‘As the autumn grows chillier’

Peter Hitchens writes on the death of Queen Elizabeth II and the uncertainties that lie ahead for the monarchy, the United Kingdom, and the English political system:

When on Sunday I attended the proclamation of the new King in Oxford, a single anti-monarchist called out in protest and was met with rude ripostes and a thunderous chorus of “God Save the King” from the crowd. But, of course, those who had turned up were a self-selecting group of monarchists. Nobody really knows how much the great mass of the British people think about the throne, or whether they much care. …

And Charles isn’t Elizabeth. In fact, Queen Elizabeth wasn’t always the revered figure she later became. Conservative commentators, such as Malcolm Muggeridge, were sharply critical of her. Her family troubles and money problems gave her enemies many weapons. She went through several bumpy periods when her position was far from assured.

Into this witches’ cauldron you also have to throw a number of other gruesome and slippery ingredients, such as the approaching moment when the pound sterling is finally worth less than the US dollar, and the general horror of our indebted economy following the Covid-19 panic. This has been made vastly worse by the dogmatic pursuit of green energy, the wild, active destruction of coal-fired power generation (the plants are not cautiously mothballed but actually blown to pieces with high explosives), and the embarrassing failure of what was once a great nuclear-power capacity. Britain is probably more exposed to the new energy crisis than any other major advanced country. And it is simply not used to the consequences of these follies.

Is actual economic privation possible in our affluent country? It suddenly seems thinkable as the autumn grows chillier, and we all stare in amazement at our gas and electricity charges. Out of such things, constitutional crises are all too often born. In the past few days, I have had a strange struggle over using the word “King,” singing “God save our gracious King,” or praying for the King’s Majesty. It has a harder, deeper tone to it than the word “Queen.” Somehow, Elizabeth II made monarchy easier for its opponents to live with. Charles III, simply by being King, offers them more of a challenge.

The deepest music of England is in its church bells, whose joyous complex change ringing is unique, I think, to these islands. When the sovereign dies, the bell-clappers are gloved in leather to soften the sound into a plangent, somber thing called a muffled peal. When you hear it, as I heard it for the first time last week, it puzzles your heart. What does it herald?

Prime Minister Truss is announcing that the UK will borrow so that the government will be able to cap domestic energy bills, “staving off the expected 80% leap that was due in October and that threatened the finances of millions of households and firms.”

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