Elizabeth’s Rule — Facts First

Queen Elizabeth II was having second thoughts about Brexit. She asked the most important question.

Queen Elizabeth II (Photo)

It was the summer of 2016, long before the American election, and the English-speaking peoples of Britain were engaged in a raucous debate over Brexit vs. Remain. Small stores and antiquaries along Portobello Road carried placards posted the shopkeeper’s preference. Simultaneously, London cabbies who know something about everything would happily give you the ‘full Monty’ if you asked (named after WWII Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery).

The Queen gathered together an elegant salon, as reported in Times of London, an inner circle of British nobility who knew their way around the economy and politics. Now those appetites were whetted for Buckingham Palace’s canapes said to be reliably the best, as Queen Elizabeth served the main course. That evening, the protocol was a spirit of compromise*.

It could have been called “The Queen’s Speech” in honor of her father, King George VI, when he spoke to the British people about the outbreak of war and the title of a movie starring Colin Firth. What worried Queen Elizabeth II that evening more than a war was the war with Europe, better known as the European Union or EU, with whom Britain was on the verge of divorce.

Habit: Do Your Homework

When I visited Hampton Court, the home of Henry VIII (built by Cardinal Wolsey but donated to Henry after the latter expressed admiration), I chatted to a couple sipping morning coffee several days before the vote. They were in a vexing conversation about Brexit when I inquired: “So how are you going to vote?” The distinguished gent with a handlebar mustache replied, “Leave, of course.” When I asked why, he said, “you Yanks did it 1776.”

The group assembled by the Queen at the Palace were familiar with the tradition of political chatter where everyone shares an opinion then goes home for a martini. She was having none of it. Instead, she challenged the tempo by issuing a royal command:

“Give me three good reasons why we should leave or stay?”

Takeaways

The Queen was looking for a bottom line. But the question was where to draw it? She wanted to make the right decision on behalf of her subjects, and no fear-mongering punditry would be tolerated. Nor was she going to put up with insipid debate from people far removed from everyday concerns. The commentary was lively, even heated. We all know the result.

But how she got there is what mattered.

  • Expertise: she spoke to a wide range of smart people whom she trusted and respected.
  • Debias the Debate: We are biased by nature, but this is overcome through intelligent arguments where both sides are examined.
  • Private: The discussion was behind closed doors and non-confrontational, so animal spirits, which lead to name-calling and inferior decisions, were not aroused.
  • Process: we can never guarantee results — but we can assure a smart process to achieve them.

Elizabeth’s approach recalled the British Enlightenment when Edmund Burke questioned the way the world worked. Darwin and the Industrial Revolution placed everything in a new light, from slavery to women, and never again would they be givens. This is how to deal with complexities in a volatile world.

In America, cancel culture has become a national pastime, and it suggests we have learned little from history. Freedom of ‘screech’ is now the last inalienable right. If a New York Times journalist writes something that the mob of radicals in the newsroom does not agree with, she is fired or tarred and feathered. The same is happening on Ivy League campuses. Stifling debate is a sign of totalitarian thinking, and we saw how well that worked.

The Queen’s speech is the antidote. If in doubt, ask why? If not in doubt, ask why not? It was a triumph of facts over feelings.

*Compromise is a beautiful thing. The word’s meaning is from the early 15th Century Middle French when both sides ‘co promise’ to agree with an arbitrator’s decision. Six hundred years later, the Queen of Great Britain knows her etymology.

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