Bill Carmichael: Queen of diplomacy

I DON’T consider myself an ardent royalist. When pushed, I’ve argued that the hereditary principle is an anti-democratic anachronism that has had its day.

But looking back at the exemplary performance of our current head of the state over almost 60 years makes me want to eat my words – particularly over recent days when the Queen has played an absolute blinder.

Her warmth, good sense and impeccable sure-footedness during two potentially tricky state visits – one in Dublin and the other in London – makes one realise what a tremendous asset she is to our country.

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And there are two words guaranteed to strike terror into the heart of anyone arguing for an elected head of state – President Prescott. That’s right, because if we didn’t have the Queen as head of state, what would the alternative be? Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, Paddy Ashdown, John Prescott? Nightmares don’t come any more frightening than these.

Perhaps I’ll change my mind when the insufferably wet and deeply silly Prince Charles eventually ascends to the throne, but for the moment I’m enormously grateful for the House of Windsor and its service to this country.

Take for example the visit by US President Barack Obama to the UK this week.

Obama leads probably the most anti-British US administration in living memory. One of his first acts as president was to remove a bust of Winston Churchill that his predecessor George Bush had installed in the White House. He quickly made it clear his foreign policy priorities lay elsewhere, and even made warm noises to our European partners in preference to the UK.

All that seems to have changed for the better, and this week both Obama and the Queen made speeches demonstrating that the “special relationship” between our two countries is as strong and important as ever.

Of course, the collapse of the eurozone into economic meltdown might have no small part to play in this change of attitude by the Americans, but the influence of the Queen shouldn’t be understated.

Her performance during the potentially volatile state visit to Ireland – the first by a British monarch in 100 years – was, if anything, even more accomplished.

Her pitch-perfect tone was exemplified by the few words of immaculately pronounced Gaelic at the start of her speech at Dublin Castle – a gesture which drew an open-mouthed “Wow!” of delighted astonishment from the Irish President Mary McAleese. In a sensitive yet powerful speech she alluded to the “heartache, turbulence and loss” that had characterised relationships between the two countries”.

Her address was greeted by thunderous applause and a standing ovation.

The Irish Independent reported: “Not just polite applause but sustained heartfelt appreciation of the bridge that the Queen herself had built.”

So in a few short days the Queen has helped repair a damaged and threatened friendship with the US, our most powerful ally, and set troubled Anglo-Irish relations on an entirely new and positive path.

Not at all bad for an 85-year-old lady.

We should be grateful for her remarkable good health and stamina and pray it continues to sustain her for a good many years yet. Is it too late to clone her?

Failing the test

The Government is introducing new rules to allow schools to dismiss incompetent teachers after a single term.

Currently, because of complex regulations, it can take at least a year to get rid of a teacher even if it is clear he or she is not up to the job.

This seems a sensible change but with one proviso – shouldn’t teacher training colleges be weeding out those not fit for the job at a much earlier stage?