Get into the Jubilee spirit, Your Highness
In most people’s minds ‘jubilee’ has come to mean a variant of ‘jubilation’. Reasons to be cheerful, so to speak. But there is a deeper meaning that goes back to the Egyptians, and forward from them to the Hebrews. And that is ‘forgiveness’.
Not just ‘you’re forgiven’ but ‘your debts are forgiven’. At times a jubilee, usually occurring every 25 or 50 years, meant that the poor had freedom and lands they might have had previously restored to them. And their debts were cancelled.
In a way it was an attempt to restore justice, or a level of it, so that there was social equilibrium again. Rather than having a few highly rich people and a vast underbelly of society who were poor. It was about ending the anomaly where the poor got poorer and the rich got richer.
Would it not be apposite in our world of debt and job loss if the Queen were to suggest in her jubilee year that debt encumbrances were removed from the throats of the many? And that some of the vast wealth that has accumulated into the hands of royalty might be handed out, redistributed?
What if all the great lands that were taken from the Church at the time of the Reformation were given back to parishes, towns and hamlets? To become our lands as opposed to being held in trust for us by the Crown? We know that the state gets the income from Crown lands to pay for the Civil List – what royalty gets from us. But would it not be better run locally, by us the community?
So rather than just celebrate our ‘jubilation’ at her 60 years’ reign, might we not see some social anomalies addressed? Common lands again given back for our direct usage. I am not taking an anti-monarchy line. Having lived and worked in two great Republics – France and the US – I did not see the poor and the needy better treated than in our monarchy. And, in fact, in one of these great republics I would say being poor was more likely to be a vicious and nastier affair than over here.
No, this is not about such simple matters as getting rid of one system, but leaving the poor still poor. Rather it is about responding to the need to turn precious resources to better use. Palaces, parks and pavilions might be better utilised in the hands of the local community.
Of course, we should also take into account that there are many advantages to not let the market place and its attendant estates agents walk all over the landscape. Royalty has ensured royal parks exist, and imagine London without its lungs, the royal parks. But hey, it’s time to rethink things.
Precious resources need reallocation. And a jubilee year might be a good time to have some debt forgiven and some redistribution.
A beautiful song I learned as a boy was called Marching Through Georgia, about the American Civil War. General Sherman’s army brought freedom to black slaves; this song echoes this in the lines: ‘Hurrah, hurrah, we bring the jubilee / Hurrah, hurrah the flag that makes you free!’ Yes, jubilee was about freeing people from bondage; it was that serious.
So the Jubilee should not just be about jubilation. It should be about doing something big, something that Egyptian pharaohs and Hebrew kings saw as important to create a stable society.
In London in 1977 the almost completed Fleet Line was renamed the Jubilee Line in honour of the Queen’s silver Jubilee. I don’t remember any free rides being handed out. Surely the legacy of this year could be better served than a renaming; what about a redistribution? Taking a leaf out of history’s book might be just the kind of fillip we require at this precise moment.
John Bird is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Big Issue. If you have any comments please email John at: email@example.com or tweet him: @johnbirdswords