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Spare A Thought For The Queen – At Least We Don’t Have To Welcome Liz Truss With A Kiss | Zoe Williams

They call it “kissing hands”, even though hands are no longer kissed: the incoming prime minister goes to see the Queen, who invites them to form a government, even though it’s not her call, and they say yes, even though they know it’s not a question. When someone first explains this elaborate performance of pointlessness, the only reasonable response is, surely the monarchy should be abolished? This is just silly. But then, you were probably a teenager when you found that out, and wanted to abolish most things.

It wasn’t until today that I ever spared a thought for the Queen herself. Her first hand-kissing was with Winston Churchill, after her father’s death in 1952, and now she is about to go through it with Liz Truss. Royal-watchers are carefully skirting the fact that she is doing this in Balmoral, rather than coming to London as she normally would. It could be any reason, really. Maybe she has decided to live off-grid; which of us wouldn’t, given the chance?

More likely, it’s because she’s thinking, “Crikey, this office of state used to mean something. Could I have done more, over the past seven decades, to avert this terrible slide into political entropy? Was discretion really the better part of valour, or might some actual valour have been better still? Some time around that sociopathic blond dude, could I have changed the terms and conditions, and asked him not to form a government? I mean, God knows Anthony Eden was a bit of a pill, but this is ridiculous.”

It was always rumoured that the Queen had a scratchy relationship with Margaret Thatcher – according to contemporaries, because she felt that Thatcher was dividing the nation, was sorry for the miners’ wives, and disapproved of the prime minister’s spineless approach to apartheid South Africa. This was translated by The Crown, the most memorable a-factual chronicle of the monarchy, as the Queen disliking Thatcher because she never had the right shoes. Thatcher’s supporters always tried to confect a fashion rivalry between the two women, pointing to the fact that Thatcher was taller and, therefore, could come off as the more queenly. The Queen’s people dismissed this out of hand, with the famous remark: “The Queen never notices what other women are wearing”; and, of anything humanising that has ever been said about Elizabeth, that, I think, is the most credible.

It is all too long ago to matter whether there was great animosity or merely mild suspicion. Either way, Liz Truss’s eight-week Thatcher-tribute act, flogging herself to the tiny splenetic band of party members that now constitutes the electorate, was unlikely to foster a great warmth between her and the Queen. The whole point of a tribute act is to re-animate the golden age of your ego ideal, the moment when they were full of hope and had yet to disappoint, the time when they were themselves still buying their own hype. Liz Truss, by contrast, firing out random tax cuts because inequality doesn’t matter, yawing on about bills that people genuinely can’t and won’t pay, trying to start a war with France for no reason anyone can guess, is Thatcher in the end times. It’s like watching an Elvis impersonator just sitting on a stage eating burgers and taking downers. Sure, it’s accurate – but is that really the way we want to remember him?

Whatever you think about the coming Truss prime ministership, whether it will be instant chaos or more drawn-out chaos, whether she will have time to come after the net zero target or will be too busy fighting woke warriors, whether she will let people starve in the streets or filch just enough Labour policy to avert that, this does not have the whiff of a long term in office. Queens, by contrast, especially nowadays, reign a really, really long time. It’s a consolation. She may not see another Harold Wilson, but she will live to kiss another hand. Or whichever silly way round it is.

Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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