Tony Blair’s former spin doctor is a staunch republican, yet in his new book exploring the qualities that make people winners, he reveals why he has come to admire the monarch.
His chapter where he discusses HMQ is in today's Sunday Times. Here is the link but there are issues because of the paywall. So I have extracted some of the key statements about HMQ and what her courtiers and "insiders" say about her
The Queen and I | The Sunday Times
A big part of me believes that the royal family is the pinnacle of a class system that holds Britain back by preventing it from becoming a true meritocracy and that given all the advantages the royals are born into they can hardly go wrong. But a bigger part of me has developed a huge admiration for the Queen, not least for her skills as a leader.
In challenging times she has secured the monarchy for at least another generation and, given the way Prince Charles and the younger princes have developed as part of a concerted strategy by “the Firm”, probably much longer than that.
The Queen sees monarchy as an antidote to politics and, in so far as she allows herself to contemplate a sense of strategy, it is in “being the Queen” and viewing monarchy as a values system.
It is easy to forget just how battered the royals were. For the Queen the personal nadir was 1992, her “annus horribilis”. She and the family were frankly reeling from a succession of personal disasters that saw their standing and popularity fall.
“People began to question what the institution was for,” says one of her advisers. “We were descending into a rather grisly soap opera and just when you thought we were coming up for air, something else would come along and drown us out again. It was truly horrible.”
One member of her team told me, somewhat dramatically, that the appointment of Lord Airlie as lord chamberlain in 1984 was “the single most important moment in her reign”.
He brought a business eye to the household and frankly saw that it was running out of money, losing respect of government and was stuck in the mire.”
Airlie presided over a plan for what amounted to “privatisation” of the household. “The whole plan was to take back our own destiny from the government,” one courtier explains.
“And to do that we had to have control of the finances, a proper management structure and then recruit people who were more in tune with the modern way of life.”
“The Queen refuses to accept she needs a strategy; but she does have a vision,” one leading player in her team tells me. “It is to do with values, familiarity, certainty, continuity and leadership; much stronger forces than thought or strategy.”
(Re Diana's Death)
“She is opposed to anything knee-jerk and she felt it was knee-jerk to rush back,” one courtier tells me. “She is good at considered change, but so anti-knee-jerk that perhaps it makes her less good when precipitous action is called for because she doesn’t do that; her strength is steadiness, not being ruffled. But as the public anger grew, she accepted the advice of Charles and others to return and to lower the flag. She operates on instinct and a desire to get things right.”
In recent years, however, the Queen has agreed to a new strategy focused on granting greater — although often very controlled — television access, giving permission for a succession of projects with which the palace would to some extent co-operate. The old ways — “never complain, never explain” — were over.
(This is interesting as the media always moan about lack of access. The trailer for the programme starting 19 Feb highlights that complaint . Cepe)
The new openness to the media, which the Queen approved, showed very clearly that lessons from the past had been learnt. As one of Charles’s team said, it was agreed that media access should be allowed, but that it was essential “to move the focus from the personal to the professional”.
Courtiers also point to two very different women who made a big change, one by accident, the second by design: the actress Helen Mirren and Charles’s second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles.
There was nervousness when the royal household heard that a feature film was being made about the Queen and her relationship with Tony Blair in the aftermath of Diana’s death. Those at the palace and at No 10 who were asked to give background information all, so far as I know, declined to help on the grounds that to say yes might lead the film makers to claim that the script was in some way “authorised” and therefore wholly “accurate”.
To be honest, we all assumed that a hatchet job was being planned. In the event, however, Mirren played an idealised version of the monarch. “There was a new wave of interest in the Queen and a new wave of popularity,” says one of her team.
“It was a piece of luck in a way, but it was a piece of luck that ran with the grain of our strategy. I really do think it was a big thing, a massive moment.”
As for Camilla, courtiers seem universally to credit her with a big role in improving things for Charles. “There was a lot of worry before the marriage about whether they would ever be accepted as a couple,” says one of his team. “But in the event, media coverage has been almost uniformly positive.” She brought happiness to him, stability to the family, legitimacy to the relationship; the Queen was pleased and it started to feel like a new world almost.
Suddenly they could go on tour together and instead of Charles seeming a lonely man he had company and laughter. She also always talks to people more comfortably than the natural-born royals. She had seen it all, she knew the way the media worked, her son was a writer-journalist, she had been around Charles when the mess was happening and she learnt from it and got him to learn from it too.”
Given the Queen’s age, it seems reasonable for us to think of the world beyond her. Charles’s team is clear that he will be different from her and different from how he has been himself as Prince of Wales.
“There is no defined role for heir to the throne; there is a defined role for the head of state. But equally, no two monarchs are the same. He will bring continuity but also change,” says someone who has worked closely with them both over many years.
“He’s had lots of time to think about it. The Queen started so young. He will be much older. He will bring wisdom and experience. He knows he’ll have to rein himself in a little, but he won’t be silent. He knows they are in a good place but they won’t take it for granted, won’t sit around saying, ‘Great job’.
“Nothing will take away from her being one of the defining figures of our age. Her death will be a remarkable moment, a vast moment of history, time to take stock, to realise a whole set of new challenges come along.”
The next phase for the royal family is already being planned. “Of course they do,” says one of the Queen’s advisers, when I ask if mother and son talk about “life beyond the Queen”.
About the Queen - by a Courtier
He tells me: “I know you’re against the whole hereditary principle, but let me tell you why it works with the monarchy. It is about humility. You and I, or anyone else who gets anywhere in life, we get there on some kind of merit. We might be clever, we work hard, we climb the greasy pole, and then we make our own decisions about what to do and when to stop, when to change what we do.
“The Queen and the Prince of Wales are not in doubt for one moment that they did nothing, nothing at all, to deserve to be where they are. They were just plonked there. They are accidents of birth. There was no interview, no selection panel. And that has made them very humble about those positions and very focused about doing the right thing and disciplined about duty. To me, that is one of the secrets of her success.
“I do not believe people want a communism of wealth or lifestyle. They like her riding to the opening of parliament in a gold coach, or driving to a hospital in a Rolls-Royce. But people do want a communism of humanity. She has always understood that instinctively.
“They know she is different, but they also know she is the same, eats the same things, breathes the same air, understands them and wants them to understand her. That is the communism of humanity and her understanding of that goes a long way to explaining why, even with your views, you see her as a success and a great leader.”