Decoding the Queen's speech: Was Her Majesty taking a swipe at Ukip?

If Britain was on the verge of leaving Europe, it would be hard to imagine the Queen not getting involved

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As we rarely hear the Queen and members of her family speak outside of official occasions, their words are often conveyed via well-wishers to reporters covering royal walkabouts. This oddly prosaic British custom is as old as journalism. So, at the Royal Family's Christmas Day church visit on the Sandringham estate, the six-months pregnant Duchess of Cambridge told a well-wisher, who in turn told a reporter, that she "feels big", while her husband, in words spoken through a festive onlooker, revealed that 17-month-old Prince George had been left at home because he would have caused havoc in the church. Is it frustrating for the royals that their words are spoken for them? Or democratising for us, their subjects, to be given power of interpretation?

Later that day, the Queen had her annual chance to tell us what she thinks – not what she's told to by ministers at the State Opening of Parliament, or in the pleasantries she gives to bouquet-wielding crowds. The over-arching theme of her Christmas Day speech was, as she told us, reconciliation. But I was struck by a more coded message that the Queen appeared to convey, one that was about embracing people of all cultures and faiths.

This made me think: is she taking a swipe at Ukip? The Queen has always had a way with words: her message of comfort for the United States after 9/11, "grief is the price we pay for love", was the most moving of the time. As she is always constrained by political neutrality, she was never going to say: "I do find Nigel Farage the most crashing bore" in her broadcast to the nation. Nevertheless, at the end of a year in which Ukip dominated the political scene, I wonder whether she wanted to counter the feeling of a Little England fearful of immigrants and Europe. The Queen spoke of "promoting dialogue between nations" and that following "Christ's example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people". She urged us to look to the inclusivity of the Commonwealth Games.


If you follow this hypothetical royal train of thought, you find yourself asking the question, what would the Queen do, in 2017, if Britain is on the verge of voting to leave Europe in a referendum? Days before the Scottish independence referendum in September, the Queen told a well-wisher that she hoped people would "think very carefully" before voting, conveying a veiled message of support for the union without speaking out one way or the other. If the polls suggest Britain is about to break away from Europe in a 2017 referendum, could she be relied upon again to come up with a similarly coded message to ensure her country's continuing membership?

I believe she would. This is not just because the Queen's reign began shortly after the end of the Second World War, which gave rise to the creation of the EU with the central aim of maintaining peace in Europe. And it is not just because of her German ancestry, or the German and Greek heritage of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh. Ultimately, the monarchy is an institution whose interests are in maintaining the status quo. Farage might not like it, but constitutional turbulence is not good for the Royal Family, which the Queen would tell you, if only she could.


The rejectorate will decide

It is 129 days until the general election, which seems like a good enough moment to hold up my hands and say I have no idea what is going to happen, given the variability of our six-party politics. It is likely that the election will be settled by the rejectorate – those turning their backs on the main parties in favour of Ukip, the Scottish National Party and even the Greens in game-changing marginals.

What I can predict, however, is that if David Cameron is prime minister again the ensuing Labour leadership contest will be just as bitter as the last, even without the Miliband sibling rivalry. Yet what of David Miliband's career strategy?

Earlier this month he hinted in an interview with The Financial Times that he could return to British politics, saying cryptically "you just don't know, do you?"

I am told that he still harbours an ambition to be leader, despite the turmoil of the 2010 battle with Ed and the likely difficulty, if the current Labour leader is rejected by the electorate in 2015, of another Miliband becoming PM in 2020. If this seems unlikely, given he is no longer an MP, then consider the example of Boris Johnson, who is about to return to Parliament after a seven-year break.

Miliband D, who has been the chief executive of the International Rescue Committee aid charity since 2013, has become deeply enmeshed in the US political circuit and remains addicted to politics, says a source, including supporting Hillary Clinton's putative presidential campaign. I would have thought, however, that even a safe seat opening and a reconciliation with his brother wouldn't be enough to overcome the recent bad headlines over Britain's handling of torture during his term as Foreign Secretary.

Flooding misery ahead

Last week's newspapers, in looking back over the events of 2014, have returned to families whose homes were flooded at the start of the year. The flooding was extraordinary because, in contrast to storms over one or two days, there was relentlessly bad weather over a long period which caused many areas to be under water for weeks.

Happily, many of those hit by the flooding have been able to return to refurbished and redecorated homes, but are the authorities prepared for another deluge this winter?

From the window of a train from Yorkshire to London last week, I noticed several miles of farmland already heavily flooded, and that is after not particularly dramatic levels of rainfall, suggesting that the water table remains high. Among the many predictions for 2015, a return of the misery of flooding must be one of the most assured.

Badum tish!

Like many families, by 9pm on Christmas Day we were slouched in front of the TV. My Dad sat down in an armchair next to the Christmas tree as Downton Abbey started. I asked him whether all the decorations were obscuring his view. "Yes, I can't see the wooden acting for the tree," he said.