The royals: bigger than Mao

Prince Philip nears the height of the Oxo Tower; Andrew’s teeth are the size of windows.

They went up slowly, one by one. First, a toothy Andrew, then Charles, smug in his uniform like a kid who’s raided the dressing-up box, and finally the smiling Queen in hat and gloves.

From the Thames-side, seventh-floor windows of the New Statesman offices, the staff of this historically republican magazine watched as a giant, black-and-white image of the monarchy in its preferred pose – grinning from a balcony – was uploaded to the front of Sea Containers House, the building across the river from our own. The image, taken during the Silver Jubilee celebrations, covers the entire block (70 by 100 metres). Prince Philip nears the height of the Oxo Tower; Andrew’s teeth are the size of windows.

From certain angles the photograph seems to fill the sky, so that as you walk down John Carpenter Street (on which our office resides) Charles’s buckles and medals bear down on you like a flashback from a very British sort of nightmare, or an oddly patriotic alien invasion.

The picture is far larger than the portrait of Chairman Mao in Tiananmen Square. (I know this reference is unfair in implication but I use it simply to make the comparison with other giant, two-dimensional images in public spaces. Thank you.) It resembles a sloganless advert and if we weren’t in such a disconcertingly royalist moment, you might think it was a parody or the work of an anarchic artist whose next step is elaborate defacement – the urge to draw a fake moustache on Charles is almost overwhelming.

Banana man

But it’s in earnest. The image will act as a backdrop to the Jubilee “river pageant”. The Queen – resplendent on a barge – will, on 3 June, drift past the flag-flutterers and gaze at herself, magnified. She will have had little say in the matter, such is the strangeness of her position. Nor will she have had much sway over the swarm of Jubilee-themed tat that now surrounds us. I don’t mind the celebrations and I admire the doggedness of someone doing an awful job uncomplainingly for 60 years but I resent every corporation in the land trying to muscle in. The monarchy is part of the structure of our state: an expensive, unelected element.

But who cares, when you can make a buck? The Jubilee is trendy, part of our love affair with the 1950s, “vintage” and distressed wood (rush to John Lewis for a Ben Sherman Union Jack vintage print belt, £35, or Very.co.uk for a vintage Union Jack shower curtain, £11). Residents of east London are holding bunting-strewn street parties to simulate one of those sepia-tinted photos they like to collect because they’ve got that vibe, because things from an era when this postwar, grief-stricken country was just coming out of rationing are suddenly bang on trend.

I don’t understand it: this sugary nostalgia for an innocence that never was. For anyone similarly bemused, there’s something to look forward to: the dismantling of the giant riverside image, which will inevitably involve Charles being slowly peeled off the front of Sea Containers House like a banana skin from its fruit.

"Andrew’s teeth are the size of windows." Photograph: Getty Images.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

Photo: Getty Images
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Sadiq Khan is the radical Mayor that Londoners need

I've lived and worked in this city all my life. Sadiq is the mayor we need, says Andy Slaughter MP.

I have lived and worked in London all my life and for the past 20 years, as council leader or MP, represented one of its most politically fought over and eclectic parts, Hammersmith & Fulham.

I do not exaggerate in saying much of what makes London communities work is on the line in next year’s Mayoral election.

My constituents, already facing five more years of a Tory Government, need a champion in City Hall.

The current mayor has not proven capable, siding with vested interests over the needs of Londoners.

Whether it is destroying the 100 year-old Shepherds Bush Market or demolishing 750 good quality council houses in West Kensington to make way for high-rise luxury flats, Boris Johnson used his planning and regeneration powers against the wishes of residents and small businesses alike.

Boris was keen to take control of the London NHS but silent in speaking out against hospital service closures at Charing Cross, Ealing or Lewisham.

Another Tory Mayor, however presented, will be no different.

We must win to prevent the hollowing out and social cleansing of London, but we must win for positive reasons too.

That’s why we need a Mayor with a radical and bold agenda for a progressive city. For me, that person is Sadiq Khan.

The son of a bus driver and immigrant parents who moved to London for the opportunities many take for granted, he is a Londoner born and bred.

His family gave the young Sadiq the platform on which he built a career as a leading human rights lawyer, campaigning Member of Parliament and now a frontrunner for the Mayoralty.

That track record of standing up for the rule of law, universal human rights and access to justice is why so many leading figures from the legal world are today supporting Sadiq’s campaign.

Writing yesterday, in a letter to the Solicitors Journal, Michael Mansfield QC, Imran Khan and Matthew Ryder - part of the legal team who secured justice for the Lawrence family - add their support, stating that Sadiq as Mayor would “represent the very best of modern, tolerant and diverse London".

Shadow Attorney General Willy Bach and Shadow Solicitor General Karl Turner, former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Keir Starmer, former Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry MP and leading human rights lawyers Baroness Helena Kennedy and Ben Emerson, are all supporting Sadiq.

What unites Sadiq’s supporters is a desire to see London governed by a dynamic and modern Mayor, suited to represent this vibrant and diverse city.  That person has to be Sadiq Khan. He can be the champion that Londoners need.