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HM Queen Elizabeth II: Pulsating regnal innings

By ‘Femi D. Ojumu
14 September 2022   |   3:39 am
Britain has lost its longest reigning monarch: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (the “Queen”). Born in spring, on April 21,1926 as Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, to Prince Albert, Duke of York (subsequently King George VI) and the noble-born Elizabeth Marguerite Bowes-Lyon...

Queen Elizabeth II . (Jane Barlow-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Thursday, VIII. IX. MMXXII.
Britain has lost its longest reigning monarch: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (the “Queen”). Born in spring, on April 21,1926 as Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, to Prince Albert, Duke of York (subsequently King George VI) and the noble-born Elizabeth Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (later Queen Elizabeth the “Queen Mother”); the Queen reigned from February 6, 1952, aged 26 years, until September 8, 2022 at 96; an unbroken and highly impactful period of 70 years!

Like millions around the globe, whether or not exuding monarchical, republican or alternative inclinations, whether of Anglo-Saxon or Commonwealth ancestry, or otherwise, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the new King Charles III and the Royal family, the British people, admirers and friends thereof, crown employees past and present et al on the demise of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Was the Queen a saint? How did she consistently wield the uncanny ability to command, and sustain, quasi-universal appeal by friendly, and unfriendly nations alike across the world over the past 7 decades?

Squaring the circle as the head of state of the United Kingdom, under the country’s constitutional democratic arrangements; head of the Commonwealth; head of state of Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Canada, New Zealand, St. Lucia et al; was no mean feat! How did the Queen manage to effectively balance the nimble geopolitical complexities as Head of State of Britain on the one hand, and leadership of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) on the other, given often conflicting and divergent interests?

These are loaded posers. Notwithstanding, the commonalities in the answers speaks to Queen’s grace, persona, empathy, cultural sensitivities, non-partisanship and, of course, adaptability to an ever-changing world. She was not, and never aspired to, sainthood but was pragmatic in a rapidly changing world.

In 1952 when she assumed the throne, the world was a completely different place. This was barely 7 years after World War II (1939-1945), which had claimed millions of British, Commonwealth (including Nigerian, Indian, Ghanaian, Pakistani, Kenyan, Sierra Leonian amongst other African-Caribbeans and Indo-Asians), American and Allied Forces’ lives and those of enemy forces; ruined the global economy, and thus invoking the imperative for the American Marshall Plan (officially the European Recovery Programme).

The latter initiative entailed the allocation of $13 billion to Western Europe.

Importantly too, the British Empire, which she headed, was rapidly diminishing in influence and power with the emergent, nascent and emerging independence of Commonwealth nations like India (1947), Pakistan (1947), Ghana (1957), Nigeria (1960), Sierra Leone (1961), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka in 1948), Tangayinka, later Tanzania (1961), Jamaica (1962), Kenya (1963) et al.

Contextually, the Old Etonian, then British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan in a striking speech on February 3, 1960, during a trip to Africa, observed that “the wind of change is blowing through this [African] continent, and whether we like it or not, this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must accept it as a fact, and our national policies must take account of it.”

Constitutionally, British monarchs act on the advice of ministers, of which the prime minister is primus inter pares. During her tenure, the Queen was served by 15 prime ministers, the first being Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and the most recent was Liz Truss. The monarch had weekly “private” audiences with all the 15. It is conceivable, and entirely reasonable therefore, to assume that these “private” audiences were occasions for the prime ministers to brief the monarch on important affairs. Correspondingly, the queen used the occasions to advise and /or warn prime ministers.

Briefly reversing, Harold MacMillan would have briefed the Queen, in advance, of the aforementioned “wind of change” speech of 1960, just like other prime ministers before, and after him, would have done on policy directions and priorities of their time.

The deduction therein is that she was rightly well-versed, as the British head of state, in seminal matters of state policy and foreign relations.

Another important point to emphasise is the oneness of government. The British monarch is the head of the British government, that is, the executive, judicial and legislative arms thereof. To that extent, as the de facto and de jure head of state, the monarch’s actions and words, in public at least, must consistently synergise with those of her government in the wide sense.

Because the Queen was non-partisan, philosophically above politics, exercised the role of head of Head State of Britain and, extra-territorially within aspects of the Commonwealth of independent nations, and the need for utmost discretion, whilst inspiring and sustaining public confidence, it is to her eternal credit that her personal views were never made public.

Furthermore, the Queen’s proactive commitment to duty beyond self was manifest during World War II where she served as an auto-mechanic in the Auxiliary Territorial Service; without special privileges – a pertinent lesson for today’s youths!

The Queen’s conscientiousness, deftness and independent-mindedness were particularly amplified during the Margaret Thatcher’s tenure (1979-1990) as British prime minister. The Queen, doubling as British Head of State, and Head of the Commonwealth, quite naturally owed a duty of care not just to her British subjects but, and rightly, to the Commonwealth.

The populist Mrs Thatcher, was seemingly more concerned about the domestic front, and things reportedly came to a head between the two particularly in 1986. Hitherto on November 6, 1962, the United Nations General Assembly, had passed Resolution 1761 condemning South Africa’s apartheid (an ultra-racist segregationist policy against majority black South Africans by the minority white minority leadership which ensured that political, social and economic power was consistently skewed in favour of whites; and which ran from 1948 and ended with Nelson Mandela’s election in 1994!) policies.

Resolution 1761 created the United Nations Special Committee against Apartheid and sought the imposition of tougher economic sanctions on South Africa. Barely a year later on August 7, 1963, the UN security Council passed Resolution 181 advocating an arms embargo against South Africa over its pernicious apartheid regime. Subsequent international condemnations followed.

Margaret Thatcher’s policies on South Africa, in the heydays of apartheid were, to say the least, ambivalent. In 1986, Thatcher curiously, vetoed additional economic sanctions against South Africa according to an article edited by J.E. Davies entitled “Constructive Engagement? Chester Crocker and American Policy in South Africa, Namibia and Angola 1981-1988.”

The Queen was on the right side of history in this regard and it was unsurprising that one of Nelson Mandela’s first foreign visits on July 9, 1996, as the first ever democratically elected black President of South Africa, was to the Queen and the British people. The context, symbolism and timing of the visit was only too obvious.

Many people query the justification for a monarchy in Britain or anywhere else arguing that it is costly, inequitable, and irrelevant to the aspirations of modern times and the 21st century. Their foundational premise is that the Queen is liable for vicious historical acts of colonialism across the Commonwealth, exploitation, slavery and worse.

A case in point was the Mau-Mau revolt in Kenya. The latter was a militant Kenyan nationalist organisation founded in the 1950s by the Kikuyus (one of the dominant ethnic nationalities) which opposed British colonialist rule. The Mau Mau revolt was violently crushed by British forces and, by the end of 1956, had witnessed the execution of more than 11,000 rebels, 100 Europeans and 2000 African loyalists. The Mau Mau revolt would, later fast track Kenyan independence in 1963, under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta guided by the Harambe ideology: unity and patriotism.

This article adopts a contrary stance on a number of grounds. First, the Queen cannot, reasonably, be vicariously liable for acts which she never personally committed nor personally authorised. Second, the unique nature of the British constitutional arrangements demands some exposition. Yes, the monarch may be the de jure and de facto British head of state however, the incumbent is never democratically elected and certainly does not possess any ideologically pure or impure manifesto. In other words, real day-to-day governance, policy direction and strategic leadership lies in the hands of the occupier of 10 Downing Street: the prime minister. And his cabinet applying the constitutional law doctrine of collective responsibility.

Third, the compelling logic of the monarchy is the symbolic unity, the sense of stability and continuity, it affords to the British people, Commonwealth citizens and the world at large. After all, nature abhors a vacuum.

Fourth, the monarchy generates vast sums of money for the British economy. According to the valuation consultancy, Brand Finance, “the royal family contributed $2.7 billion annually to the UK economy before the pandemic.”

In his treatise, Who Runs this Place? The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century, Anthony Sampson remarked that “the Queen retained much of her personal loyalty and magnetism as she developed from the glamorous young princess to the small old lady with a handbag…”

Sampson’s thesis is corroborated by the fact that the Queen visited at least 117 different countries out of 195 nations globally and meeting major world leaders. Call it HM’s charm offensive and the projection of Britain’s soft power!

Reinforcing this is a poignant personal account by the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku following the Queen’s demise on September 8, 2022. He of course interacted with Her Majesty routinely, given his role and recounted one such occasion this time, with his son, then an undergraduate, at Birmingham University. The Queen engaged the young lad there and then in discourse and they talked about the university’s 150th anniversary, which Her Majesty (HM) was attending. Barely a few days later, the young lad received an invitation from Buckingham Palace for a lunch with HM, the Vice-Chancellor and other dignitaries. The moral? The Queen’s simplicity, warmth and common touch.

King Charles III has a hard act to follow. He remarked in his recent speech to Parliament that her Majesty “set an example of selfless duty, which with God’s help and your counsels, I am resolved faithfully to follow.” Long live king Charles III.

Ergo without question, the Queen left the world a better place than she found it and, patently, symbolised the unity of the British people, the Commonwealth and what remains of it. Her magnetic appeal was self-evident. In cricketing parlance, despite encountering a series of political bouncers, domestic inswingers and tricky foreign yorkers, HM scored exquisite sixes and fours in pulsating regnal innings of 70 years; and was out for a graceful 96 runs, in a desperately volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world! Adieu, HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Ojumu Esq is a former Senior Policy Adviser in Her Majesty’s Government and currently the Principal Partner, Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal practitioners based in Lagos, Nigeria.