“The true value of a gift is not how much it costs, but the story that we attach to it,” wrote the economics editor of The Guardian last Christmas.
Presumably this is the sentiment behind the government’s plans to present the Queen with an £80 million luxury yacht – which she could, no doubt, easily afford herself – for her Diamond Jubilee this year.
Number 10 was quick to confirm that no taxpayers’ money would be spent on the FSP21 initiative (that’s “Future Ship Project, 21st Century,” of course) and that, instead, they are appealing for donations.
So far, a total of £7.6 million has been donated by two anonymous businessmen – presumably to become Sir Anonymous Businessmen after the next honours list is announced!
For those who don’t consider the Royal Family a cause altruistic enough for their money, the vessel will be called the University of the Oceans and, when not in use for Her Majesty’s day-trips, will host up to a thousand people each year, to show them the ropes of seamanship.
These plans to provide educational opportunities to disadvantaged young people are being spearheaded by well-known role models such as Rear Admiral David Bawtree, Colonel John Blashford-Snell and Commodore Maldwin Drummond.
But the question has to be asked: is this is really bringing the nation together in the way that the government hopes?
When formally proposing the idea to the Prime Minister, Education Secretary Michael Gove hailed it as “an enormous opportunity to showcase the very best of Britain.”
OK, so a group of public-schooled retired military officers have got together and decided to give the Queen a yacht (with the support of Prince Charles, whose vision is presumably unclouded despite the prospect of a large inheritance!) with none of the initial costs being fronted by the public.
But this assessment takes no account of the amount required to maintain the yacht once it’s afloat. Nor the cost of providing it with a police guard all year round.
HMY Britannia, Her Majesty’s previous vessel, was decommissioned in the first year of Tony Blair’s government because it proved too expensive to run.
It’s not clear what has changed since then, except for the fact that the public have become even more intolerant of their money being wasted.
I have no problem with celebrating the Diamond Jubilee in itself.
The planned flotilla of 1,000 boats along the Thames sounds like a perfect example of something that everybody can enjoy watching, which will cost very little – there are no plans for these boats to be built specially for the occasion! – and which won’t end up as a lasting monument to the wasteful use of taxpayers’ money.