I am often asked: “Queen Elizabeth II reigns – but she doesn’t actually rule, does she?” The answer is: “Yes, she certainly does rule”.
When I was ten years old I was a pupil at our (Church of England) parochial primary school – Broomhouse Lane School at Hope, on Eccles Old Road, Salford. We sat at wooden desks, hinged near the top so that they would open to reveal notebooks, pencils and so on. Above the hinge there was a narrow flat area, with a groove in which to place a steel-nibbed dip pen. At the top, to the right of the groove, there was a removable ceramic ink pot – refillable as necessary from a large jar of ink kept by the teacher.
The steel pen-nibs were not, I imagine, of the very highest quality; and the notebooks in which we wrote were, in those deprived days towards the end of WWII, made of coarse paper.
Naughty boys – among whom I was certainly not one, at least in this particular regard – would sometimes stuff bits of blotting paper into the inkwells, creating a mixture that was at once indelible, blue-black, semi-liquid and fibrous.
With a poor nib, filled with fibrous ink, applied to coarse paper, the resultant hand-writing was often untidy if not actually illegible. The teacher, finding it unacceptable, and unwilling to accept explanations and excuses, would say: “Hold your hand out” … and she would proceed to hit your fingers with a ruler. After that, your hand would hurt so much that you could barely hold your pen, and thus your writing would become even worse than it was before.
But the purpose of a ruler in not to be an instrument with which to inflict unjust punishment on small children. A ruler is a carefully made wooden stick, perfectly and accurately divided into inches, and parts thereof, along its edge. Its true teleology is to provide a standard, to guide, to measure, to enable the drawing of straight lines. That is what a ruler is for – and it is what monarchs are for.
Does Queen Elizabeth II rule? Well, for 65 years now she set standards of unswerving devotion to duty; she has guided numerous Prime Ministers (with whom she has met at least weekly) and their governments, assisting them to draw straight lines as she has been consulted and has advised on every significant (and less-then-significant) decision. She has provided a steadfast standard for national life. She has measured, as it were, the leaders of foreign nations, countless of whom she has met and known personally during the long years of her reign; and her experience and opinion of them must surely be invaluable to successive Prime Ministers.
Can we know that those successive governments have heeded her advice? It certainly seems to be so. For, after all, she could aptly use that line from the Farmers’ Insurance commercials: “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”