Around the world, local government acts as a locus of remembrance and grief. In this week’s Global Local bulletin, we give space to the complicated legacy of colonialism and consider what it means to be a compassionate city.
Global Local bulletin: Public mourning and difficult conversations
Despite her impressive age of 96 years old, for many, the death of Queen Elizabeth II last Thursday still felt almost unexpected. Its impact has been felt far beyond the UK, unleashing intense emotions across the globe.
While in many countries the role of the British monarchy (and the legacy of the British Empire) is the subject of legitimate scrutiny, the Queen has also been recognised internationally as a symbol of lifelong public service.
In some parts of the world, royalty can feel like a relic of the past, yet as of 2022, there are still a total of 43 sovereign states in the world with a monarch as the head of state. While the previous century witnessed the end or obsolescence of several royal families, Queen Elizabeth II demonstrated a willingness to adapt the way the Monarchy worked, and in doing so she became more innovative, more accessible, and more celebrity-like – a status that sometimes felt more suited to the modern world. And for some mourners, it is doubtless her celebrity persona as a heartwarming, yet strong and enduring woman which has been the focus of global attention to her death.
There’s no denying, however, that over her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II spearheaded the British Royal family through many significant and tactful transitions – and who knows if any other monarch would have had the same success. The world she inherited in 1952 is not the one she left in 2022. One example of this can be seen in the development of the Commonwealth – an organisation with colonial roots is now a ‘voluntary association of 56 independent and equal countries’, as described by the website. Of course, this does not remove the need for a clear-eyed assessment of the British Empire, but it does set a precedent for a better future – and for many supporters that was the life mission which the Queen unwaveringly pursued.
From a public service perspective, representatives of local government around the world have praised the Queen’s devotion. She was tasked with a lifelong commitment to embody the state, and so she rarely expressed her own personal opinions, let alone her political ones. This enabled people to project onto her their feelings about the country she represented and this too explains the intensity of the reaction to her death.
For those in public service, her dedication to putting global, country or community interests ahead of her own is a goal to strive towards, and her whole life was symbolic of that greater picture.
The Queen’s presence offered consistency throughout our lives – having been there from the very beginning for the vast majority of people currently alive on Earth. She was unarguably a central figurehead on the global playing field and someone who, without fail, showed up on both the dullest and the most extraordinary of days. During her life, she witnessed almost 100 years of global milestones, triumphs and tragedies – from the first man on the moon to the launch of the internet, and from WWII to the Covid-19 global pandemic.
In all these moments, eyes turned to her and every word of hers was recorded. So, despite the fact we all knew she wouldn’t live forever, it still feels somewhat uncanny that she won’t be here to witness the next big event. And perhaps that is another reason why her absence is being felt far and wide: because her death signifies both the impermanence of our fast-paced world and the impact that dedicated public servants can make upon it.