The Queen's Speech: Clanking spirits condemned to a tropical garden

Queen's Speech
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It was like colonic irrigation, or a visit from Dyno-rod. You had no idea how much crud had accreted in the pipes and tubes carrying political debate in this country, until - on 1 May - it was flushed out by the electorate. Many of those uncomfortable and smelly bits of encrustation that had lodged in the S-bends of Parliament had gone, many of them forever. Jacques "Buzz-saw" Arnold; Lady Olga Maitland; Harry "shouter" Greenway and many, many more were carried out on the flow.

All of a sudden there was to be no more preoccupation with the golf-club prejudices of sections of the Conservative Party; we were now permitted to consider abolishing hereditary peerages, establishing Scottish parliaments, what to do about "ordinary" schools, and what would really be in our own best interests in Europe. The drains unblocked, the colon cleansed, we could breathe a little easier - and invite guests round once more.

The colour said it all. Occupying one half of one side of the Chamber was a uniform (though thinning) phalanx of insubstantial grey men in grey suits. This remnant of the party of power sat looking anxious and somehow decayed, like the recently deceased do in films about ghosts. Somehow or other they had died and their spirits were condemned to wander Westminster unshriven, looking for somebody to haunt. But would they be any good at chain-rattling and hideous moaning? They weren't sure.

Equally unhappy, their leadership candidates sat along the front bench, each carefully separated from the other by the ethereal form of a colleague.

The disappearing form of Clarke was saved from rubbing its wraithly bottom with the vague buttocks of Hague, by the intercession of a ghastly Mawhinney; Hague from Howard (his grin set in a terrible rigor) by the skeletal Sir George Young; Howard from Lilley by Douglas Hogg; Lilley from Dorrell by Sir Nicholas Lyell. In death, there is no such thing as society; only rags and coffins.

On the other side of the House - as though the aisle were an ocean - it was tropical summer. Women in gaudy colours danced sambas in the packed gangways; their orange, salmon, scarlet, lime and yellow dresses like a collection of fruits and flowers, sprouting up in an almost indecent profusion. Women! And to add to the feeling of exotica, blacks! Black women! Gays! Young people! Young, gay black women! (Actually, no.) And twins. The Eagle twins, Maria and Angela (Liverpool Garston and Wallasey respectively) sat beside each other in identical scarlet suits, looking like two overripe, happy strawberries.

On the graveyard side a strange man with glasses, a high voice and an eerily familiar manner got up and tried his hand at a bit of moaning. "Whooooooo," he groaned quietly, "As I am shall ye be! Ye'll rue the day that ye tampered with the British constitution, did away with assisted places, introduced a windfall tax, or altered any part of the inheritance that I bequeathed ye. Hooooo!" Behind him the more energetic ghouls clanked a little and whistled through their teeth.

But from the middle of his tropical garden a boyish Prime Minister regarded this visitation with a mixture of sympathy and amusement.

It was like one of those thrillers where the dead uncle has called his assorted nieces and nephews to the family solicitor's, and entertained them from beyond the grave, with injunctions to behave themselves if they are to inherit. Except this nephew listened courteously, and then replied - as if to himself - "but I am alive. And you are dead."