fot forget that Britain not only has a new head of state, but also a new prime minister.
The Brits are not talking about Liz Truss these days, nor about her aid package to alleviate the energy crisis, which some say is the most expensive in the country’s history. Truss’s astounding announcement, which was to define her term of office, coincided with the sudden end of the second Elizabethan era, making it a trivial matter.
The death of “the Queen” has stopped the clocks. The nation no longer moves in the normal rhythm, at least not in the rhythm of politically practiced blows. Parliamentary and official everyday life has come to a standstill. Appointments and conferences have been cancelled. In schools, even in kindergartens, children watch on screens how the Queen’s coffin is carried through the country in solemn processions. For almost a week, the British have been celebrating a state of pause, of transitory self-assurance.
Most only knew the Queen
You don’t have to be a fan of the monarchy to see the beauty and value in it. The long reign of Elizabeth II – unthinkable in states that appoint their top representatives for a limited period of time – gave the British a special kind of community experience. Most have never known another head of state. Added to this was the luck that Elisabeth addressed almost everyone in her imperturbable performance of her duties. She didn’t need a camp to defend her because she was above politics. Everyone saw her on his side with a wide variety of questions – or at least clenched his fist in his pocket. In the long lines that have formed, first in Edinburgh and now in London, in front of the Queen’s coffin, it is repeatedly heard that one “had to come” because one wanted to give something back to the woman who gave so much.
Of course, republics can also bring outstanding personalities to the head of the state: Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic, maybe Theodor Heuss in Germany. Many of them have achieved more politically and risked more. But no one could embody an entire nation over seven decades like Elizabeth II. She was – as a person – the answer to the question: what is British?
Made peace with Camilla
For most Britons, there is something reassuring that the new king has been at school with her for so long. The late accession to the throne is also a historical grace: Just 20 years ago, the transition to Charles would have shaken the monarchy, possibly shaken it. After that it doesn’t look like it anymore. The people have made their peace with Charles, not least with his second wife Camilla, whose prudence slowly made the drama of the esteemed first, Diana, forgotten. The view of Crown Prince William and his wife Kate, who already make an almost eerily perfect monarch couple, has an additional stabilizing effect.
When the Brits sink back into everyday life after the state funeral on Monday, the challenges facing the country and the monarchy will become clear again. As friendly as the new king was received in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the centrifugal forces in these two “nations” are unlikely to decrease under Charles. Even in the Commonwealth, where 14 states are still attached to the British crown, Republicans are using the change of throne as a lever to get closer to their goal. The dangers of disintegration are accompanied by economic upheavals, which are contained by Truss’ unprecedented state intervention, but which can endanger the budget and possibly more in the medium term.
In the EU, there is a great temptation to predict hard times for the British since Brexit. Many see it as a mistake, if not a sign of political and economic self-mutilation, that they have renounced the “European project”. But this transition to the throne, which looks back on 1000 years of changeable monarchy as a matter of course, puts even this turning point in perspective and shows a country that, despite everything, has an intact inner center. British society, at odds over the exit from the EU, the “culture war” and the recipes for overcoming the multiple crises, continues to be held together constitutionally. The fact that this – perfectly staged and meticulously prepared – transition was a success and was only interrupted by a few impulsive Republicans reflects the robust need to feel as one people across all daily political rifts.