Queen must zip her lips for today's Cabinet meeting
She might be tempted to speak out on gay marriage and Leveson - but risks a constitutional crisis if she does
HER MAJESTY the Queen has plenty to get her teeth into when she becomes the first monarch in 231 years to attend a Cabinet meeting in Number Ten Downing Street this morning.
(Incidentally, Dspite reports in today's newspapers, there is no evidence that Queen Victoria attended any Cabinet meetings. While King George VI attended Churchill's War Cabinet in the Second World War, the last Monarch to attend the full Cabinet was probably George III in 1781.)
The prime minister's spokesman said the Queen would spend about 30 minutes at the meeting, sitting between the PM and the Foreign Secretary William Hague, and opposite the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.
The spokesman said he imagined she would speak, though presumably only to say "Thank you for having me". It would cause a constitutional crisis if she said anything remotely political. As head of state, she has the power to appoint the next prime minister and declare war, but since Magna Carta (1215) and the Bill of Rights (1689) the power of the monarch over Parliament has been limited, and she cannot be seen to be getting down and dirty with her politicians.
As the former Cabinet Secretary Lord (Gus) O'Donnell said on Radio 4's Today programme this morning: "She will be there as an observer. It's really important to keep the Queen above politics, which allows her to be for the nation, for everybody."
That said, she may have to bite her tongue this morning because the temptation to butt in will be enormous.
In the hot seat will be the embattled Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, updating her ministerial colleagues on the cross-party talks on the Leveson report and the publication of the bill on same-sex marriages.
Regarding the former, the Queen needs no reminding of the many and various times the press has played fast and loose with her family's privacy, the publication this summer of naked photos of her granddaughter-in-law being just the latest example.
As for same-sex marriage, the Queen is head of the established Church and will doubtless - privately - have welcomed Miller's last-minute change to exclude the Church of England from the scope of the legislation, which, as the latest Times/Populus poll shows, is driving shire Tory supporters into the arms of UKIP.
As the most experienced person in the room - her prime ministers stretch back to Sir Winston Churchill - she will surely be tempted to tell Miller that she's making a Horlicks of the whole idea of forcing gay marriage onto the agenda.
The Queen might also find it difficult to hide her outrage at seeing her own charity - the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals - spending (the judge suggested it was wasting) £330,000 on a private prosecution of Cameron's local hunt, the Heythrop. The law against fox-hunting - once a favourite pastime of the royals - was introduced by Labour and though Cameron promised a free vote on repealing the Act, he's never delivered (again, to the huge disappointment of many shire Tories).
One expert said it was "constitutionally inappropriate" for the Queen to attend the Cabinet meeting today. Rodney Barker, professor of government at the London School of Economics, said her appearance was "daft", because "it will mean potentially the Queen will know things she is not supposed to know and hear things she is not supposed to hear".
Yes, but that's half the fun of being Queen.