Diamond Jubilee prompts MPs' memories of the Queen

HRH The Queen
Image caption The Queen has always taken the business of government seriously

Many people have met the Queen but to speak to her on a regular basis you need to be a friend, a member of her family or one of her ministers.

Her Majesty has always taken the business of government seriously.

Red boxes are sent to Buckingham Palace every night and every week she meets with her Prime Minister.

Ministers are summoned to brief her, while the Privy Council, which is made up of senior ministers past, is regularly brought together.

"She's on top of her game, she's always extremely well informed," says former Norfolk MP and Education Secretary, Baroness Shephard.

"When I was running a department, if there was anything I wasn't happy with, you could be sure she'd ask me about it."

Raising issues

Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, agrees: "She's incredibly well briefed. I think it's the consequence of simply talking to so many people."

"If she wanted your opinion she would ask for it and you would give it - briefly," adds Baroness Shephard.

"She might give an opinion, she might not, but you always had the impression she was taking it all in."

"She's always interested to talk about problems which are exercising her," says Mr Clarke.

"She used to raise with me (when Home Secretary) issues like young girls being drunk and other issues associated with that.

"She once raised with me as a Norfolk MP, even though it wasn't my responsibility, what was going to happen to the hospitals in the Sandringham area!

"She has views about things but she's never disrespectful. She wants to hear and understand what's going on."

Private audience

Mr Clarke reveals that when he was sacked as Home Secretary he was summoned to a private audience with the Queen that he has never forgotten.

"We had half an hour talking about the problems of being Home Secretary and what the job involves.

"The level of her grasp of it was absolutely fantastic.

"She really understood about the problems - it was an extremely warm, friendly and illuminating conversation.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, says the Queen is very well briefed

"She was extremely sympathetic.

"She regards governing as hard and I've heard her make amusing jokes about it, which I am not in a position to repeat.

"But she thinks it's not an easy thing and she's not one of those who rushes to judgement."

Everyone is also agreed that the Queen has a lively sense of humour and is expert at making people feel at their ease.

"She's not good at small talk but when you're on your own with her, she's quite amazing," says Lord John MacGregor, another former Norfolk MP who used to be Lord President of the Privy Council.

"I always had to have a private audience with her five minutes before the meeting started.

"I don't know anything about horses, so I thought, 'I used to be Agriculture Minister, we'll talk about that', so we did.

"Then I thought 'she also loves Norfolk', so we moved onto that. Every time we met, we'd talk about farming and Norfolk.

"She loves the people and the villages of Norfolk and the things she talked about were very current issues."

Time for change?

Opinion polls suggest that the majority of people in Britain believe in the monarchy but at Westminster there are some who feel the time is coming for a re-think.

"I have nothing personal against the Queen, I think she's done an amazing job," says Cambridge MP, Julian Huppert.

"The monarchy fits in with the idea that we're a backward looking country.

"At a time when we're talking about social mobility, to say we have someone right at the top just because of who their parents were, just seems wrong."

"I'm not saying we have to end this immediately - it's just time to start thinking about where we go in the future when the Queen stops reigning."

Charles Clarke disagrees: "I think it was interesting that when Spain came away from the Franco dictatorship they decided to have a constitutional monarchy.

"You also have to think of the roles that she has: to appoint a government, to be head of the Church of England, to be commander of the armed forces.

"If it wasn't her who would it be? I think we've developed a constitutional monarchy that deserves our support and we should stick with it."

"What we would have instead would be an unseemly party political election of a head of state and given the public's views of politicians at the moment I don't think they would like the idea," says Baroness Shephard.

"When you think many ministers are washed up after five or 10 years in a cabinet, the Queen has been dealing with these matters for 60 years and she's still on top of her game.

"It's quite extraordinary."