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The symbolism of the first photos of King Charles with his Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer

They are pictures for the history books and ones that speak volumes. As King Charles III appointed a new Prime Minister there were, of course, official images of the moment. And they told their own story.

The King held an audience with Sir Keir Starmer just after noon on July 5th 2024, hours after Labour had won a landslide victory in the general election. As was expected, King Charles asked Sir Keir to form a government and the offer was accepted.

Traditionally, this is followed by ”kissing hands”, now a symbolic gesture. Instead, the two men talked and, within minutes, a photo was shared of this historic meeting. But it had an importance all of its own.

In the past, the first images of the Monarch with a new Prime Minister have given a rather different perspective. The new PM has been seen bowing or curtseying to the Sovereign after accepting the request to form a government. However, Sir Keir was shown on level status with King Charles, the two men shaking hands and looking each other in the eye.

The first photo of King Charles III with his third Prime Minister, Sir Keir Starmer (Picture by i-Images / Pool)

It was business like and filled with mutual respect. And it is perhaps indicative of The King’s attitude towards his own role. King Charles is one of the most experienced states people in the country and has an intricate and detailed understanding of his own constitutional role and the functioning of government.

This photo shows a Monarch at the service of the people who have just chosen who they want to govern them for the next five years. The King must ask the leader of the largest group in the Commons to form a government. It is a necessity. But it is voters who choose the largest group. The King remains Head of State but today, he showed that it is the people who run this country through the power of the ballot box. Other images showed him sat with Sir Keir, listening as the new Prime Minister spoke just hours after being chosen to run the country.

It also shows an understanding of the nature of the political situation that has brought Labour back to power after 14 years. Sir Keir, who made his name as a lawyer and who was knighted for his work as head of the Crown Prosecution Service, is the leader of a party formed to represent the working classes he came from. The party’s relationship with the Monarchy hasn’t always been smooth although Sir Keir’s tenure has seen nothing but mutual respect. And that is, perhaps, the key here. King Charles chose to present the moment he asked a new Labour Prime Minister to take power as a meeting of different parts of the constitutional machine rather than a time of deference.

Sir Keir Starmer is the third Prime Minister of the twenty two month reign of King Charles III but the first to take the role through a popular vote. And The King puts the spotlight on his PM in a truly historic image.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.