It would also have made agreeing measures to tackle climate change more likely. Half a dozen of her Prime Ministers – and any number of heads of Commonwealth nations – have testified to her matchless diplomatic skills in bringing world leaders together, soothing bruised egos and creating an atmosphere where consensus can be achieved.
She is there in spirit, thanks to a video message from Windsor, where she is resting for a further fortnight after what Buckingham Palace played down as a precautionary overnight stay in hospital.
But her absence in person does inevitably turn the attention to the increasing responsibilities of Prince Charles and Prince William in maintaining the monarchy’s place at the heart of national life.
At 95, and with the Duke of Edinburgh gone after 73 years of marriage throughout which she credited him with being “my rock”, the Queen simply cannot be expected to continue the heavy schedule of engagements that she has undertaken well into her 10th decade.
We will have to get used to seeing less of her, though the enthusiasm with which she has embraced video calling since being isolated at Windsor during the pandemic is keeping her very visible. So the focus turns to her heirs, and the omens are good.
For Charles, in particular, COP26 should be a triumph, both personally and for the environmental causes he has championed all his life. Here is a man whose time has come, and that ought to be a source of satisfaction to him, after enduring so many years of derision for his views.
There were cheap insults about tree-hugging and talking to plants as he was portrayed as – at best – a harmless eccentric and, at worst, as an opinionated crank who abused his position by voicing his convictions, which by implication made him unfit for the role to which he was born.
Well, he’s had the last laugh on those who jeered. Charles has turned out to be a visionary who was ahead of his time in recognising the threats humanity posed to the planet and urging action to mitigate them. He’s grown into an authoritative advocate. The almost 50 years of calls for action Charles cited in his speech to the G20 on Sunday, as well as his work in encouraging business to embrace a greener agenda, amount to him deserving due recognition as a great force for good.
That gives his input into COP26 – not least yesterday’s call for the world to act with the same urgency as if it were at war – a greater moral authority than many of those attending, and could mean that in this particular setting he rivals his mother’s ability to bring people together.
William is following in his father’s footsteps, and they make an increasingly effective double-act. If Charles now comes across as a wise, grandfatherly figure, William is forging links with younger generations. Last month’s inaugural Earthshot Prize, which was William and Kate’s brainchild, deserved the praise it attracted for mobilising and encouraging young people to address climate change.
In the passion they are displaying, Charles and William are forging a valuable new role for a modern monarchy, making a difference for the better whilst remaining above the fray of partisan politics. So too is the work of William and Kate in highlighting mental health problems suffered by the young, and the Duchess of Cornwall’s campaign to boost children’s literacy.
These are all admirable causes, and it is no exaggeration to suggest that the energy of Charles and William have given the Royal family’s work and relevance to modern society new impetus.
There are, though, clouds on the horizon. The allegations of sexual misconduct that have dogged Prince Andrew since 2011 drag on without any end in sight, ruling him out of any possible public role. And from America, Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, may yet cause more problems for the family, especially when his co-written autobiography is published next year – the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
But neither should distract from the work the core group of senior royals are carrying out. The Queen’s firm action in removing both Andrew and Harry from official duties has rendered them peripheral figures in the story of the modern Royal family, and once again demonstrated that the standing of the monarchy is her absolute priority above all else, even family ties.
As she recovers at Windsor and sees her heirs’ contribution to COP26, the Queen might reflect that the legacy of her almost 70 years of service to the nation is in safe hands.
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