There had been no time to reprint the official souvenir programme, so the front page read: “The ceremonial to be observed at the opening of parliament by Her Majesty the Queen.” Except the Queen was nowhere to be seen as her 96 years had caught up with her and she had decided enough was enough.
For now at least, though no one was counting on her reprising the role that she had performed at every state opening since 1963 when she was pregnant with Prince Edward. So this was quite the moment for the House of Lords and royal watchers. If not for Boris Johnson and his government. By any standards theirs was a Queen’s speech devoid of imagination and ideas. All the more so when the country is on its knees.
Prince Charles and Prince William duly shuffled in behind the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, the Clarenceux King of Arms and various other members of the aristocracy who had been let loose in the dressing up box. With minimal fuss the Commons was summoned and, on their way over to the Lords, The Convict and Keir Starmer appeared to enjoy a surprisingly jolly conversation. “What are you going down for?”, “I done nuffink. I was fitted up”, “Me neither”. That sort of thing. Prison talk.
Then came the speech itself and Charles couldn’t have sounded more bored. A chip off the old block. His mother must be proud. She has a long record of making her disenchantment with the current bunch of politicians plain with a dull, monotone delivery. An objectivity laced with contempt.
Her Majesty’s government will … Well, what would it do? Almost certainly nothing to address the cost of living. The current bunch were more interested in fighting culture wars than in making sure people could afford to eat.
Her Majesty’s government will … Make sure that every child fulfils its potential. Some hope. Charles was well over 70 and nowhere close to fulfilling his. Though today was a step in the right direction. As for the bill of rights, this was the first one to impose restrictions on its citizens. More a bill of wrongs. Charles lapsed into silence, the whole event drifting into anticlimax. There was nothing here for anyone to get excited by.
A couple of hours later the Commons reconvened for the first session of the new parliament and Lindsay Hoyle began proceedings by reminding members of how they were expected to behave. If anyone misled MPs inadvertently they should be sure to correct the record at the soonest available opportunity. The Convict nodded his head enthusiastically. It was clearly still just fine to deliberately mislead the house. So no need to stop lying. He was also cheered to discover that the Speaker was pressing the reset button and that all previous offences would be considered null and void. Now for the Metropolitan police to follow suit.
Then came the two traditional government backbench speeches – one from an MP considered to be past it and the other from an MP thought to be on the way up – which begin every parliament and by and large they delivered on the brief. They were jolly enough and mercifully short.
Graham Stuart played the thankless old duffer card and got in one good dig at the Labor leader, saying the only thing going up for Starmer in the north was a police investigation. His korma gag fell flat. All the curry puns have been done to death in the past few weeks by the rightwing tabloids. Time for some new material all round. Fay Jones took the role of the young upstart and just about fell the right side of entertaining. Though it was closer than she might have hoped. Long before the end she had lost the attention of many in the chamber. It’s a tough gig.
Still, Stuart and Jones turned out to be a glittering high spot of the day compared with what followed. Next up were the leaders of the two main parties. Starmer began well enough with a reminder to Johnson that he was the first prime minister to have a Labor council, along with tributes to David Amess, James Brokenshire and Jack Dromey, who had died in the last parliament. But after that, he never really got out of second gear. Even his gags had punchlines that were telegraphed well in advance.
It was as if the Beergate claims had finally got to Starmer and he was sleep-walking through his speech. Hamstrung by his inability to attack The Convict’s integrity. He got all the right material in – the cost of living crisis, inflation and the Tories’ seemingly abject cluelessness: they know they don’t know what they’re doing, but just don’t give a toss providing they are the ones in charge of doing nothing about it – but just not in the right order.
He went on and on about “a government of the moment” but no one was listening. Least of all on his own benches. He’ll need to up his game. Much more of this and some of his MPs will begin to hope he does get a fine so they can get a leader who doesn’t just have integrity but is inspirational with it.
It was some comfort to Starmer, though, that The Convict was just as poor. He knew there was nothing of any substance to deal with the cost of living crisis in the Queen’s speech and he couldn’t even be bothered to conceal it. Who cared? Certainly not his MPs. He did briefly threaten an emergency budget before Number 10 had to confirm there were no immediate plans for one after all. He also lied about Labor’s immigration plans under Tony Blair. Start as you mean to go on.
The Convict then appeared to get bored by his own speech and raced to a garbled finish. The words began to spew out in an unintelligible jumble and he didn’t even attempt to look apologetic. He just seemed knackered and washed out. Maybe Partygate is getting to him too. Not enough for him to do the honorable thing and resign, but enough to be causing him psychological disturbance. Even a narcissistic sociopath has a bad day. Labor took to trying to make interventions. To help them stay awake as much as anything.
By far the most impressive speech came from Theresa May, who reminded the government and the DUP that they had both signed up to the Northern Ireland protocol and were bound to comply with it. She also lamented the lack of an employment bill. We’ve reached a point where the Maybot is a lone voice of morality. When she was prime minister, she was hopelessly incompetent. But at least she was useless for the best of motives. Now we’re in the political badlands. I miss her.