To Play the Queen

To Play the Queen

Have we been overlooking a political heavyweight?

One of my very favourite political TV dramas was the splendid ‘House of Cards’ trilogy starring Ian Richardson as the deliciously malevolent Francis Urquhart PM. I bought the DVD boxset a couple of years ago, but was heartened to see that it was being repeated on cable channels in the last couple of weeks. The first installment (‘House of Cards’) is my favourite, and the finale (‘The Final Cut’) is wonderfully tragic, but the second part (‘To Play the King’) always seemed somewhat fanciful.

The basic premise is that the PM is irked at the intervention of the new King (clearly based on Prince Charles) into politics, and by cunning, guile, and downright blackmail manages to survive the King’s bounce in popularity which reflects poorly on the government of the day. It makes, or at least made, sense that the writers considered the Prince of Wales to be a more apt subject for a monarch prepared to meddle in affairs of state, rather than HM Elizabeth II, and for that reason the plot begins with her passing.

What struck me about this week was that there were two royal stories that occupied the Westminster Village. The first was the bill being proposed by Dr Evan Harris MP to remove the restrictions upon Catholics ascending to the throne, or marrying those in line, as well as a fundamental revision of Prima Genita. The Prime Minister is understood to be supportive, and it seems that the Bill may well pass. I confess myself a sceptic – I have yet to see a constitutional change managed well, and even if this were possible I do not think it would be worthy of consideration when there are somewhat more pressing matters for Parliament to consider.

There is one person whom I imagine would take a very strong view on this bill, to which our Prime Minister has attached himself. As Head of the Church of England and (one imagines) something of a traditionalist, I cannot help but wonder how the Queen feels about the proposals. I struggle to believe that she would welcome them in private, though would not be surprised if in public she retained the impartiality that she has demonstrated for so long.

The Queen has, over the last half-century, built a reputation upon not wading into the political fray. There have been many moments of crisis and intrigue, and she has remained outwith. But I wonder whether this Bill, in the current circumstances, and towards the end of her reign, might provide the catalyst for her to become somewhat more active than previously.

The other royal story this week was the unprecedented meeting with Sir Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England. The meeting, apparently held at Her Majesty’s behest, was (I am told) the first time that a Governor of the Bank had been invited for a private audience at Buckingham Palace.

This downturn/recession/depression has already seen some strange possibilities being raised. We have had members of Parliament hinting at the possibility of a Government of National Unity, and we have had European politicians claim that this might be the slump that forces Britain into the Single European Currency. Compared to those drastic measures, is it too strange to wonder if HM Elizabeth II might take it upon herself to become a deliberate political actor?

It has been mentioned on many times that should the Prime Minister refuse to call an election, then the Queen might dissolve Parliament of her own accord. To do so would mean a breach of modern Parliamentary convention, but is perhaps no more fanciful than some of the stories we have seen in the papers. I would be surprised if it happened, but the idea of Elizabeth II using her considerable influence more overtly and more dramatically than we have hitherto seen?

You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment.


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