A user's guide to the Queen's Speech

Oh the fun there is to be had, reading between the lines. Plus, the annoying Nick Robinson, and a Thatcherite approach to flexible working
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The Independent Online

The real interest of the Queen's Speech, long exposure to this phenomenon suggests, is not what is said in it but what is said about it – either in the House of Commons or beyond it – by the people who, so to speak, wind up Her Majesty and set her going. Political leaders, it scarcely needs saying, communicate pretty much in code. Half the fun of politics, consequently, lies in trying to work out what lies behind the mechanisms through which legislation is advertised to the public at large.

Thus, last week, we had the Prime Minister, avid to commend the somewhat negligible measures on which his government is embarked, talking about a programme for those who "want to get on". No doubt this was a nod towards the striver/shirker distinction which so many frontbenchers have been so zealously promoting in the past couple of years.

I have a feeling, though, that David Cameron – as opposed to his Chancellor – is uncomfortable with this and suspects not only that "getting on" is an increasingly difficult trick to pull off, but that large numbers of the voters are deeply uninterested in the business in the first place.

The mid-evening commuter trains out of the major London stations are full of people anxious to "get on", which, in our technologically engrossed age, seems to mean being prepared to engage in deferential conversations with your boss at an hour when you should be playing with your children. Most of the nation's workforce, you imagine, doesn't want this kind of pressure. Its members would prefer to perform the tasks requested of them to the best of their ability in office hours and then enjoy the greatest luxury that the modern era has to offer – being left alone.

And if the words "people who want to get on" require a semiotics professor to decipher their true meaning, then what about the idea peddled by the Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes that this Queen's Speech was intended to bring about "a fairer society"?

A fairer society, presumably, is one whose citizens are free from exploitation. If there was anything in the Queen's Speech about measures to curb the proliferation of high-street betting shops, reform of the tax laws or a Royal Commission to examine the destructive effect on our fiscal life of the Big Four accountancy firms, then I missed it. Perhaps Mr Hughes was merely being ironic.


To watch the BBC 10 O'clock News on Wednesday night was to note the altogether sedulous way in which the corporation goes about pursuing its private agendas. We began with the Queen's Speech, from which the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, was clearly determined to wrest a few eye-catching juxtapositions even if it killed him. And so pomp and circumstance was contrasted – in the tones of a GCSE history class – with the exclusion of Black Rod and a reminder that what followed was for the benefit of the people, rather than of the monarch who ruled them.

All this was fair enough, and would have remained so, even when Mr Robinson repaired to Royal Street, south London, in an attempt to highlight the gap between parliamentary chamber and council estate, had it not been for the smarminess of his voice-over. You just knew that Mr Robinson was itching to give the Government hell and was only prevented from doing so by the corporation's charter.

The same scent of ulterior motive hung over Sir Alex Ferguson's resignation from Manchester United FC. Curiously, this seemed to attract the same treatment – mutatis mutandis, naturally – as the death of Baroness Thatcher, which is to say that credit for achievement rapidly took second place to an adversarial gloss. "Love him or loathe him ..." the sports correspondent cheerily signed off. But surely even a Manchester City fan would approach Sir Alex's triumphs with grudging respect? Who, when it comes to it, actively loathes him?

The BBC would be far more esteemed by its licence fee-payers if it stopped playing these little interpretative games and got on with reporting the news.


Media interest in the appointment of Nicola Mendelsohn to the vice-presidency of Facebook Europe seemed to stem entirely from her insistence on the value of flexible working hours. Keen on motivating the working mother – she has four children herself – Ms Mendelsohn is reported to get by on a four-day week.

What did the commentariat make of this? Well, appreciation of Ms Mendolsohn's undoubted abilities contended with a lurking suspicion that this approach to one's work was insufficiently committed. All this brought back painful memories of time spent working in the City, when the mid-1990s cult of the workaholic was at its peak and junior partners positively luxuriated in the fact that they could only say goodnight to their children on the end of a telephone.

On the other hand, the art of delegation has its perils. "Show me an executive who works all the time," that notorious delegatorRonald Reagan is once supposed to have said, "and I'll show you a bad executive."

Some of the most amusing passages of Charles Moore's new biography of Lady Thatcher, alas, are those in which an inadequately briefed president is made hay of by his much more switched-on conspirator – a woman who, as we know, worked every hour God sent and left the children to nanny.