HM The Queen takes her Last Salute
It is with genuine sadness that I write following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen was our “Boss” when I served in the British military: we felt that however short-term, populist or embarrassing our politicians were, The Queen was the person to whom we (and they) actually owed our allegiance, and her values and obligation to the people were our values and obligations, transcending politics.
The British constitution is ancient, and has been radically altered and amended over the centuries: usually as a result of civil wars, religious conflict, secession crises, demographic changes and shifting economic realities. Having survived all that the Crown remains the source of all political power in the United Kingdom; the Prime Minister is prime minister to to the monarch, the government is the government to them, our currency bears their likeness, our armed forces swear an oath to the Crown not to politicians. The monarch represents the Crown, and the Crown represents the people: unlike so many politicians, the Crown represents all the people - whatever their beliefs, whatever their political affiliations, whatever their triumphs or mistakes, whatever their physical or psychological condition and whatever their age. Even prisoners detained “at Her (His) Majesty’s pleasure” remain citizens for whom the Crown still has regard and for whom there is always a non-judgmental opportunity for redemption.
What we are currently witnessing amidst the pomp and ceremony of the funeral arrangements of the late Queen and the acclamation of the new King is a transition of political power: orderly, deliberate and with formality derived from the requirements of long experience. The Crown represents values bigger than ourselves: including integrity, selflessness, and willingness to help and defend others at one’s own risk. Her Majesty The Queen was particularly focused on and adept at living to those principles. These are old fashioned ideas, but they become very real in a crisis; the Queen saw the enormous pressure the Second World War put on her father, King George VI, and her mother Elizabeth the Queen Consort, and the stoicism and selflessness they had to display when the UK faced an existential threat. If you are skeptical of suffering for others and higher ideals just ask the combat forces of Ukraine, or examine the elevated public perceptions of President Zelensky (in January his government could only muster a 23% approval rating). As I have written before, crisis is the forge of institutions.
With a high degree of confidence I can say that the troops at the sharp end would tell you what they are fighting for is ideals and people other than themselves. Fortified with this morale Ukrainian forces achieved a significant break-through against Russian forces in north eastern Ukraine earlier this week. The town of Izyum, south east of Ukraine’s second largest city Kharkiv, has been retaken by the Ukrainians: this is significant for two reasons (i) Izyum is a key location on the Russian axis of attack in the northern Donbas region and (ii) it seems to have been taken without much of a fight, surprising both the Ukrainians and the Russians with the swiftness the Ukrainians’ success. Certainly this reverse will be bad for Russian morale, as well as its strategic position: Russia will soon have to decide if “victory” can be declared with the annexation of most of the Donbas, or whether - less plausibly - it has the ability to take all of Ukraine. Unfortunately, self-deceit seems to be a feature of the Russian military, and yesterday Kremlin spokesman Dimitry Peskov said that Russia’s “special military operation” would continue “until all the goals that were originally set are achieved”. We will see.
Sweden shifts to the Right
Sweden’s coalition government, led by the Social Democrat Megdalena Anderssen, applied to join NATO in May - alongside Finland - and at the time of writing appears to have lost the general election to the right wing Sweden Democrats, led by Jimmie Akesson. The demographics of Sweden make it one of the most diverse countries in Europe, a significant number of the 30% or so diverse “non-white” ethnicities that make up the population result from immigration in the last 15 years; notably from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Somalia. This rapid shift in population seems to have placed strains on politics and social perceptions with a surprising number of young people - 22% of 18 to 21 year-olds - supporting a political party that seeks to curb immigration and has its origins in the national front.
21 Years since the 9/11 attacks
In some ways the terrible events of 9 September 2001 seem very recent, so vivid are the memories. That day is etched in the minds of many, including mine: it led to wars of revenge in Afghanistan and then Iraq, and changed my life and that of many. I cannot believe it was 21 years ago; it seems both recent and distant.
Finally, and a more optimistic note, the Tellimer team in London moved our HQ to new offices near Liverpool Street this week. Much fancier than our previous very “start-up” digs!