Today being a Sunday, I got up fairly early and collected our copy of the Sunday Times before settling down for a viewing of the Laura Kuenssberg show, otherwise entitled ‘Sunday’. Normal politics is suspended but she had a panel of three ex-Prime Ministers (Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Teresa May) to discuss the developments of the last week and, in particular, how the new King Charles III will define his role. Of course, all monarchs effect subtle changes but there are indications that King Charles may develop a more ‘slimmed down’ monarchy. Apart from the working and very hard-working members of the Royal family, there are quite a lot of hangers-on and flunkery so perhaps a more slimmed down monarchy fits the spirit of the times. After we had breakfasted, we looked at some of the progress of the Queen’s coffin as it emerged from the gates of Balmoral and started its journey through various Scottish towns and cities, including Aberdeen and Dundee, before its destination place of Holyrood Palace in Edingburgh. Meg and I walked down to the park today and engaged one or two of our generation in discussion of the Queen’s passing. We were informed that that might be a display of flowers in the park’s bandstand so we made a detour on our way home to witness this. Many of the messages on the bunches of flowers were written by quite young children, interesting in itself, and apparently there is to be a book of condolence opened in the Town Hall centre as well as online.
This afternoon, I was determined to get the lawns cut as they were looking a little ragged and we have had a fair amount of rain in the last week. This got done with no threat of rain – but I notice that the damsons are getting more and more plump. Just before I went out to cut the lawns, I had a quick flash through the Sunday Times discovered something which has puzzled me for years and is now seeing the light of day (or, more accurately, may be re-emerging).
I have been interested in politics since 1963 when I was aged 18 and and important event took place then. The Conservative Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, resigned through ill-health and was succeeded by an aristocrat member of the House of Lords, Alec Douglas-Home. How did this happen? The process then in place waa that the next leader would ’emerge’ but the processes by which this happened were secretive. It is said that monarchs exercise no political power but that was not absolutely the case in 1963 because constitutionally, the Queen could send for whatever politician could form a stable government that could command a majority in the House of Commons. Normally, this would be the leader of the largest party but in the case of a leader who has resigned, the monarch had a degree of latitude which politician to send for. There were three outstanding MPs at the time – Rab Butler, the deputy leader, Reginald Maudling and Quinton Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) who was very popular in the constituencies. So how did Alec Douglas-Home emerge? Harold Macmillan who was of patrician stock sent out a lot of the junior whips with loaded questions to ask of MPs to get the result that he wanted – Lord Home. Having resigned, the Queen went to visit Harold Macmillan on his sick-bed (which was not constitutionally necessary) and although he had resigned by then, he advised the Queen to send for Lord Home. There was no constitutiomnal necessity to follow the advice or recommendations of a recently resigned Prime Minister but the Queen did so, even though in the car going back to Buckingham Palace from the hospital, the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Michael Adeane, advised the Queen that Macillans’s advice was ‘non-constitutional’ But the Queen knew Lord Home as a fellow aristocratic Scottish land owner and great friend of the Bowes-Lyons (the Queen Mother’s family) and so the rest is history. The author Ben Pimlott is quoted by Tim Shipman that Elizabeth’s decision ‘in effect to collude with Macmillan’s scheme for blocking the deputy premier (Rab Butler) must be counted the biggest political misjudment of her reign’ Interestingly enough, Enoch Powell said later ‘the Queen was a victim of a violation of the constitution. It is unthinkable that Macmillan should resign and tender advice on his successor’ Now all of this might have been documented and might be well known to political historians and constitutional experts but I certainly do not think it is widely known. Moreover, who is going to highlight all of this just after the Queen’s demise? Perhaps to criticise the Queen whilst she was alive might have been unthinkable but to do it just after her death is unseemly but it is a story that is fascinating. Incidentally, The Conservative party having lost the elections of 1964 and 1966 revised their procedures so that the notion that a leader should ’emerge’ from a ‘magic circle’ be confined to history and was judged to be not a worthy way to select a leader of a moden political party.