The end of an era
The end of an era. Most of us never knew any other monarch. She brought dignity and restraint to her role. May Queen Elizabeth II rest in peace.
Seventy years is an incredibly long time to serve as head of state. No other English or British monarch has made it to a platinum jubilee. Starting in her twenties and lasting into her late nineties. It’s no exaggeration to say it was a lifetime of public service.
Fifteen prime ministers. The first being Winston Churchill and the last Liz Truss. Two of the longest serving in British history in Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. Two of the shortest in Anthony Eden and Alec Douglas-Home.
Bearing witness to history. NUFC winning the FA Cup. Twice. The discovery of DNA. The birth of commercial television. The Suez crisis. The decolonialisation of Africa. The first motorways. Comprehensive education. The abolition of the death penalty. The Beatles. England winning the World Cup. The legalisation of abortion and homosexuality. The Race Relations Act. The Rivers of Blood speech. Concorde. Britain’s entry into the European Union. SAFC winning the FA Cup. The first test-tube baby. The winter of discontent. The rejection (and later acceptance) of devolution to Scotland and Wales. Thatcherism. Inner city riots. The Falklands War. The Miners’ Strike. Aids. The invention of the World Wide Web. The first Iraq War. The channel tunnel. The Good Friday Agreement. The second Iraq War. The London Olympics. Grenfell. Britain’s exit from the European Union. Covid.
All of that happened on her watch. It was exhausting just to list it all. I can’t imagine what it was like to have a front row seat. Even the way we view things has changed. At her coronation, the pictures show a sea of faces. As King Charles III arrived at Buckingham Palace, there was instead a sea of arms – people holding up their phones to video it for posterity.
The country changed profoundly during Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Some of it for the better. Some for the worse. We are more socially liberal than in 1952. Women’s and LGBTQ+ rights have improved immeasurably. Few people think your gender, race or sexuality are legitimate grounds for persecution – though sadly not yet everyone. But we’re also a more economically unequal country than we were then. The average property price in 1952 was, in today’s money, £40,000. Now it’s £260,000. Poverty and homelessness abound in the UK – the 5th richest country in the world. Health is better, thanks to medical technology. In 1952 80% of adults smoked, 15% smoke today. But despite the rise of gyms and fun-runs, obesity has risen from 2% to 28%.
The Queen was our head of state, not our head of government. She wasn’t a politician. Her role was to represent Britain ceremonially, and facilitate the democratic changing of the guard. The head of state ensures a peaceful transfer of power between different parties and political leaders. Her impartiality as head of state shows the professionalism she brought to her role. She had a weekly audience with people as different as Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher, and still managed to put her own opinions aside. Mind you, she did send some subtle messages. When Donald Trump visited Britain in July 2018, the Queen chose to wear a brooch given to her by the Obamas. Maybe she gave out a whole heap of coded messages we were oblivious to.
Her presence on the national stage helped give people a sense of stability, particularly at times of great upheaval. She had an 86% approval rating – far more than any politician could ever dream to have. That’s partly because she kept her opinions out of the public arena.
It’s a sad moment for any family when their mother, grandmother or great-grandmother dies. The Royal Family is no different. They will need to grieve in private as well as in public. Millions of people will want to pay their respects too and mourn Queen Elizabeth II in their own way. We should also recognise that many in our nation feel differently about having a monarch at all, and respect their right to feel differently. Let’s give each other the time and space we need.
*Originally printed in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 12 Sept 2022