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The queen and her lunch companions.

June 4, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II is lunching with Sri-Lanka’s President Rajapaksa today at a Commonwealth lunch as part of her Jubilee celebrations.

Rajapaksa flew into Heathrow on Sri Lankan airlines last night, arriving to a cacophany of protests from Britain’s Tamil community, who call him a war criminal and a murderer.

There were similar protests when the queen hosted the king of Bahrain at a lunch last week ago.

The queen knows how to deal with autocrats, demagogues, dictators and still keep her distance. It comes with the job. She has managed to remain head of state for 60 years with the help of peaceful subjects, a complicated constitution that no one can quite be bothered to overhaul, and an enduring ability to say little in public.

Most other heads of state have had to be more ruthless. It strikes me that the queen’s more brutal contemporaries simply use tactics that her ancestors used.

Rajapaksa stays in power by ruthlessly supressing enemies, offering up parts of the country to wealthy supporters, and manipulating the constitution, much like Henry VIII. I only hope it does not take Sri Lanka several centuries to reach a stage when national pride is symbolised by a benign, smiling grandmother floating down river on a barge.

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