Robert Hardman

The Queen, the Commonwealth and the electric heater

Since many people are barely aware of its existence, I was pleased to see Commonwealth Day enjoying a splash of media attention this week. It was, of course, because the Queen was back on parade for the first time since her recent illness — and endorsing the Prince of Wales as next Head of the Commonwealth. In recent years, the post-imperial cousinhood has faded from view. When Tony Blair abandoned one Commonwealth summit to watch football on telly, some wondered when, not if, the FCO would simply drop the C. But ‘the club’ is now enjoying a modest resurgence. The three latest recruits have not even been ex-British colonies but, respectively, ex-French, ex-Portuguese and ex-Belgian, and there is a waiting list. The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, is much keener on ‘the Family of Nations’ than his predecessors. Hence a new plan to share some diplomatic missions with Canada. It might offend EU diplomatic sensibilities. But who cares? From Vimy Ridge to Juno Beach to the funding of the new Bomber Command memorial, we know who our true allies are. And, of course, we share a head of state. The Queen’s love for the Commonwealth is not mere sentimentality. It is her baby — her Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, her Prince’s Trust. She inherited the Forces, the Church, the palaces, the estates and the Crown Jewels. Not so the modern Commonwealth. She’s embraced and shaped it to such an extent that it might have vanished without her. When she took over, it had eight members. Today, it has 54 — and rising.

How has the Queen got on with her 12 prime ministers? It’s the central theme of The Audience, the new Helen Mirren play at London’s Gielgud Theatre, in which HM plays HM.

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