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Lest We Forget …

No illusions here. A page in our history has been turned. And a monarch who won the hearts even of republicans is mourned by the nation. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, the suspension of everyday concerns is juddering to a halt.

It was Rudyard Kipling who coined the phrase ‘lest we forget,’ in a poem written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

But it was revisited a decade after the end of World War One, as compassion for the unimaginable sufferings endured in the trenches started to fade.

Scroll forward to this week, and a mere twenty-four hours after Her Majesty is laid to rest, Parliament’s turning its attention to the cost of living crisis.

We Brits are good at queuing. But the five-mile line to see the Queen lie in state was probably our longest ever. Testament to sincere and wholesale grief.

However, those adjectives do also apply to concerns about how we’re going to manage to keep our homes warm this winter.

And the ceremonies and obsequies have combined with the forthcoming political party conference season to squeeze the parliamentary timetable.

Which is why as soon as this coming Friday we’ll be hearing from the new Chancellor what he has in mind.

His rather bizarre budget not budget, complete with uncosted costings, is expected to include at least some details of the planned energy price cap.

It’s accepted the mother of all bungs is needed to prevent bills skyrocketing to unaffordable levels.

Exactly how big it’ll be is less clear. Likewise where the money’s coming from.

Not from energy companies that have more cash than they know what to do with. Our new Prime Minister has made that plain at least.

And in keeping with her undisputed ever-so-right-wing credentials, she’s lined up her new Downing Street neighbour to propose other eyebrow-raising ideas.

Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s thinking of binning the cap on City bonuses.

Dubbed ‘Big Bang Two,’ in homage to Margaret Thatcher, it’s part of a drive to lower taxes and reduce regulation in the hope of increasing growth.

To the opposition leader’s mind it’s more a matter of: ‘Pay rises for bankers, pay cuts for district nurses.’

And the latest YouGov poll for the Times, that has Labour a comfortable ten points ahead of the Tories, suggests plenty of others see it that way.

Liz Truss may also be disappointed that nearly half those asked don’t have a view on her leadership in the wake of the Queen’s death.

All about me? Not. Of course that will change as business as usual clunks back into gear, if not necessarily to the PM’s advantage.

Meantime, in large measure, it’s all about King Charles, with many wondering how much of his princely incarnation will spill over into the future.

While in the past he’s been an ardent adherent of politically contentious causes, from now on he’s not supposed to get involved.

But a fragment of conversation picked up by the pool camera at his meeting with the Lib Dem leader, Sir Ed Davey, begs a question.

‘I have not seen you for far too long,’ said Charles.

‘I would love to come to talk to you about similar issues on the environment and climate change in due course,’ came the reply.

At his coronation, Shakespeare’s Prince Hal – hitherto a notoriously bad boy with his fat friend Falstaff – famously turned over a new leaf in his new role.

‘I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers,’ he told his mortified ex chum.

In King Charles’s case any switch is likely to be more of a gentle elision. Groundwork already laid in another politically raw area.

The messy post-Brexit trade arrangements over Northern Ireland, a running sore ever since they were cobbled together, will get sorer still in coming days.

Britain’s unilateral decision not to play by the new rules may ratchet up the legal wrangle with the EU. Maybe even bring matters finally to a head.

For a fair old while now there’s been no sitting government in Belfast, because of historic antagonisms regarding the province’s status in UK.

But our new King has done his best to pour oil on those bitterly troubled waters.

For a start he’s had a long talk with the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, which has been kicking up all the fuss about the post Brexit deal.

He’s also continued with his mother’s reconciliation work in regard to the republicans whose forbears fought long and hard against British rule.

The success of this effort was made manifest when the Stormont Assembly’s Speaker, Alex Maskey, offered formal condolences on behalf of the people.

This man, twice interned without trial during the Troubles, pointed out it would once have been unthinkable for someone like him to do something like that.

Dreams, then, of a happier future, with swords turned in ploughshares. Both there, and, who knows? Perhaps even in Ukraine as well.

As the defenders’ counteroffensives gather pace, and state-of-the-art weapons combine with ferocious determination to win, some analysts are daring to hope.

Ben Hodges, former commander of the US Army in Europe, sets out a compelling case both for Ukraine’s victory, and Putin’s downfall.

He points to the collapse of domestic confidence in the Russian armed forces, as news filters in of how awry the ‘special military operation’ is going.

Also, he factors in the havoc wreaked in the nation’s economy by Western sanctions, and the flat refusal of other countries to buy their products.

Naturally, he argues, the Kremlin will see Moscow’s middle classes are all right, to protect itself from insurgency on its doorstep.

But that drains cash from already pretty poor folk across the Russian Federation. Many of whom might feel tempted to break away.

However, the retired Lieutenant General argues, we do have to be careful what we wish for.

It’s Putin’s war, and practically everyone except fellow pariahs and other dubious souls prays he gets his comeuppance.

But the unrest that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse arguably led to the regime that’s now causing so much grief.

So, Ben Hodges insists, we ignore the risks at our peril.

On a cheerier note, we’ve certainly managed a seamless transition here in the United Kingdom.

And it’s worth sparing a moment to consider the sheer humanity of our new monarch.

As a child, it’s said, the poor chap was in floods of tears when his dad insisted he went to the then seriously forbidding public school, Gordonstoun.

Cold showers and punishment runs there are a thing of the past, but pupils are still put through their paces big time.

And Charles remembers it, clearly without affection, as ‘Colditz in kilts’.

One wonders how many other schoolboy scars are not quite healed, like leaky fountain pens – still haunting him even now he’s doing his King thing.

There’s footage of an unfortunate occurrence when he was signing – or, rather, trying to sign – the visitors’ book at Hillsborough Castle near Belfast.

When it emitted ink all over the royal digits, His Royal Highness protested, quite understandably, ‘oh God, I hate this!’

A muttered explosion of exasperation, a reminder that he is human, and has been through a horribly traumatic time. But he had more to say on the subject.

‘I can’t bear this bloody thing . . . What they do, every stinking time.’

Does he have his moments? Who doesn’t? Some wag suggested the pen was popped in his Christmas stocking by Meghan Markle.

Specially and pointedly labelled as a gift for, ahem, ‘his nibs’.

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.


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