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Tories gave Queen Elizabeth an unfitting end

Hallam Mark Kommentarbild App
Mark Hallam
September 9, 2022

Starting with Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth saw 15 prime ministers — just. Her final act was replacing a cheerful moral vacuum with a poser with no panache. DW's Mark Hallam struggles to imagine a less fitting end.

Elizabeth welcomes Truss at Balmoral Castle, Scotland, Britain, September 6, 2022
As one of her final acts, Elizabeth welcomed Liz Truss as Britain's next prime ministerImage: Jane Barlow/REUTERS

Let's just hope that the end was so near earlier this week that Queen Elizabeth II failed to grasp quite how precarious a bind her beloved Britain was in at the hour of her passing. 

Alas, given the queen's famed knack for perception and reading others, and her acuity even in advanced age, that seems unlikely. 

Photo of Mark Hallam in a checkered shirt with collar and buttons under a sports coat
DW's Mark Hallam writes that the queen deserved a better final week of life

On consecutive days, the 96-year-old geared up for her last official appointments. 

First, she ejected Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a morally bankrupt mountebank with nothing but the gift of the gab — which, granted, he occasionally deploys amusingly or eloquently. 

Then, the queen appointed Liz Truss, a woman almost five decades her junior and with all the charisma of a cabbage. The last person standing in a grueling and pointless Conservative uncivil war of Brexit-fueled attrition that cast a pall over roughly 10 of the last years of Elizabeth's reign all told.

Truss must now lead the UK through the aftermath of a global pandemic, amid the potential for outbreak of a global conflict, and facing a level of inflation unseen since her teenage years in the early 1990s.

The prime minister will have the less popular, less emotionally robust, more politically opinionated and similarly inexperienced King Charles III to help shoulder that burden. And he'll be just itching to make a difference after more than half a century waiting in the wings. What could possibly go wrong? 

From Jubilee to Conservative limbo to the grave

The last two months of her reign were marred by the two-penny political theater of a Conservative leadership contest, dragged out for an excruciating two months in the middle of spiking inflation, an energy crisis and a hot war in Europe. 

The country was forced to stand still and wait for 200,000 Conservative Party members to decide which immature lightweight least resembled the dregs of a Tory barrel Brexit scraped bare years ago. 

The comments Truss and Johnson made after Elizabeth's death spoke volumes. 

Truss, more one for posing in flashy Instagram photos than for public speaking or debate, faced her first epochal press conference far sooner than she would have liked. 

Her flat, faltering, empty delivery at least struck the tone of someone in pain. But Truss, eyes glued to her text, hit none of the high points of a perfectly well-crafted address — her monotone unwavering whether talking of the "dark days ahead" or "the rock on which modern Britain was built" or "through thick and thing [sic]" or about how "we are all devastated by the news we have just heard from Balmoral." 

No Winston Churchill

Which brings us to exhibit B: Boris Johnson.

Johnson, who often can capture a mood in a pithy phrase, wrote of a "deep and personal sense of loss — far more intense, perhaps, than we expected."

On seeing the flowery and effusive farewell from so charming a cad, the veteran British satirist Tom Jamieson addressed Johnson on Twitter: "Britain will never forget that image of The Queen sat alone at her husband's funeral to show the country she stood with them, whilst your mob in Downing Street partied. What a loathsome disgrace to the country you were." 

One hopes, rather fervently, that, in their weekly and entirely private audiences, the queen once had the chance to say to Boris what very few could with a straight face. Hopefully, the keen student of modern politics and history channeled US Senator Lloyd Bentsen's rebuke of Dan Quayle, and told Johnson — who also wrote perhaps the worst biography of Churchill among a great many who have tried — that he was a cheap imitation of her first prime minister:

"Prime minister, I served with Winston Churchill. I knew Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill was a friend of mine. Prime minister, you're no Winston Churchill."

I for one choose to believe this might have been said. Not that Boris Johnson would have been listening. 

Edited by: Milan Gagnon

Hallam Mark Kommentarbild App
Mark Hallam News and current affairs writer and editor with DW since 2006.@marks_hallam