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12 September 2022

The Monday Briefing: God Save the Queen

The Monday Briefing: God Save the Queen

"There are decades when nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen"

So wrote Vladimir Lenin, when he was living in exile before the Russian Revolution, perhaps more in hope than expectation at that time. He made a very perceptive point however - significant events can occur unexpectedly and can change the landscape very quickly. This past week in Britain proves that point.

Early on Monday, Boris Johnson was making arrangements to visit Her Majesty the Queen in order to commence the transition of power to a new Prime Minister. By the end of it, Liz Truss was meeting with His Majesty Charles III. The figureheads who have the role of leading our country through the challenges to come are completely new to us all.

One of these individuals deserves little fanfare as he seeks pastures new. By the 8th August, only 11% of the country, according to a poll by YouGov, deemed Johnson ‘trustworthy’, while 76% stated that they had no trust in him. Similar polling had him ‘liked’ and viewed as ‘strong’ by only 30% of the population, and ‘disliked’ and ‘weak’ by 54%. 23% determined that he was ‘competent’, while 66% felt he was ‘incompetent’. 25% felt he was doing well as Prime Minister. 68% felt he was not. 

He ranked highest of all British Premiers since the end of the Second World War in having done ‘a bad job’, 49% of those polled by Ipsos placing him worse than his predecessors Theresa May (41%), who struggled badly with finding a Brexit solution, and David Cameron (38%) the man responsible for having called the referendum in the first place. These damning statistics go to show the fragile level of confidence in our political class, and the effect which Mr Johnson has assisted in its plummet to new depths.

His legacy will be a divisive one, and one which has left a bad taste in the mouth of many. They have questioned his leadership through Brexit, decision making in the Covid pandemic and his conduct alongside it and the scandals which persisted through his time in office. For most, it will be his loose relationship with the truth which will linger when he comes to mind.

On the contrary, Her Majesty Elizabeth II - and you will notice that earlier in this article, I referred to her simply as ‘the Queen’ as she is the only monarch which I and the vast majority of the population will have known - deserves every compliment which can be bestowed upon her.

To offer a direct comparison with Mr Johnson, when asked whether she’d done a good or bad job during her time on the throne, 84% answered either ‘very good’ or ‘good’ and only 6% answered ‘bad or very bad’ with 10% unsure. Even a large majority of those Britons who think the UK should move to having an elected head of state still think the Queen has done a good job (66%). In the last decade, her popularity ratings have never dropped below 78% in YouGov polling, and her ‘negative’ ratings have never gone above 16%.

When writing tributes to Her Majesty, it’s difficult to know where to start. I’m completely underqualified, having only seen the last 42 years of her 70 year reign - in addition, of course, I have very little, if any, recollection of the first few years of my life. I’ve never met her, though my wife has seen her and spoke with her late husband when collecting her Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s award. I met her grandson William briefly at university, though only just in passing. I am, in no way, a strong royalist or otherwise.

I’m not going to provide a runthrough of her many accomplishments, and I won’t wade into any aspect of the debate about the future of the monarchy. Nor will I repeat any of the overwhelming plethora of tributes which have been submitted across the globe. Those have been well documented in the press since Thursday. An excellent obituary can be read here.

I simply want to give some brief thoughts on her importance, both as a leader, and, personally, what I will remember about her.

One of the few things which I have in common with Her Majesty is the fact that I am a leader, and I have an important role of responsibility. I have to set an example on a daily basis, to set the right tone and uphold the rules and regulations of the institution which I am trusted to provide guidance for. If I was looking for anyone who could provide any kind of blueprint for success, then Elizabeth II is, without doubt, the one to look to.

One quote I particularly see value in is her view that “Over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal, and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration, to work together." In my role as Principal, it’s what I try to do every day.

She embodied so many words which I feel are necessary for anyone and everyone to thrive: commitment; dedication; selflessness; honesty; integrity; calmness; resilience; an ability to unify; someone who, by all accounts, listened well and could read the mood of those around her. In her case, it was the mood of the entire nation. That she lived these attributes with such dignity s the mark of an incredibly special and significant individual. 

And she did so without overstepping the bounds of her role. She stayed neutral as the job demanded it of her; she always seemed to be there, but never seemed intrusive - I remember fondly her speeches at Christmas or important moments in the history of our nation; she seemed to know, naturally, just what the perfect response coupled with what the right balance was - not too much, and not too little. She understood that she had power but did not overuse it.

In terms of legacy, I know that when I move on from Ealing, I will have wanted to modernise the institution, to have inspired confidence throughout the student body and to have made the College a happier place with a positive outlook. The Queen achieved that for Britain through some incredibly challenging times, when the global influence and prestige of the United Kingdom was on the wane, and scandals and tragic events, none of which were of her own making, threatened to engulf the monarchy. She maintained a steadfastly focused approach to keep things going in the right direction, and did so with honesty and good humour throughout.

When the chance comes to pay my respects as her body lies in state at Westminster Hall towards the end of this week, I will be taking it. I will be relaying my thanks to her for her unswerving devotion to the nation and for demonstrating so expertly, above all, how to lead.

She has, for this country and beyond, defined an era, and defined it so very well.

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