Republicans will never understand it, but the Queen is more popular than any politician

2 Jun

The Queen promised in her broadcast on her 21st birthday, 21 April 1947, “that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service”. She has made good that vow with such indefatigable modesty, good humour and dutifulness that even the most puritannical republicans among us generally realise that to attack her would be to damage their cause.

Over the next four days we shall thank her for a lifetime of service. Hearts will be raised by grand ceremonies, but also by the less glamorous pleasures of tea, cake, bunting and a friendly word with neighbours.

And the republicans will not understand what is going on. They draw the wrong conclusion from this spectacle of a monarch triumphant and beloved, which they suppose means that British voters are somehow less free than those who live in a republic such as France, Germany or the United States.

That error was not made by Clement Attlee, in many ways the most admirable of all Labour leaders. In a piece published in The Observer on 23 August 1959 (and reprinted in Attlee’s Great Contemporaries, edited by Frank Field), Attlee observes that a monarch “is a kind of referee”, and goes on:

“The monarchy attracts to itself the kind of sentimental loyalty which otherwise might go to the leader of a faction. There is, therefore, far less danger under a constitutional monarchy of the people being carried away by a Hitler, a Mussolini or even a de Gaulle.”

And he later remarks in the same piece:

“the greatest progress towards the democratic socialism in which I believe has been made not in republics but in limited monarchies. Norway, Sweden and Denmark are probably the three countries where there is the highest degree of equality of well-being.”

How right he was. Democratic socialism is not incompatible with constitutional monarchy. It might even be protected by it, for the monarch, to whom the armed forces, judiciary and other organs of the state pledge allegiance, occupies the space a dictator would need to occupy after a coup d’état.

A monarch who stands above politics and commands popular support is a guarantor of freedom, not an obstacle to it.

This was already apparent in the Victorian period. Bagehot referred to England (then generally treated as a synonym for Britain) as a “disguised republic”. Frederic Harrison, writing in 1875, declared;

“England is now an aristocratic Republic, with a democratic machinery and a hereditary grandmaster of the ceremonies.”

Lytton Strachey wrote of “the royal republic of Great Britain”, while George Orwell referred to the “crowned republic”.

When they attack the monarchy, republicans distract themselves from their true purpose, which is most often to persuade the voters to accept a not very popular form of socialism.

Outside the ranks of the intelligentsia, those voters tend to be sceptical about politicians. They like it that the highest place in the state is occupied not by some candidate who has at last abandoned the egotistical quest for power – Tony Blair, say, or Michael Heseltine – but by an individual who inherited the position.

The Queen did not expect, as a young child, to succeed to the throne. Nor did her father, the Duke of York, for his older brother, the Prince of Wales, would become King when George V died, and was likely, in due course, to get married and have children.

In 1936, George V duly died, the exact timing of that event determined by his physician, Lord Dawson of Penn, and the Prince of Wales succeeded to the throne as Edward VIII. He indicated, however, that he wished to marry Wallis Simpson, an American who had already been divorced once and was now married to Ernest Simpson, a businessman.

Some people objected to the King marrying a woman who had two former husbands still living, while others were more appalled that she was an American.

Stanley Baldwin, the Prime Minister, took soundings and informed Edward VIII that the proposed marriage was out of the question, insisting as he did so that “in the choice of a Queen the voice of the people must be heard”.

So Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry the woman he loved, and his brother the Duke of York became George VI, and acted as a conscientious monarch until his death in 1952, at the age of only 56.

His older daughter, the present Queen, has continued this tradition of conscientious monarchy, which in many respects had been set by her great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, a woman with a personality of “irresistible potency” (Lytton Strachey) who came to be regarded by her subjects as the epitome of middle-class respectability.

Victoria, and the Victorians, were reacting against the loose manners of an earlier age, including the loose manners of her Hanoverian father and uncles.

The present Queen saw the inauguration, in the 1960s, of a new period of loose manners. In 1952, when she ascended the throne, the Second World War was a recent memory, and the officer class was firmly in control.

Attlee had served with distinction in the First World War. So had Winston Churchill, who in 1951 had led the Conservatives back into power.

The Queen’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, was a gifted naval officer, mentioned in dispatches during the Second World War. For a short time, before the untimely death of her father, Princess Elizabeth, as she then was, enjoyed a relatively normal life as the wife of an able and ambitious naval officer.

All that changed in 1952. She had to become Queen, and he had to give up his career. They buckled down and got on with it.

The start of her reign was a period of excessive deference, which yielded in due course to outrageous impertinence.

The media from the late 1950s became less and less deferential; in due course more and more shameless. When the Duke of Edinburgh dismissed them to their faces as “scum”, the royal correspondent of the Sun newspaper responded, “Yes, but we are the crème de la scum.”

The Queen and the Duke kept going. Three of their four children got divorced, with many of the most salacious details reported in the press. In November 1992, just after part of Windsor Castle had burned down, she gave a speech to mark the fortieth anniversary of her accession:

“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”

High position is no defence against “the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. But the Queen came through, she smiled as she went about her duties, she spoke each year in her Christmas broadcast of her Christian faith, and in these days of her Platinum Jubilee we give thanks for her faithful service to her people.

Husain warns in his new book that British Muslims lead increasingly separate lives

26 Jun

Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain by Ed Husain

As your train pulls in to the station in a town you do not know well, you notice a new mosque, with minaret, standing in clear view of the tracks, and wonder what is going on inside, but reflect that you lack the knowledge of Islam, perhaps also the linguistic equipment, to make sense of what you would see and hear if you were to pay a visit.

And you reflect that you do not want to give offence. It is really much easier, and more tactful, to leave the worshippers at that mosque to their own devices, than to pester them with ignorant questions which might sound suspicious or even hostile.

For you, inhibited traveller, it would be a good idea to read Ed Husain’s book. For he has gone by train to nine towns and cities across the United Kingdom, and in each of these attended Friday prayers at the central mosque, entered many other mosques, Islamic schools and bookshops, questioned everyone from the imams and the faithful to chance passers-by in the streets, and created from these dialogues a portrait of some of the most unknown districts in Britain.

Husain is a Muslim who in his first book, The Islamist, described how he became, at the age of 16, a fundamentalist, and how he saw the error of his ways. His next work, The House of Islam: A Global History, reviewed on ConHome under the headline “How Islam and the West went wrong”,

“is animated by a burning sense of indignation at the way in which the Muslim faith has been narrowed and traduced by the rise of Salafi literalism, which as he says is ‘eerily similar’ to the puritanism which from the 16th century afflicted the Christian world.”

In his third book, he examines what has become of British Muslims, “the grandchildren of the British Empire”, in such centres as Dewsbury, Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham and London.

He has accumulated a mass of evidence, any one bit of which might be dismissed as inconsequential. But although his account is shot through with moments of hope, its general tendency is to warn that we have not being paying attention to a growing gulf within our own country.

In the “deeply divided” town of Blackburn, once represented in Parliament by Jack Straw, he finds:

“Much like Dewsbury, it is clear that a caliphist subculture thrives here, a separate world from the rest of British society.”

In Bradford, which has 103 mosques, he wonders how the city has become so segregated, and is appalled to find that the police are not allowed into mosques to speak to the congregants about not grooming white girls.

An imam tells him the groomers have nothing to do with Islam:

“There are two factors involved in those cases again and again: drugs and alcohol. Does Islam permit those things? Of course not. Yes, they have Muslim names and Pakistani backgrounds, but our mosques are not responsible for their criminality. These issues will be with us for a long time in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Keighley and other cities. But unless the police can prove it is not down to drugs and alcohol, we will not open the mosque doors to them…

“In 2010, they brought in laws to end corporal punishment. We as teachers in the mosque have no power over the children. They become teenagers and have no respect for us. The British limited us to the four walls of the mosque and then stopped our ability to control children.”

Husain argues for some time with this imam, but no meeting of minds takes place. He finds instead a closing of minds; a determination not to integrate:

“After travelling the length and breadth of Great Britain, meeting Muslims from every major denomination, it is clear to me that blind reliance on scripture and clerics is overwhelmingly strong within British Islam.”

But into what are British Muslims supposed to integrate? This is the question to which Husain works round at the end of his book. In his opinion,

“A fuzzy ‘integration’ whose success is judged by Muslims speaking English, baking cakes and playing cricket will not work. Caliphists are only successful in winning followers for their imagined utopia of an ‘Islamic State’ because the majority community is unable to tell a more compelling story of why Muslims should have a stake in maintaining Britain as a pluralistic, tolerant, secular democracy.”

Many at Westminster supposed that devolving power to Edinburgh would be a sufficient way to persuade the Scots to remain in the Union.

Only now is the realisation dawning that a positive idea of Britishness, as something more than the freedom to do one’s own thing, is required.

A similar misconception has underlain the failure of integration to which Husain draws attention.

The British idea of freedom includes a strong predisposition to respect other people’s privacy.

What one does in one’s own home is nobody else’s business. So too what one does in one’s church, temple, synagogue or mosque.

But this right to privacy does in fact have limits. It does not extend to the right in one’s own home to beat up one’s spouse, or in one’s place of worship to preach sedition.

Consider this passage from the Church of England’s Prayer Book:

“We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.”

Husain remarks:

“In Britain’s synagogues on Saturday mornings, as in many of its churches on Sundays, a prayer is always said for the good health of the Queen. Historically, Muslims too have always prayed for the head of state’s wellbeing, as a symbol of thanksgiving for the security and stability of the lands in which they live. This prayer is more important now than ever to connect young Muslims to their country, monarch and government.”

When asked at a mosque in Rochdale to address an assembly of 120 children who are attending its Quran class, Husain tells them:

“never forget that you are children of this soil. You were born here and you belong here. Let nobody tell you otherwise. Muslims serve in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and are present in every aspect of life here. Serve your country and your faith, and know that there is no contradiction between the two of them. Those who say we must choose between them, one or the other, are wrong. It’s like asking us to choose between our mum and our dad. Our religion tells us to serve our country, and our country gives us the freedom to be religious in a way that China or Russia does not.”

What a brave book this is. For as Husain says, for fear of giving offence, we often remain silent.

Daniel Hannan: Do we need safe spaces for conservatives on campus?

23 Jun

Lord Hannan of Kingsclere is a Conservative peer, writer and columnist. He was a Conservative MEP from 1999 to 2020, and is now President of the Initiative for Free Trade.

Do we need safe spaces for conservatives on campus? It’s a serious question. Consider, to pluck an example more or less at random, the decision this month by the Middle Common Room at Magdalen College, Oxford to remove a portrait of the Queen for the sake of “making people feel welcome”.

The monarchy is meant to be a unifying symbol, not only for British people of all ethnic backgrounds, but for 2.5 billion Commonwealth citizens. If we must allow the possibility that someone somewhere might none the less feel uncomfortable as they pass a portrait of Elizabeth II, should we not also consider the rather greater possibility that Right-of-Centre students might feel uncomfortable in a college that routinely makes decisions of this kind?

Conservatives tend not to crave victim status. When we walk past, say, a poster of Che Guevara, we might grumble at the moral emptiness of the numbskull who put it up; but we don’t, as a rule, go to the authorities and claim to have been wounded by the experience.

Still, the fact that we don’t whinge doesn’t mean that there is no issue. There is real concern among some Centre-Right students that their opinions will result in their being penalised academically.

Left-wing lecturers are not a new phenomenon; but their increasing intolerance is. A growing number of undergraduates feel obliged to spout woke pieties in their coursework for fear of being marked down. A brilliant young Cambridge historian told me recently that his first application had been rejected because he failed to mention slavery at his interview. “It was my fault, really, for not researching the politics of the don before I met her,” he added, apologetically. “The trouble is, I’m mainly a mediaevalist.”

That sort of thing didn’t really happen in my day. I had some spectacularly Left-wing dons, but they were, in the fullest sense of the word, liberals – broad-minded, interested in other points of view, comfortable with debate. That, though, was before the Great Awokening – the defining characteristic of which is not that it made universities more Left-wing, but that it made them readier to punish dissidents and heretics. Academics, in this sense at least, are behaving more like student radicals.

Consider, to pluck another recent example, the boycott of Oriel College, Oxford by 150 dons in protest at its refusal to bow to the mob and pull down the statuette of Cecil Rhodes which stands in a niche in the building his bequest paid for.

L’affaire Rhodes merits a column on its own. The diamond magnate who stalks the imaginations of BLM protesters is a cartoon baddy, a one-dimensional colonialist. The real human being was more complicated. For example, the flesh-and-blood Rhodes opposed the disfranchisement of black men in Cape Colony, funded the newspaper of what became the ANC and, when establishing his famous scholarships, laid down that “no student shall be qualified or disqualified for election to a scholarship on account of his race” (a fifth of Rhodes scholars currently come from Africa).

He is not the most obvious candidate for cancellation – perhaps not even the most obvious candidate on his building, which also features a statue of a mediaeval clergyman who enthusiastically burned Lollards and of another who was on Spain’s side during the Armada.

Oriel listened politely to its critics, then established a commission to consider the future of the Rhodes statue. Although most of the members were committed decolonisers, their recommendations were surprisingly muted.

Essentially, they concluded that, yes, it might be nice to remove the statue but that, given the planning difficulties, there were other ways for Oriel to demonstrate its commitment to racial justice. The college duly announced that it would not waste a great deal of money on a lengthy application that would almost certainly be turned down; and so, appropriately enough, an imported American row was ended by British planning regulations.

It was this decision that sparked the “statement of a boycott of Oriel College” by various academics, determined to broadcast their purity by telling the world that they would not teach Oriel undergraduates. Most commentators fulminated against their lack of professionalism. One MP talked of “blackmail”. Almost everyone agreed that they were wrong to take out their politics on students.

But, thinking about it, I come to a different conclusion. School leavers who are not on the hard Left can now apply confidently to at least one college where they are unlikely to be harassed by the kind of don who sees conservatism as a mental illness.

Look at it from the point of view of a bright and unwoke sixth-former. Not necessarily a Scrutonian Rightist, just someone who feels that we have taken identity politics too far, and who worries that that view might provoke a negative reaction from tutors. The 150 silliest dons, those likeliest to resent divergent opinions, have conveniently given notice that at least one college will be spared their grievance-mongering.

Why not lean into the row? Why not advertise Oriel as an unwoke oasis? Why not appeal, on niche marketing grounds if nothing else, to students who don’t take the BLM line – not least the many conservative-leaning non-white students who are invisible to the broadcast media, but whom we all know in real life?

Full disclosure: Oriel was my old college as well as Rhodes’s. It used to have a certain reputation for social conservatism, heartiness and (not to put too fine a point on it) philistinism. Back then, different colleges had different personalities. Wadham, for example, was always a far-Left outlier.

But whereas Wadham remains as cheerfully extreme as ever, it has become almost unthinkable for any college to distinguish itself in the other direction. Why? Isn’t this a straightforward case of consumer choice? Or, to put it in terms that critics might prefer, of diversity and inclusion? Is one non-Leftist college out of 39 really too much to ask?

Chris White: Will next week’s Queen’s Speech presage an early general election?

3 May

Chris White is Co-Head of Advocacy at SEC Newgate.  He was Special Adviser to Patrick McLoughlin, when the latter served as Chief Whip, as well as to Andrew Lansley and William Hague when each served as Leader of the House.

Next week, in the wake of the local and national elections, the Government will have its first real set-piece opportunity to press the reset button since the beginning of the pandemic, when it unveils its legislative agenda as part of the Queen’s Speech.

Much of the focus will either be on the flagship measures designed to get the economy moving and push on with the levelling up agenda, or on the pared-down ceremonials, and whether the Queen will attend.

Yet the long-trailed arrival of the short bill to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act (FTPA) could well have a greater impact on the future of the Government than many realise.

Repealing the Act

The draft Bill to repeal the FTPA has already had significant scrutiny from the Joint Committee, which published its report last month and raised a number of concerns, particularly around the ouster clause and the role of the monarch under a revived prerogative system.

This latter point, restoring the status quo ante, will attract a great deal of attention when the Bill finally appears before both Houses. The Government’s position is that the Monarch’s role in dissolution is not simply ceremonial, and that she or he has the constitutional power to exercise a veto.

There is a lack of clarity around how a refusal to grant a dissolution would be appropriate and, without such clarity, the change could place the Monarch at the centre of huge political controversy. This should be avoided at all costs, and as the Joint Committee makes clear, “the Cabinet Manual should, unlike the initial Dissolution Principles document, address much more directly how the Monarch’s veto operates in practice.”

Repealing the Act will attract a great deal of heat and light from all sides during its passage, but it is both necessary and the right thing to do, subject to some tidying up in the drafting. The Government has a clear mandate from the 2019 manifesto, its repeal was supported by Labour in its manifesto, and above all, the country cannot have such paralysis again.

Timing of the next election

Reverting to the status quo ante will have several significant effects – not least a return to the practice of the Prime Minister choosing the date of the election. Currently, the FTPA mandates that general elections are scheduled to take place on the first Thursday in May in every fifth year. The next election is currently scheduled to take place on 2 May 2024, and reverting to the previous system would not change the maximum term length of five years.

It is by no means certain that, should the FTPA, be repealed the Prime Minister will choose to keep the date of the next election to 2024, and could decide to choose an earlier date under the pre-2010 system.

It is far too early to say for certain what will happen in 2023 or 2024, yet the long-term trends are certainly looking favourable for the Conservatives should they wish to hold an earlier election.

The Conservatives now hold a seven-point overall poll lead on Labour, with little sign of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer making any real breakthrough.

Much more needs to be done to deliver on the manifesto promises made that delivered a stunning electoral result, and voters will want to begin to see the benefits of Brexit, but at this stage the trends are clearly promising.

Going early?

If the Prime Minister does decide to go for an early election, what clues should we look out for? Constructing a legislative programme takes a considerable amount of time and effort. Bids for legislative slots take time to arrange, and letters from the Leader of the House to Cabinet Ministers seeking their input for the forthcoming session to be announced in May would have been sent out over a year ago, shortly after the previous State Opening of Parliament in 2019.

A normal legislative year, running May to April, could expect to have between 20 and 25 bills, ranging from the short – up to 25 clauses – to the very long – over 150 clauses. Any legislative programme will have a mix of measures: too many ‘big’ bills will clog the system, and too many small ones will lead to both Houses having too little to do. These would have been whittled down from around 40 bids from departments.

This year is slightly unusual in that we already know quite a few of the scheduled bills – Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, the Environment Bill and the Armed Forces Bill will all be ‘carried over’ from this session, as they have yet to be completed.

Ministers have also announced legislation to improve the building safety regulatory regime and reform the asylum system, in addition to the aforementioned bill that will repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

Letters will now have gone out to Departments and Ministers for the 2022-3 session, and the Leader of the House and Downing Street will spend the next few months stitching together the Queen’s Speech for the 2022-3 Session.

If the Prime Minister does want room for an earlier election in 2023, for example, then the content of that Queen’s Speech next year, and the battle for legislative slots in it, should be closely watched.

The news from the political grapevine is already suggesting that legislative time is at a premium, particularly with several carryover bills included in this upcoming session. Expect to see several kites being flown in the papers from Ministers making the case for why their measures are vital.

There will also be a need to reserve time for campaigning during the first few months of 2023. Even with a majority of 80, Conservative MPs will be wanting to spend time in their seats rather than tied down to votes in the Commons. It is eminently possibly that we could see a either a trimmed down Queen’s Speech in 2022, one with a few ‘motherhood and apple pie’ bills, or some placeholders that won’t matter too much should they fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months the FTPA will be repealed and we will return to the previous system of the PM choosing the date of the next election. That election may well come sooner than we think.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: The Duke of Edinburgh – the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man

12 Apr

Jacob Rees-Mogg is Leader of the House of Commons, and is MP for North East Somerset.

“To become your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship; and faith and truth I will bear unto you, to live and die, against all manner of folks.” This oath of medieval lineage was used by the Duke of Edinburgh at the Queen’s coronation on 2 June 1953, and has become one of the two defining quotations of the modern monarchy – and the reason that the institution has been so successful during the second Elizabethan Age.

The evolution of monarchy over many centuries has ensured its survival in this country. The struggle for supremacy which saw monarchs vie for power with and against other powers, noble, religious and popular, became, by the time of our current Queen, to be a constitutional monarchy in which the sovereign has never sought to interfere politically and the monarchical safeguards, which still exist, are operated in such a way that she never needs to be.

This evolution naturally begs the question of how the monarchy flourishes once all political power is ceded. Prince Philip’s oath provides the answer. It is about service to an institution embodied in an individual who represents the nation. The many obituaries have enumerated the volume of work that the Duke carried out over his lifetime. The tens of thousands of engagements, the thousands of speeches and, although no one has yet estimated the number of hands he shook, it must be over one million. And all to serve the purpose of being the liege man of his sovereign.

As that liege man, he sublimated himself wholly to the interests of the nation. He, along with other members of the royal family, by representing the Queen are the glue that binds the nation and indeed the Commonwealth together. The Duke’s tireless example showed how monarchy can still be important and useful. To do this, not only did he have to be endlessly dutiful, but also memorable. Royalty are blessed and cursed by the fact that everyone they meet will remember every word that is spoken. The Duke’s ability to be pithy may have amused the media from time to time, but it ensured that all whom he met had a story to tell afterwards.

The Duke’s steadfast dedication, demonstrated not only devotedly but with good humour, was a linchpin to our monarchy and so to our constitution and the health of our nation. The United Kingdom has been blessed, in its final transition to a constitutional monarchy, to have a sovereign and consort willing to accept Bagehot’s purely dignified role, which only works if tireless duty and service are at its heart.

Previous generations of royals might have balked at the selfless toil required. The sons of George III would hardly have butteressed a constitutional monarchy, while the behaviour of Edward VII, as Prince of Wales, would have caused comment. Equally, any suggestion regarding the divine right of kings would be as well received in the twenty-first century as it was in the seventeenth.

Nonetheless, it is the sacramental, the anointing and the oath before God that creates that aura of monarchy which makes people value its presence. The oaths made by Her Majesty and Prince Philip before God link the sovereign to our collective history, allowing and encouraging her personification of the nation. People are honoured to meet or be thanked by the Queen or her immediate family because of this symbolism. A plaque being unveiled by her consort is special because of the religious element of the coronation, the divine blessing if not right that the sovereign enjoys.

Alongside the Duke’s oath another defining quotation of the modern monarchy is from the Queen on her twenty first birthday when she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong”.

This statement of absolute duty alongside the Duke’s oath speaks to the truth that those who appear to rule in fact serve. Through this service the constitutional settlement of this nation has thrived, providing a stability of fundamental importance to our prosperity. Countries which suffer from revolutions and tumults are rarely prosperous.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to the Duke is that he made it look easy. That is the proof of how well it has been done and a reminder of the debt we owe for a long life as the country’s first vassal, Her Majesty’s liege man.

Sarah Ingham: We might have had a Juan Carlos or an Ernst August. Instead, we’ve had the Queen – and the Duke.

11 Apr

Sarah Ingham is the author of The Military Covenant.

As the pomp and circumstance of a 41-gun salute led by the Royal Navy echoed around the United Kingdom and across the seas from noon on Saturday, it was a tribute to much more than a royal consort.

The passing of the Duke of Edinburgh has highlighted the towering contribution he made for more than seven decades in the service of this country, its people and the wider Commonwealth.

Like the Queen, to whom he swore fealty at the Coronation almost 70 years ago, he exemplified public service, duty and self-sacrifice.

Statistics compiled by the Press Association provide a snapshot of an extraordinary record; before his official retirement aged 96, he had undertaken 22,191 solo engagements and made 5,493 speeches. This does not include those ten of thousands of occasions he accompanied the Queen, both at home and abroad, in his chief role as Royal Consort. As an early Private Secretary, Michael Parker, explained: ‘He told me the first day he offered me my job, that his job, first, second and last, was never to let her down.’

For those of us daunted at the prospect of getting dressed up for a work do and an evening of indifferent food and small talk – if not tiny talk – with strangers, our sinking hearts must go out to the late Duke. Not for him crying off at the last minute or that extra glass of wine to help jolly things along. No looking bored or swallowing yawns, either. Year in, year out, he was permanently on parade.

The Duke’s decades as an exemplary consort would have been enough to earn him gratitude across the globe, but he gave so much more. He was involved in hundreds of charities, great and small, from the Society of Underwater Technology to the Junior Astronomical Society via the Alvis Owner Club. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award was a counterpoint for millions of young people increasingly cocooned by a health and safety-obsessed culture, while the Duke himself wanted to build a green future long before the

Ecology Party became the Green Party. His concern about the under-reported problem of global over-population – a concern more recently shared by environmental scientist James Lovelock – is worth revisiting.

Like the majority of men his age, he had served the country in the Armed Forces during the Second World War, when he was mentioned in despatches. His anticipated life-time career in the Royal Navy was cut short with the Queen’s accession. Instead, he served Queen and country in a very different role.

In famously walking two paces behind The Queen, for decades Prince Philip offered the country moral leadership.

It is only following the Duke’s death that his qualities are being fully appreciated. In a pre-feminist era, many men would have baulked at publicly subordinating themselves to a woman. As the man in the shadows to a woman in the limelight, he pre-dated Denis Thatcher by more than a quarter of a century in time – and light years in public attitudes towards gender equality.

The Duke leaves behind a country where political leadership is not viewed as an honour in itself, but a potentially lucrative entry in the CV. His passing coincides with uncomfortable questions for David Cameron about lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, along with the general murkiness surrounding billions of pounds of Covid-related contracts which have led to accusations of cronyism.

For the Duke to have spent decades in the public eye beyond any reproach and above suspicion is testimony to him. Two examples in Europe point to might have been: King Juan Carlos and Prince Ernst August of Hanover. The former Spanish monarch was forced to abdicate and is now in exile following accusations of corruption, while the German prince last month received a suspended prison sentence for assaulting a police officer. Conversely, the Duke’s charge sheet seems to amount to handful of ill-chosen remarks.

Had he been a 26-year-old marrying into the Royal Family today rather than in 1947, much would have been made of his personal journey from stateless, penniless refugee to palace. Instead, as he said, ‘I just had to get on with it. You do. One does.’ This stoicism was apparent when he reflected on lost or wounded naval comrades. He observed: ‘It was part of the fortunes of war. We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun . . . You just got on with it.’

The Duke was in hospital when Oprah Winfrey interviewed the Duke of Sussex. It is unimaginable that the Duke would ever have offered up to the media his unsettled childhood, his parents’ divorce or the history of his mother’s mental health in an effort to claim exculpatory victimhood and garner the sympathy of press and public. Following the loss of their patronages in February, the Sussexes declared: ‘We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.’ This underlines the generation gap between grandfather and grandson – and the gulf in their values.

In the hours after his death was announced, Boris Johnson stated that the Duke helped to steer the Royal Family and the Monarchy so that it remained an institution ‘indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.

On Friday evening the tenor bell at Westminster Abbey tolled 99 times, one for each year of the Duke’s life. The Queen has lost a beloved husband and the country has lost one of the most admirable public servants in its history.

After the Duke

10 Apr

Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, as they both later became, married in the wake of wartime – during 1947.  She came to the throne after the death of her father six years later.  To have any real memory of his reign now, one would have been roughly ten years old then, at least.

A small boy or girl of that age in 1953 would be the better part of 75 now. One has to be a quarter of a century old, or older, to remember well a time before her reign.

In other words, most of us have got used to the longest-serving monarch in not only British but also English history.  “May the king live forever,” the choir sings in that great coronation anthem, Zadok the Priest.  We enthusiastically join the chorus: “Amen, amen, allelluia, allueluia – amen”.

Spouses often survive the deaths of their other halves for many years, and naturally we hope that the Queen will be one of them.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.

But either way, that fervent wish in Handel’s chorus can’t come about.  The king doesn’t live together.  So as Andrew Gimson wrote on this site yesterday, we must all – whether older or younger than 75 – begin to prepare ourselves for the fact that the Duke’s death is a sign that this Elizabethan era is nearing its end.

We may not be prepared for it.  For with the possible exception of a few tempestous days in 1997, in the wake of the death of Princess Diana, and for perhaps a period during the 1960s, to which the making of Royal Family was a response, the Queen and the monarchy have been extremely popular.

The Queen, overwhelmingly so: only ten per cent of those YouGov poll have a negative view of her; the monarchy, almost as much: only 14 per cent want no member of the Royal Family to succeed her.

This monarchical popularity is less unusual than we may think.  Indeed, the very idea may make no sense at all before the coming of age of mass enfranchisment – say, roughly the time of Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Act.  Since then, neither Edward VII, George V nor George VI, the Queen’s father, experienced serious public hostility.

Even the king missing from that list, Edward VIII, seems to have divided opinion.  At the time of his abdication, respectable opinion seems to have been against him and unrespectable opinion for.  The latter is sometimes greater and wiser than the former (though not the second in this case and probably not the first either).

That leaves Queen Victoria, who undoubtedly did become unpopular for a period.  Nonetheless, it can’t be assumed that the opposite will always be the case for our future monarchs, just because it has been so with this one.

The Duke of Edinburgh didn’t shy away from making his views known, and was no less loved for it.  Although they weren’t party political ones – he was scrupulously neutral in that way – they did have a certain flavour, and its safe to say that he was no enthusiast for the big state.

The Queen balanced his outspokenness out (as so many spouses in so many marriages balance each other out) by expressing no views at all – or, rather, by expressing what our times call values and previous ones would have called virtues: stoicism, duty, service, fortitude, unselfishness, self-sacrifice.

When the time comes, the Prince of Wales, who undoubtedly “has views”, will face having to do the same, and so leaving behind – stepping beyond? – his take on the environment, architecture, education, medicine, and so on.

Perhaps our sense that he will need to do so is wrong, and we misjudge the mood of the times.  More to the point, he seems to be making that change already – pushing, for example, for fewer members of the Royal Family to be on the taxpayer-funded payroll.

But it is only common sense to suggest that the safest course to follow in due course will be his mother’s.  Are we getting ahead of ourselves, never mind the rest of the country, in looking forward in this way?  Is it out place to wonder if the next monarch will be less popular than this one during the course of his reign?

Our case for the defence is that the Duke of Edinburgh himself always seemed to be looking forward, not back: indeed, he was the original moderniser of the Royal Family during this reign.

He dispensed with powdered hair for footmen; put in intercoms; shut down a palace kitchen set up to feed the Royal Family only; set up new, informal lunches for the Queen to meet people from new, broader backgrounds; was instrumental in planning Royal Family (not one of his better ideas).

Some of passions preceded his oldest son’s: the environment, inter-faith.  It was the Duke of Edinburgh who reportedly first called the Royal Family “The Firm”.  In seeking to modernise it by reforming it, his son is showing that, in one telling sense at least, he’s a chip off the old block.

So we make no apology in warning supporters of our monarchy to prepare for rougher water.  For although the Queen is extremely popular and the monarchy scarcely less so, this isn’t always true of all members of the Royal Family.

But rather than linger over the mistakes of the Duke of York and the plight of the Duke of Sussex, we end on an optimistic note, in keeping we hope with the Duke of Edinburgh’s character.  Monarchy is the United Kingdom’s default setting.

It was England’s before that, when the Commonwealth ran out of legitimacy, and Charles II was invited to take up his throne.  Or when, in 1689, it passed from a Catholic monarch to Protestant ones.

Or when a woman who was originally fifth in line to the throne, and whose mother was ready to govern as regent instead of her, began her reign less than a month after her eighteenth birthday.  That was Queen Victoria, the great-great grandmother of both the present Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

We wrote earlier that the king doesn’t live forever.  But that isn’t the full story.  For as the cry on the death of a monarch has it: “the king is dead. Long live the king!”

William Shawcross: ‘Grief is the price we must pay for love’, as the Queen said. How much she will feel that now.

10 Apr

William Shawcross is the author of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: the official biography, and is a former Chair of the Charities Commission for England and Wales.

The Duke of Edinburgh has been a hugely important part of the modern history of our Kingdom and the success of the monarchy.

Princess Elizabeth fell in love with him as a child after meeting him at Dartmouth College in 1939 and never doubted that this handsome, brave, young man with strong views was the only one for her.

He had a superb naval war record, and was Mentioned in Despatches after the Battle of Matapan.

They married in 1947, when he was embarked on an excellent naval career. It was very hard for him to give that up after the sadly early death of King George VI in 1952, and difficult to sacrifice his commands for the formal intricacies of Palace life. But adjust he did, and he became an increasingly vital part of British society.

Whatever impatience he may have felt and whatever regret he had for the loss of what would almost certainly have been a glittering naval career, he understood the importance of the monarchy as perhaps the most vital part of the woof and warp of Britain.

And he did everything he could to enable his wife and the family to change as the monarchy always must, to retain the consent of the British people.  (He also said that the monarchy should only exist so long as the British people wanted it.)

His bluff manner concealed a remarkably thoughtful man as shown in his many books, lectures and exchanges about religious issues with the Right Reverend Michael Mann, published as A Windsor Correspondence.

Far from being a reactionary as sometimes caricatured, he was always compassionate and open-minded, as well as brave. The Prince of Wales recorded very movingly that as a school boy at a German boarding school in the 1930s, he stood up for an older Jewish boy being persecuted in the increasingly nazified atmosphere – at a time when it was really difficult to be anti-racist.

He never followed fashion but always led it – he championed the environment and wildlife long before those became widely followed causes.

His Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme has been perhaps the most practical example of his unique combination of humanity and effectiveness. It has been an inspiration to millions of young people all over the world for many decades.

In the UK alone, 6.7 million young people have taken on the personal challenge of a Duke of Edinburgh Award so far. In Scott Morrison’s statement yesterday, the Australian Prime Minister notes a further 775,000 have done so in Australia.

He had many other interests, all of which he studied and developed to points of expertise. Having first come to appreciate the importance of engineering as a naval cadet, he went on to found, decades later, the Fellowship of Engineering, which became the Royal Academy of Engineering.“It seemed to me the only way we were going to recover a sort of viability [after the war] was through engineering,” he said in a BBC interview, adding that “Everything not invented by God is invented by engineers.”

During the 1990s, he said it was time for him to step back. “I think I’ve done my bit. and I think I’ve done what seemed to me my best.” But he never retired. He was present at the Queen’s side through almost all his nineties.

He was never conceited, as the Queen noted when she said in 1997 on the occasion of their Golden Wedding anniversary: “He is someone who doesn’t take easily to compliments but he has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim, or we shall ever know.”

She was absolutely right. The success of the Queen – probably our best as well as longest reigning monarch ever – is in good part based upon the success of that relationship – all 73 years of it. It was a magical marriage and, as she said, the country owes him a vast debt. He gave us, as well as his wife and Queen, his all.

The Queen herself has pointed out, “Grief is the price we must pay for love.” It is hard to imagine the grief she must feel now.

This article was originally published on Policy Exchange’s blog.