Liz Truss and King Charles can learn from Richard Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, about power that lacks democratic legitimacy – Alastair Stewart
The announcement of the Queen's death came as I was watching Showtime TV’s drama series The First Lady, a fascinating portrayal of some of America's most famous wives.
While it does contain too many contrived details about how they met their husbands and scenes I’d have preferred not to have seen, like Betty Ford taking a bath with her husband Gerald, it does provide a reminder of how history can be a guide to the present.
For US President Ford is the statesman that Liz Truss should aspire to emulate. Like her, he had to confront inflation, an energy crisis and war abroad. He also found himself in a netherworld of power without accountability after the resignation of the man who nearly destroyed his party's credibility, Richard Nixon.
In one week, Britain acquired a new Prime Minister who had not won a general election and a new head of state whose title was inherited.
Truss acts in Charles' name with the two now coming as an unelected package. She may have won a Conservative leadership ballot, but beyond her own constituency, no one in the country has confirmed her or her policy agenda.
The penny will more widely drop, likely after the late Queen's funeral, that we are now governed by two unelected heads, one of whom has the power to make or break our current crises, while the other will need to sign her legislative solutions into law.
Charles' silence will be the most valuable asset he can bring at the very moment he will – given his record to date – want to speak out the loudest. What can the new king do to alleviate the social, economic and political unrest plaguing his new Kingdom? Nothing, but whether he knows this is another matter.
The universal respect for the late Queen is now gradually transforming into speculation about how Charles will rule. This would have been less relevant if he had not become king at the same time as the change of Prime Minister.
Videos have emerged of His Majesty losing his temper at an aide during the Accession Council and then erupting over a faulty pen at Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland. None of it would matter but for the unanswered question of whether the new Charles III will forfeit his "meddling" nature.
As Prince of Wales, his black spider memos to British government ministers included views on farming, genetic modification, global warming, social deprivation, planning and architecture.
An untested monarch and Prime Minister is a unique combination. The second Carolean age is not off to a happy start – the arrests of anti-monarchy protesters were excessive and gravely worrying attacks on free speech and civil liberties. There was an eerie parallel when Saudi authorities arrested a Yemeni man who dedicated his umrah pilgrimage to Queen Elizabeth II at the Grand Mosque of Mecca.
The unrivalled pomp and ceremony of the United Kingdom as we say farewell to a beloved sovereign and welcome our new king will wear off eventually.
There is an oppressive feeling that we are all trapped in global events. We are in the middle of a war in Europe, a cost-of-living crisis, an energy crisis, and the continuing catastrophic fallout of Covid on NHS services and waiting times.
The late monarch's death has glossed over the country's dire straits. Constant coverage of social and economic calamities has been replaced with an almost fairytale-like focus on Britain's regal splendour, even if the circumstances are unfortunate.
Had she passed only one week earlier, Edinburgh would have suffered the humiliation of being declared off-limits for the kind of honour we saw last week. Filthy, litter-strewn streets would surely have required a plan B for Operation Unicorn.
In 1974, the newly installed President Ford admitted he was “acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers... I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency. I have not subscribed to any partisan platform. God helping me, I will not let you down."
His most controversial decision, Proclamation 4311, made on September 8, 1974, granted a full and unconditional pardon to the disgraced Nixon, for any crimes he might have committed against the United States as President.
History has been kinder to the decision than the reaction at the time. The John F Kennedy Library Foundation awarded its Profile in Courage Award to the 38th president in 2001 for pardoning Nixon. In presenting the award to Ford, Senator Ted Kennedy said Ford’s decision had proven to be correct, despite Kennedy’s opposition at the time.
However, Truss thanking her "friend" Boris Johnson after being elected was not her finest moment. Better words could have been found that both made peace with the recent past but also broke with the low standards of the Johnson government.
A Fordian moment of reconciliation would have been better – when Nixon accepted his pardon, it was, after all, also an admission of guilt.
King Charles III can cement himself by continuing his late mother's silence, but Prime Minister Truss may find it more difficult to deal with questions about her legitimacy.
She will be required to make sweeping policy decisions that need a fresh mandate – and that means a general election. If she is returned, one prays for her to borrow from Ford and say, "My fellow Britons, our long national nightmare is over."
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