Andrew Morton is being a bit previous, isn’t he, in suggesting to the Telegraph that the Covid crisis means that the Queen has more or less abdicated? Or as he puts it:
“‘The brutal truth is that her reign is effectively over. Covid-19 has done more damage to the monarchy than Oliver Cromwell. Corona has practically put Charles on the throne.'
And there was the rest of the country thinking the Queen has actually been rather brilliant during the crisis, giving that televised pep talk to the nation and presiding – at a distance – over the VE day celebrations with her very own service hat on the desk beside her, a living link between past and present. The psychological importance of the Queen to the equilibrium of the nation is, I’d say, very considerable. Even for those of us who don’t get remotely emotional about it, having a head of state someone older than almost all of her subjects gives the kind of reassurance collectively that having a grandmother does to a family. She is 94, still riding a horse, still completely with it, still behaving impeccably, never speaking out of turn and still believing exactly what she has always believed, in terms of her Christian faith – as she makes clear whenever she gets the chance. She’s a buffer zone between the Brits and mortality.
As far as her functions go, there are very few that really matter. The critical one is that she advises prime ministers weekly. Well, she does that by phone – we don’t know if she goes in for Zoom or Skype. She gets the important papers brought to her in Windsor. The non-critical function is her addresses to the nation – chiefly at Christmas.
Important visiting heads of state could perfectly well visit her still. And the ceremonial function, the State opening of parliament, may still just about be possible if she can travel to Westminster from Windsor. As for receiving new ambassadors, the Prince of Wales can perfectly well do that, though it’s a bit of a downer for them. But then, I can’t think of any event that features the Queen – especially getting knighted – where it wouldn’t feel like a bad second best to have Prince Charles instead.
Few people would begrudge the Queen her agreeable life right now in lockdown with Prince Philip, whose miraculous longevity is an example to the rest of the nation of what you can do with a robust outlook and unsurpassed healthcare. If God remains on the side of them both, there seems no good reason why they can’t match the record of the Queen Mother, who sailed way past her centenary. Indeed, they’re probably better off staying put where they are.
Charles II’s gag to the future James II was that ‘no one would kill me, Jamie, to make you king’. And the same goes for the Queen. Given a choice between this embodiment of the sturdy resilience of her generation and Prince Charles, or the terrifically woke younger royals, well, I don’t think anyone will be hastening the Queen’s departure. In fact, I think she should be reminded at every possible opportunity of her promise that her life ‘be it short or long’ would be devoted to the service of the nation. Prince Charles will just have to get on with overseas visits and charity work; I’d say it suits him just fine.