Off The Fence: with Meon Valley MP George Hollingbery
THERE was much celebration when the Queen reached her 90th birthday and I would like to add my best wishes.
She is a superb head of state. Her dedication to duty and sheer hard work has won respect around the world, but there could be serious problems ahead.
Royal commentators and constitutional experts believe she will die with the monarchy safe here in the UK and Commonwealth, but I would like to add a note of caution to that assessment because I fear they have yet to fully address what will happen on her death, which I hope is many years away.
I think most people, here and particularly in Commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand, are perfectly happy to have the Queen as head of state for the reasons I have already mentioned.
They are not monarchists, they are Elizabethists out of sheer respect for her and her alone; and there the danger lies. The Queen has been our head of state for so long everyone accepts her role and, crucially, how she successfully chooses to do it – quietly without fuss or controversy.
Her death will put the monarchy’s position and its future sharply into perspective. In Australia and, perhaps, even New Zealand, there has to be a big question mark over whether Prince Charles will remain as King in those countries. Another question is: will King Charles III be head of the Commonwealth?
And what of here? To think the death of the Queen will immediately lead to calls for a republic is far-fetched, but it will be a time of danger for the monarchy and everyone in government will need to be aware of it if a constitutional crisis is to be avoided.
Prince Charles may well want to be a different head of state – more interventionist, perhaps, and that may not be palatable. It’s only right he wants to be his own man, but if that’s too far from the unassuming head of state model we have been used to this last six or seven decades, there could be some uncomfortable times, giving rise to challenging constitutional questions.
The old cliché ‘a hard act to follow’ cannot have a more pertinent context than when Charles, or anyone else for that matter, accedes to the throne.
Then it will be interesting to see what appetite there is for this grand old institution in 21st century Britain. My personal view is it will have to evolve yet again, and quickly, if it’s to survive over the long term with new personalities at the helm.