Consternation! Twitter storm! Chris Grayling, or “Lord High Chancellor” to give him his Mikado-esque title, turned his back on the Queen!
In fact she would surely have been less perturbed by Grayling walking forwards from the Royal presence than by the crashingly banal ragbag of clichés which he had fished out for her from something called “The Lord Chancellor’s Purse”, which resembles an outsize Sainsbury’s carrier bag. Or would if it wasn’t made from crimson velvet, and embroidered with a Royal Coat of Arms.
Later in the Commons, Speaker John Bercow announced that Her Majesty had been “pleased” to “make a most gracious” speech in the “House of Peers”. Only in an archaically technical sense. She can hardly have been pleased to read out a document which style-wise was as gracious as a telephone directory. And a lot less intelligible.
Is there nobody in Whitehall who can, if not make this stuff sing, at least avoid forcing the monarch to utter sentences like: “In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace”?
Apart from Grayling’s, not unprecedented, break with tradition, the spectacle remains Merrie England concentrate. The same robed and bemedalled figures processed into the Lords, like “Bluemantle Poursuivant”, “Gold Stick in Waiting” and the “Master of the Horse” (suddenly an unfortunate title as the family of its incumbent, Lord Vestey, made their money in the meat business).
The peers’ wives’ tiaras sparkled. The Queen’s sequins shimmered satisfyingly like those of a fairy godmother. And though the justices of the recently invented Supreme Court are wigless, they have their own black and gold brocaded robes, reportedly hand-crafted at £11,000 apiece.
No doubt buoyed up by the Labour-supporting Sir Alex Ferguson scooping the Government’s big day, Ed Miliband did pretty well later in the Commons, making the better jokes and laughing off Tony Blair’s recent criticisms of his leadership. Eulogising the late Sir Stuart Bell and his memoirs’ ironic title, Tony Really Loves Me, he declared: “I know exactly what he meant.”
And he taunted Tory MPs’ preoccupied with Ukip’s surge: “They used to call them clowns; now they want to join the circus.”
David Cameron’s jokes were more laboured, like the reference to Miliband’s lemon of a World At One interview last week: “The world is at one in saying he made a complete mess of it.” And: “The weak are a long time in politics.”
When the MPs summoned by Black Rod finally arrived at the Lords, they were gabbling so loudly – no doubt about Fergie – that you half expected the Queen to emulate her thespian portrayer Helen Mirren and tell them to shut up “because we are trying to do a play here”.
While she has no intention of emulating Sir Alex, might she be tempted, having this year brought along the Prince of Wales and Camilla to see how it’s done and having done over 60 of these things, to let him have a try next year?
As in, “My mother’s government will bring forward proposals…”