“In the midst of life we are in death…” goes a familiar phrase from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. There can be many ways of thinking about its meaning but we are currently living through and witnessing at least one fundamental element of its truth. As we mourn the death of our late Queen, we are also all participants in the vibrant life of our Monarchy and our nation.
The death of our Queen is not the end of our history but the passing of a memorable moment in our long island story. The historic and solemn events surrounding the Queen’s journey from Balmoral and ultimately to Windsor Castle are occurring alongside the beginning of the new reign of King Charles III. Individual lives are lived, beginning and ending. The national life of our country continues ever forward.
At the Accession Council there were many moments of interest. One of them was watching the six living former Prime Ministers lined up in a row in what, it has to be said, looked a little like a jostling crowd.
Alongside these former PMs was Sir Keir Starmer who must be hoping that his personal journey will include a stint as a former Prime Minister. Further back in the crowd were the faces of Ed Miliband and William Hague who both once had harboured hopes of being a former Prime Minister. Watching them was a reminder that all power and success is fleeting and that the business of government carries on regardless of personal circumstance.
Charles became King the moment his mother died. The steadfast centre of our national life held firm. Liz Truss’s plans for the beginning of her Premiership must have looked very different to what she is now doing. Government however goes on. The newspaper headlines and TV cameras may be focused elsewhere but the business of the government continues.
We expect and need these things to be the case. Parliament may now not sit until after the Queen’s funeral but there is work to be done. It is no disrespect to the late Queen to need and want the government to get on with its job. Indeed we can be confident she would expect this to be the case.
The Prime Minister made her energy announcement committing to spending an unprecedented amount of taxpayers money. There was barely a mention of it in the news because of events. This will need returning to. Events in Ukraine continue to evolve at speed.
The swift and substantial changes to the workings of No 10 and the Cabinet Office need to be made to work. A small but iconic shift by the Prime Minister to return to working from the Cabinet Room and out of the pokey side room, into which Tony Blair moved himself, and a practice his successors until Truss had followed, is a welcome sign of confidence.
The Prime Minister and her colleagues deserve great credit for the sure footed way they are handling these hugely significant events that have occurred barely days since they took office and we will all take these days to mourn, reflect and look forward.
If the late Queen, together with Prince Philip, showed us anything in addition to steadfastness it was undoubtedly the willingness and ability to keep looking and moving forward. Not tied to election timetables, nevertheless Monarchy has its own ties to the people.
It doesn’t exist because it wins elections but because it retains broad-based popular support. This has to be continually worked at and won. Being the Sovereign is not a position that can be taken for granted. The late Queen understood this and so does the new King. The people’s pleasure, and on occasion displeasure, is exercised in direct contact with the Monarch, and in return they have direct contact with us.
At the jubilees over the years we have participated in as well as witnessed the reaffirmation of support for the Monarchy. This also happened for and to King George V and King George VI. We have also witnessed an expression of public displeasure at the time of Diana Princess of Wales’s death, which led to changes and new practices.
The Monarchy exists by popular public will in a separate, less tangible but no less real way in which a government exists as the result of an election. As an institution, the Monarchy is adept at adapting and surviving. The government will need to pick up as many tips as it can to do the same.