Long life

Why I won’t be picking up litter for the Queen

The ill-conceived Clean for the Queen campaign asks for deference on an embarrassing scale — and it won’t work

13 February 2016

9:00 AM

13 February 2016

9:00 AM

I am sure that the Queen disapproves of litter as much as anyone else, but she’s hardly ever exposed to it. There isn’t litter around at Buckingham Palace or at Windsor Castle or at any of her other homes. And when she goes away on a visit, her destination is always assiduously cleaned and tidied up in advance. She is, I suspect, almost the only person in Britain who barely knows what litter looks like. Yet we are all being asked to volunteer to spend the first weekend of March picking up litter everywhere in Britain to make the entire country clean before her 90th birthday in April.

My personal invitation to ‘Clean for the Queen’, as the campaign is called, arrived in the form of an email from the Northamptonshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which is one of several organisations — Keep Britain Tidy, the Women’s Institute, and so on — that are backing the magazine Country Life in this initiative. ‘Will your village or group Clean for the Queen to celebrate her 90th birthday?’ it challenged.

There is no doubt that Britain has a serious and intractable litter problem; it is one of the most squalid countries on earth. And the problem with litter is that the more there is, the more it generates. If you see litter all over the place, you see no reason why you shouldn’t add to it. Why bother to look for a bin when nobody else does? What difference to the general scene would one more sandwich wrapper make?


The statistics tell a grim story. Thirty million tons of rubbish — enough to fill Wembley Stadium four times over — are collected from the streets of England every year; yet, despite all these efforts and recurrent campaigns to improve matters, it accumulates in ever larger quantities. The amount of litter on British beaches, for example, has almost doubled over the past 15 years. Nor can it be relied upon to vanish of its own accord any time soon. Cigarette butts take up to 12 years to biodegrade, plastic bags up to 20 years, plastic bottles up to 450 years, and chewing gum never biodegrades at all.

So shouldn’t we all jump to and answer the call to Clean for the Queen? Well, maybe we should, but it doesn’t look as if many will. And at least part of the reason for this is that we are irritated at being asked to do it specifically for her. Rory Stewart, the junior environment minister, says: ‘Her Majesty the Queen is an inspiration to all of us. Her 90th birthday is a unique opportunity for people to come together in celebration of Her Majesty’s long service and dedication to this country.’ Perhaps so, but this particular campaign seems more likely to divide people than to bring them together.

There has already been a lot of rebellious babble on the internet. People have been tweeting that they don’t like being treated like serfs or housemaids. They resent the assumption behind the campaign that the Queen among all the people of Britain is the person most upset by the litter she alone doesn’t have to witness. ‘When she came to the throne, litter was not the problem it is today,’ reads the Clean for the Queen website. ‘What better way could we show our gratitude to Her Majesty than to clean up our country?’ You don’t have to be a republican to feel that there could be a better way. You can respect and admire the Queen, and you can believe that Britain is best served by a hereditary head of state, without indulging in deference on this embarrassing scale.

It is an ill-conceived campaign that is unlikely to make any more difference than the other campaigns that have preceded it. Bill Bryson, the American-born lover of the English countryside, who campaigned valiantly but with little success against litter during his five-year spell as president of the CPRE, believes now that there is only one solution — strong government action in the style of Singapore, where fines for littering are ferocious and chewing gum is banned. This could gradually make it a habit for British people to put litter in bins, as it already is for them to fasten their seat belts when they get into cars. ‘They’re not doing it because they want to do the right thing; it’s just habit,’ Bryson says.

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  • Discuscutter

    Clean up for an old sot after a lot of other Sots on a Saturday night.

    That’ll work.

  • Sanctimony

    Ban condoms !

  • Arthur Ascii

    She is, I suspect, almost the only person in Britain who barely knows what litter looks like.

    She travels by train and by car. She looks out of the windows. Don’t be ridiculous, of course she knows.

    Litter is everywhere. It’s a depressing blight on our lives and indicative of the many morons with whom we have to share this country.

    • Jingleballix

      Agree – fatuous statement……….is this the Spectator or the New Statesman.

      I suspect the real reason that Alexander Chancellor won’t be picking up litter, is because he is a lazy, self-absorbed, toffee-nosed, metropolitan ‘opinion-former’.

  • John M

    Maybe it’s s sign that the CPRE is now just a tired, desperate and pointless quango that should be shut down in the interests of austerity savings. That’s a bit of spring cleaning I would actually approve of.

    • mikewaller

      As they are one of the key bulwarks standing between us and greedy developer seeking to trash everything for their own personal gain, I would not!

  • Brian Jones

    The Queen is our head of state and represents us so the campaign is actually clean up for your country. It always amuses me how these academics and lefties lay everything at the feet of a person who actually has no power over us and is simply a representation of our once proud country before the likes of the author of this article decided to rubbish everything about a country where he is actually allowed to mock the Head of State. Still I suppose it makes him feel very clever and modern.

    • quotes

      Yes, Chancellor is a well-known lefty scourge of the monarchy.

    • Mary Ann

      You mustn’t make sweeping generalisations, I’m a leftie, and I don’t blame the Queen for anything. I have read that the Queen is a bit of a leftie as well.

  • Bodkinn

    I don’t know who came up with this idea but I doubt it was the Queen. After so many years of experience of the way Brits react to anything that is critical of them and indicates the need for reform she would know the obloquy it would bring down on her. However regardless of who takes the blame there is no doubt that the whole place could do with a cleanup. On a recent visit to Calais the first thing I noticed was how clean it was. Of course I never went anywhere near the voluntary squalor of the jungle.

    • Mary Ann

      I’m sure this has nothing to do with the Queen. Thinking about what you say about Calais, I have to agree with you, but there don’t seem to be any street cleaners, so people must take their rubbish home. What a simple idea.

    • Patricia

      I haven’t noticed so many fast food outlets in Calais as over here – they seem mostly to use cafes. That could have something to do with less litter.

      • Mary Ann

        And better food.

  • How about a Keep England Tidy campaign to go along with Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Wales Tidy & Keep NI Beautiful?

    • Mary Ann

      In the days when Britain was more unified we had a keep Britain Tidy campaign. Pity it isn’t still like that.

      • There’s still a Keep Britain Tidy campaign. There’s also Keep Scotland Beautiful, Keep Wales Tidy & Keep NI Beautiful. What’s missing is an English campaign. It’s the same with national parliaments and much else – England gets ignored.

  • mikewaller

    I am losing faith in AC as, like his piece about charities, this seems to be a singularly ill-judged. The Country very much needs a clean up (The German joke is: Want to find the British party? Follow the litter!) and this scheme just might make a contribution. Certainly, unlike Mr Grumpy, we in our small Warwickshire village will be having ago. This was going to be under the auspices of the Parish Council until the Parish Clerk chipped in with talk of risk assessments and insurance, at which point it was decided a more informal approach would be better. That sort of “rules is rules” problem would have been a far better target for AC’s spleen as would the scum-bags who drop the litter in the first place. However, my best guess is that he is far too import ant to pick up litter for anybody, including the Queen. Surely, it can only be a matter of time before he ascends into Heaven supported by Elijah! .

  • Frank

    Rory Stewart MP is a bit of a pillock.

  • Polly Radical

    Try living in France – so filthy that it makes Britain look like an operating theatre.

    • Mary Ann

      What are you talking about?

      • Polly Radical

        French filth

  • Atticus

    Unfortunately patriotism in this country is closely tied to monarchy. I accept that, particularly whilst the current incumbent is in place, monarchists are in a majority but that majority therefore have to accept that millions of their fellow citizens cannot subscribe to their vision of patriotism.

    Although economically conservative and by no means a raving leftie I find that over my lifetime I have drifted further away from religion and monarchy as the years go by and I have noticed a similar change in numerous friends and acquaintances.

    Before very long a national anthem that sings about a “God” saving our “Queen” will only resonate with a minority of UK citizens. Pretty much every American or Frenchman can sing their anthems with belief in the words, whereas ours is divisive and increasingly large numbers will sit it it out. T

    his clear-up initiative is the same – if we are going to clean up our environment then lets do it for ourselves and our children not for some privileged octaganiarian who never encounters it in the first place.

    • Mary Ann

      I suspect that the Queen has nothing to do with this campaign.

  • SNP “AJOCKALYPSE”

    The purring queen is nothing but a scheming and deceitful BRITNAT politician, and an expensive one at that.

    Scotland will soon be independent, and within a decade of this we’ll be a Republic……. but she, and her successors, will be welcome to come up to Scotland to pick up litter at any time.

    • Time to pick up all those Scots gnats that litter the country and stick them in a bin.

      • SNP “AJOCKALYPSE”

        Anti-Scottish, racist, BRITNAT scum

    • Texas Sunday Morning

      “Independence” in this context meaning swapping one set of German overlords in the Windsors for another in the Bundesbank.

  • aspeckofboggart

    We number fewer than 6 million. Our waste in 2014 totaled 7.5 million tonnes. Seems like Britain generate less than half the waste per capita. The ‘ferocious fines and chewing gum ban’ alone didn’t keep Singapore clean. An army of cleaners are employed to clean up daily the ‘prime’ areas, esp the tourist belt. The beaches and parks have to be cleaned after the weekends, as it’s pointless to do so on Sat and Sun mornings, and less accessible coastlines less often. At home, many have maids to clean up after us. You, like many, have been had. Rules don’t change habits. Becoming more ethical does.

  • The PrangWizard of England

    Whilst it is excusable to exaggerate make a point, it is going a bit far to say the Queen may not know what litter looks like. I dare she sees it in her travels, which admittedly she probably doesn’t do as much today as in the past. Prince Charles visited our village last year in a personal capacity, no fanfare, no special preparations and no prior announcement, and he will have seen what our environment looks like, litter, potholes and all. I dare say his Range Rover hit one or two.
    We are having a ‘clean for the Queen’, I won’t take part as we have regular cleans anyway,but I suppose it is good to promote pride in ones locality.

    • davidofkent

      She may occasionally see some in Britain but she is never going to be inconvenienced by it. No litter will ruin her habitats.

  • Spivy

    ISIS and the UK, what do they have in common? Medieval social structures, held together by fear and violence. The only useful queen we have is Elton John, and he’s lost his crown. What does it say about the British public that they tolerate and an elitist establishment and a class system, led by an aristocracy? Clue: the answer is a word that begins with the letter I.

  • Tickertapeguy

    Why does Britain have a litter problem in the first place?
    Shouldn’t anyone face charges if they litter as in Singapore? In Singapore anyone caught littering faces jail time. Result? there is no such thing as a litter in Singapore.
    Since there is a problem of litter in Britain, then picking it up will not solve it for those who do it will continue to litter

  • john

    The ideal 90th birthday gift to us Brits would be an end to the monarchy.

    • VOTE4EU

      Well said John….. they just as bad as benefits cheats but worse……

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