BY any standards, this has been a historic week as Britain commemorated the centenary of the Great War with the solemnity that the occasion deserved.
The dimming of lights at the very hour that the country went to war 100 years ago was inspired and vindicated those who wanted the events to be respectful of all those soldiers who gave their lives in the name of freedom.
It was also a transformative week in the history of the Royal family as it undertook its own changing of the guard.
This was the first national and international occasion when the Queen played second fiddle to the younger members of her family, including Prince Charles who led the gathering of Commonwealth leaders at Glasgow Cathedral.
Her Majesty sat in silent contemplation in the solitude of Crathie Kirk on the Balmoral estate, flanked by a private secretary and a lady-in-waiting, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – accompanied by Prince Harry – represented the Queen at the immaculate St Symphorien Commonwealth Cemetery on the Western Front in Belgium where the silence was haunting as the sun went down on this most poignant of anniversaries.
They were the standard-bearers for this country’s undiminished debt of gratitude to its war dead. Yet it struck me, as the Duchess of Cambridge chatted so amiably with the French president Francois Hollande, that the monarchy has begun a period of transition as the next generation of royals respond to the call of duty; it appears that the Queen’s state visit to France for the 70th anniversary of D Day was, in fact, one of the last times she will represent her country overseas.
The change taking place was reinforced when William, Kate and Harry planted ceramic poppies in a dry moat at the Tower of London where every life lost in the Great War is being commemorated between now and the Armistice on November 11.
The symbolism of the act was comparable to the steadfast sight every November of the Duke of Edinburgh opening the field of remembrance outside Westminster Abbey by placing a cross on the ground.
To me, it was also significant that the Royals should be represented by the Duchess of Cornwall during the lights out service at Westminster Abbey when she extinguished a candle on the tomb of the unknown soldier at 11pm – the very moment Britain went to war 100 years ago.
That Camilla was afforded the honour speaks volumes about her own place in the Royal family’s hierarchy and why she will become Queen consort when Charles ascends to the throne.
In her own way, the Duchess of Cornwall’s steadying influence leaves the Royal family in a strong position as the Queen and Prince Philip take a back seat after a lifetime in the spotlight.
THE cascading red poppies outside the Tower of London are the most potent symbol of the losses suffered in the First World War. More will be added over the coming months until there are 888,246 on Armistice Day – one for every loss suffered by Britain and the Commonwealth. It is also a reminder that this was not a conventional war involving armies going into battle – but innocent people who queued for hours, and without fear, to enlist with the Pals’ Battalions.
AN interesting consensus is emerging amongst more thoughtful Tory MPs and supporters.
David Cameron, they say, is too comfortable with coalition politics because he can ignore his party. They’re concerned by his lack of ambition.
They also want the Tories to be bolder on the economy, doing more to highlight the upturn in growth and the need to go further on welfare reform by restoring the savings culture that Gordon Brown dismantled at a stroke. But they’re also fearful of Labour, particularly if Ed Miliband has the courage to drop Ed Balls as Shadow Chancellor.
They’re aware that Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor, could make a dramatic return to Westminster politics if he emerges on the winning side in the Scottish independence referendum and they’re intrigued by Alan Johnson’s future intentions.
Like Darling, the Hull MP is renowned for his reasonableness. He’s also due to publish the sequel to his bestselling memoir, This Boy, in October. Please, Mister Postman will chart his early life delivering mail to Chequers. Unlike career politicians, Johnson – Home Secretary in the Brown government – has a back story that resonates. Perhaps this is the cue for the Tories; they need to do even more to position themselves with the strivers of this country.
CREDIT where credit is due. I, for one, never thought I would hear Chancellor George Osborne speak about Yorkshire’s untapped economic potential in such positive terms. My regret is that it has taken nine and a half years since Osborne’s appointment as Shadow Chancellor in 2005 to realise that transport investment is intrinsically linked to jobs, investment and growth across the North. If he’d been quicker off the mark, he would not be so open to claims of electioneering.
COME on Sky News, why did its coverage of George Osborne’s call-to-arms over the future of the North’s economy feature outdated footage of Leeds? The clue was the surprising sight of Borders bookshop open for business on Briggate when it did, in fact, shut for good five years ago. Yorkshire’s cities are changing for the better and London’s broadcasters need to acknowledge this.
FOR the record, it is not just this correspondent who laments the BBC’s haphazard approach to sport. Des Lynam, one of this country’s greatest broadcasters, has msigivings of his own.
On the BBC’s presenters at the Commonwealth Games, he observed: “At times the standard has been no better than mediocre, and even amateurish.”
AFTER this week’s debate on Scottish independence between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, can anyone tell me when England gets its say on the future of Great Britain?