22 December 2022
Royal visit to Royal National College for the Blind

The visit of his Majesty the King to the Royal National College for the Blind last week was a historic moment for the county, marking the King’s first visit to the West Midlands since his accession, and I felt very proud to have been invited to meet his Majesty.

But of course the King made the occasion utterly memorable not just for me, but for everyone present. He spoke to dozens of students and staff, he learnt about their work and their lives, and by the end of the visit every single person there had a memory of him to treasure and an occasion in their hearts that they would never forget.

This is one reason why, at the end of a thoroughly turbulent year, I refuse to be anything other than optimistic about the future.

I expect that in retrospect historians will see our current times as a kind of national Long Covid, in which we have lived through the immense stresses of the pandemic and its aftermath.

These stresses may go on for some time yet. And to them has been added the huge burden of the war in Ukraine, in which we have led the nations of Europe in our support for President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people in their fight against unprovoked and illegal Russian invasion. That is something to be intensely proud of.

But throughout these difficult times, we too have been supported by an immense resource, which all too often goes unnoticed in our public life. This is the astonishing strength and flexibility of the British Constitution.

At a time of populism, at a time when autocratic regimes are on the rise around the world, when even an American President can seem to condone a popular uprising against elected government, our democracy has been anchored by our institutions, and in particular by the continuity and respect accorded to our constitutional monarchy.

That respect was never more in evidence than during the period of mourning this year for Queen Elizabeth II.

This is not a small point.  It is so easy for people to complain, to find fault, to label and belittle what is familiar.  But our Constitution says in effect to politicians of every party, echoing the words of St Paul's letter to the Corinthians, do not vaunt yourself, do not get too puffed up. That is not a bad lesson, at any time of the year.

Merry Christmas!