Harriet Harman tribute to Queen Elizabeth II: 'A stoic, unconditional supporter of her Parliament'
No one will forget where they were when they heard the news that the Queen had died. And all of we MPs have been reflecting on not just what she meant to the country but what she meant to Parliament and to our constituents over her reign of 70 years.
Over two days, 321 Members spoke in the tributes to our late Queen and most included accounts of how she visited their constituency, to open a swimming pool or a new hospital or to visit a scout group or support a local charity. She truly must have been the woman who knew this country better than anyone, having visited every corner of England, Scotland and Wales continuously over so many decades.
She was woven into the fabric of our democracy
We were Her Majesty’s Parliament and ministers were in Her Majesty’s government. She was woven into the fabric of our democracy, the rock on which our Parliament is based. There was a great deal of ceremony in the role, with the Queen presiding over the state opening and the bills we vote on not becoming law until she signed them with royal assent. But there was also, behind the scenes, the very real and practical support that she was constant in giving to Parliament. There have frequently been times when Parliament has been criticised, but the Queen was a stoic, unconditional supporter of her Parliament.
In our tributes, former prime ministers told of the support she gave them in her weekly audiences, but it went far beyond that. She would also make the official appointment of her secretaries of state, inviting us to Buckingham Palace and giving us her seals of office. But when we left office (in my case after being sacked), she also invited us to the Palace for a one-to-one audience and a cup of tea. That custom was not publicised but was done in a completely private and supportive way. Alongside what she did in public, it was the things that she did in private which mattered so much.
I certainly felt so proud as, along with all members of the Commons and the Lords, I sat in the magnificence of Westminster Hall as the Speaker and the Lords Speaker gave our condolences and welcomed the new monarch, King Charles III. I could not help but admire the extraordinary level of organisation which made such a complex and difficult occasion happen flawlessly!
So now the King is our new constitutional monarch who will walk the important line of underpinning our democracy while never intervening in it.
And while we lose our Queen, we have a new Queen Consort, Camilla, who has already won the admiration of so many women’s organisations as over the years she has championed women’s causes, from the battle against osteoporosis to tackling domestic violence.
When Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne, she was a woman presiding over a Parliament of 608 men and only 17 women. The prime ministers she dealt with then were all men, twice her age. Things have transformed over the 70 years of her reign. The last official duty the Queen performed was to appoint her new female Prime Minister and after her death, less than a week later, the Accession Council was presided over by a woman, Lord President of the Council, Penny Mordaunt.
With the Queen’s death there is a sombre atmosphere of mourning and sympathy for her family. But there is also a national marvelling at how remarkable her reign was and a recognition of how much support we must give to her successor to King Charles as he follows her remarkable legacy to create a monarchy for the modern age, bringing the best of the past into a new era.
Harriet Harman, Labour MP for Camberwell and Peckham and Mother of The House.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.