Why Britain’s ‘Clean for the Queen’ anti-littering campaign is a royal scam

OPINION | | | | | | |

So, last week was the Queen’s birthday. But if you missed it, don’t worry – she gets another one in June! And, to celebrate, we’re all supposed to clean up her kingdom. Well, fine. But count me out. Here’s why I won’t be mucking-in for the monarch

Might sound like it but, really, Clean for the Queen is not a joke. It’s an actual real thing that is happening across the UK. It even has a website, which explains the premise: “Clean for The Queen is a campaign to clear up Britain in time for Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday, which will be officially celebrated in June 2016… What better way could we show our gratitude to Her Majesty than to clean up our country?”

Lots of people have eagerly joined in with the campaign, hosting clean-up events across the country. Still, many others aren’t so enamoured with the idea of this crown-compensating clean-up.



Michael Gove’s endorsement of the campaign (that’s him endorsing it in the tweet above) didn’t go down too well with Get In The Sea. We’re expected, like good British citizens, to cheerily gather up our bin bags and brooms and set off whistling down to the park, where we will, in carefully choreographed synchrony, clear up the empty fast-food cartons, cigarette butts and beer cans, before donning our best Sunday dresses and waving our paper flags as the royal procession passes by. But this isn’t Mary Poppins and, frankly, I’m a bit pissed off.

I don’t remember Her Majesty turning up in her marigolds to help me tidy my house before my birthday party. She didn’t help put the gazebo up in the garden, or carry the crates of beer in from the car. It wasn’t her who helped me to hoover smashed glass and sick up the following morning either.



It’s not as if Lizzie doesn’t have the means to organise a pre-birthday clean-up herself. This is a woman whose net worth is estimated at a whopping £340 million. She spent £13.3 million last year on the maintenance of her own property – £700,000 of which went toward resurfacing her own private roadways and paths. Perhaps the roads in London really are paved in gold. Some of them, anyway.

The Queen has over 800 members of staff to clean up after her while living in her 775 room palace, and has probably never so much as rinsed her own tea cup. Do you know what she’s getting for her birthday this year? A £27 million revamp of Windsor Castle. Never mind austerity. Never mind that tickets to attend her birthday party celebrations start at £55, and never mind that she gets TWO birthdays – an official one and her real one, last week – so that’s, what, twice as many presents?



Clean for the Queen is essentially a back-handed way of getting the public to do for free exactly the thing that paid cleaners used to do before the cuts to council services forced them out of a job. It’s a panicked parent’s shout of “Tidy up time!” at their child’s birthday party before the cake comes out and the mess ruins the photos. It’s also a temporary fix to a much larger problem. Because after the Queen turns 90, what will happen to the 2.25 million pieces of litter dropped in the UK every day?


It’s not as if Lizzie doesn’t have the means to organise a pre-birthday clean-up herself. This is a woman whose net worth is estimated at a whopping £340 million


Will littering stop being an issue after the big royal bash? Will people be so inspired by the extravagance of the event that they will have a renewed sense of national pride and take their rubbish home with them? Or will the powers that be simply not care about it any more because they won’t have to look at it, or risk her Royal Majesty being besmirched by it?



If they wanted us to take the problem of littering into our own hands, Clean for The Queen missed the mark pretty spectacularly. Other countries have dealt with their own litter problems in much more effective – and less infuriatingly patronising – ways.

Take India. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or Clean India Mission, was launched by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in October 2014. It is India’s biggest ever cleanliness drive, and the campaign is also working towards tackling India’s entrenched hierarchical system. Historically in India separate “castes” have borne traditional roles. The upper castes have long refused to perform menial tasks like cleaning, which they believe to be the responsibility of the lower castes.



With Modi’s campaign, politicians and bureaucrats alike are working alongside the poorer members of society to clean up their cities and communities. So on this premise even the Queen might be persuaded to get sweeping. The campaign also aims to build enough toilets to eradicate open defecation by 2019.

Then there’s Umuganda. Roughly translating to “working together”, it’s Rwanda’s latest community work project. Close to 80 per cent of Rwandans take part in Umuganda on the last Saturday of every month between 8am and 11am. Citizens work together to clean and maintain their community, whether that involves cutting grass, repairing bridges, cleaning the streets or even building homes for widows.



Rwanda is a country that cares deeply about the environment, tidiness, unity and pride in the community. The people of Rwanda partake in Umuganda not to show “gratitude” to their monarch, but through a sense of duty to their fellow citizens and a community spirit.

Litter is a real problem. Sweeping it under the carpet in the interest of keeping up appearances doesn’t solve it. We should be encouraging and educating people not to litter in the first place – for the sake of the environment, for the community, and for our planet – not so that our ageing monarch has a nice tidy kingdom in which to host her birthday party. Which, by the way, our taxes are paying for anyway.

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