Harold Macmillan once said ‘Events, dear boy, events, when asked what the most troubling things about his premiership were. Liz Truss would no doubt sympathise. She won the Tory leadership on Monday, traveled to Balmoral to be appointed by the Sovereign to be Prime Minister. On Wednesday Truss faced Keir Starmer over the Despatch Box for the first time as Prime Minister’s Questions. On Thursday she launched her much vaunted economic rescue plan and six hours later, the death of HM The Queen was announced. Truss came out into Downing Street and gave a short statement and the next day gave a tribute in the House of Commons. She then had her first audience with the new King Charles III.
And her first week in office still has two days to go. As someone I know who works in Downing Street said: “What next?” What next, indeed.
You learn a lot about people from how they respond in a crisis, or how they react to unexpected events. In 2007, Jacqui Smith had been Home Secretary and Gordon Brown prime minister for only a day when the Haymarket and Glasgow terror attacks happened. That was a real baptism of fire and they both passed the test with flying colours. As has Liz Truss. Truss is no natural orator, but her unfussy approach seems to be liked by the public.
The nation, meanwhile, is embarking on a collective grieving process. Everyone is dealing with the death of the Queen in their own way. It is entirely right that the mourning period should be prescriptive. People must be allowed to do this in their own way. We don’t need government to tell us whether we should be going out, enjoying ourselves or taking part in sporting events. It is entirely right to ask different organisations and bodies to make their own decisions. That, of course, leads to inconsistencies where rugby matches take place but football matches do not. It leads to the ridiculous spectacle of the Met Office declaring that as a matter of respect to Her Majesty, they would only issue daily as opposed to weekly forecasts. I mean, I ask you.
What we have to remember is that the Royal Family, as individuals, will be having to grieve in a very public way. We saw this at Balmoral yesterday with the Duke of York having to publicly console one of his daughters when she got emotional when reading the message on flowers that had been left by the public. The journey that her children and her grandchildren made to be with her at the end is one many of us have had to make. As I tweeted on Thursday… “I’ll never forget getting that call from my sister and that awful drive round the M25 and up the M11. All the emotions that swirl through your mind. The memories. The laughs. The tears. And then you arrive. Yes, this is a national moment, but it is also a deeply human one.” My Dad had already died, but the emotions were still the same.
Yesterday we saw the remarkable sight of Princes William and Harry greeting crowds at Windsor together with their wives. I am sure everyone hopes this is the start of a reconciliation, but given Harry has a book coming out soon, I have to say I’m not that optimistic. Family feuds are a terrible thing in any family, but of course this one is playing out in public.
The funeral will take place next Monday and this has had several consequences. The Liberal Democrats have had to cancel their annual conference in Brighton. I’ve cancelled our FOR THE MANY LIVE! event in Brighton next Sunday. I still don’t know whether my event at the Appledore Literary Festival is going ahead on Friday. But cancelations have consequences for local economies and perhaps we should think of the shops, hotels and business that will inevitably lose out.
The last few days have been emotional for many of us. The Queen has been an ever present part of our lives – the Grandmother of the Nation, if you like. It really is the end of an era. But of course the end of an era heralds a new one. And it is up to us as a country to determine what the new era will be like.