Never in British history have the Sovereign’s first minister and the Sovereign both changed within two days of each other. For decades, whenever the late Queen acquired a new prime minister commentators were wheeled out to lucubrate on how her own vast experience of statesmanship would assist the new boy or girl, and how everything would (with the help of the civil service) continue to run smoothly. But Liz Truss had barely returned from her audience with Her late Majesty at Balmoral – the first time a kissing of hands had taken place outside London since Edward VII, on his yacht off Biarritz with his mistress in April 1908, summoned Asquith there to pick up the baton of power – than Queen Elizabeth II died. Any masterclasses Miss Truss might have expected were cancelled.

Mind you, our new King is no fool, despite the best efforts of circulation-hungry tabloids to depict him as one over the last 30 years or so. Having committed the unspeakable sin of going off his wife – something known to happen to senior newspaper executives too – after his ex-wife’s death in Paris in 1997, our new King was set up by the media as Britain’s leading hate figure. A repulsive national spasm of sentimentality and mawkishness followed, in which full vent was given to various absurdities: the most popular of which was that he should as a matter of course forfeit his right to the Throne and hand over the succession to Prince William. It was never going to happen, any more than the late Queen was ever going to abdicate. Thankfully, we have all since grown up.

Our new King is no fool, despite the best efforts of circulation-hungry tabloids to depict him as one over the last 30 years or so

During the period of shock directly after Queen Elizabeth II died an interview was played several times in which Prince Harry, now beached in California but then a guest editor of the Today programme, asked his father whether he would continue to speak about causes dear to his heart after becoming King. Charles replied succinctly that he wasn’t that stupid. Nor, I believe, is he; though he is a sensitive, intelligent and articulate man of serious convictions. He will for some time be biting his lip until it bleeds, as he grapples with the realities of being a constitutional monarch. Certainly, he won’t find maintaining public silence as easy as his late mother, who succeeded aged 25. But he does understand its importance.

There were only occasional rumours about the political views of the late Queen in her 70 years on the Throne. Nick Clegg suggested she was pro-Brexit, David Cameron that she did not want Scotland to become independent, and that she was angry with Mrs Thatcher about opposing sanctions on South Africa when it practised apartheid. She was said to adore Churchill (they had the Turf in common), enjoy Wilson and Callaghan and, of course, to detest Mrs Thatcher. The last was total balls. At Mrs T’s 80th birthday party the late Queen took her arm and led her around the room, so that her longest-serving prime minister could present people to her. It was a touching sight.

One suspects the unlamented Boris Johnson only lasted as long as he did because his Sovereign – by then frail, infirm and of great age – lacked the drive to take him on as constitutional monarchs have the right to do. Bagehot’s line about the sovereign having “the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn” certainly would have applied to Johnson’s stream of lies and other improprieties that soiled not only the high office he held, but the whole political class. One can only imagine what the unimpeded King Charles would have made of the right to warn him. Had the late Queen died a year or two earlier, the Johnsonian era might have been mercifully shorter.

But warning a prime minister that he or she is behaving abominably is not the same as announcing your own policy, something Bagehot did not countenance. Nor, I am sure, would the King. Nonetheless, rumours will soon start coming out about what the King “really thinks”, and about how he feels his government is disobliging the nation. Most will be nonsense, but he will find it hard to keep quiet about the one subject that has featured in many of his words and actions over the years: the Green agenda.

Charles has the misfortune to come to the Throne at a time when his country, as part of an alliance of the morally upright, has imposed draconian sanctions on Russia to punish its outrageous invasion of Ukraine. As evidence of more and more war crimes emerges from stricken areas that have recently been liberated, the West’s determination against this savagery has only hardened. But, as all have seen, it has had the effect of driving up energy prices (Russia being a great provider of gas) to a point where – but for extravagant government intervention – people and businesses would have been bankrupted. Many families have been faced with the choice of heating their homes or putting food on the table.

Miss Truss, with two days more experience of statesmanship at the highest level under her belt than His Majesty, has started taking steps beyond the subsidisation of energy prices that the King would – if he were still Prince of Wales – probably have let it be known he didn’t like. In particular, the recent announcements about allowing fracking. But the lip must be bitten, not least of all because the King will be acutely aware of the need to look after his people, even if to him such short-termism is intellectually indefensible and ultimately destructive of the planet.

He’d better brace himself, because if the conflict with Russia drags on, this Administration might not be that far from encouraging open-cast and even deep coal mining. Especially as nuclear power, which many consider the long-term solution to the problem of energy starvation, has been largely ignored and because nuclear plants take a long time to build. If they see the alternative as being the lights out and higher prices, it’s not hard to see what politicians will choose.

Even before Putin’s act of aggression there were numerous Conservative MPs who were already worried about the government’s commitment to Carbon Net Zero. They objected to the order to stop manufacturing diesel and petrol-driven cars. They objected to the despoliation of the seascape and landscape by wind turbines, and of fields filling up with solar panels. At the root of many of these protestations was the suggestion that the last prime minister’s wife was dictating the agenda to him, irrespective of the effects on the economy. Added to this were the grumblings of some of their individual and business constituents about the cost of going green. Rightly or wrongly, a lot of MPs in the fractious parliamentary party that Miss Truss has inherited (and don’t forget, only about a third of them wanted her as leader) feel that – for now at least – Net Zero is unaffordable, both economically and electorally.

So Truss must deal with that but she also – with virtually no experience as Prime Minister – with a Sovereign who might be well aware that he must keep quiet in public, but will feel less inclined to do so in the sanctity of an absolutely private audience. What will happen with the right to warn then? Miss Truss has had mixed reports in her ministerial career so far. She was deemed a good middle-ranking minister at Education and at the Treasury but the Bar deemed her the worst Lord Chancellor in modern history (quite an achievement, given Chris Grayling’s incumbency). Her time as Trade Secretary was distinguished more by rhetoric than action, and she had a habit of saying regrettably undiplomatic things at the Foreign Office. Her slight against the French, whom she seemed unable to decide were friends or foes, might well be why the King is reported to be making an early State Visit there.

In the privacy of the audience chamber, therefore, we can imagine some robust dialogue between the new King and his almost as new Prime Minister. But in the interests of stability and continuity, at a time when we already face some brutal challenges and changes, it will be best if it stays there.

Simon Heffer is a historian, columnist for the Telegraph and Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham

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Columns, October 2022

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