The death of the country’s longest-reigning monarch is viewed as a “manageable level of crisis” by the late Queen’s shortest-serving prime minister. Liz Truss, clinging to King Charles III’s coat-tails on visits to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast, hopes to appear stateswoman-like. One of Truss’s team compared her curtsying and head-bobbing to Gordon Brown’s acclaimed handling of flooding, a foot-and-mouth outbreak and the Glasgow Airport terrorist attack during the earliest days of his own reign. Perhaps somebody should nudge Truss and remind her Brown’s honeymoon was short-lived.
Boris Johnson’s particularly eloquent response on the evening of the Queen’s death, explained a disgruntled informant, suspiciously echoed the Downing Street response prepared for whoever was PM. The hastily written reaction from Truss didn’t soar as high.
Keir Starmer’s office provoked upset in the shadow cabinet in the hours after Buckingham Palace’s announcement that doctors were worried about the Queen’s health. Following the Labour leader’s statement in response, shadow ministers were told not to say anything themselves. Frontbenchers noisily complained that their silence was deafening while Tory ministers were able to express their concern. The gag was lifted, demonstrating the value of solidarity.
The new King’s relative informality in his previous role as heir contrasted sharply, according to one cabinet minister, with the pomposity of the Duke of York in his own previous role as an active royal. The then Prince of Wales liked a chummy “Dear Charles” atop handwritten notes for his attention. The duke’s office, meanwhile, returned a “Dear Andrew”-headed note with the instruction such correspondence should only be addressed “Your Royal Highness”. What goes around comes around, heckled Andy?
David Cameron harboured fears that Charles was a Liberal Democrat during the coalition era. As PM in the early 2010s, he’d moan to Nick Clegg that Charles regurgitated green policies almost identical to those of his coalition partners. Ming Campbell discovered the same during royal chats, and was convinced Chas was a closet Lib Dem. All that was missing were socks with sandals.
One peer with secret republican tendencies described gushing tributes in the House of Lords as “excruciating”. In one speech, the former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who sits as Lord Carey of Clifton, inadvertently referred to Richard III rather than Charles III. Hansard corrected the slip of the tongue but, murmured my snout, with strikes rocking the country, presumably the ’bish believes now is the winter of our discontent.
This article appears in the 14 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Succession