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Lords Diary: Lord Collins of Highbury

Nowshera, Pakistan: A girl carries her sibling through flood water, September 2022 | Alamy

4 min read

For me, returning to Parliament after the long summer recess can be daunting and I knew my first day back in London would be a sombre occasion

My husband and I attended the funeral of a close friend’s son who had died suddenly at the young age of 34. I find it impossible to imagine the pain my friend suffered and continues to experience by such a loss. The service made me reflect not only on a past lost but a future never to be experienced. I know from my own personal experience of losing my father and sister that grief is not something that eases over time, it can be like being hit over the back of the head when least you expect it.

In the following few days in Parliament my focus turned to world events and the grave humanitarian crisis in Pakistan and Ethiopia, but what none of us expected was the death of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The news reopened raw feelings I experienced earlier. However, I was deeply conscious I should not let my own sense of loss take away from the personal grief of a family who had lost a mother, a grandmother and great grandmother, all experienced in the full glare of publicity.

In the two days following the announcement we heard many powerful tributes to the late Queen in the Lords not only mourning her passing but also celebrating a long life of duty, of selflessness, and of serving others. The late Queen represented all that is positive about our public life and our institutions. In a changing world she was a reassuring, constant, presence.


Britain in 1952 was a vastly different place to the country we live in today

In my tribute I spoke of how she had been a bridge from one era to another, connecting different generations through the decades. In chats with my socialist-leaning Spanish family, many expressed similar feelings about their constitutional monarchy, which had successfully helped transform the country into a modern democracy. I echoed how the late Queen provided the security of continuity without inhibiting change in my reflections on her in an article I wrote later in the week for the Spanish newspaper El Independiente.

Britain in 1952 was a vastly different place to the country we live in today; 70 years on we are now a much more diverse and vibrant country, being home to people from across the globe. Opportunities for women have been transformed, though there is still a long way to go. In 1952 I could not have married my husband; in fact, I would have been at risk of arrest and prosecution just for being who I am.

But as our country changed, so too did the late Queen, adapting and modernising our constitutional monarchy in ways that meant even many republicans expressed personal admiration and affection for her. But the international stage was where the Queen played an invaluable role; instantly recognisable across the globe, she had met almost every significant world leader of the past 70 years. She presented a consistent portrayal of this country’s values, something acknowledged by the delegations I met in the past week from South Africa and Finland.

Along with these delegations and many other international guests I will shortly be heading off to Liverpool for Labour’s annual conference. A major part of my activity there will be to discuss with these visitors Labour’s global policies. In reflecting on the events of the past few weeks I hope the government will realise that investing in and improving our global relations is vital in building a fairer and more secure future for our people. As [shadow foreign secretary] David Lammy said at the United Nations General Assembly, we need to restore the UK’s reputation as a trusted and reliable partner on the global stage.

Lord Collins of Highbury is a Labour peer and shadow foreign and Commonwealth affairs spokesman

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