Her Majesty the Queen is usually prudence personified, keeping her political and personal opinions to herself. But this week both the Queen and the Prime Minister have been caught speaking on camera. Nothing new in that; what was different was that they were filmed saying things in the context of private conversations, even though they took place at public events. David Cameron told the Queen at a reception to celebrate her 90th birthday that Nigeria and Afghanistan were two of the most ‘fantastically corrupt’ countries in the world. At a Buckingham Palace garden party, the Queen remarked to Commander Lucy D’Orsi of the Metropolitan Police that Chinese officials were ‘very rude’ to the British Ambassador to China during President Xi Jinping’s state visit last year. Both conversations have had diplomatic ramifications but there has been little comment on whether they should have been recorded at all.
Everyone in public life knows the need for discretion and some manage that better than others. More generally, most if not all of us have said something that we wish we could take back. The writer of the Book of Proverbs has witty wisdom to share: ‘When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but the prudent are restrained in speech.’ (Proverbs 10:19)
But the question remains: can there be any such thing as a private conversation when it takes place at a public event?
By the Revd Canon Nikki Arthy, City Canon, Gloucester Cathedral and Rector, Parish of Hempsted with St Mary de Lode and St Mary de Crypt, Gloucester.