I had planned to write this week about changes and new beginnings but on Thursday we learned of
the passing of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, the cruellest of signs of changing times and
something many people hoped could be put off.
It’s true that, despite average life expectancy for a woman in the UK being 83 years and much lower
in poorer parts of Birmingham, she lived to the grand old age of 96, but there had been signs that her
health was failing. Nonetheless, the suddenness of it has been a devastating blow for many and has
unleashed a massive outpouring of grief. Just look at those floral tributes in Green Park.
We are unlikely to ever see her like again. Her death represents the end of an era. She understood
the concept of duty and dedicated her life to her vows to serve the people of this country and her
I was privileged to meet her on two occasions, a question which I’m often asked by local school
children. The first was at a Buckingham Palace Garden Party. I took my mum, herself in her late 70s,
and her friend. They’d been school dinner ladies together. They loved it and were thrilled to meet
the Queen. On a subsequent occasion, when I was a senior government whip, I was invited to an
event at the Palace. I remember being astonished at how well briefed she was. She knew that I was a
Birmingham MP but originally came from the shipbuilding town of Port Glasgow in Scotland.
She was the last of her kind. She served our nation well and was the soul of discretion while using
her influence and soft power to help nudge things forward at crucial times, whether it was dancing
with Kwame Nkrumah, first President of independent Ghana, or shaking hands with Martin
McGuinness, despite the IRA having killed Lord Mountbatten. I wish King Charles all the best for his
reign and thank his mother for being the perfect Head of State, someone of whom we could all feel