On Thursday morning I set off to County Hall for the first Full Council since the summer break. It was what I might call a ‘run of the mill’ council session, but part way into our debate on motions my WhatsApp groups started to stir. Something unusual was happening in the Chamber of the House of Commons, they said.
A few minutes later and my various news alert apps started to ping. Her Majesty was unwell and under medical supervision. Devices were passed around the chamber to show colleagues what was happening and the mood changed. We became distracted and concerned. At one point a point of order was called to read out the news, but it felt alarmist and unnecessary to break the meeting at this point. We didn’t know what was happening, but it certainly felt grim.
At the same time, I had the Guido Fawkes website on my screen to monitor reshuffle announcements at PUSS level. I showed it to my cabinet colleague and said, ‘look, they’ve stopped’ and we paused for a moment. The monarch has to approve the appointments and they’d stopped. We felt it could also be due to the energy crisis announcement being made at the same time, but it was an ominous signal.
I was helping my Area Chairman organise a conference for this Saturday, the 10th, and he had already started to try and call me. As soon as council and my meetings afterwards had finished I called him back. We discussed the situation and agreed that should bad news be broken we would postpone the conference and that we should prepare communications to that effect. I was certainly a surreal moment for me to prepare a series of emails written in the past tense about something that we still hoped would not happen.
But it did. And my tenses were correct, as we now know that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed in the afternoon. I didn’t want to leave County Hall for fear of news breaking and missing it whilst I was in the car, or worse ending up having a crash due to emotional distress. I decided to do the journey at the same time as the plane carrying William landed, which would take about the same time.
On getting home, the TV was already on but we were trying to keep a sense of normality for the children and keep to their routine. So when there was no further announcement at 6pm I set about helping my wife bathe the kids and get them ready for bed.
My 5 year old was in the bath and I was nearby. Admittedly I had my phone in hand to keep one eye on the news. My daughter asked if I could get her out of the bath so she could go to the toilet, and it was at this point with my daughter in my hand on the way down the hallway that I saw in my other hand the shot of the union flag at half mast. I knew what this meant. I left my daughter to finish in the toilet and rushed downstairs to the TV to see Huw Edwards make the announcement.
Thankfully my daughter is old enough to largely take care of herself, and so she and our other daughter joined us to watch the TV coverage and share in our moment of grief.
Once the news had sunk in I was able to send out the cancellation notices and stand down the conference for this Saturday. We had wondered if it would instead be an opportunity for the local Conservatives to meet and come together in collective grief, but we soon dismissed that idea and agreed that postponement into October would be best.
Like most people, I would imagine, I spent the next several hours glued to the television. I barely moved until I went up to bed and slept a fitful night and woke early on Friday morning.
I had a look on Facebook and saw that Redditch Borough Council had opened a book of condolences at Town Hall, and that the Leader and MP had already signed it. I assumed Rachel was then heading down to Westminster immediately afterwards.
I dropped the children off ahead of school and drove to my office where I set about cancelling or postponing other engagements. I then had a WhatsApp from my colleague and we headed into the Town Hall together.
We signed the book of condolences and were able to spend some time with Madam Mayor Isherwood in her parlour. At this time, the town follows her lead with regards to protocol, and I can think of nobody finer to take the lead for our town at this sad time.
I then met with some friends to share condolences before heading home to spend another evening glued to the screen.
I will be attending various proclamations over the next day or so, and I will await instructions on what is expected of me as a County Councillor at this time of mourning. As it stands I believe my role is to join with everyone else in shared grief and make myself available to anyone who may need additional help.
During this mourning period I will remain active in my duties and responsive to constituents. However I will not be engaging in any political activities at this time.