QUEEN AND COUNTRY

Brenda BarbieAmidst all the silly ceremonies and inexplicable rituals set in stone so old it has a vintage comparable to that lot on Salisbury Plain, there was one glaring absence from the State Opening of Parliament this time round: the bejewelled crown was present, though the head upon which it traditionally sits wasn’t. Naturally, there were no Charles I-type shenanigans responsible, merely a monarch too elderly to undertake a task only pregnancy had previously excused her from – and the last time that happened was almost 60 years ago. Her past understudy in such exceptional circumstances was the Lord Chancellor, but so throwaway is that ancient office these days that the prospect of incumbent idiot Dominic Raab reading the Queen’s Speech prompted Brenda to bring Brian off the sub’s bench he’s occupied for the last seven decades. Indeed, it would appear the Prince of Wales is gradually taking on the role of Regent in all-but name, and notable public events his mother has always been the hostess of, such as Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Sunday, will probably be ones old age will force her to host by proxy from now on.

Obviously, with this year characterised by the unprecedented spectacle of a Platinum Jubilee, Her Majesty’s presence at one or two of the big celebrations to mark the unique occasion seems necessary, so it’s possible she’s conserving her energy by prioritising them over more routine duties. At the age of 96, however, it’s pretty clear that whatever is planned for this summer’s Jubilee schedule will most likely be the final outing for the ageing sovereign at a major public event. The Queen has already announced Buckingham Palace will henceforth be no place like home; Covid prompted the flight from London to the seclusion of Windsor and it would seem the relocation is now permanent. As is commonplace with anyone of such advanced years, she also appears to be quietly settling her affairs now that mortality is close at hand. Not every 96-year-old has such a prestigious roll-call of possessions to bequeath, of course, so she has a little more to attend to than simply deciding which of her kids inherits the dressing table.

As for the State Opening of Parliament, it still seems odd not to see Her Majesty occupying the throne in the Lords with old Philip alongside her, what with the pair of them having been a guaranteed fixture of the event from before most of our mothers met the milkman; but then there are several elements long associated with the ceremony that are gone now – especially the one-time highlight of waiting for whatever witty remark would emanate from the Beast of Bolsover when the moment came for Black Rod to march into the Commons chamber; no Dennis Skinner, no Duke of Edinburgh, and now no Brenda – no, things ain’t what they used to be where this particular occasion is concerned. Apparently, the Queen watched proceedings on the telly at her retirement home of Windsor Castle, though seeing someone else sitting in her seat, and flanked by Camilla and William to boot, was possibly an even more surreal experience for her than the average viewer. As for what followed the somewhat different pomp and circumstance part of the occasion, however, nothing much had changed at all. It was the same old flannel.

Coming in a post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis, this Queen’s Speech presented the Opposition with plenty open goals, but the leader of HM Opposition was still busily preoccupied with last year’s crisis. In an effort to sell himself as an honourable man prepared to fall on his sword in a way Boris declined to when he was charged and fined for breaking Covid restrictions, Sir Keir Starmer has dramatically declared he will resign as Labour leader if found guilty of similar misconduct in the so-called (wait for it) ‘Beer-gate’ scandal. Yes, maybe now those who formulated, implemented and supported the restrictions will belatedly realise precisely how ludicrous it was that someone could be fined for the unforgivable crime of having a drink and a bite to eat in company. I don’t doubt Starmer will be exonerated, something he himself probably knows or else he wouldn’t have volunteered to make the Labour Left’s day by promising to quit. Again, a politician assumes the electorate is stupid enough to take a statement at face value and not see through the wafer-thin ulterior motive; but, hey – plenty people fall for it, so why wouldn’t Starmer engineer such a stunt?

A story emerged on the same day of the Speech that a customer in a Brighton branch of Tesco had come across a distinctive tin of budget baked beans on the shelf, described as ‘Boris Beans’. According to the blurb on the packaging, Boris Beans come in a ‘tasty austerity sauce with misery guaranteed’; it sounds like a Banksy product, and being right-on Brighton, chances are it probably is. At the same time, it could be seen as an ingenious riposte to Environment Secretary George ‘Useless’ Eustice, who advised the plebs to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket in order to save money – as though the idea had never occurred to them or that they might actually have no choice but to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket with food prices up 2.7% on 2021. What this episode highlights is the widespread anger at the state of affairs this administration is presiding over whilst seeming both careless and clueless when it comes to solutions – not to mention not giving a f**k.

News that BP recorded a £4.9 billion profit during the first three months of 2022 hardly helps alter the popular perception that the people are being shafted by The Man in all his numerous guises. The Government is particularly perceived as being out of touch, with even a minor Minister like Eustice exhibiting the ignorance that comes with detachment from the reality of life lived beyond Westminster Village. There’s no reason why someone from a privileged or at least materially comfortable background can’t empathise with the less fortunate and try to improve their lot – the majority of the institutions established to help the needy during the Victorian era were founded by the wealthy and powerful, lest we forget; but all too often today it feels as though there isn’t the desire there to do likewise by those in a position to act. It just seems like most couldn’t care less – and that indifference appears at its least empathetic when embodied by a rich Tory MP. It was highly visible in the Con-Dem Coalition of a decade ago, of course, and nothing seems to have altered since.

It goes without saying that there is usually at least an effort on the part of a Government when delivering the promise of a ‘package’ in a Queen’s Speech to give the impression they care. Ordinarily, the Queen’s Speech tends to be loaded with tantalising offerings intended to persuade the people the administration in power isn’t merely a collection of indifferent political freeloaders blind to the sufferings of those they purport to serve. Having said that, there appeared to be very little in this one that offered anything to the vast chunk of the population paying for the disastrous policies of the past couple of years; calls for an emergency budget on the part of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP to help those struggling to survive were brushed aside by Boris. ‘However great our passion and commitment,’ said the PM, ‘we cannot simply spend our way out of problems.’ Considering the state of the economy and the size of the national debt, he has a point; but who’s responsible?

In less than a month, the working week will be put on ice once more, though not so we can all be confined to quarters again; this time we will positively be encouraged to indulge in the kind of social gathering Keir Starmer is threatened with a retrospective fine for indulging in. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee ‘long weekend’ will begin on a Thursday and last till Sunday – four whole days in which we can pack up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile, smile; none of us (nor Brenda) will ever have an opportunity to do so again, so we may as well.

© The Editor

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3 thoughts on “QUEEN AND COUNTRY

  1. The theatre that is the ‘Queen’s Speech’ is really just a spectacle, but one that Britain still manages to stage convincingly, even though the monarch (or substitute) is merely a town-crier puppet with no input or influence on the creation or execution of its content.

    The fact that Brenda had to hand over the script-reading task to Brian this time merely emphasises her current difficulties, which are probably far more substantial than only the ‘mobility’ ones so far published, but she’s 96 and has done astonishingly well to sustain her given role so well and for so long – her successor will almost certainly struggle to fill those court shoes with any degree of adequacy.

    I suspect one lesson which current politicians have learnt recently is the old ‘events, dear boy, events’ one, as an apparent global pandemic suddenly forced relatively cautious and liberal governments to do the previously unthinkable, followed immediately by a major nuclear power embarking on an unprovoked blitzkrieg on a small neighbouring state, will have focused minds on the relative triviality and futility of whatever local plans may be announced in the Queen’s Speech. When the nuclear fall-out is drifting over all the land and Birmingham has just been evaporated, does it really matter whether your neighbour can build an ugly loft-extension without planning permission?

    On that scale, the Queen’s Speech becomes at best an aspirational wish-list, at worst just a device for rallying the party faithful back to their natural home ahead of the next election. Time will tell, although Boris probably has more time left in post than Brenda – more’s the pity, some would say.

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    1. One thing I will say about the ceremonial element of the State Opening is that at least it doesn’t go on as long as it could do. If it were held in the US, viewers would probably have to endure a reformed soft rock band from the 70s running through their greatest hits and Bono reading a poem specially composed for the occasion. Small mercies and all that.

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      1. Even in the US that aged rock band and Bono the (only self-proclaimed) poet wouldn’t cut it. Where’s the diversity, where’s the LBGTQXYZVJK+/- representation, where’s the disability quota, where’s the BLM cover, where’s the slavery regret, where’s the climate change message? Small mercies indeed.

        Maybe just an interval with blacked-up Morris dancers . . . . .

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