Last Thursday our new Prime Minister - sworn in before our late Queen barely 48 hours earlier – rose before the House of Commons to set out her planned policy on energy bills. I was seated at the back row on the right-hand side of the Government benches, and some minutes into her speech whispers started circulating, apparently confirmed in the agitated expressions on the faces of senior Ministers, who were passing notes to each other as Liz Truss concluded her remarks and gave way to Sir Keir Starmer’s response. There was what can only be described as a ‘hushed kerfuffle’, as in due course the Speaker confirmed worrying news about the Queen’s health.
And so in Parliament we witnessed the moment of realisation, which we would all soon feel, that an era was ending. The passing of Her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, will be mourned by millions the world over. There was such affection for the Queen - in Suffolk and around the United Kingdom; throughout Britain and the Commonwealth – that one of the great logistical operations, covering everything from policing to portaloos, will now commence as we prepare for the Lying in State of the Queen’s mortal remains in Westminster Hall.
Yet for all the planning that has gone on behind the scenes in preparations for Thursday’s sad moment of finality, it is still something to find yourself in Parliament as the messages start coming from the Speaker’s office explaining how procedure and protocol will change during National Mourning. First and foremost, Parliamentary and Government business was cancelled, with time immediately prioritised for MPs and Peers to pay tributes to Her late Majesty.
I was incredibly honoured to be called to speak just after 6.30pm on Friday. We had already heard truly moving speeches from all sides of the Chamber, with many amusing anecdotes shared to remind us of the gentle humour and ‘glint in her eye’ our late Queen was known for, alongside more sombre pronouncements.
In that spirit, my speech contained my own personal anecdote which involved a bottle of red wine and a Ming vase, in the small hours of the morning, one Christmas in Buckingham Palace (full details in Hansard). I offered condolences to His Majesty and the Royal Family, on behalf of the people of South Suffolk, and concluded: “I want to express the great privilege I feel to have lived in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, and the great fortune I feel that my four children lived as Elizabethans, and knew what it was like to live under this extraordinary sovereign - who was deservedly loved and adored the world over for her total devotion to our nation and our Commonwealth”.
We had only 2 or 3 minutes to speak, with so many Members wishing to contribute, but with more time there was one further point I had planned to make. I attended Queen Elizabeth’s Boys secondary school, Barnet; then a comprehensive but more recently restored to its status as an historic Grammar school. Certainly, our headmaster was traditional in all senses, and on the very first day he gathered us all on to the main rugby field to bellow: “We are all Elizabethans”.
He was referring to Elizabeth I, under whom the school was founded, a monarch who famously presided over a ‘golden age’. And yet, I am very confident that the reign of Elizabeth II will also be seen as a golden age, its period of unprecedented peace and prosperity similarly vaunted – for though of course there were troubles, one person above all else was for decades our comfort and solace, our rallying point through good times and bad. The events during mourning truly merit the extraordinary attention that they will receive, because the Queen’s reign was so historic.
Those events have been local too. On Saturday I was pleased to pedal in a Suffolk Historic Churches Trust ‘ride n’stride’ dedicated to the late Supreme Governor of the Church of England; and on Sunday I watched as the proclamation of our new King was delivered to a fine crowd outside Sudbury Town Hall.
But looking backing on our sitting in the Commons, a particular highlight was when the sitting was suspended for us to watch on the Chamber’s TV screen King Charles III’s first address to the nation at 6pm on Friday – a wonderfully moving and inspiring speech, giving great confidence in the future, with a seamless transition testifying to the inherent strength of our constitutional monarchy.
God Save the King.
Published in the Suffolk Free Press.