We will always remember where we were when we heard that HM Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, had died. When the news hit, however, it wasn’t a shock. Not only because she was a 96-year-old woman, who had suffered from continuous health problems in her final months. But rather because there was a sense of foreboding about the day’s events. The scenes in Parliament as Prime Minister Liz Truss and Keir Starmer were ushered out of the Chamber during the former’s flagship energy announcement. The statement from Buckingham Palace. The reports of family members travelling to Balmoral to be by Her Majesty’s bedside. BBC News presenters correcting themselves as they prematurely slipped into past tense when talking about her, the inevitability of what was to come sewn on their faces as well as in their black ties.
Then, the announcement, ably delivered for the BBC by Huw Edwards: “A few moments ago, Buckingham Palace announced the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”. And then – everything changed.
HM The Queen sat atop a family as turbulent as any other. A family which celebrated birth (Her Majesty had four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren at the time of her death) as passionately as it mourned loss. A family lavished with praise as regularly as it was mired in scandal.
In her role as Head of State, the Queen also witnessed the turbulence of an entire country. Her reign was the one constant in a country marked by change, by a parade of shifting red and blue faces walking through a black door, an ambitious set of policy proposals trailing behind them. She was the singular thread that stretched from the post-war rationing of the early 1950s to the technological, multicultural marvel of today.
With her loss, questions that previously seemed fanciful, such as “Will it be ‘God Save the King’ now?” and “What will happen to the bank notes?”, suddenly become reality. With her death, everything changed.
With her death, too, came a cessation of the increasingly doom-laden headlines about Britain’s prospects. Sure, people have questioned why the death of an elderly woman, who had lived a life of unparalleled privilege, should dominate the news cycle like it did. But I would ask these people: what were the headlines you missed during this time? Before the Queen died, Britain seemed to be a country in crisis. The country I just described as a ‘technological, multicultural marvel’ had appeared to have lost its way.
A country in crisis. Still recovering from the Covid pandemic, Britain’s already precarious financial markets were rocked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent war. The Bank of England’s governor, Andrew Bailey, has attributed the conflict as the primary cause of UK inflation, which currently stands at 9.9 percent and is predicted to peak at 10.8 percent in October. Food prices are at a 14-year high, while the average household energy bill is still expected to increase by almost 27 percent, despite Truss’ recent announcement to curtail the previously relentless rise. At least we now have a functioning government to make such announcements. Over the summer, the departing Boris Johnson seemed to take pride in his unflinching refusal to contribute anything useful to public discourse, his parting call being that Britain must “endure” high energy bills. Helpful as a mark of solidarity to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, yes, but not too helpful to the 36 percent of UK households currently described as ‘financially distressed’.
A country in crisis. The National Health Service, still lauded by many as the “envy of the world”, is buckling under the weight of a Covid backlog which numbers nearly 7 million. The amount of people accessing care still lags behind pre-pandemic levels. In one heart-wrenching case, an 87-year-old man was condemned to a 15-hour wait for an ambulance in a makeshift tent constructed out of a child’s football net and an array of umbrellas. The family of David Wakeley, the man in question, say the “system is just broken”. After watching their elderly relative writhe in pain for 15 hours, surely you couldn’t tell them they are wrong.
A country in crisis. A police force which only solves 6 percent of all crimes, yet loudly (and falsely) declares that “being offensive is an offence”. You’d think with the woeful handling of actual crime, the police wouldn’t want to increase their workload by inventing new ones. The same force responsible for the aforementioned statement, Merseyside Police, is still searching for the murderer of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, the nine-year-old girl brutally gunned down in her own home.
"Rather than eliminating the problems entirely, the death of Her Majesty reminded us that Britain deserves saving"
Strikes. The crisis in the Channel. Rising house prices. The potential break-up of the Union. Britain was a country in crisis. Or should that be still is? Despite the cessation of the headlines, these issues still exist. Rather than eliminating the problems entirely, the death of Her Majesty reminded us that Britain deserves saving.
Her death galvanised a sense of community not seen since the outset of the pandemic, the now infamous Queue winding along Tower Bridge demonstrating that Britain is a country of largely civil, decent people. Meanwhile, the assembly of leaders which descended upon London illustrated that we continue to occupy a central role in the world.
The Queen’s death paradoxically changed everything and nothing. The seamless transition of power from mother to son ensured that the singular thread hasn’t been broken, but rather rewoven. This has been assisted by the public, whose overwhelming support for the new King has been surprising to those who foresaw the Queen's death as the moment radical republicanism would be unleashed. With a new Prime Minister and King still adjusting to their roles, the future of the country remains uncertain. I hope they can build on our newfound sense of togetherness to solve these crises in a way that helps everyone, continuing to weave the thread of progress that spans our entire history.