UK: King Charles’s speech left Tories squirming: he preached the values they’ve abandoned

King Charles lll

King Charles lll

Lauding public sector and voluntary workers, he evoked the compassionate conservatism the government has expunged from its ranks and rhetoric.

Do people still rise out of their Christmas Day torpor to listen to the monarch’s message to the nation at 3pm? It used to be the one immutable point of the day: the only time in the year when the Queen – and it was always the Queen in living memory – spoke directly to the nation in her own words, unscripted by ministers. Yet its familiarity and – let’s face it – frequent vacuousness make it feel less relevant or significant to many these days.

Although in her later years the Queen often used the broadcast to speak movingly of her own faith, she steered, you might say religiously, clear of politics. But was there a slight tremor of difference this year in the new king’s lauding of public sector staff and voluntary workers – those who help at food banks and deliver aid to disaster zones across the world?   

Speaking of the armed forces and emergency services’ “selfless dedication” in working tirelessly to keep the nation safe, he added: “We see it in our health and social care professionals, our teachers and indeed all those working in public service whose skill and commitment are at the heart of our communities. And at this time of great anxiety and hardship – be it for those around the world facing conflict, famine or natural disaster or for those at home finding ways to pay their bills and keep their families fed and warm – we see it in the humanity of people throughout our nations and the Commonwealth who so readily respond to the plight of others.”

Did Conservative ministers shift slightly uneasily in their armchairs at such references, made at a time of public sector strikes, the increasing use of food banks even by those committed workers and cuts to overseas aid? You can imagine some vacuous Tory backbencher telling the king to stick to saying what he’s told to, or a minister going on the Today programme to proclaim how much the government already spends on this or that, and that more money for those keeping the services going is simply unaffordable. Meanwhile, off the record they will be muttering that Charles does not know what he’s talking about.

Of course Charles is not going to join a picket line or publicly criticise the cruelty of the government’s immigration policy (he knows the constitutional limits) but he can – and, it is now clear, will – voice concern and present a more unifying image than ministers can be bothered to promote. It’s a one nation small c-conservatism of a sort that the Conservative party under Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak has wilfully expunged from the party’s ranks and rhetoric.

Throughout the 90 years of Christmas Day broadcasts, a succession of monarchs have spoken about what unites rather than divides. Old George V wheezed and coughed his way live from a cubbyhole under the stairs at Sandringham about broadcasting enabling his voice to be heard across the empire “through one of the marvels of modern science” to people cut off by snows, deserts or sea. In the early months of the second world war, George VI evoked the largely forgotten verse of Minnie Louise Haskins, a former sociologist at the London School of Economics, to drum up courage and resolve in what was then a largely Christian country: “I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year: ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown’”.

The king has his own problems: a younger son raising grievances, and an institution that will need to step out of the darkness into a lighter and more responsive future. There was no mention of Prince Harry’s concerns or Prince Andrew’s future in yesterday’s broadcast – it was neither the time nor the place to sort out those family problems, much though some followers of the royal soap opera, not to mention tabloid editors, might have relished it.

Instead, Charles was speaking to an equally anxious nation, doing the unity thing. It’s the king’s role and he did it rather gracefully. The king will never speak out explicitly against the government, but if he is occasionally a little less anodyne in his pronouncements than his mother ever felt able to be, so much the better.

  • Stephen Bates is a former Guardian royal correspondent and author of Royalty Inc: Britain’s Best-Known Brand

SOURCE – See King Charles’ speech video on this link.— Also comments from readers.

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