Black Rod knocks three times on the door of the Commons Chamber, which has just been slammed in his face. He is the Queen’s servant, so he can only come in by invitation, not by right.
“Admit Black Rod,” we rather laconically say, although veteran Labour MP Dennis Skinner usually has a witty remark at the ready as Black Rod enters to summon us to the Lords Chamber: “I bet he drinks Carling Black Label” or “New Labour, new Black Rod.” This year, not quite as witty as usual, his observation was “Coalition’s last stand”, this being the last Queen’s Speech before next year’s General Election.
In the House of Lords, we commoners are greeted by the full panoply of State Ceremonial. Her Majesty, resplendent as always, the Duke of Edinburgh implacable; the Prince of Wales and our own North Wiltshire royal, Camilla; peers in their scarlet and ermine; peeresses in tiaras recovered from bank vaults; chaps dressed as playing cards; one peer with a velvety ‘Cap of Maintenance’ atop a stick; people with mediaeval titles walking backwards; a fainting page boy; Oriental ambassadors in full fig. What a magnificent sight it all is; and what an important symbol of the State.
And then the whole marvellous, mysterious, symbolic scene is ruined by the Government spin doctors insisting that Her Majesty should read out a whole load of party propaganda. “Long-term economic plan; hard-working families; driving forward to a better tomorrow.” (She didn’t actually say the last bit, but it sounded as if she ought to have done.) “My government will legislate to abolish plastic carrier bags” (“Philip, dear, what is a plastic carrier bag?” we could hear her ask).
As Duncan Hames told you last week, there are actually some rather good things in the Queen’s Speech, and in our plans for the next 12 months, but it’s a shame that we allow a great state occasion to be levelled down by such a mediocre use of language in the Gracious Address, as the speech is formally known.
What a lesson the Tory Party speech writers could learn from the best speech of the day, given in the afternoon by Penny Mordaunt, the MP for Portsmouth North. She was witty, clever, understated. Give the lady a medal, she is well deserving of it. And let’s make the next Queen’s Speech (after the General Election) more redolent of her language and delivery than like something out of the Central Office lexicon of averageness.