Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Channelling Her Majesty

So far during the referendum campaign we've had people campaigning on the basis of which side dead people would supposedly have supported (particularly Mrs Thatcher) and how animals might vote if they could understand the issues and had a vote.

Now The Sun newspaper has decided to drag H.M. the Queen into it, with most of today's front cover taken up with a full page spread with a picture of Her Majesty and "Queen Supports Brexit!"

The story does not fully justify that headline. It suggests that at an official function during the coalition era the Queen had a conversation with the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in which she is supposed to have "let rip" at him about the process of European integration in a manner which the Sun's source took to indicate that she was very unhappy about Europe.

Even if this account is 100% correct - and the palace has apparently complained to a press regulator about the story while Nick Clegg has described it as "nonsense" - it is far from certain that it is fair to deduce from this that Her Majesty is hoping for an actual "leave" vote.

The source of the story is staying carefully anonymous and John Rentoul of the Independent has backed off on a piece he wrote which, without saying so in as many words, implied that one particular minister might have been the person the story came from. He tweeted this morning that he may have been mistaken and no longer thinks she was.

Many of the more intelligent supporters of Brexit, realising that even if the story is accurate the last thing Her Majesty would want is her views plastered over the front of tabloid newspapers, have been quick to say that she should not be dragged into politics in this way. Remainers and floaters have, almost to a man and woman, said the same thing.

Those who want to believe this story is true have seized on the very carefully worded nature of Nick Clegg's denial in the original newspaper account, some calling it a "non-denial denial."

His comment quoted in the paper was

“I have absolutely no recollection of it.

“I don’t have a photographic memory. But I think I would have remembered something as stark or significant as you have made it out to be.

“No doubt you’ll speak to someone else and they’ll say, ‘I was there I heard it’. Fine.

“But I really can’t remember it at all.

“Anyway, without sounding pompous, I find it rather distasteful to reveal conversations with the Queen.”

Clegg subsequently tweeted that he "had no recollection" of the conversation, adding that the kind of conversation described by the paper is "not the sort of thing I would forget" and added that the story was "nonsense" and that he had said this to the Sun's journalist.

While I cannot imagine that the Queen, who has carefully preserved her political neutrality for more than sixty years, would "let rip" at a senior politician in the way The Sun's story implies, I can imagine her asking questions about the process of European integration in a way which enabled issues of concern to be explored.

I can also imagine a certain type of Eurosceptic who overheard such a conversation jumping to the conclusion from this that Her Majesty's sympathies were on their side of the argument. Nick Clegg's careful choice of words may indicate that he thought the Sun might conceivably be able to produce a witness who had interpreted such a discussion in that way.

I cannot, however, see it as clever to try to drag her into either side of the public debate.

On 24th June the Queen will need to be part of the process of reconciliation as the country adapts to whichever side has won - and as it looks to me at the moment, it could be either - and the UK needs for her to retain the respect of both sides.

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