In the final official duty of her long reign, Queen Elizabeth II appointed her 15th prime minister when she welcomed Liz Truss to Balmoral.
As head of state, and of the Commonwealth, the Queen received a stream of official letters and briefing notes in the famous red leather despatch boxes. She set aside time each day to read the documents, and prime ministers were sometimes caught out by the breadth of her knowledge.
“The Queen,” said Edward Heath, PM from 1970-74, “is undoubtedly one of the best-informed people in the world.”
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At her weekly audiences with her prime ministers, her role was not to influence policy, but she had ways of letting it be known when she was not convinced by it. “And what makes you think that will work, Prime Minister?” she might ask.
She had known her first PM, Winston Churchill (1951-55), for years, and he made no secret of his admiration for her. According to historian Ben Pimlott, Churchill would arrive for their meetings “with a gleam in his eye, and disappear happily into a secret conclave”, said The Times. A courtier reported that “peals of laughter“ would emanate from the room, the Evening Standard reported.
She got on well with the patrician Harold Macmillan (1957-63), and the aristocratic Alec Douglas-Home (1963-64), but she also had a warm rapport with Harold Wilson (1964-70 and 1974-76), her first Labour PM. He (and others) reported that she was the only person with whom he could have serious conversations, knowing that nothing he said would be leaked.
Her relationship with Margaret Thatcher (1979-90) was the most contentious. She respected Thatcher, but was said to have disagreed profoundly with her refusal to impose sanctions on South Africa over apartheid. The two had little in common, yet the Queen kept in touch with her after Thatcher had left office, and attended her funeral.
She was grateful to John Major (1990-97) for his support during her “annus horribilis” in 1992, but reportedly felt that Tony Blair (1997-2007) had overstepped the mark in his response to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.
Before Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014, David Cameron (2010-16) urged her to signal her support for the union. She pointedly let slip that she “hoped the Scottish people would think carefully about their future”. It was a controversial intervention, and she was furious when Cameron was recorded claiming that she had “purred down the line” when he told her the result. The SNP’s Alex Salmond later claimed the Queen “was not amused” by the PM’s remarks, said the BBC.
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