Pomp and pageantry with a purpose?
- 9 May 2012
- From the section UK Politics
The Queen's Speech looks like the combination of a Santa Claus convention and Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot.
Peers wear their red parliamentary robes. Visitors are dressed in their best and wearing their proudest smiles. Bling aplenty, but of the highest quality.
Some MPs and peers bring their children along to soak up an occasion steeped in tradition, posing for photos afterwards.
The Queen's Speech is the one event where the three elements that make up Parliament - the House of Commons, the House of Lords and the Sovereign - join together, along with the judiciary, themselves decked out in their wigs.
The roads surrounding Parliament are closed. Inside, people queue, with more than an hour to spare, to get in. Standing on the stairwell in the queue, the prime minister's wife Samantha Cameron.
But Mrs Cameron ends up with a plum seat. In fact the equivalent of being behind the umpire on Centre Court of Wimbledon, with a clear view of the key players.
At one end is the throne where Her Majesty sits. At the other is the spot where her husband stands and listens.
As the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh approach, a quiet descends on the chamber. People fumble nervously to treble check their mobile phone really is switched off. There is the odd muffled cough, rather like those you could hear in the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield over the weekend during the final of the World Snooker Championships.
Those with a seat are given the equivalent of the match programme. "The Ceremonial to be Observed at the Opening of Parliament, by Her Majesty the Queen," it says on the front cover.
Inside, there is what is described as the "Order of Procession," which resembles a football team's formation, with "The Queen's Most Excellent Majesty" the centrepiece. All around her, occupiers of roles and titles with centuries of heritage: the Norroy and Ulster King of Arms, the Garter King of Arms, the Cap of Maintenance.
'What a start'
With the Queen on the throne alongside Prince Philip, another official, Black Rod, is sent from the Lords Chamber to the Commons Chamber to summon MPs to hear the Queen's Speech.
The door of the Commons is slammed in Black Rod's face to symbolise MPs' independence. Three bangs on the door later, and he is let in.
A ritual steeped in almost as much tradition then follows. The veteran Labour left-winger Dennis Skinner shouts out something pithy, and, he hopes, witty.
"Jubilee year, double dip recession, what a start!" was this year's offering from Mr Skinner, greeted with a mixture of cheers and jeers.
The prime minister and leader of the opposition then walk together to the Commons, followed by other MPs. Civilised pleasantries and small talk fill the short walk from one house to the other.
Then, while the monarch remains seated, the speech begins. Exactly eight minutes later, it is finished. MPs and peers squeeze out of the packed chamber. Peers then remove their ceremonial robes.
Like the queue for a nightclub cloakroom, they wait patiently to hand them in. For many, the ceremonial garb is borrowed for the occasion.
Back on the street, there is another chance for MPs, peers and passers-by alike to brave the drizzle and grab another picture of Her Majesty.
A short distance from the Sovereign's Entrance to Parliament, London's most expensive traffic jam is assembling. Mercedes and BMWs everywhere, each sporting a flag on the bonnet and a pithy number plate.
1POR is there to collect the Portuguese Ambassador. Just in front is FRA1, waiting for Paris's man in London.
The Queen's Speech is, in reality, nothing more, or less, than the government's washing-line of ideas for new laws in the next year or so, each bill a peg on that line.
But it is also, as an occasion, much more than that. The robes. The job titles. The rituals. Some seem ridiculous to many.
However, plenty point out that they act as a projection of British traditions and history - and even our values.
With its lavish ceremony, broadcast around the world, the event is definitely a draw, ridiculous or not.