If you had switched on any news channel on the 18th of May, you would most likely have been utterly confused by the hubbub outside Buckingham Palace. As adoring well-wishers hoped to catch a glimpse of their idols, you would have wondered what you were missing. Were Wills and Kate getting married again? Decked out in century’s worth of bling, Lizzie looked typically unexcited. Then, as her carriage pulled up outside Westminster, you would have cottoned on. Despite happening every year, and its evident importance, this event barely skims the perimeter of the average person’s awareness: the State Opening of Parliament. For once, we understand why the Queen looks bored.
Compared to the scenes surrounding the US elections, British politics has always seemed a more dignified affair. Considering that ‘PigGate’ isn’t even a year old, that’s saying something.
While American politics commonly regresses into a personality contest, with one candidate attacking another for the orangeness of their skin or the authenticity of their hair, we Brits prefer order, tradition and ceremony.
The annual State Opening of Parliament sees the Queen in all her finery outline government plans for the upcoming year. How respectable. Yet, while this might seem understated, when we remember how this day also sees the delivery of a parliamentary hostage to Buckingham Palace, it becomes annoyingly more difficult to view ourselves as any less ridiculous than America.
What’s more, despite how the cynical may laugh at such anachronism, ceremonies of such scale by any other government would likely be viewed with alarm. Anytime we see the shimmering gold chandeliers of the Kremlin, our eyebrows are raised somewhat suggestively, unlike those of Tsar Putin. His eyebrows rarely move at all.
This encourages the next question: why, in a democratic country, do we need the Queen to verify the actions of our democratically elected government? Excluding tours to profit from the Royal Family’s popularity in the Commonwealth, politics remains the land in which the Queen’s sovereignty is most unwelcome.
The furore caused by The Sun’s tactless the ‘Queen Backs Brexit’ headline, regardless of truth, clearly demonstrated this. The Queen’s speech for the Opening of Parliament is crafted word-for-word by the government. For the Queen to express any political opinion here is out of the question. Rather, her job is to provide an unbiased relaying of the facts.
However, even the politicians are unsure of what these facts may be. Although we regard our national penchant for tradition as endearing, our European neighbours, most of whom ousted their monarchs long ago, are bemused by our fondness for pomp and ceremony. Such spectacle does, after all, risk distracting from the more important national implications of legislation. After speculation concerning the possibility of university tuition fees rising again, this dictat would have been doubly insulting had it been decreed by a woman in a bejeweled crown.
However, this year the distraction might have been intentional. Once all the decoration is removed, the Queen’s speech is definitively lacking in substance. Iain Duncan Smith immediately accused David Cameron of “jettisoning” his domestic priorities to concentrate on fighting to keep Britain in the EU. Interestingly, the Queen’s speech did state plans to charge overseas migrants for certain NHS services. However, while so-called ‘Healthcare Tourism’ was one of the main trump cards of the ‘Vote Leave’ side, this promise, like the rest of the speech, avoids any actual detail.
Frankly, it seems the government have attempted to disguise the lack of focus on domestic policy as the EU debate grows nastier. David Cameron has bigger fish to fry than a sugar tax or broadband speed. Has domestic policy been totally sacrificed until the 23 June? I’m undecided, but at least it was a day for dress-up anyway.