Gale's View from Westminster
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second
21st April 1926 – 8th September 2022
“May she rest in peace and rise in glory”
The Conservative Party leadership ballot closes and on the fifth of the month Chairman Sir Graham Brady announces the result of the Back-bench 1922 Committee to the Country . Mrs Elizabeth Truss has defeated her rival Rishi Sunak securing fifty-seven percent of the votes cast by members of the party. Mrs Truss will therefore replace Mr. Johnson to become the fifty-seventh Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
On the sixth of September Mr Boris Johnson flies by RAF transport to formally tender his resignation to Her Majesty the Queen who is in residence at Balmoral in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Later on the same day Mrs Truss flies to Scotland by a separate aircraft and at Balmoral is invited by Her Majesty to become the fifteenth Prime Minister of her seventy-year reign. Two days later, on the eighth of September, the ninety six year old monarch dies of what her death certificate describes as `old age.’ From the steps of Number Ten Downing Street The Prime Minister announces that the Queen has been succeeded by her eldest son who will be known as King Charles the Third. The Accession Council of Privy Councillors meets at St. James`s Palace on the morning of the ninth of September to affirm King Charles as the rightful heir to the throne and the third Carolean age has commenced.
Her Majesty`s body is transported via Holyrood Palace to Edinburgh`s St. Giles Cathedral, where she lies in State before being transferred from Scotland by air to Buckingham Palace and then to The Great Hall in the Palace of Westminster, where she will lie in State before the State funeral service in Westminster Abbey. The funeral and attendant ceremonial, together with a further service in St George`s Chapel, Windsor, where she has been laid to rest alongside her husband, H.R.H The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, is believed to have been watched by more people worldwide than any other event in history.
With parliament sitting again and in response to the cost of fuel crisis that has threatened to engulf her embryonic administration, the Prime Minister unveils a multi-billion pound support package which over two years is designed to limit `average’ domestic energy bills to £2500 per year with a six-month additional bailout scheme to assist businesses. This is reasonably well received but unfortunately the `fiscal event’ launched by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on Friday 23rd September sends the value of the pound into free-fall.
There are devastating floods in Pakistan and Hurricane Ian (“Hurricane Ian” for God`s sake?!!!) hits Florida with a wall of water and winds off the Beaufort Scale. The dictator Putin stages rigged `referenda’ in Eastern Ukraine and announces that parts of the Donbas are now within the boundaries of the Russian Federation which he is prepared to defend - “I am not bluffing”- with nuclear weapons. Ukraine in return, pursues its advance on Kupiansk in the Kharkiv District of Eastern Ukraine and calls for fast-tracked membership of NATO.
The Labour Party gathers in Blackpool with a sizeable lead in the opinion polls; at the end of the month the Conservative Party heads to Birmingham to try to repair the damage wrought by Chancellor Kwarteng`s `fiscal statement’. Heading into October the World suddenly seems to be in a great deal more turmoil and danger than it did at the end of August.
I was six months shy of my ninth birthday when His Majesty King George VI died. Certain things (everyone of a certain age can remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot) stick in your mind. I was in a conservatory that was being used as a classroom, and on 6th February 1952 it was cold. We were studying a French primer called “Madame Souris” and the headmaster came in to announce that the King was dead. Our French teacher, a sweet lady of advancing years and an ardent royalist burst into tears and rushed from the room, leaving a dozen or so rather bewildered small boys wondering what to do next. We had heard the King speak on the wireless at the end of the war, of course, and most of us knew that he had very ill but dead? Unreal, really. “The King is dead. Long live the Queen”.
A year later there was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. A few wealthy households were able to watch the live broadcast on a thing called a television, which had a massive cathode ray tube and a tiny screen and was housed in a huge polished wooden box and shown pictured in glorious microscope and stunning black-and-white! Most of us had to make do with the old valve wireless in the kitchen and wait more months until the film, double-billed with “Scott of the Antarctic” came out and the whole school was taken to see it. The Conquest of Everest by (Sir) Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing had been known about for several days but the news was held back until Coronation Day. I was sliding down the bannister in our home at the time that the story was broadcast and I nearly broke my neck as I cheered and fell off the stairs. We were all given a Coronation mug and a bar of chocolate and as there was still rationing in 1953 we all thought that the new Queen was a pretty good egg.
Seventy years later we knew, when the Royal Family was summoned to Balmoral, that things were not looking good.. The Palace of Westminster was alive with rumour but we believed, when I left the House to drive home at about 4pm on the afternoon of 8th September, that Her Majesty was alive although very ill. She had, in fact, passed away in mid afternoon when the Prime Minister, in the House of Commons leading on a debate on energy prices, was handed a note which starkly read “London Bridge is down”. It was not until around six pm that the news became public. I walked in through the door of our cottage in Kent to watch the television screen go black, hear the national anthem played and see the dates of Her Majesty`s birth and death displayed. I knew then how my old French teacher had felt when she heard of the death of the Queen’s father and, unashamedly, I wept.
“It has pleased Almighty God to call to His mercy our late Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth the Second of blessed and glorious memory” are the words which the Clerk of the Privy Council used to draw to an end the reign of the United Kingdom‘s longest-serving monarch in the year of her Platinum Jubilee.
The succession is brutally efficient and instantaneous. The Queen is dead. Long live the King. Prime Minister Truss appeared on the steps pf Downing Street, King Charles the Third addressed the nation ending his eulogy with (from `Hamlet`) “May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest” and the plans for “Operation London Bridge”, drawn up by the Earl Marshall of England, The Duke of Norfolk, over twenty years ago, moved seamlessly into action. The Accession Council (some 200 of the great and mostly good of the thirteen hundred members of the Privy Council) met on the Saturday morning at St James’ Palace to approve the succession and for the first time in history, the ceremony was televised live for the World to see.
The House of Commons sat on Friday 9th and Saturday 10th of September from lunchtime until 10pm for tributes to Her Majesty. These are not easy. Every Member of Parliament wants to speak on behalf of their constituents. Very many of us had met the Queen personally – some many times. But what to say? As a Privy Counsellor and a reasonably long-serving Member I was tolerably high up the pecking order on the first day but after the Prime Minister, The Leader of the Opposition, The Leaders of other parties, Cabinet Members and former Prime Ministers had all paid their homage , and some three-and-a-half-hours into the session, most of what we all wanted to say had already been said. There is then the danger that you fall into the “I remember that when I met the Queen” mode and it becomes superficially about you and not about the truly great, loyal, remarkable, dedicated and steadfast servant of her people that we were there to talk about. If in doubt, keep it short. Which I did.
Prime Ministers, of course, meet Her Majesty weekly when the House is sitting. As Lady May said wryly it is the one conversation that she was able to have knowing that the details would not be leaked to the Press. In case you missed it Theresa also told a delightful story of a picnic during a visit to Balmoral when she was helping to unpack the hampers. I paraphrase;
“I put some cheese on a plate. It slid off onto the grass. I had a split-second decision to make. I picked up the cheese. I put it back onto the plate and I put it on the table. Then I turned around. She had been watching the entire event. I looked at her. She looked at me. She smiled. And the cheese stayed on the table”!
All who have been privileged to have met Her Majesty `up close and personal’ have recorded her sense of humour, the twinkle in a pair of beautiful blue eyes and a smile that is now lighting up heaven. Is it disrespectful to suggest that a lady who vowed on her twenty-first birthday in April 1947 in a broadcast to The Commonwealth, to offer her life “whether it be short or long” to the service of her country and who then spent the rest of her life, in Britain and around the globe honouring that pledge, will be remembered mostly by many people for `parachuting’ out of a helicopter with James Bond at the opening of the 2012 London Olympics and then revealing, over tea with Paddington Bear at Buck House during the Platinum Jubilee concert, that she keeps a marmalade sandwich in her handbag “for later”. I have a feeling that the unassumingly mischievous wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who I have on occasions irreverently referred to as `Her Maj.’ - would have liked it exactly like that.
I was invited to be among those permitted to witness Her Majesty`s coffin upon its arrival at Westminster Great Hall and then to pay my own respects as she lay in state on the catafalque over which her children, King Charles, The Princess Royal, Prince Edward and Prince Andrew, and her grandchildren, played their part in standing guard. Many others including: Members of the Royal Company of Archers, The Scottish Secretary and The Defence Secretary also took their turn in mounting the round-the-clock vigil as, day and night, people filed past. At one stage there was a queue to join the queue for `The Elizabeth Line’ as the route from Southwark Park along the south side of the River Thames, over Lambeth Bridge and back to the Palace of Westminster became known. It is estimated that in excess of two hundred and fifty thousand people made the journey to London from all over the world to pay homage to the lady known universally as `The Queen’.
Thousands more queued for days for a vantage point to see the state funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the second. Never have so many Monarchs and Heads of State gathered together under one roof, in Westminster Abbey, for such an event. Almost all of them were prepared to travel by specially commissioned buses from locations around London to the Abbey. The huge funeral crowds lined the carefully planned route from Westminster past Buckingham Palace and London’s Wellington Arch at the top of Constitution Hill, and then west to Windsor for the final committal service in St George’s Chapel in the castle. Nobody living has ever seen anything like this before and we shall never witness it again.
In the two days between her appointment as Prime Minister and the death of Her Majesty, Mrs Truss appointed most of her Cabinet and some senior Ministers. Scorning the advised `broad church’ Team Truss included Kwasi Kwarteng ( Chancellor of the Exchequer), Suella Braverman (Home Secretary), James Cleverley (Foreign Secretary, (Therese Coffey (Deputy Prime Minister and Health Secretary), Ben Wallace (Defence) Mr Mogg (Business) Brandon Lewis (Justice), Penny Mordaunt (Leader of the House), Chloe Smith (DWP), Kemi Badenoch (International Trade), Simon Clarke (Levelling Up) and Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Transport). For the first time, not one of the four `Great Offices of State` is held by a white male and no significant Ministerial appointments were offered to any of Rishi Sunak’s supporters. Michael Gove and Grant Shapps are amongst senior figures who have returned to the back benches.
It is generally accepted that faced with the death of a much-revered and long-serving monarch within moments of taking office the Prime Minister conducted herself with considerable poise and great dignity. Although not a natural orator her tributes to the Queen were heartfelt and well-received and millions of people around the world will have had their first sighting of Britain’s new Prime Minister and formed a favourable impression when she read the scriptures at Her Majesty’s funeral.
The energy-price bailout package, designed to ensure that for two years average domestic fuel bills do not exceed £2500 a year, coupled with a six-month winter relief measure for businesses, was eye-wateringly expensive but generally well received. It is not possible to protect all households, some of which have above-average energy use for medical reasons for example, or all businesses – again Care Homes and Bakeries and the Hospitality industries use a disproportionate amount of fuel because of the very nature of their business – but it is clear that the Government wants be on the side of the consumer.
If she had paused there, she would have denied the Labour Party the stick to beat her with at their Conference and Mrs. “We can ride out the storm” Truss would probably have emerged from the Conservative Conference in Birmingham as the darling of the Party. But on Friday 23rd September The Chancellor of the Exchequer unveiled a `fiscal package’ that was in effect not a mini but a full-blown budget that had not been discussed by the Cabinet and that sent international money markets into a tailspin with the pound falling like a stone and raised the threat of massive interest-rate rises. This, in turn, caused real fears amongst those with large mortgages and amongst businesses still trying to pay debts incurred during the pandemic.
To clarify: the economy has been flatlining for far too long. It needed a shot in the arm to stimulate growth. But an announcement of this kind, made without figures to support how tax cuts are going to be paid for, without a supporting business plan and without reassurance for those fearing that they may face ruin as interest rates rise, demonstrates an unacceptable degree of inexperience at the heart of this administration. This has caused self-inflicted and unnecessary damage to the economy and to people’s lives.
There is nothing wrong in cutting taxes – the Conservatives are instinctively a low-tax party and taxes have been allowed to rise far too high for far too long. However, tax cuts paid for out of increased borrowing are not the way forward. Growth is needed but ”Growth at any cost” as announced by the Chancellor is a price too high.
Reversing two of Rishi Sunak’s measures by not raising Corporation tax and not introducing the National Insurance surcharge is acceptable. Reducing Stamp Duty on property transactions and getting rid of the IR 35 tax regime that has so penalised the freelance labour markets has got to be a good thing. In the long run reducing taxation on the highest earners has always tended to attract the wealthy back to Britain and generates more in taxation revenue not less - but at a time of belt-tightening to give a tax cut to `the rich’ (without explaining the reasoning behind it ), was always going to be unacceptable.
There are also worrying indicators that suggest that a bonfire of regulations designed to stimulate business growth may have the adverse effect: damaging the environment and releasing yet more much-needed agricultural land for development.
Since the`not-the-budget’, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been forced into a politically damaging hand-brake turn and there are warning signs of more trouble if proposals to cut benefits are brought forward. “Action this day” has its attractions but the Prime Minister has acknowledged that she failed to roll the pitch before the `Fiscal event’ and has learned that lesson the hard way. If Mrs Truss is to succeed, as I hope she will, then she has to learn the art of listening. There is wise and experienced counsel available and she must heed it.
The Festival Of Brexit, apparently funded at a cost of £120 million, has not set the world on fire. With a target of `millions’ of visitors the exhibition attracted just two hundred and thirty-eight thousand people.
Social media is bad for your love life! We are told that Twitter, Tik Tok and Instagram can have an adverse effect upon the libido.
Jonathan Aitken, the former Tory Minister and now a man of the cloth recalls, celebrating his 80th birthday, that he once moved seamlessly from Her Majesty’s Treasury to Her Majesty’s Prison.
“Ye Olde Fighting Cocks”, an 8th Century alehouse previously known as “The Round House” and “The Two Pigeons”, is fighting for its commercial life. The hostelry has survived a civil war, seventeen recessions, two world wars and five pandemics but can it keep its head above water in the current economic climate?
And the Oxford Faculty of Oriental Studies (literally “of the East”)is now to be known as The Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studied because `The Orient’ `perpetuates stereotypes’ and `recalls British colonialism’. “Murder on the Asian and Middle Eastern Express” anyone?
Bill Turnbull (66) was the broadcaster who began his career on Radio Clyde, was a Washington correspondent in the 1990s and presented BBC Breakfast for fifteen years between 2001 and in 2016 he competed in Strictly Come Dancing. He was diagnosed as having terminal prostate cancer during the filming of Celebrity Great British Bake Off in 2017. He joined Classic FM in 2016 and, as the owner of three Labradors, he presented Pet Classics aimed at helping pets relax during the fireworks season.
Charles Wilson (87) was the editor of The Times newspaper from 1985 to 1990, working with Rupert Murdoch during the `Wapping wars’ (1986), and was the ex-husband of Ann Robinson. He first worked for the News Chronicle before moving to The Daily Mail. At The Times he was responsible for firing one Boris Johnson for fabricating a quote. He subsequently became Managing Director of The Mirror group of newspapers.
Jean-Luc Godard (91) was one of the leading French `new wave’ film directors of the late 1950s and early 60s. He made A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seburg in 1960 and with his Danish wife, the actress Anna Karina , made Une Femme est Une Femme (1961), and Vivre Sa Vie , the study of a prostitute’s life, in 1962. .He shot Alphaville and Pierrot Le Fou in 1965 before turning to dialectic materialism on the back of his association with Marxism. He was awarded an honorary Oscar in 2010 and in 2014 won the jury prize in Cannes with Goodbye to Language.
Charles Swift (92) was first elected as a Labour councillor in Peterborough in 1954 and served for a record sixty-two years. A Salvationist and an engine driver, he twice drove the Queen’s train. He was made a freeman of Peterborough in 1984 and was awarded an OBE in 1985. He retired from the railways prior to privatisation in 1993.
Lady (Tessa ) Keswick (79) was political adviser to Kenneth Clarke as Chancellor of the Exchequer in John Major’s Government before becoming the director of the Centre for Policy Studies. Her husband, Sir Henry Keswick, was knighted in 2009.
Irene Papas (96) was the Greek classical actress who also starred in Zorba the Greek(1964), The Guns of Navarone (1961) and Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.(2001) As a musician she also worked with Vangelis on 666 .
Alan Parker (73) was the comic strip writer known for his work on Judge Dredd in the sci-fi comic 2000 AD and a number of Batman titles between the late 1980s and the late 1990s. It is claimed that he was taught to read using The Beano and The Dandy and that the first word he could read was “aaaargh!” He worked for DC Thomson in Dundee before teaming up with John Wagner to work on Batman for DC Comics in the United States.
Dame Hilary Mantel (70) was the author of the Tudor “Wolf Hall” trilogy centred on Thomas Cromwell . The first book won the Booker Prize in 2009. As did the second, “Bring Up the Bodies”, in 2012. The final book, “The Mirror and the Light” , was published in 2020. Dame Hilary was heavily criticised for describing the Duchess of Cambridge as a jointed doll on which certain rags are hung” - and her later collection of short stories entitled “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”.. She was awarded her CBE in 2006 and her DBE in 2014.
Louise Fletcher (88) won a Best Actress Oscar in the 1976 Academy awards for her performance as Nurse Ratched in Milos Foreman’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”, also starring Jack Nicholson as R P Murphy. She also had a long career in American television series
Peter Heppell (102) was one of General Orde Wingate`s fighting force known as the Chindits which served behind Japanese lines in Northern Burma from 1943. The special forces, trained in sabotage and jungle warfare , saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Second World War. Sapper Heppell served in a section of 82 Column`s Commandos and in March 1944, he flew into Burma for the launch of ‘Operation Thursday’, a deep penetration campaign of “The Chindits” international fighting force against the Japanese. At the age of 101 he left his wheelchair to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph on behalf of the Chindits Old Comrades Association.
Lord (Mohamed) Sheikh (81) was the first Muslim Peer to be appointed, by Michael (now Lord) Howard in 2006. He arrived in Britain ahead of the Ugandan Asian crisis, in 1962 and began his work to build a leading insurance business. In 2003 he founded The Conservative Muslim Forum promoting inter-religion tolerance.
Marsha Hunt (104) was one of the post-war Hollywood screen actresses blacklisted during the McCarthy era. She first appeared on film in 1935 in “Virginia Judge “ and for MGM appeared in Pride and Prejudice with Laurence Olivier in 1940. She worked in supportimg roles until the blacklisting in 1952, from which her career never fully recovered.
Anna Gael (78) was the Hungarian actress who married Alexander Thynne, Viscount Weymouth, and became the seventh Marchioness of Bath. She survived a string of Lord Bath’s `wifelets’ and produced an heir, Ceawlin, who would become the 8th Marquess of Bath and Lord of the Longleat Wildlife Park on the death of his father. Following the demise of her acting career, Anna Gael became a war correspondent in Vietnam and an author.
Serena Williams has, at the age of forty, announced her retirement. She first appeared on the professional tennis circuit in 1998 and won the US Open in 1999. During her career she took the Wimbledon Championship seven times, won 39 Grand Slams, 23 singles titles, 14 doubles titles and two mixed doubles titles. Probably the greatest female tennis player in the history of the game.