A Delicate Dance: The Queen’s Political Relationships During Her 7-Decade Reign

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Queen Elizabeth II held the one-on-one conclaves with 14 British premiers, Liz Truss was the latest.

London:

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, delicately nurtured a wealth of political relationships at home and abroad, always managing to stay impartial during her decades-spanning reign.

As head of state, she had 15 British prime ministers, from Conservatives such as Anthony Eden and Theresa May, to Labour leaders James Callaghan and Tony Blair.

She cultivated ties with scores of global leaders and other monarchs, traversing the world and welcoming them to Britain on more than 100 official state visits.

“The story of her relationships with (those) who have served as her prime minister is central to the meaning of her reign,” wrote journalist Andrew Marr in his 2011 royal biography “The Diamond Queen”.

Queen Elizabeth “never forgets” her role as head of the Commonwealth, a grouping of dozens of chiefly former colonies, plus her duties representing Britain globally, he added.

“The queen has a force-field aura that very few politicians manage to project.”

–  ‘Father figure’ Churchill –

Britain’s head of state, who must remain politically impartial, holds a weekly meeting with the prime minister. Nobody else is present and no records are taken.

“You can be utterly, totally frank — even indiscreet,” said 1990s premier John Major.  

“Nothing is barred.”

“They unburden themselves,” the queen once told the BBC.

“They know one can be impartial. It’s rather nice to feel that one’s a sort of sponge and everybody can come and tell one things.”

Queen Elizabeth II held the one-on-one conclaves, which typically last half an hour, with 14 British premiers. Liz Truss, who she only appointed on Tuesday, was her 15th.

Most took place in person, although during the coronavirus pandemic, she spoke to Truss’s predecessor Boris Johnson on a rotary dial telephone from Windsor Castle.

Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings claimed he had to persuade his boss not to meet the monarch in person in case he passed on the virus and she died.

 The prime minister was later treated in hospital intensive care for Covid.

According to Buckingham Palace, the queen “retains the right to express her views” during her weekly meetings with prime ministers.

She purportedly enjoyed a father-figure relationship with Winston Churchill, who was in his second term in Downing Street when she ascended to the throne in 1952, aged 25.

“It would be useless to pretend that any successors will ever be able to hold the place of my first prime minister,” she wrote to him following his 1955 resignation.

Churchill, in his 70s, near-idolised the young monarch, wrote historian Roy Jenkins in a 2002 biography of the Conservative titan.

Another reported favourite was Harold Wilson, Queen Elizabeth II’s first Labour prime minister in 1964 — and her first not to come from Britain’s traditional ruling class.

He enjoyed their weekly meetings, famously noting they were the only time when he could have a serious conversation with someone who was not after his job and which would not be leaked.

– Blair put into perspective –

Her relationship with other prime ministers was allegedly cooler.

Queen Elizabeth II famously declined Blair’s invitation to call him Tony, in an awkward-sounding start to their decade of meetings.

“She was… direct,” he recalled of their first sit-down. “‘You are my 10th prime minister. The first was Winston. That was before you were born.’

“I got a sense of my relative seniority, or lack of it,” Blair wrote in his memoir.

An allegedly frosty relationship through the 1980s with Margaret Thatcher — her longest-serving and first female prime minister — has been disputed, however.

“The queen always saw the point of Margaret Thatcher. She understood that she was necessary,” wrote Marr.

He noted the relationship had previously always been “with men, either older than herself and to be respected, or younger and to be helped by almost maternal listening”.

Thatcher said of their relations: “Stories of clashes between ‘two powerful women’ were just too good not to make up.”

Thatcher was deferential to the monarch and was mocked for her exaggerated curtseys, depicted in the Netflix drama “The Crown” by actress Gillian Anderson.

In 2005, Thatcher said queen Elizabeth had a “formidable grasp” of current affairs and she had benefited “enormously” from the sovereign’s guidance and experience.

Pointedly, Elizabeth attended her funeral in 2013 — something she only did for Churchill among her prime ministers.

During her decades on the throne, the queen avoided any hint of breaching political neutrality.

“We are not even sure what she really thought of her prime ministers” Marr added.

“Sadly, for writers, the queen has been the soul of discretion.”

But others have let slip on her feelings regarding some matters.

Former prime minister David Cameron apologised after he was overheard saying she had “purred down the (phone) line” after learning Scotland had voted against independence in 2014.

Abroad, Elizabeth made a number of ground-breaking trips during her reign, including in 1965 becoming the first British monarch to visit Germany in five decades and in 2011 the first to visit the Republic of Ireland in a century.

She hosted US President John F Kennedy in 1961, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, and South African anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela in 1996.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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