Following our mailing yesterday, Our Nation Mourns we have taken some time to reflect, as we’re sure many of you will be doing and will continue to do over the coming weeks. There is likely to be a generational divide in the responses and reflections, but there will be common ones, too.
As we look back and recall the remarkable changes the country and world experienced during the second Elizabethan era, many are already speculating on the next royal era for Britain.
A little history to reflect on.
A common misreporting of history is that Princess Elizabeth was not expected to become queen. But when she was born in 1926, her grandfather the king was past 60 (considered a ripe old age in those times), and her uncle, the future Edward VIII, was 31 and showed no signs of marrying. She could have been displaced by a younger brother, as is the British tradition of succession, but her only sibling was her younger sister, Margaret.
1926 was a very turbulent year. A general strike broke out when she was just two weeks old, and became the largest industrial dispute in Britain’s history. Then came the Great Depression, hunger marches, unemployment and poverty for millions. By her tenth birthday in 1936, the world was experiencing even more dramatic changes. It was the year the Nazis held the Olympic Games in Berlin, the Spanish Civil War began, and in Britain George V died in January. Edward VIII took the throne, then abdicated within months to marry the twice-divorced American, Wallis Simpson. The Queen’s shy, stuttering father, who adopted the regnal name George VI, had to step up at a time of global instability. George VI’s poor health meant that the young Elizabeth assumed royal responsibilities in her young adolescence.
Contrast that to the now King Charles III. From birth, the boy who would always be king assumed royal responsibilities from a young age, but after a long apprenticeship, he has become king at an age when most people would be retiring. He is not an icon like his mother or held in the same emotional esteem at home and abroad. Nor is his reign likely to be a long one. The question is what will he do in this short reign at a time when the world is once again facing challenges on so many fronts.
An era of reform.
The clues are there, King Charles III’s reign could be the reformist one long overdue. As Prince he was one of the earliest environmentalists and conservationists. In 1986 he was mocked for ‘talking to plants’, about championing nature’s crucial role in our health and well-being. He has intervened in planning decisions, criticised architectural styles and modernist architecture as ‘monstrous carbuncles’, branding the destruction of towns and cities in the 1960s as "brutal" and "insane". He bombarded government ministers with what became known as his ‘black spider memos’. He has expressed views about slimming down 'The Firm', dispensing with some of the minor royals, disposing of several of the family’s palaces and castles, and reforming the embarrassing and crass Honours system, replacing the Order of the British Empire with the Order of British Excellence, and much more.
With trust in politicians, institutions, experts, even in teachers and doctors at an all-time low, not least due to the ripple effect of the poisonous discourse in politics rising in so many democracies around the world, King Charles could be a living thread. A thread that continues to bind us as a country as we face revolutionary changes, environmentally, digitally and socially. His reforming agenda could ignite the reforms of our institutions, education, environmental responses, communities, high streets, care systems, of a broken Britain that needs new hope, new vison, and new thinking.
Let’s hope a monarch whose car runs on a bioethanol blend of cheese and English white wine by-products will have the courage and compassion to to lead by example.
There's no denying that people’s attitudes to the monarchy, like so many other issues, are divided. Whilst the Queen was the most popular royal, liked by 75% of people, according to a running tracker by the pollster YouGov, Charles is liked by 42%, with some 17% of Brits wanting to get rid of the monarchy - around 7.8 million people, as a percentage of a total voting public of 45 million.
The question is what replaces it? What are the constitutional implications? How long would these issues take to reconcile as we face the worst cost of living crisis since the second world war? When two decades of pay growth will be wiped out, putting people back to pre-Global Financial Crisis pay levels.
The death of Queen Elizabeth II is also likely to exacerbate existential questions already resulting from another recent and momentous constitutional occurrence for our nation – Brexit. Who are we? What do we stand for? What is modern Britain? What is our place in the world?
Out of crisis comes opportunity. Work with us so we can grasp those opportunities to make our country a fairer, more compassionate, more peaceful and prosperous place.