Westminster City Councillors came together earlier today for an Extraordinary Meeting to allow Members to offer their thoughts and reflections following the sad passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Cllr Rachael Robathan, Leader of the Conservative Group, said
It is now ten days since our great sovereign, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth died and yet we still struggle to comprehend that this has happened.
She was the constant in a sometimes too rapidly changing world. How can we conceive of life without her?
How can we conceive that we will never again hear her clear, high-pitched voice?
Never wearing her heart on her sleeve, but managing to convey in a very few well-chosen words how much she loved this nation and the people she served.
How can we conceive that we will never again see those bright, colourful outfits, with hats designed not to cover any of her face - all carefully chosen so that everyone would be able to see her?
How can we conceive that we will never again witness the awe, excitement and joy which her presence generated for those who saw her?
People who had very often travelled many miles and waited a long time to see her and would remember this forever.
She was a constant in all of our lives.
Never changing, always devoted, always faithful, always interested. Even people in their seventies have never known anything else.
She was always there - she shared the joys and triumphs of the nation - the 1966 World Cup, the 2012 Olympics, the Jubilees, the small, funny things and she shared the tragedies - Aberfan, Dunblane and, of course, Grenfell. She personified and conveyed our entire nation’s grief and in doing so helped to provide some measure of solace.
She was a Queen for everyone, for every generation, for everywhere. And as I filed past her coffin on Thursday morning at the Lying in State, just after my son serving in the Household Division had mounted the vigil through that first night, it struck me that in that small casket was contained the embodiment and symbol of so many things which make this nation great.
For us, of course, she was our Queen, but for the rest of the world, she was simply 'The Queen’. Those two words 'The Queen' were so uniquely hers. She was probably the most famous person in the world and she was respected and revered across the Globe.
No matter whether or not you supported Monarchy, you could not help but recognise the lifetime of dedication and devotion she gave to this country, the Realms, the Commonwealth and the World. Very often it can’t have been easy but duty for her was paramount - and even in her last week when she was clearly extremely frail she summoned what transpired to be the last of her strength to bid farewell to her 14th Prime Minister and welcome her 15th…..a Prime Minister born over a century after the birth of her first Prime Minster, Winston Churchill.
Unchanging she may have been, but she presided over a Country which has changed profoundly since she ascended the throne in 1952.
Our social mores, the make-up of society, our cultural and industrial references have changed markedly over the seventy years of her reign. But it was specifically because of that never changing presence at our helm - ever present, ever constant, ever faithful - that our country had the freedom to change and grow. In just the same way as a loving and secure home provides our children with the confidence to fly knowing that that secure base will always be there.
She valued discretion highly - as several Prime Ministers have commented, their weekly audience with her was the only meeting they knew wouldn’t leak. She was wise and she was brave. Most of all she brought hope to those who were suffering and to the nation as a whole.
Who can forget her address to the country during Covid, somehow managing to provide reassurance and hope to everyone bewildered and frightened by this unprecedented event. “We will meet again."
She had a profound faith, which helped her to deal with her personal tragedies - losing her father far too young, losing her mother and sister in the same year and, of course, just last year losing her husband, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh after 73 years of marriage. But still, she endured as she had vowed she would.
She revelled in the joy of the nation at her Platinum Jubilee and I hope - as she stood on that balcony at the end of the celebrations - she reflected that she had served her people well and that people of all ages, those born here and those not, people of all faiths and backgrounds were grateful and loved her for the service she gave to this nation.
Or as Paddington Bear said ’Thank you …..for everything.’
And of course, as we loved our public Monarch, so we loved the glimpses we had of the private Monarch. Her joy at the Windsor horse show - indeed her joy at anything connected with horses, her corgis, her obvious delight in her ever-expanding family and her deep love of the countryside.
I particularly loved the photograph of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh taken by the Countess of Wessex showing them relaxing in the heather at Balmoral - a place which she loved so deeply and where it was perhaps fitting that her long and full life ended.
Here in Westminster, of course, we are incredibly proud of our role as home to Buckingham Palace and so many of the great ceremonial events of the State. We relish that so many of our nation’s most momentous occasions happen in our Churches, on our streets, in our Royal Parks.
And we are also grateful for all that her Majesty did for our City. In my own ward, she was a regular visitor to the Royal Albert Hall, unfailing in attending the annual Festival of Remembrance to mark the nation’s thanks for the immense service and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces. A role which she, as Commander in Chief, carried out with the utmost dedication.
And, as the last statesman alive to have served during the second world war, never wavered in her pride and dedication to her armed forces, in turn inspiring in them a fierce and unswerving loyalty.
Elsewhere in Westminster, Cllr Rigby reminded me that she was patron of London Zoo, first visiting in 1938 and regularly thereafter to open exhibitions and hear about their international conservation work. She also made a total of 33 visits to Lord’s cricket ground, very often accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh.
And how many of the tourists who flock to our City and support the livelihoods of our businesses and residents did so because of her.
She was quite simply for Westminster and our entire country our greatest magnet and our most skilful diplomat.
We will never forget her words delivered on her 21st birthday ‘I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service’.
She never faltered and boy did she deliver. On the occasion of their Golden wedding anniversary in 1997, she referred to Prince Philip as her Strength and Stay……but she was also OUR Strength and Stay.
How fortunate we were to have lived through her reign - our greatest Monarch.
We mourn her loss, but she will live on in the hearts of a very grateful nation.
And we also rejoice in our new King, His Majesty Charles III who has also served this country alongside his mother for over 50 years and done so much for causes close to his heart - particularly young people and the environment.
We look to him to carry on his mother’s example of selfless devotion and service to this country, the Realms and the Commonwealth.
We know he will not fail us.
We anticipate the new Carolean era with optimism and confidence, but for now we simply say to our recently departed Sovereign Lady…Thank you for your sacrifice, thank you for your devotion, thank you for always embodying the best qualities of service to others, constancy and selflessness. We are so very grateful to have had you as our Queen and we will forever be in your debt.