We’ve all been stunned this week by the sudden passing of our beloved Queen, Elizabeth II. Each of us will remember her in our own unique way.
I was in a council meeting on Thursday evening. There was, as you might imagine, a strange atmosphere. We had begun the meeting in the knowledge that hundreds of miles away, at Balmoral, a very different type of meeting was happening. I was just beginning to speak on an agenda point when one of my fellow councillors interrupted with the breaking news. The Queen had passed away. There was an audible intake of breath around the room. The chair immediately proposed that out of respect we should cut the meeting short and to reconvene at a later date. We all, of course, agreed.
These circumstances have caused me to reflect on one of the particularly unusual characteristics that set Her Majesty apart from others, especially from the kind of people I tend to rub shoulders with in the political world: she never gave opinions.
Opinions are everywhere now. We are overwhelmed by them. Almost everyone has an opinion about almost everything. The age of social media has only served to amplify this tendency. People shout over each other to make their point heard. In the political sphere opinions have become weaponised. Holding and professing a certain point of view on a particular issue has become central to defining who is in and who is out, who is right and who is wrong.
The Queen quietly stood above all this.
One of the interesting features of the news reports that have filled our TV screens for the past 48 hours is the perspectives offered by past Prime Ministers. Each of them would spend an hour a week in private audience with her. None will ever share the content of those conversations. Reading between the lines of what they do tell us about those meetings we get the strong impression that one of the Queen’s great qualities was her skill as a listener. She took the time to hear and to understand.
If there is one thing that I could preserve from Her Majesty’s legacy it would be this: that we would learn to follow her example of listening more and offering opinion less.
Just imagine the agro we might avoid, the unity we could create, and the unlikely friendships that could be formed, if we committed to following her example.
Rest in peace Ma’am.