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What a Martian would take away from the State Opening of Parliament

By Andrew Gimson
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Snip20130508_1In a clear, level and impartial tone the Queen read out her Government's great list of aspirations: "continue to focus on building a strong economy...a fairer society that rewards people  who work hard...strengthen Britain's economic competitiveness...invest in infrastructure...improve the quality of education...committed to supporting people who have saved for their retirement...further reform Britain's immigration system...reform ways in which offenders are rehabilitated..."

By this stage, some of us were beginning to wonder whether her Government was trying to do a bit too much. But no hint of doubt entered the Queen's voice. No trace of satire could be detected even in her final wish: "I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels."

Commentators chattered excitedly about how she had said nothing about minimum prices for alcohol or plain packaging for cigarettes. But a visitor from another planet might have noted that here on Earth, or this part of Earth, we look to the Government to arrange a very great many things on our behalf. Heaven on Earth is somehow to be introduced by legislation, though to ensure complete success the blessing of Almighty God will also be required.

One trusts that any visiting Martian would have enjoyed the glittering ceremonial which surrounded the speech: for even if there is life on Mars, one suspects it does not include anything as magnificent as this. And one trusts that our friendly Martian would have appreciated the double submission which lay at the heart of the ceremony. Everyone deferred to the Queen. Bishops, peers, judges, ambassadors and ministers all stood when she entered the House of Lords, and only sat when she told them they could.

Democratic politicians were crowded into a cramped space at the far end of the chamber. Hereditary dignitaries - the Lord Chamberlain, the Earl Marshal - and ancient symbols of authority - the Imperial State Crown, the Cap of Maintenance, the Sword of State - played much far prominent roles than they did. The Queen was escorted by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, her ladies in waiting, her pages and any number of gallant guards. This was the first time the Duchess of Cornwall had taken part in the State Opening, but she proved her fitness for the occasion by looking as if she might always have been there. Every kind of gorgeous uniform was worn as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The heralds, in their tabards, looked more than ever like a de luxe set of playing cards.

Even Chris Grayling, in normal life the Justice Secretary, was allowed to adorn himself with the robes of the Lord Chancellor. As Mr Grayling handed the speech to the Queen, he had the decency to look as if he was there for the first time.

Yet it was the democratic politicians who dictated what the Queen said. Her words were not her own, and when she sent Black Rod to summon the Commons to hear her, he had the door of that Chamber slammed in his face, and had to knock to gain admittance.

Once inside the Commons, Black Rod was heckled by the Beast of Bolsover, an ancient part of the British Constitution, who on this occasion shouted: "Royal Mail for sale. Queen's head privatised." The Beast, also known as Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover), has himself been marginalised by having himself turned into a House of Commons character.

But our Martian friend must not allow himself to be distracted by such sideshows. Let him take home to Mars a report which says that we possess a hereditary monarch, who occupies the space which a dictator might otherwise try to seize, but who wields no political power. For the Queen is told what to say by a band of democratic scoundrels, who promise to achieve far more than they are actually able to perform.


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