While, at time of writing, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has yet to be interred alongside her husband, the late Duke of Edinburgh, at St George’s Chapel in Windsor, by now dust will have settled and ‘normality’, whatever that word means in today’s UK, will have returned. This Letter from London was to have focused on ‘Changes at the Top’, aka the ‘political top’, the handover of the UK’s Premiership from Boris Johnson to Liz Truss, and its implications. However, changes at the top are no longer the preserve of just the Premiership.
On 5 September, a protracted and painful political process came to long-awaited fruition with the choice of Liz Truss as the new Prime Minister. Three Conservative PMs in just six years. The following day, her predecessor flew to Balmoral Castle to tender his resignation to The Queen, with Liz Truss’ plane in hot pursuit, no doubt doing its best to avoid the wake turbulence left behind by the former PM – of which there was, likely, plenty. The new PM was then formally appointed by Her Majesty in a photographed moment in history, the Monarch, despite looking a little frailer, appearing in good spirits and performing, what turned out to be, her final state duty.
In the 36 hours that followed, the country focused on the political matters to hand; an energy crisis largely resulting from Putin’s actions against Ukraine – and Europe – facing a population already weary from incompetent politicking. Alarming energy-bill escalation has filled the people and businesses with fear of a cold winter ahead, though Truss has proffered an energy-cap solution, which may help some. Then the war in Ukraine, with its forces making great gains, at time of writing; will the new PM continue the resolute support shown by Boris Johnson? It seems so, her first call with a foreign leader was with President Zelensky just hours into her premiership and in which she accepted an invite to visit Kyiv.
Ukraine policy continuity was further assured by retaining Ben Wallace as Defence Secretary, whose experience and efforts under PM Johnson were fundamental in Britain’s support so far. Wallace backed Truss partly because she’s also set her sights on a 3 per cent of GDP defence-spend by 2030. In relation to issues facing the UK – Ukraine, Putin, the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse with EU, the energy crisis – Wallace said she was: “the only candidate who has both the breadth and depth of experience needed to confront these challenges”. Let’s hope he’s right, there actually isn’t much time to get things right and, certainly, none to get things wrong.
Most Significant Week
As if that wasn’t a busy enough week at the top, then came Her Majesty’s passing. For Truss, she found herself, after just two days as PM, shaking hands with a new Monarch and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, King Charles III. There can hardly have been a week like it in British history, a new PM on Tuesday, and a new King by Thursday.
As for HM Queen Elizabeth II, she reigned for 70 years, the longest of any British Monarch. She had been a Queen of immense capabilities. Inscrutable though never aloof, majestic, as well as motherly to her nation and nations across the world. She rose above national politics and her stature was felt beyond UK borders, with a global Britain embodied by everyone’s Queen. As President Macron said in his wonderfully moving and heartfelt speech, delivered in English to the British people, “To you, She was your Queen. To us, She was The Queen.” …Bravo Macron!
She came to the throne when Stalin still ruled the Soviet Union and Mao Zedong the PRC and even today’s leaders of those two adversarial nations, Vladimir Putin and Xi Zinping, sent messages of condolence, so influential and empathic were her diplomatic skills to have had such lasting impact on even the coldest, most belligerent of hearts.
Queen Elizabeth’s Legacy
Her passing is the end of an era. What unfolds as a result can only be surmised. Will Scotland, for instance, remain in the UK? With Scottish crowds 20 deep turning out to say farewell, one might be forgiven for thinking that might not happen. Will Australia become a republic, no more British Monarch as Head of State? Maybe. New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, however, has made clear that NZ won’t do that, as long as she’s in power. As time passes, what unfolds as a result of these historic events may be monumental. The new King has His hands full, as does the new PM.
Liz Truss has taken over at Number 10 Downing Street at a time of political doldrums and a major European war. She’s been knocked off her immediate path, unavoidably, by sad events. In the weeks ahead, she must, nevertheless, make the right decisions for the country, its defence and its people.
…What a week.