The Labour Group in the Lords, like the Labour Party as a whole, is made up of both republicans and monarchists. Personally I am a monarchist – but I was married to a republican and our children have followed in his footsteps – and I will certainly be celebrating the Diamond Jubilee this weekend with great gusto. But whatever our views of the institution, we are united in our admiration and respect for the Queen as our finest public servant.
The world has changed exponentially in the last 60 years, but there has been one constant in the life of our country and the Commonwealth, the Queen who has provided six decades of sustained and dedicated service. One just has to look at the photographs and hear the voice of the young Queen Elizabeth to be aware that she too has changed, as in many ways has her role. But unstinting public service has been at the very core. Whilst her life will always be far, far removed from most people’s reality, she has striven to get closer to the people that she serves, to better understand their lives.
I know many people in their 80s, including in the Lords, some of whom still make a great contribution to civic life and their communities, but I know of no other 86 year old who has such a punishing schedule, travels so widely and who has given so many years to serve their country. Some may say that wealth and privilege protect the Queen from the rigors of normality, and undoubtedly that must help, but her patience and fortitude are remarkable. As a human being she must sometimes long to stay in bed rather than dress up and attend yet another function, taking an interest in people who might not be the most scintillating company, attending state occasions when she longs for beans on toast.
As Lord President of the Council and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, I was privileged to meet and talk with the Queen on numerous occasions. She was always extraordinarily well briefed, delightful and unfailingly kind. This view was shared by tenants of the Duchy whose farms I visited and who have a special relationship with her, one of warmth and mutual respect.
One of my finest memories is of a dinner I hosted for the Duke of Lancaster – that is to say, the Queen – and all living former Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster. Formal dinners can too often be tedious but this one was enjoyable and full of laughter.
As we can see from the celebrations being prepared, the marking of 60 years of dedication to the people of Britain has fostered a real sense of community and national unity. Public service has become a cause for celebration.
We are all too aware of the falling esteem in which politicians are held and of people’s reluctance to engage in our democratic system, either as activists or voters. Complaints are often made that politicians do not listen or understand the public’s concerns, and that their lives are so distant from those they serve that they cannot provide solutions to their problems. These usually misguided criticisms and perceptions have harmed the ethos of public service.
Yet the Queen, whose life has not been immune to many challenges and the intrusion of the media, has managed to maintain her distance whilst putting people at their ease and also her privacy and dignity whilst in many ways belonging to the nation. We politicians have much to learn.
So as the Jubilee celebrations unfold, whatever our views of the monarchy, we should raise a glass to the Queen, the finest public servant who has made an exceptional contribution to the life of our country.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords. This post originally appeared at the Labour Lords blog.