There are events in politics that everyone knows are coming but no one can quite anticipate what they will mean. The death of the Queen is one of these. Her Majesty reigned for 70 years and no MP has served under any other monarch. There is no institutional or political memory of the passing of a sovereign.
The Queen provided continuity through a period of remarkable political, cultural and technological change. Her death removes one of our links to the past. In particular, it severs this country’s most direct link to the wartime generation. When she last stood on the Foreign Office balcony with such determination to watch the wreath laying at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday in 2020 she did so as someone who lived through the Blitz, joined in the VE Day celebrations and married a war hero. She embodied the way in which the country pulled together during that existential threat, the shared sacrifice that had allowed Britain to survive.
It was, perhaps, that connection which meant that despite all the changes during the Queen’s reign, republicanism never became a serious political issue. Another reason is that the Queen performed the role of constitutional monarch to near perfection. She avoided political controversy and even her own ministers did not know her views on many issues. The few times the public had a glimpse of what she really thought – such as the revelations about her worry that Margaret Thatcher was splitting the Commonwealth with her opposition to sanctions on apartheid South Africa and the informed speculation about her sympathy for Euroscepticism – created a stir because they were so rare. Even her intervention before the Scottish independence referendum, her hope that people would ‘think very carefully about the future’, was framed in such a way that it did not come down decisively on one side or the other.