The Queen’s state carriage has carried some pretty rum types over the years. Nicolae Ceauscescu took a break from murdering his countrymen to take a ride down the Mall in June 1978. In 1994 it was Robert Mugabe’s privilege and in 1979 Kenya’s President Daniel arap Moi — at a time when Moi’s corrupt administration was bleeding his country of £600 million a year. Emperor Hirohito didn’t even need to apologise for the second world war in order to be granted a place in the Queen’s carriage in 1971. Questions over Vladimir Putin’s brutal war in Chechnya did nothing to stop the Russian President taking a seat beside the Queen five months ago.
Yet none of these gentlemen provoked more than a murmur of protest compared with the indignation that will greet the arrival of the 43rd President of the United States of America in London next Tuesday. One hundred thousand peace campaigners, anti-globalisation protesters and assorted anarchists from all over Europe are said to be gathering in the city in preparation for mass demonstrations. Lindsey German, convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, describes George W. Bush as ‘the most unwelcome guest this country has ever received’, eclipsing, apparently, even the Vikings on their missions of rape and pillage in the 9th century. Ken Livingstone is indignant that temporarily closed streets will damage the economy — a little rich coming from a man responsible for the congestion charge which has diverted trade from central London shops, and taxed Londoners millions, without delivering a penny to promised public transport improvements.
Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland wants to know what Bush has done to deserve a royal banquet, when his hero, Bill Clinton, had to wait until his last month in office to be treated to a measly afternoon tea at the palace.