Blain’s Morning Porridge, September 9th 2022 – Queen Elizabeth
“I have to be seen to be believed..”
This morning– This Elizabethan Age has ended. Queen Elizabeth was instrumental in establishing and strengthening the UK’s Soft-Power and global position on an increasingly confused global stage. It’s time to look to the future.
On Thursday morning the Mother of Parliaments was debating the critically important Energy Crisis bailout when everything stopped on the 16 words from Balmoral. The statement simply said: “The Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision.”
Very quickly it became clear we were being prepared for London Bridge is Down – the code-phrase for her passing. To the great sadness of us all, the Second Elizabethan Age has drawn to its close – as all things must.
It has been an extraordinary reign by an extraordinary queen – one of simple but unchallenged majesty. Admired and respected around the globe. Deeply loved at home.
Today, the bells of St Pauls will ring on the minute. The Sebastopol Bell, taken from the Russians in 1854, will ring for the first time since 2002 – 70 times, for each year of her reign. The flags will fly low across the 4 Nations. They will rise when the new King is proclaimed on Saturday. Her Majesty will lie at rest in Holyrood Palace before a service in Edinburgh’s St Giles Cathedral and then to London. The Grenadier Guards will stand at each corner, arms reversed, as our Queen Lies in State in Buckingham Palace’s throne room. After the state funeral, she will be buried in Windsor.
For the next 10 days the UK will be in mourning. Life will go on, but don’t expect business as usual.
Elizabeth, First of her name in Scotland and Northern Ireland, Second of England and Wales, Sovereign of our United Kingdom, was more than just our Head of State. She has spent her life as a rare and precious treasure, a unifier in an increasingly divided society, the representation of our national conscious. After a life in the service of her country she latterly become the dearly loved Grandmother of the nation. More than just a Queen.
There is no talk of tragedy – just profound sadness.
Now, everything will change. Not necessarily for the better – which is why the end of this age is more than just a moment in time. Let’s not be maudlin, but even a hardened and cynical part Jacobite and part Republican has tears welling at the back of his eyes as he writes this.
King Charles III will be proclaimed, and I don’t know what I will think at that moment. I have no particular connection with him – yet. Not like I have had with my sovereign since birth. The first coins in my piggy bank, our prayers in school, the pledge we made in Scouts, the money in my wallet, the lines on my passport… you name it, she was there.
What does the future hold? This feels like a particularly bad time for Great Britain. Riven by crisis, uncertainty and even a growing distrust of our political institutions, we may look unprepared for this latest shock. But, we will gather together in national grief and genuine sadness – together, strong in each other. Our monarchy will continue – our nation will change.
During her 70 years on the Throne, Queen Elizabeth has appointed 15 UK Prime Ministers. There is over a century between the births of her first prime minster, Sir Winston Churchill in 1874 and of Liz Truss, whom she appointed earlier this week. She has outlasted 13 US presidents. She has wined and dined innumerable Kings, Emperors, Sheiks, Queens, German Chancellors, French Presidents, Soviet Leaders, Chinese Chairmen, Popes, Lamas, Freedom Fighters, living legends, celebrities and the great, the good, a few scoundrels, the heroes, and the humble among her subjects.
The Elizabethan Age spans the entirety of the modern age. I would argue her influence upon the global polity, whether part of the commonwealth or not, has been greater than any other of her contemporaries among statesmen – not for political leadership, or by shocking us, but for being seen to be there. No one offended her. They would not dare – not because she might have raised an eyebrow, but the rest of the world would ostracise them.
It is what will change post-Elizabeth that is now significant.
When she was born in 1926 the UK was already a couple of decades past its Imperial Zenith – exhausted by war, unemployment and riven by the general strike. Like all great empires, The British Empire had been superseded by others – but we didn’t yet know it.
Post her ascension to the Throne in 1952 she was remarkable. Although a hangover from an earlier age of deference, she used her position to blunt the inevitable deterioration of the UK’s place in the world far more effectively than any politician could have done. Through the post-empire institution of the Commonwealth, and by establishing rapport above mere politics with global leaders, single-handedly she established, nurtured and boosted the UK’s critical Soft-Power. That is part of what underlies the UK’s relevance today.
Today, the UK bats well above our weight across commerce, invention, culture and sport in no small part to the enormously significant job the Queen has done keeping Great Britain at the forefront of global thinking. She pretty-much established the whole concept of Soft-Power. Yes, we can fight, but we lead by being leaders in whatever way that is framed, culturally, scientifically, the debating chamber, even in Finance.
Under her, we have become a metropolitan confident nation. Yes – we make mistakes – but, too few to mention. We are so much better for being diverse – much as I may have doubts on our new government, it says something we have our third woman prime-minster, and the three great offices of state are held by highly qualified, clever Britons from ethnic minorities.
We Brits are an immigrant race. Our new ministers are as much British as any of us that trace their ancestry back to Protestant French in the 17th Century (1 in 10 Londoners apparently!), the Dutch in the 16th, the Normans in the 11th (Blain is a Norman name, although we ended up in Ayrshire), the Vikings in the 10th, or the Angles, Saxons, Romans, Celts, who joined the original indigenous Brits who probably chased earlier others off to Ireland. In diversity there is success.
In the coming days, global leaders and celebrities will share their recollections and stories, confirming the great esteem she was held in. I predict it will be the most watched funeral ever around the globe.
And then we shall move on, leaving a host of questions to answer.
What will the post Elizabethan Age look like?
The nation will change. The World will change. We will all be lessened. Will the Commonwealth endure? I hope so, and even expands to continue the work The Queen did forging links between rich and poor nations.
The Queen represented the concept of Noblesse Oblige – that the noble must conduct themselves nobly. She was unswervingly polite and mannered – even in the face of provocation. That is no longer so much the case among the younger generation of royals and commoners alike.
In the UK the wealthy and powerful still prefer to remain polite; acknowledging power comes with obligation. In the US there is an increasing trend towards allowing absolute power to absolutely corrupt the powerful. Manners and politeness have no place in business, I have been told. But they do. Compare and contrast the last American President with Alex Douglas-Home for instance.
The same deterioration is already happening in UK politics. Men of Sir Winston, Heath, and Wilson’s age knew when to fall upon their swords when the game was up. Not today’s politicians. Lying to parliament is now a crime only if you are caught – and even then, avoidable.
My generation still regards closet republicanism, like mine, as something almost shameful. Our kids have no such qualms. They wonder about its point. The most effective answer to calls for the end of monarchy remains… How would we have fared under President Thatcher? Not nearly so well.
That is the secret of monarchy – it stands outside and above. It is neutral and paternal, and that last part is very unfashionable these days.
King Charles will inherit a very different throne. In the wake of crisis and the breakdown in political economy, its highly likely the UK, led by Scotland, will fracture. While we actually knew very little of the Queen – she maintained the mystery of what she really thought – we all know Charles is already a relatively old man from a different age, talking to his plants, sending angry spider-memos on the subject dear to him, and more.
Will he be held in the same respect by his subjects? What will he leave to his son to inherit? Will the open and public monarchy of William really garner the respect given to his grandmother, which enabled her to play such a significant role in the projection of the UK’s soft power?
Historically, the Royal Family not being held in high esteem is not unusual in British History. We’ve executed one, while civil wars have claimed a good few others. But since Victoria they have caught the popular imagination. I fear Elizabeth may be end of that line. Yet our best days may still be ahead of us – this is a vibrant, exciting country, and I have hope.
What is there left to say but Thank You Ma’am, and,
God Save the King!