Elizabeth’s Reign

Queen Elizabeth II (Photo)

In the summer before the 2016 American election, the people of Britain were engaged in a raucous debate. An Englishman would call it a ‘row’ over Brexit vs. Remain. Small stores and antiquaries along Portobello Road carried placards in the shop windows depending on their preference. London cabbies — who know something about everything — would happily give you the ‘full Monty’ if you asked for it (named after WWII Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery).

The Queen wanted to form an opinion. She relied on a classic Churchillian strategy — gather an elegant salon, as reported in the Times of London, of the inner circle of British intellectual life who knew their way around economy and politics then pepper them with questions.

Their appetites were whetted for Buckingham Palace’s canapes, said to be reliably the best, as Queen Elizabeth made it clear the evening protocol was a spirit of compromise.

It could have been called “The Queen’s Speech” in honor of her father, King George VI when he spoke to the British people about the outbreak of war and the title of a movie starring Colin Firth. What worried Queen Elizabeth II that evening more than a war was the war with the EU, with whom Britain was on the verge of divorce.

The group assembled by the Queen at the Palace was familiar with the tradition of political chatter where everyone shares an opinion and then goes home for a martini. She was having none of it.

She challenged the mood by issuing a royal command:

“Give me three good reasons why we should leave or stay?”

The Queen was looking for a bottom line. But the question was where to draw it. She wanted to make the right decision on behalf of her subjects and tolerated no fear-mongering. Nor was she going to put up with insipid debate from people far removed from everyday concerns. The commentary was lively, even heated. We know the result.

Elizabeth’s approach recalled the British Enlightenment when Edmund Burke questioned how the world worked. Darwin and the Industrial Revolution asked what we knew about humanity, and suddenly everything was seen in a new light, from slavery to women, to religion, to life itself.

The Queen’s speech is the antidote for dealing with the infuriating complexities of a volatile world. When it serves you a problem, why not ask why not? It will result in a triumph of facts over feelings.

The Queen’s speech is the antidote.

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Jeff Cunningham

Jeff Cunningham

Just trying to make sense of things. ex-publisher Forbes