LONDON (HPD) — These are two photos that capture the traditional and ceremonial rite of the meeting of the monarch of the United Kingdom with the new prime minister before the formation of a new government. They were taken exactly seven weeks apart. They are also landmarks.
Between the taking of the first image and the second, many things happened. A nation fell into mourning and then came a sharp and turbulent economic crisis: tectonic shifts, one after another, that many in the country had never experienced.
In the first photo, Queen Elizabeth II meets with incoming Prime Minister Liz Truss on September 6. It was the last time people saw the monarch in an image of her after her 70 years on the throne. Her reign touched two centuries, a World War, post-colonialism, Brexit and a pandemic.
For Truss, it was a new beginning, capping weeks of an uphill battle with Rishi Sunak for the leadership of the Conservative Party. He would then receive the keys to the Prime Minister’s office at 10 Downing Street. His predecessor, Boris Johnson, was forced to resign amid a series of ethics scandals.
The queen, using a cane after long-standing mobility problems, and Truss appear smiling, shaking hands. The monarch died two days later.
For many, the meeting was probably the highlight of Truss. After that, it all fell apart and it was over in 45 days. His libertarian economic policies caused convulsions in the markets and saw the pound sterling fall to its lowest point against the dollar in almost 40 years.
And now, this Tuesday, the second photo: former Treasury chief Sunak, now prime minister, shaking hands with King Charles. The same Sunak who called Truss’s economic plan a “fairy tale.” He may have had the last word with his predecessor, but now it is he who has huge hurdles ahead of him: one of Britain’s most serious economic crises in modern history.
Britain has its third prime minister this year and the two most recent took office without a direct mandate from the British people: they were elected leaders of the Conservative Party and became prime minister automatically. There is a clamor among the opposition and beyond for a general election. By law, that will not happen until 2024, and Sunak has said that he will not call for elections. After the recent economic turmoil, the Tories face possible defeat at the polls as they stand now.
King Charles is secure in his position and will almost certainly survive the current government. His mother met 15 prime ministers in her 70 years on the throne; Carlos is in her second after less than two months. However, he is the oldest person to ascend the British throne.
In the midst of such chaos, who knows what the following photograph might show?