Have the Tories Moved on from the Royals?Roundup
tags: British history, Conservative Party, Tories, Queen Elizabeth II
David Edgerton is the author of The Rise and Fall of the British Nation and professor of modern British history at King’s College London
Following the death of Elizabeth II, power is performing its truths, transforming princes into kings and dukes and children into princes. But as the British state becomes less legitimate, these processes are losing their potency. The late Queen is revered across the world but the monarchy itself has lost its magic. Charles is King, but the monarchy will not be what it was.
Monarchy was never above politics. It rested on it and on the Conservative party in particular. This was the party of the monarchy, the union, the constitution, the established churches and the empire. In 1936, it disposed of a king emperor who offended its bourgeois sensibilities, thus redirecting the royal line of succession down to King Charles III. It was a Conservative government of the 1950s that redefined the monarchy as a national rather than imperial one. A then-imperialist Enoch Powell, in his tilting at the royal titles bill, was appalled, but to no effect. In time, he would become an ardent nationalist, dismissive of empire as a passing phase and the Commonwealth as a racial danger to the nation.
Today’s Conservative party is radically different from that of the 1950s. It has taken up Powellite free marketism and nationalism rather than imperialism. It now cares little for church or constitution. Of course it celebrates the person of the late Queen, but monarchy is a subtly different matter.
For most of the Conservative party, Brexit was far more important than royal propriety. What to them would once have been an incendiary charge that, as prime minister, Boris Johnson “lied to the Queen” to get a politically convenient prorogation of parliament made little impact, despite being true. In fact, it was a weaker accusation than it might seem, for it was that the prime minister had told fibs to the particular cherished royal person rather than to the sovereign.
Another telling sign was given by our new prime minister. Having just kissed the hands of the dying monarch, she eulogised her wrongly. Speaking from outside Downing Street, Liz Truss said the late Queen “was the very spirit of Great Britain”. Clearly, no one in Downing Street knew to advise the notionally unionist Truss that her late Majesty was Queen of the whole undivided United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
That is telling. While it is a common error in the country at large, and in the media, it is an extraordinary one to be made by a Conservative prime minister on such a solemn national occasion and in the context of the politics of the Northern Ireland protocol. She and her advisers clearly did not know or care.