspeakable Corgi dogs.
But when one looks beyond this wonderful week in Britain, one sees that the people and countries Elizabeth reigns over are also lucky to have a good week. Outside of what social critics are now calling "Not London," that part of London owned by rich foreigners, England looks at times sad and often shabby. The country doesn't produce much of anything anymore except sit-coms, mini-series and theater, and there's not a sunset anywhere that would dare suggest it never sets beyond the British Empire.
Young Brits and the less rich among their Commonwealth "brothers," who now jam the streets of Britain and have made Heathrow Airport a Third World nightmare, riot whenever they have the chance, impatient with their slim pickings. Meanwhile, rich men in white robes from Dubai, Saudi Arabia and other points east of Suez (which used to be England's, too) buy up Not London -- and their presence, my friends, is the origin of the name.
In a sadly revealing piece in the Financial Times, English author Harry Mount explains the odd new vocabulary. "These days," he wrote, "the classic English divide is not the traditional one between north and south but the ever-growing chasm between London and Not London....
"London has now become a vortex for the young and talented, sucking them away from other English cities. It is the hub of choice for the international super-rich, too: more than half the homes worth 1 million pounds or more go to foreign buyers. ... The richest 10 percent in Britain are 100 times richer than the poorest 10 percent; the richest 10 percent in London are 250 times richer than the poorest 10 percent."
If there is one article that anyone concerned with Britain must read, it is "Broken Britain," from Harper's magazine last November, by Ed Vulliamy, senior correspondent for the Guardian and Observer newspapers. His words outline a shocking recitation of last summer's terrible riots in London (and, one assumes, Not London, too).
"(T)he rioting and looting," he wrote, "began to feel more like a political uprising, as police lost control of entire districts of the city to a wave of fire and anger." He quoted Prime Minister David Cameron speaking of a "slow-motion moral collapse."
The reason, Vulliamy thinks wisely, is to "be found in the destruction of an industrial society and the loss of the cohesion and community afforded by the manufacturing base. The devastation of manufacturing and its social fabric occurred, during the 1980s and '90s, in parallel with an extreme form of privatization of infrastructure, utilities and services that (had been) seen as public and civic functions, not merely opportunities to make money."
As in America, nothing ever "trickled down" in England from the institutions that "looted" the economy. There was no more room at the top for young Britons, only for those from all over the world who, like traders on Wall Street over the last decade, used finance not to create industry and products, but to play with making more money, from money, for themselves.