Wednesday, June 04, 2014

State Opening of Parliament - Monday Matinee

Imagine a man in tights, buckles on his shoes and a lace hankie round his neck banging on your front door with a big stick - you are right of course - Black Rod had come to call.

He turns up every year at the House of Commons to demonstrate that the power once exercised by the monarch is now held by the people. And to prove it, he summons those who now think they run the country to meet those who know they still own it.

The State Opening of Parliament today was like a mid-morning matinee of the Mikardo meets the Pirates of Penzance. Staged in the House of Lords it numbered the great, the good and probably quite a few crooks amongst its attendees.

Europe’s supply of gold thread and the ermine from all the stoats ever stoated could be found in the same room at the same time. A Lord Great Chamberlain, an Earl Marshall of England, and a dozen grand old dukes, turned up for the performance. They were joined by what ever is the plural of marquis, all the picture cards in the pack and a brace of Lord High Admirals.

And making up the numbers, the ennobled of the recent past, seats booked in God’s waiting room and a sober reminder that gone may be forgotten but forgotten is not necessarily gone.

What better stage then to demonstrate that democracy is not dead even though some of it’s supporters maybe nearer to it than they wish.

To be fair to critics however, it could be admitted that certain parts of the ceremony are harder to explain than others. Thus the arrival of the Cap of Maintenance in a coach pulled by matched horses and escorted by blokes in armour carrying swords.

So you understand, the Cap it is what it says on the tin, a cap with a tassel carried on a short stick by a tall man. It made its way to the ceremony in the company of the Sword of State and the Imperial Crown being inanimate objects, they were welcomed on arrival by none other than the Lord Great Chamberlain, known informally to his mates as the Marquis of Cholmondeley and to his servants as Sir.

As LGC, Cholmondeley (pronounced Cholmondeley) gets to carry a six foot snooker cue, painted white, which he bangs on the ground when he’s in a mood. He, the snooker cue and what looked like a royal flush, but was apparently the Yeoman of the  Guard, escorted the Cap and bejewelled friends to another room for a rest.

It is not known what Cholmondeley does for the rest of the year but he was certainly busy this morning as minutes later he and his stick were at it again...This time it was the main event, the arrival of the royals, first Charles and Camilla, out on a trial run for the eventual take-over, and then mummy and daddy, HRH and Consort.

Having done this 61 time before, the Queen could probably be forgiven for turning up
wearing her Monday to Friday going-to-the-shops crown; and, at nearly 93, Prince Phillip pardoned for wearing a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here face. But as it was, the royal couple-in-chief seemed ready to swash and buckle with the best of them.

Her Maj swopped her weekday crown for the imperial version, stuck a 20 foot train on the back of her dress and emerged wearing enough jewels to clear the national debt. Not to be outdone, Prince Phillip dressed as the highest of Lord High Admirals with enough medals to put even an American general to shame. 

With potential thieves luckily weighed down by their ermine robes, HM and partner made their way safely to the throne. 

Tradition has it that the speech the Queen is to make is brought to her in a carrier bag by the current Lord Chancellor. Gold lame could not disguise the fact that the current holder of that position in the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.

Mr Grayling has the sort of face which leads observers to think he must be wanted by somebody for something, somewhere and, as he approached the Queen, Prince Phillip tightened his grip on his sword.

The Justice Secretary beat a swift retreat as the Queen began to reveal details of the Government’s plans - comprehensively leaked to newspapers last night. With some members of the Upper Chamber closer to God - religiously and medically - than others, ribs were nudged when pension plans were mentioned. There seemed even more interest when charges for carrier bags were mentioned; (how else can one take home the £300 a day one gets for turning up.)

At the back of the room those members of the Commons who had managed to find a place to stand looked to their future. But with lunch beckoning both houses attention waned and Prince Phillip joined others contemplating the snow covered heads of the congregation. Luckily with only a year to the general election the future business of the House of Commons is even less than usual what with holidays to take and days of etc.

The Queen finally called it a wrap and headed back the way she came pausing only to swop crowns. Prince Charles, consigned to a nursery version of the throne for the performance, left perhaps ruminating on the decision of Uncle Juan Carlos of Spain to call it a day on his reign.
But as his mum gingerly made her way down to the going home coach the Stanna stair lift 
option seemed more likely than abdication.

Meanwhile, back in the Commons tradition had also been maintained by the Beast of Bolsover snubbing the State Opening for the 44th time.

“Coalition’s last stand,” bellowed Dennis Skinner into the ear of Black Rod who, as befits his ceremonial role, promptly fled the chamber.