There is a lot of information out there and the information we mostly focus on isn’t around for very long. The news on your favourite radio station, your daughter’s Twitter feed, the thing everyone is talking about in the office leave few traces; only a small part of it gets printed before usually being chucked away after a few days. The old information doesn’t actually disappear, it just drifts down to the seabed of Ocean News. There may be some poking at “old” news every now and then, usually with the purpose of muddying the waters somehow or other but it is very rare indeed for there to be any continuity in the topics that are dealt with or in the people who narrate and comment them.
There is, however, one person I can think of, who has had access to information relating to one particular topic, in a fairly unchanged format, for many years: Queen Elizabeth II.
The Queen has read every Speech from the Throne (which presents the government’s broad agenda for the year) at the State Opening of Parliament since 1952, except in 1959 and 1963 when Princes Andrew and Edward respectively were on their way. In addition, she holds weekly audiences with the Prime Minister in office. I think it would be an excellent idea if she were to be interviewed in a formal manner by a professional like a historian.
It’s probably useful for me to state at this point that I don’t support constitutional monarchy as a form of government, I prefer republics. I find that a system based on a monarch plus a parliament minus a written constitution is, on balance, more muddling than a republic. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking that it would be very interesting to get the Queen’s memories, thoughts and possible comments on this unparalleled data pool concerning a fairly important topic: the government of the United Kingdom.
The official Royal Family website helpfully notes that: “Although The Sovereign no longer has a political or executive role, he or she continues to play an important part in the life of the nation.” She does indeed. Personally, I find it impossible to imagine that she has merely read all these speeches, paying attention only to her delivery of them, or that she has met all these Prime Ministers and not come to some judgment about their performance.
If the interviews I propose were to actually yield any of the Queen’s opinions on governmental policies or the heads of government, I believe that any such information would need to be kept secret for a good long while. The publication of Prince Charles’s so-called “black spider memos” generated some disquiet. They did reveal some of his opinions on and indeed involvement in various matters of public interest, but he is not the Head of State. What I am proposing here is directed at gaining information from the Head of State and then to come to a decision on what is shared publicly and what is not. I’m not sure who should decide that but that would come under the “details to be sorted out later” category… Who knows, maybe if this idea were to be implemented, the interviews would one day become historical documents widely shared with future subjects (assuming UK citizens retain a monarchy), rather like the Georgian Papers Programme today.
But even in the absence of any comment on the content of the speeches the Queen has read and the audiences she has held, wouldn’t it be fascinating to have a record of her thoughts on the process in which she has been a key player? Wouldn’t it be interesting to get insight into how successive governments have gone about formulating their road map year after year? How the format of weekly audiences and pre-budget briefings might have evolved after time?
Of course, the Queen is not exactly a typical interviewee and the person selected to undertake the task I propose would need to demonstrate a range of talents. They would need to combine the rigorous search for evidence of a historian with the astuteness of a ghost writer collating material for a celebrated person’s memoirs. They would probably also need to have the sort of personality that would “fit” into the Royal household, given that their job, if it were to be done correctly, would require a number of fairly long meetings with her.
In a way, I feel that recording the Queen’s recollection of one of the duties she has diligently discharged over the years, and one that is most closely connected with the administration of the realm, is something that is owed to her. Rather than all the media coverage of her person and reign, including fanciful film and television productions, is she not entitled to be asked about her role in accompanying the business of government?