Elizabeth II was as popular as ever and much more popular than any politician. Some 82% of Britons think that she “did a good job during her time on the throne” and only 6% believe the opposite. In fact, the monarch is possibly more popular than the idea of monarchy itself. When asked in early 2021 (although 61% said Britain should continue to have a monarchy in the future), 24% said it should have an elected head of state instead, a figure that rose to 41% between young people between 18 and 24 years old.
The reasons for the extraordinary popularity of the queen (which was only seriously affected when she was accused of reacting with insufficient empathy after the death of Diana of Wales in 1997) are many and varied. Although fabulously wealthy on her own, she was quite down to earth and apparently had a biting sense of humor, as well as the ability to speak to people of all kinds of backgrounds, creeds, and colors, useful in an increasingly multicultural country with global reach. . She also displayed an obvious devotion to duty. It may even be the case that the family problems she encountered from her made him somehow closer to her subjects. Certainly, in difficult times, Queen Elizabeth has been a symbol around which a sometimes fractured and polarized nation could unite. The fact that she was like this is largely due to the fact that she was seen as “above politics” in the sense that she did not show any bias towards one of the two main political parties in the country, Conservatives and labour.
In reality, the queen was deeply enmeshed in the UK political system. In our constitutional monarchy, she was the head of state of the country and, as a consequence, she was formally responsible for appointing the prime minister and his government. She also through the Queen’s Speech (a misnomer, since the politicians in power are the ones who write it) that she pronounced at the beginning of each parliamentary year with the legislative program of the Government.
The queen was also involved in politics on a more day-to-day level, as legislation passed by a majority in Parliament must obtain royal assent through the monarch’s signature, before it can be formally passed into law. can be declared. The queen also had a regular, usually weekly, audience with the prime minister at Buckingham Palace. These are individual meetings, the content of which is never publicly discussed. In a television documentary broadcast almost thirty years ago, the Queen, dealing with a staggering 16 prime ministers, hinted that it was a useful way for them to blow off steam and take advantage of their vast experience and familiarity with other countries (in particular the other 54 Commonwealth countries, 15 of which continued to recognize her as head of state).
However, that’s it. In fact, there is widespread agreement among politicians, the public and ‘the Palace’ (as the Queen’s advisers are often called) that, as far as possible, she should ‘stay out of politics’. Hence the nervousness one could detect in the British establishment on the rare occasions in modern times in 1974, 2010 and 2017 when the First-Past-the-Post electoral system failed. set up a single-party majority government, raising the possibility that the queen might be forced to make a controversial choice between a number of government options. There was also some suspicion on the part of Scottish nationalists that the queen had cleverly hinted at her support for the union during the 2014 independence referendum, helping to defeat her dreams of seceding from the UK. Most controversial of all, however, was that the Queen was essentially forced to agree to Boris Johnson’s “prorogation” (suspension) of Parliament in early autumn 2019 in order to prevent him from blocking a no-deal Brexit, a measure that was later declared “illegal” by the Supreme Court. No one knows if she forgave the “premier” for putting her in such a position.
The constitutional role of Elizabeth II did not end there. From the 16th century onward, the sovereign was “Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England,” the established church, whose bishops and archbishops she formally appointed, albeit, strangely, on the advice of the prime minister. Now that there are no impediments to members of other religions holding public office, this is no longer such a controversial role. That said, in a society that contains so many people who profess other religions or no faith at all, whether it will continue in the same way is something the country may choose to debate after her death.
Tim Bale He is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London. Author of “The Modern British Party System”