By Craig Melson, Consultant, London
The Queen is like ‘Heineken lager’ according to the BBC’s 2010 election coverage, as she can reach parts of the constitution no-one else can. No matter whom the British people send to Parliament, the invitation to form a Government ultimately comes from the reigning monarch. She would never of course contradict the will of the people, but her electoral role gets a little less clear when there is a hung parliament with no winner.
David Cameron is the Queen’s twelfth Prime Minister, and in all that time there have only been two hung parliaments (in 1974 and 2010), so it’s understandable if she finds the situation uneasy. In the aftermath of the 2010 election, palace staff apparently expressed Her Majesty’s displeasure (to Peter Mandelson of all people) at the instability caused by the slow pace of negotiations, and she’ll certainly have opinions if say, nationalist parties have a bigger input following the general election on 7th May.
Despite being eligible to do so, the Queen and the Royal Family do not vote in elections and have an obvious duty to keep out of politics, however this neutrality has eroded over the years. Prince Charles has intervened on a number of issues and Prince William directly lobbied David Cameron on defence cuts. There was legal action to force the publication of letters from Prince Charles to Government departments, and whilst unsuccessful, the fact such letters exist suggests attempts to influence political decisions. The Queen herself has done a better job of being neutral, though it came out in an embarrassing slip she ‘purred’ after the Scots voted ‘no’ to independence.
As she is ultimately human, she naturally got on with some Prime Ministers better than others and holds a weekly (un-minuted and confidential) audience with her Prime Minister to discuss the issues of the day. Unlike the State Opening, where she turns up, reads a Government speech and goes home, these weekly meetings allow her to make her views clear, prompting questions on how appropriate this is in a democracy.
The nature of the relationship between the Sovereign and her Prime Ministers is a closely guarded secret, but her preferences can be inferred from the fact Cameron, Major and Thatcher all got invites to Wills and Kate’s wedding, whilst Blair and Brown did not. Going back further, she had well-publicised disagreements with Thatcher, but apparently got fond of her later on and was apparently appalled at the un-British nature of her downfall.
The Queen is set to become the longest reigning British monarch this year, and in that time you would have thought she had seen it all. But the 2015 election is set to be the most uncertain she’s faced, with more possible outcomes and variables than ever . Despite her seemly reserved demeanour in regards to the political world, the Queen may take a more active interest in this general election.
- David Dimbleby ‘activating the Queen’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCufiTe-p4o
- Tony Blair ‘kisses hands’ with the Queen (from the 2007 film ‘The Queen’) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvZkkdPrT7I
- David Cameron slip reveals the Queen’s cat-like behaviour https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21MCx1L_DiA
- House of Cards series two ‘To Play the King’, focusing on the relationship between an interventionist Monarch and the PM https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKhL1pQceHw
- The Queen not sitting on the Iron Throne https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WGlFaUmS8Q
Picture Credit: Reuters/Trinity Mirror