Queen Elizabeth lived a life of service to the people in her realms and territories.
As a leader, she was a true public servant, which at least one TV commentator remarked was a paradox. They seemed puzzled that a monarch would use her position to serve the public.
There was a time when holding a public office — from the presidency to a mayorship to county sheriff — meant public service. Nowadays — at least at national and state levels — it seems to mean, “We’re in charge now.”
Of course, Great Britain and the whole United Kingdom is rife with partisan politics. But that commentator’s comment prompted me to ponder the role of the monarchy there. It’s the idea of having a head of state that does not take sides for or against any of its citizens or legitimate groups of citizens.
The royal.uk website describes the role of the monarchy:
“As Head of State, The Monarch undertakes constitutional and representational duties which have developed over one thousand years of history. In addition to these State duties, The Monarch has a less formal role as ‘Head of Nation’. The Sovereign acts as a focus for national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; officially recognises success and excellence; and supports the ideal of voluntary service.”
Do we have any such “focus for national identity, unity and pride”? Our partisan office holders may do this for adherents of their political party, but not the rest of us, not for the whole country.
Do we have anyone who gives us citizens a “sense of stability and continuity”? Not when everything changes every four years.
Do we have such a role model of voluntary service? Nope, only photo ops at day care centers and soup kitchens during election season.
But it’s not like the queen had a choice: “As Head of State, The Monarch has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters.”
Still, she did not overstep those bounds.
I can’t imagine Queen Elizabeth II giving a speech in which she insulted citizens with whom she disagreed. Or repealed laws and changed national policies for the sole reason that the “other” party had adopted them. As a person, she seemed not to be that petty.
“The Monarch … does have important ceremonial and formal roles in relation to the government of the UK.” These duties include “opening each new session of Parliament, granting Royal Assent to legislation, and approving Orders and Proclamations through the Privy Council.
“The Queen also had a special relationship with the Prime Minister, retaining the right to appoint and also meeting with him or her on a regular basis.”
Do I regret that the United States ditched the monarchy nearly 250 years ago?
Back then, the monarchy played a far different role when we Americans rebelled against it in the Revolutionary War. In light of that oppression, there was no thought given to revising the role of the monarchy to that of a figurehead. Besides, what about the blood line?
No, in spite of the Founding Fathers’ foresight, they were determined to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I can’t say I blame them. The monarchies of Europe were not, by and large, aligned with the peoples’ interests.
Of course, the sense of stability and continuity the queen gave to her people was aided by her longevity.
In a world where expectations of human behavior and attitudes have shifted and grown unreliable, she was a constant, a reminder of the way things can still be.
She was a role model for all public servants.