The last few weeks have struck me forcibly that there is a massive contrast between our Head of Government and our Head of State. The roles are clearly distinctive, but the public has had a particularly clear impression contrasting the celebration of unique achievement in British history by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II versus the painful fumblings of an inadequate Prime Minister facing a vote of confidence in which 41% of the MPs in the Conservative party voted for him to resign. Her Majesty has reigned with dignity, devotion and duty for over 70 years and while we celebrated the Platinum Jubilee last week, she actually inherited the monarchy from her father in February 1952.
We have been celebrating the official birthday of the monarch with The Trooping the Colour ceremony that traditionally takes place on the second Saturday in June. On this occasion the authorities made a very good decision which was to move the usual bank holiday on the last Monday in May to the end of that week; to hold The Trooping the Colour on the first of two bank holidays; Thursday 2nd June, then a second on Friday 3rd June and then link all of this to the weekend that the people were incorrectly referring to as a bank holiday weekend. It was a highly effective plan and there were events in celebration on each of the four days. Thousands of street parties were held up and down the country and in my case we have been holding an annual street party in what is a cul-de-sac and therefore we do not need to ask for permission to close the road as there is no passing traffic. We first held it to commemorate the Golden Jubilee 20 years ago and have held it nearly every year since though, of course, Covid interrupted that over the last two years. There are only 17 houses in our road but 30 adults attended our street party last Sunday and quite a number of these families have moved in recently with young children and there were 10 of those scampering around and playing up. I pitched a gazebo for them in a neighbour’s garden next to the pumping station which sits on an island with a mini roundabout around it but more importantly a lawn around it in which there was room for the 30 adults to place their tables and chairs as well as three barbecues.
In the vote of confidence undertaken by Conservative members of Parliament the Prime Minister only received the support of 59% of the members. The Prime Minister declared this was a good result. It was certainly not; it was a terrible result and is the worst of any confidence vote in the recent past. Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Theresa May all faced confidence votes and all got a better result than the current Prime Minister and all of them had gone within a short time of that vote. More than half of the MPs in the Conservative party have ministerial jobs of some description and so in a sense may feel they have the need to be loyal to the Prime Minister if they want to conduct those jobs. At least one MP resigned from such a job because he knew that in all conscience he could not vote for the Prime Minister to keep his job. I do not understand that so many of those who voted for him could do so. What he has demonstrated is a complete lack of what the Queen demonstrates all the time and that is a sense of duty and honour. She exemplifies duty while he exemplifies ambition. His sister has told us that as a small boy he wanted to be ‘King of the World’ which in the end translated into being Prime Minister of his country and he has achieved that, but it seems to me that is the limit of his achievement. He got himself into that position through his demonstrable skill in winning elections. He is a charismatic communicator but very rarely is his communication actually accurate.
In defending his position he emphasised the need to carry out the job. But he doesn’t carry out the job. If you read the manifesto on which the Conservative party won a majority of 80 seats in the 2019 General Election almost none of their pledges have been implemented. For example, in that manifesto the party said they would build 40 new hospitals and getting on for three years later Boris is still saying that’s what they will do. In fact, so far they have built just three new hospitals. On every measure the Prime Minister seeks to mislead us. For example, on the number of GPs, the Prime Minister talks about the number of doctors. Not all doctors are GPs; there are community doctors, doctors in hospitals and yes that total number has gone up, but the number of GPs has actually gone down during this period. One minister who is responsible for the police and crime was saying how it’s important that the Prime Minister stays in the role because of their success in fighting crime. Only 5% of reported crimes are actually solved. Less than 5% of burglaries are solved. I speak as someone who has experienced a burglary in the past few months. The police were entirely courteous and kind but because they could find no forensic evidence they have given up the case even though we have cameras and we have film of the three burglars entering the house and leaving it after 45 minutes but because they are wearing gloves and balaclavas and no doubt disposable shoes that they would throw away there is no evidence other than that they were here.
It is not my personal experience that makes me argue that the Prime Minister is failing. It is my observation of the difference between what he says and what he does. The Queen by contrast has demonstrated continuously a record of hard work. She is probably the most travelled person in the world who has met the heads of state in most countries in the world and many heads of government as well. In her long reign she has worked with 14 Prime Ministers. She holds a weekly audience with her Prime Minister and while what is discussed remains confidential, we can tell from general observations that have been made by Prime Ministers that they all find this useful, helpful and constructive. John Major actually said that he would have liked to have had her as a member of his cabinet. No doubt this is because of her extraordinary experience, knowledge and wisdom. The Prime Ministers in the first part of her reign - Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath were all immensely experienced in government and indeed other affairs. They had all served extensively in the Cabinet before they became Prime Minister. Compare that with the last five of which Tony Blair and David Cameron had no experience of government before becoming Prime Minister while Gordon Brown, Theresa May and Boris Johnson had just done the one Cabinet role. In the case of Boris Johnson that was for a relatively short period as Foreign Secretary. The fact is the job is immensely difficult for anyone but is made much more difficult if you have people with such little experience of what actually goes on in government. Compare that with Her Majesty who knew when she was 10, when her uncle abdicated and her father took over as King, that one day she was likely to be Queen. From then on, every effort was made by her parents and other people around her to prepare her for that eventuality. It came when she was surprisingly young because her father smoked heavily which killed him.
Her Majesty made it quite clear in a radio broadcast to the nation that she would serve for as long as her life and that clearly remains her intention. However, I now think that it is time for her not to abdicate as that will always stick in her throat because of her uncle but instead, and there is precedent for this, to appoint her son and heir Prince Charles as Prince Regent. She has reached the great age of 96 and we are being told quite frequently that she is unable to attend certain events because of problems with mobility. There doesn’t seem to be any sign that her mental faculties are affected but on the other hand if the levels of energy are no longer what they were even the mental work she is required to do with reading the red boxes and so on may be something that she cannot always manage. If she were to appoint Prince Charles as Prince Regent that would be the clearest sign that he is going to be the next king although that is strictly a decision for the Privy Council once the time comes. But our process is now fraught with difficulty. When the Privy Council confirmed Her Majesty as Queen in 1952 there were just 150 members of the Privy Council. Today there are over 750 and they are actually holding ballots on an annual basis to decide who gets to be in the room when the decision is made. Of course, there’ll be some favour shown to some of the leading Privy Councillors like all living Prime Ministers, but it will be much harder to choose between some of the more run-of-the-mill Privy Councillors who spent a relatively short time in a cabinet role but still get the honour on a permanent basis.
I think the Queen’s popularity extends even to some people who in other respects would say they were Republican and do not believe in the monarchy. She performs her role with such grace, skill and stamina that they have to acknowledge that. I believe this is felt around the world; however, I was shocked to see one newspaper report of a public service broadcaster in northern Germany commenting on the Platinum Jubilee saying that the monarchy should be abolished and a republic created. I am deeply shocked that any public service broadcaster anywhere in the world thinks it is within their remit to comment on affairs of state like that in another country and particularly when it is clear that this monarchy is so successful as indeed are most constitutional monarchies around the world. In constitutional monarchies, as I said of the Queen, it is also true that most people who take that role have been able to prepare for it for some time and also have observed their predecessor in the role and have been brought up in a strong tradition with a long history. It is just not just Britain that has such a system. We can see it in peaceful well governed countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands and now Spain. Also, our Queen is not just a monarch of one country but monarch of 16 and while that number may decline as we have seen with one or two Caribbean islands and even there is some question about Australia, in other stable well-run countries like Canada and New Zealand there seems very little sign of any appetite to remove the monarchy.
The monarchy symbolises stability over the long term while republics are often in a position of extreme instability. We can see in countries like France and also quite recently in the United States where a President did not accept the democratic vote of his country and staged an illegal attempt at a coup while every single Prime Minister in our country after losing a General Election immediately goes to Buckingham Palace to resign in front of Her Majesty and hand over power to their successor.