DAN HODGES: The day MPs showed they CAN act with humanity and humility

DAN HODGES: The day MPs showed they CAN act with humanity, maturity – and humility

It was when Liz Truss arrived late for her heavily trailed energy bill statement that MPs began to suspect something was wrong. ‘We were told it was being pushed from 11.15 to 11.30,’ a Minister told me, ‘but she didn’t turn up until 11.40. That doesn’t happen unless something major is going on.’

Truss had already been briefed there were serious concerns about the Queen’s health before she entered the Chamber. But she was duty-bound not to share that information with the rest of the Cabinet.

Then MPs noticed newly appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Nadhim Zahawi whispering something in the Prime Minister’s ear. He then approached the Speaker’s Chair and finally the Labour front bench.

Liz Truss’s sombre, poignant speech set the tone of the wave of tributes to the Queen in Parliament 

Moments later Keir Starmer left the Chamber. ‘He’d been asked to speak to the Cabinet Secretary,’ a Starmer aide confirmed, ‘and that was when he was told the Palace were issuing a statement regarding the Queen.’

When the House of Commons assembled that morning, those sitting opposite one another across the Chamber arrived ready to do battle. When they left, seven hours later, they were united in grief. And as one MP observed: ‘We’re living in a different country now. Nothing will ever be the same again.’

As the day wore on and speculation intensified, age-old party divisions melted into irrelevance. MPs huddled together in small groups, sharing the latest news.

There was a report ‘the flag man’ – the technician who maintains the Downing Street flag pole – had been seen entering the building in preparation to lower the Union Jack to half-mast. Another began to circulate that an aide had been seen carrying a black dress into the Prime Minister’s parliamentary office.

Then senior MPs were informed preparations were under way to assemble the Accession Council, the group of Privy Counsellors who formally meet to confirm the accession of a new monarch. But the details of the process were so obscure many senior parliamentarians were unclear precisely what their role entailed.

Keir Starmer found his emotional pitch in his tribute to the late Monarch writes Dan Hodges 

Tributes were briefly suspended on Friday as MPs listened to the first public address by King Charles III

‘I’m not sure if I’m on it,’ one Privy Counsellor told me. ‘I was, but now I’m not in the Cabinet I don’t know if I’m meant to get involved.’ Another said: ‘I’m definitely on it but I don’t actually know what I’m meant to do. I suppose they’ll send me an email.’

There was a widely held view the British Establishment had a smooth and efficient contingency plan to manage the Queen’s passing. But it quickly became apparent people were finding it difficult to come to terms with the moment.

‘I know we’ve got it all written down,’ one House of Commons official told me, ‘but the thing you have to remember is we haven’t actually had to do any of this for 70 years.’

Another political official said: ‘Even though the plans are huge and meticulous, there’s still loads of ambiguity on all sorts of things.’

One senior MP simply refused to acknowledge what was happening. ‘The Queen is not going to die today. I don’t believe it. It won’t happen,’ he insisted.

In the end, reality forced its way on to the parliamentary estate. More and more members began appearing in mourning dress. The House formally adjourned. MPs and officials packed around the BBC feed in the Strangers’ Bar.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May ‘wonderfully discovered the humour and warmth absent from her own premiership’ writes Dan Hodges 

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, replaced just this week, also spoke of his relationship with the late Queen 

The longest-reigning Queen died at her beloved Balmoral home in Scotland on Thursday

Then, at just after 6.30pm, presenter Huw Edwards appeared and said: ‘A few moments ago Buckingham Palace announced the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second.’ Members of all parties wept openly. Some clung on to one another for support. The rancour witnessed daily in the Chamber was replaced by silence – a silence that was broken only as God Save The Queen played one final time.

Britain’s political class has let itself and the nation down many times during the Queen’s seven-decade reign. But at this defining moment in Britain’s history they have managed to rise to the occasion in significant and surprising ways. That was especially evident during the two-day session of commemoration.

Liz Truss’s sombre, poignant speech set the tone. Keir Starmer found his emotional pitch. Boris Johnson – ejected from office only days before – was humble and eloquent, as Harriet Harman, who is currently pursuing him via her Privileges Committee, generously acknowledged. Theresa May wonderfully discovered the humour and warmth absent from her own premiership.

But the most significant moment came from the SNP’s Ian Blackford, one of the Government’s staunchest critics. He went out of his way to reach out to Liz Truss and declare: ‘My thoughts are with our own Prime Minister. Just days into office, and having to come to terms with the enormity of the loss of the Head of State.’

This morning Britain is a nation that feels untethered. Questions are already being raised about the future. Of the Commonwealth. Of the Union. The enormous challenges presented by the cost-of-living crisis, the malign long-tail of Covid and war in the Ukraine have been thrown into even sharper relief.

MPs came back together in the House of Commons to pay moving tributes to the late Queen 

MPs observed a moments silence in memory of the late Monarch and paid tribute to her lifelong work for the country 

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross reading a tribute out in the House of Commons

King Charles III addressed the nation in a public broadcast for the first time on Friday evening 

But the politicians we have tasked with dealing with those challenges have grown slightly taller this week. For once their instincts and actions are in alignment with the country’s. They have opted for unity over division. And they have demonstrated a maturity – and indeed a humanity and humility – that does them credit.

It won’t last, of course. There is some talk of the party conferences being cancelled – or slimmed down – because they may jar against the national mood. But soon we will be back to business as usual. The fury and vanity and duplicity will return.

BUT AT least we now know they can do it. It is actually possible for our MPs to put petty politics aside. To lay personal ambition down for a moment. To think – however briefly – about what lies beyond the ornate walls of Westminster.

In his first national address, King Charles talked of his mother’s passion for, and commitment to, public service. When he finished, the parliamentarians who had assembled in the Commons to watch broke into a spontaneous – and convention-defying – round of applause.

It was a moving moment. But it was also an authentic moment. And it showed that despite fashionable – and cynical – perception, our MPs do recognise why service to the people is an honourable and worthy calling. At a time of great national and global upheaval, that should provide a sliver of reassurance.

None of those who rose from the green benches to pay tribute to Her Late Majesty can hope to come close to matching her selfless dedication. But last week they finally recognised they have an obligation to try.

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