Angela Smith speech to the House of Lords - Friday 9th September 2022
The NL True spoke for us all in his moving tribute to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth ll.
That we should feel not just grief and sadness, but also shock, at the passing of our Queen at the age of 96 is extraordinary. It’s not just our nations that are deeply shaken. Across the world - from great Leaders to school children - we all feel that we have lost something special from our lives. And it was so finely illustrated as last night around the globe lights dimmed, flags were flown at half-mast and national monuments were illuminated.
As the most recognisable face in the world Her Majesty has been a fixed point at the core of our national life.
As the world changed almost beyond recognition during the 70 years of her reign, through her experience, her character, and steadfast sense of duty, the Queen was able to remain a constant and unwavering presence whilst still ensuring that the Monarchy adapted to the challenges of the modern age.
It’s not just the longevity of her life and the span of history she lived through, but how she represented and served the nations of the UK and the Commonwealth that has earned such admiration and affection.
The NL True spoke of that remarkable 21st birthday speech when she dedicated her life: ‘be it long or short’ to our service; and she said, to make us “more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world”.
But she saw that commitment as a joint endeavour as she added: “…but I shall not have the strength to carry out this resolution alone, unless you join in it with me”.
And we did my Lords, and that’s why we mourn her loss so deeply today.
When Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born, few could have predicted the life ahead of her.
Her father, King George VI’s, succession to the throne was sudden and unexpected. Despite feeling unprepared, his genuine devotion and commitment to his country, the Commonwealth and all its people, earned him great warmth and admiration – particularly during the trauma of the war years.
And the then Princess Elizabeth also readily absorbed her new responsibilities. We should not underestimate the impact of her first public broadcast at the age of 14, on BBC Children’s Hour to those evacuated overseas during the Second World War.
HM later qualified as a mechanic and driver with the wartime branch of the British Army, the ATS. Apparently, the Government didn’t approve believing that her most important training should be as heir to the throne, not as a mechanic. Yet her determination in insisting that she wanted to serve her country was an early sign of the great Queen that she would become.
And having served in the ATS, on VE Day the two royal princesses were as excited as anyone. Her Majesty later spoke of joining the crowds in Whitehall, where they mingled anonymously with those linking arms and singing. In a world without mobile phones or selfies, I wonder how many thought that the two young women celebrating with them looked just like the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
And it is wonderful how she reached across the generations. My parents and grandparents would speak of her and her father’s dedication to the country during the war.
As the first monarch of the Television age, she and the Duke of Edinburgh ensured that her Coronation was the first ever to be broadcast across the world, and she pioneered the Christmas Day televised message.
And she connected with and was visible to each new generation in a way that no monarch has ever done before – even when having to resort to Zoom during the pandemic.
Her arrival at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games where she appeared to have been parachuted into the stadium with James Bond was as surprising as it was delightful. And the nation was just enchanted by her sharing of tea and marmalade sandwiches with Paddington Bear for her Platinum Jubilee.
That sense of fun enhanced her reputation as a monarch who connected with and understood her people.
Of her 15 Prime Ministers, the first was born over a century before the last. At their weekly audiences she was so much more than a willing confidant with absolute discretion. Her experience gave her a knowledge and intuitive understanding of domestic and international issues. At home and abroad she presented the best of us.
President Barack Obama, one of the 14 US Presidents in her lifetime said: “Queen Elizabeth ll embodied the Special Relationship”.
She was so much more than a figurehead. Her historic visits to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 and Northern Ireland in 2012, were of global significance and were further proof of her diplomatic skills.
It is also enormously valued that Her Majesty never spoke publicly of her views on a political or policy issue. She maintained a dignified privacy of thought and displayed strict impartiality.
If it was frustrating at times, it never showed.
As Head of State she symbolised that our common values are greater than any divisions.
Many in YLH have memories of meetings with Queen Elizabeth that you treasure and will share during our tributes in YLH. But more importantly up and down, and across the country – and all over the world – people who met her, people who spoke to her, or just saw her in person, are also sharing their personal memories.
Our affection for Her Majesty is not the demanded affection of deference for a monarch of the past. But freely given for a monarch who, in an era of great change and some turbulence, provided precious stability and continuity.
Although we are united in sorrow, we also are united in pride and in celebrating the life of a remarkable Queen.
It is the end of a great Elizabethan age.
We send our very sincere condolences to all members of the Royal family on their profound loss and especially to His Majesty.
And we join with the NL, the Lord Privy Seal, in the hope that the love, respect and admiration of YLH, the country, the Commonwealth and all across the world provides some comfort on their loss.
Baroness Angela Smith of Basildon is Labour Leader in the House of Lords. She tweets @LadyBasildon