In death the Queen continued to unite the nation, and elicit the highest standards of conduct. It was impossible to remember when such civility had prevailed for such a long time in the Chamber.
The House, which met at noon, was full, sombre, silent, deeply emotional yet beautifully behaved as it listened to successive tributes.
MPs began by observing “one minute’s silence in memory of Her late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II”, a scene shown in the photograph illustrating this article, taken by Jessica Taylor and ©UK Parliament.
How novel the occasion was to just about everyone present. “My deepest sympathies are with His Majesty the King,” the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said in his opening remarks.
Who could remember the time just over 70 years ago when there was last a King? It sounded reassuring to hear speaker after speaker end with the words “God Save the King”, a phrase declaring stability, continuity, an assured and immediate succession.
But it takes time to accustom oneself to the idea of a man on the throne, and to the sudden loss of such a beloved Queen.
“It was just three days ago at Balmoral,” Liz Truss recalled, that the Queen had invited her to become Prime Minister.
Three days ago! And then the shock of the announcement last night of the Queen’s death. The Prime Minister’s plain speaking style sounded fitting enough, and she had the wisdom to be brief. When she said of the new King, “We owe him our loyalty and devotion”, there came a low murmur of “Hear, hear”.
Sir Keir Starmer was longer, but ended by telling us “We must pull together”, and declaring: “God Save the King.” Impossible to imagine a more loyal Leader of the Opposition.
Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House and clad morning dress, surprised and delighted us with a very short speech, no more than two or three sentences.
Ian Blackford, for the Scottish Nationalists, wearing a kilt, spoke more briefly than he usually does. He said a few words of sympathy for Truss in the task which now faces her, described with understandable pride the Queen’s love of Scotland, and hailed her as “Elizabeth Queen of Scots”.
One’s eye was drawn occasionally, during these worthy contributions, to a backbencher of recent creation who nodded gravely at frequent intervals, and could be identified, as the cartoonists often show, by his unruly mop of blond hair.
Boris Johnson can be detected on the left in the photograph accompanying this piece, standing with bowed head for the minute’s silence, three rows back and separated only by Nigel Adams and the gangway from Theresa May.
The Speaker called Johnson, who began by recalling that when a few months ago he had been asked to record for the cameras some words about the Queen speaking of her in the past tense, though not easily moved to tears, he found “I choked up…I had to ask them to go away”.
He observed that “the same sudden access of unexpected emotion” had surprised us all when we heard of her death. So there was feeling here, and seriousness too, when he called her “the keystone in the vast arch of the British state”, and said “only she could be trusted to be above any party political or commercial interest”.
Johnson pointed out that she was “the last living person in British public life to have served in uniform during the Second World War”, and recalled that earlier this week, “when she saw off her 14th Prime Minister”, i.e. himself, she was “as radiant and as knowledgeable and as fascinated by politics” as ever.
He spoke of “her innocent joy” during the London Olympics when he told her the leader of a friendly Middle Eastern country “seemed actually to believe she had jumped out of a helicopter in a pink dress” and parachuted into the stadium.
After 40 minutes of unrelieved solemnity, how grateful the House was to be given a licence to laugh. This was, as Harriet Harman who spoke next said, “an excellent speech”.
Harman recalled that when she was sacked from the Cabinet in 1998, “nobody else wanted anything to with me”, but the Queen invited her to tea.