It has been a week when initiation ceremonies have made the political news. To the more interesting question, featuring a dead pig – did he, or didn’t he? – I don’t know, but I suspect he didn’t.
On to the other essential question, whether Jeremy Corbyn will or will not kneel and kiss the Queen’s hand when he is initiated into the Privy Council. John Prescott threw this issue into confusion when he claimed that the ceremony doesn’t involve kneeling.
“Have any journalists been to it who talk about it?” he asked his interviewer, Andrew Neil, on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme. No, is the answer to that one. Membership of the Privy Council is restricted to people who can be trusted with secrets. Obviously, that excludes journalists.
As for kneeling, Prescott proclaimed: “You don’t do that – you hop. Get into hopping, hop from one chair to another and brush your lips lightly across her hand. They do two chairs and for one reason or the other, you go from one chair to the other.”
Peter Hain, who went through the same procedure in his Cabinet days, tells me that it involves two stools, each no more than a foot high, placed between the monarch and the prospective privy councillor. The latter puts the right knee on the first stool, and bows, stands, advances to the second stool, places the right knee on that stool, and bows again, then he or she kisses the monarch’s hand. “You don’t give her a smacker,” he added.
Will Jeremy Corbyn do all this? “He will,” I was told, “because he does he does not have any choice.”
A way with words
John Prescott, by the way, is famous for being the converse of a speak-your-weight politician. So many politicians use flawless diction to say nothing at all. The words are clear, but there is no meaning. When Prescott speaks, you always know what he means, but the words … oh dear, the words!
Defending Jeremy Corbyn against trivial press criticism in that same interview, he said: “You seem to have left the tie out, you have moved from the tie, then it was whether you are the national health and you are going to sing it….”
Has Corbyn or somebody failed to sing the national health? Questions must be asked.
Loyalists lack loudspeakers
Labour First is a worthy pressure group of party loyalists, whose meetings are normally held in half-empty rooms on the Saturday of conference, but the rise of Jeremy Corbyn has changed so much.
Suddenly Brighton is full of confused loyalists who do not really know any more who they should be loyal to. Labour First’s meeting was switched to Sunday, because of increased interest. It booked a room in the Mash Ton Pub, Brighton – but as the crowd swelled to around 120, the landlord turfed them out to avoid dangerous overcrowding, and they met in the street.
It used to be the ultra left which demonstrated in the streets outside the conference hall. Yesterday the streets were full of the sort of people who have been known to applaud at the mention of Tony Blair. The speakers had to speak up because, as one organiser explained, “moderates don’t have megaphones”.
Sixty conferences on
Manning the Labour Animal Welfare stall in Brighton is 85-year-old Walter Burley, attending his 60th consecutive annual Labour Party conference: from Hugh Gaitskell’s first conference as party leader, to Jeremy Corbyn’s. He has campaigned for Labour in every election since 1945. I believe this may be a record.