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As a royalist and a huge fan of the Queen (my mother kindled an interest from an early age), I was personally thrilled to see her atop of the list – but what is her power base and ability to effect change?
Power is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events”.
Sure the Queen can control the behaviour of those around her – but how much actual power does she wield over the UK as a whole?
Soft power versus hard power
An examination of Woman’s Hour’s top 20 shows the Queen is not really like the majority of the women considered to be the most powerful in the UK. The kind of power she wields is soft – as opposed to hard. Her Majesty’s power is more about influence – a discreet nod of the head, a polite word in the ear of a Prime Minister at their weekly meeting, or a strategic patronage of a cause being overlooked by the Government – is how she can indirectly effect our world without us even knowing.
Unlike the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who comes in second position, the Queen does not make law nor does she have the capacity to directly change the Government’s policy. She doesn’t make cuts or structural changes at huge organisations like Moya Greene (who comes in at number 12), the chief executive of the very challenged Royal Mail – which will effect thousands of people’s livelihoods.
And yet, a panel of judges, chaired by author and journalist Eve Pollard, and several thousand submissions from the public later, the Queen has triumphed and come out top of Woman’s Hour’s first ever power list.
Prime Minister face time
Alice Feinstein, editor of Woman’s Hour (who was not part of the judging panel), says she wasn’t surprised by the Queen’s position. “I can see why she is at the top. She’s the head of state and Commonwealth. The Queen has a lot of potential power she could exercise, but doesn’t.
“I know that the panel considered her weekly meeting with the Prime Minister to be a key indicator of her power. She has been doing the job a long time – and is a major repository of knowledge. The Queen is highly respected because of her experience and access.”
Pollard lets it slip that the Queen was not in the top spot at the first. For a long time Theresa May was keeping the number one spot warm – but then the Queen’s global standing and epic performance in the Olympic opening ceremony came up during the judges’ discussions.
Her Olympic turn
“Can you imagine any other head of state agreeing to play a part in an Olympic opening ceremony where they meet ‘James Bond’ at home and then allow a stunt double to make it look as if they had parachuted into the stadium? What confidence in democracy and your position you must have to do that. And it didn’t backfire,” muses Pollard.
“If anything, it made most people in the UK hold her in even higher regard. The Queen is the head of the Commonwealth – and despite her power being soft, as opposed to hard, the more we debated – the more she kept emerging as the front runner.”
Fellow judge, author and TV presenter, Dawn O’Porter, says none of the judges were unanimous at first in their decision to put the Queen top of the list – and yet people just couldn’t argue with her level of power.
“If anything, we didn’t want the list to be predictable – and lots of it isn’t. But the Queen’s power, above all others, is ultimately undeniable.”
Duchess of Cambridge – a woman in waiting?
However, a more controversial and definitely unpredictable omission from the list was the Duchess of Cambridge, with people such as former Spice Girl-cum-fashion-designer Victoria Beckham and the artist Tracey Emin, making the grade ahead of her. The panel decided she was influential but not yet powerful.
“The Duchess of Cambridge is fantastically influential, but not just not yet powerful. I think we could see things shift after she gives birth. How she brings up her child will be very interesting and potentially highly powerful,” says Pollard.
Interestingly, no other female royals made the list, despite the huge amounts of time they all respectively give to charity. Historian and author,
Frank Prochaska, thinks missing out Princess Anne was an error in light of her incredible charity work throughout her whole life. And yet, she, like the rest of the female members of the royal household, just weren’t considered ‘powerful’ by the panel. Doing amazing work, yes, but not powerful.
Age = experience = power
Dame Jenni Murray, co-presenter of Woman’s Hour (also not a judge of the list), is thrilled with the news that the Queen has been named the most powerful woman in Britain.
“Power for me is everything the Queen stands for. It’s her being in her mid 80s and being able to do her job perfectly. She can stand on a rainy boat [during the Jubilee river pageant] for hours, smiling and greeting people.
“On the couple of occasions I have been lucky enough to meet her, once when I being made a Dame, I was astonished by just how well she does her job. The Queen is utterly charming to everyone she meets and that is hard work. Age and power are linked and I am happy this is reflected in the list [the average age of those in the power list is 53]. Age and experience are so important. These women in this list aren’t just powerful; they are role models too.”
Her Majesty’s ‘glow’
Indeed most people who have met the Queen talk about this incredible aura she has, which draws you in and how she instantly commands respect. One fellow journalist told me: “She has a sort of gravitational pull and an energy field around her. Her skin and her smile are just amazing. I was overwhelmed by her power.”
The Telegraph’s Charles Moore, has described her Majesty as having a “glow”, which makes people trust her – and imbues her with power: “When the young Queen was crowned, people noted how beautiful she was. She did not have Diana-like film-star looks, but she had a glow. Now that she is an old lady, they note the same thing. It is an outward and visible expression of an inward grace. It is also a sort of reward. At the heart of her life, as of her faith, is the idea of a sacrifice. Because of the sacrifice, comes the triumph."
When does influence turn into power?
Frank Prochaska, who has written several royal history books, including The Republic of Britain, believes a major chunk of the Queen’s power comes from her thousands of charitable associations and patronages.
“We don’t know precisely when the British monarchy exchanged hard power for influence. But this is what happened,” he explains. “The monarchy throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, gradually lost executive power and the UK effectively became a crowned republic – as the Prime Minister’s power overtook the monarch’s.
“The Queen has built up a huge network of thousands of charities she and her family support and it is via these organisations that she has tremendous influence and acquired major power. In the UK we have a highly centralised state and it is these voluntary bodies, with which she is so involved, that keeps the big state-led organisations – such as the NHS – in check. They have become a buffer between state and society – and the Queen is at the helm of so many of them.”
Permanence is power
Beyond her charitable network, Prochaska, believes the other major reason why the Queen will always and should always trump other women on a power list is because of her permanence. Despite the recent news of the
Dutch Queen Beatrix’s abdication in favour of her son, our Queen isn’t going anywhere.
“The reason why the Queen will come top of these sorts of power lists is because everyone else is so transitory. Next week Theresa May could be sacked. But the Queen? She is here to stay. As is her power,” he reflects.
Silence is golden
But how does the Queen keep her power? The secret is in her silence. She keeps it by saying nothing. If you say nothing, according to Prochaska, you rarely offend anyone.
“The real secret of royal influence is saying nothing. And anything the Queen does say publicly, is pretty anodyne. The minute a monarch, or any of the royals say anything remotely political or opinionated, they alienate people and they lose some power. This silence played a large part in how the British monarchy survived post World War One, when other European royal families didn’t.”
such as ex-Tory MP Louise Mensch, seemingly without much knowledge of the monarchy, have recently begun criticising the Duchess of Cambridge for setting a bad example to women by remaining largely silent since marrying into the Firm. However, her silence is very much deliberate as interestingly, it is understood that she is being very carefully advised about her public persona by Lord Robin Janvrin, the Queen’s highly respected former Private Secretary.
It would seem therefore, if the Queen’s sterling reputation and example is anything to go by, that the Duchess of Cambridge, following the same route, will have no problems in slowly working her way to the top of Woman’s Hour power list in years to come.
But for now, the Queen rightly continues to rule to roost.
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Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/9862997/Is-the-Queen-the-most-powerful-woman-in-Britain.html