I had the pleasure of meeting the late Queen just once when she opened the new University of Manchester in 2004. Like most people I want to express my sadness at the passing of a great monarch.
Still on the personal front, I am one month younger than the new king. That means that I have been the same phases of life, youth, adolescence, maturity and now the elderly phase. One of the great differences is that whilst I am winding down, Charles the Third is just beginning his greatest challenge.
I think he has started pretty well and is certainly “up to it.” The modesty of his speeches, his dedication to public service and the willingness to meet the public in his hour of grief has been impressive. After all, in the public mind a quarter of a century ago, Charles and Camilla suffered badly in the court of public opinion when Diana died. Slowly they have gained the respect of the public as the King and Queen Consort begin their reign over a troubled kingdom.
STANDS SCOTLAND WHERE IT DID?
How troubled remains to be seen. I was surprised to hear a senior BBC commentator say that if the Queen had not died at Balmoral, Scotland would have been denied the impressive ceremonies we witnessed last weekend. They seemed to me vital to the project of keeping the union together. A large number of Scottish nationalists want a republican, independent Scotland, but the leadership of the SNP certainly do not want to raise that issue. The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was warm in her tribute to Queen Elizabeth (there has only been one in Scotland). The issue of independence is finely balanced and SNP support for a republic would alienate many people who want to end the union forged in 1707 but keep the 1603 union of the crowns.
THE IRISH QUESTION.
With its background of violence, the Irish Question is even more tricky for Charles the Third. Republicans were full of praise for the way in which the late Queen sought better relations with Ireland even though the IRA murdered her husband’s uncle, Lord Mountbatten.
All that is threatened by the Brexit induced row with the EU over tariff borders.
It is now becoming clear that the late Queen saved the Commonwealth from breaking up over South African sanctions. Throughout her reign she wanted to make it clear to the newly independent countries that this wasn’t an Empire-lite project.
When Margaret Thatcher opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa, the Queen’s Press Secretary had to quit after leaking that the monarch was dismayed. The rare glimpse into what the Queen thought showed her determination to show Commonwealth leaders that she could distance herself from the British government.
DEFENDER OF THE FAITH.
At one time there was a lot of speculation that in multi-cultural Britain, Charles would wish to drop the title Defender of the Faith (i.e., the Anglican Church) and replace it with Defender of Faith. It could not be done at this moment of monarchical transition, but it will be interesting if it is revisited during Charles reign.
He may feel it wise not to stir things up. The dramas surrounding Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and Meghan have still not played out
On Monday Elizabeth the Second will be laid to rest after an extraordinary period which began with a new Prime Minister and a new king in forty-eight historic hours and ended with a huge outpouring of love and loyalty from her subjects, young and old. The fact that the former have been evident in such large numbers, bodes well for the future of the institution.