We should have abolished all this 350 years ago

Even the 'modernisation' of the Lord Chancellor no longer walking backwards failed to materialise
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The Independent Online

Modernise, Modernise, Blair demands of every public service and trade union, determined that we move forward to a new age etc etc. And we know this because it was in his programme, delivered to the monarch by a purse-bearer while an equerry conducted the ceremonial changing of the cushion, so she could call on Black Rod to bang on a door and summon the commoners. Then it could be read by the Queen as she sat on a 20ft-high throne, which must be there on the off-chance that one day there's a 20ft-high King.

And if you were bored enough to watch this on television, you'll have heard commentators whispering: "And there's the traditional replacement cushion", with the reverential anticipation of a snooker commentator. Whereas anyone who wasn't mentally ill would yell: "What the bloody hell are they doing now"? I suppose that dates back to when a branch of al-Qa'ida in the 15th century was foiled in its attempt to use a special cushion to poison the Queen's arse.

Then they said this was a day of "great drama". Drama? Its raison d'etre is to be exactly the same as every other year so how could it be dramatic? Were they worried that during the bit where the Queen inspects her Imperial crown she'd say: "Hmm, I've gone off it. Have you got the same sort of thing but in orange"? Perhaps there was concern that following the appointment of the black Baroness Amos, the inspector who has to shout "Hats off, strangers" might stop and search her, saying "oy Baroness, have you got a receipt for that mace"?

What's marvellous about the whole event, we're told every few moments, is how we're following rituals that go back 500 years. The presenters would be perfectly happy saying: "And now we're observing the customary drowning of the witch. There we see the Lord Chancellor, whose task it is to administer the submersion, and he'll be hoping we don't have a repeat of what happened in 1949, when that year's witch took a remarkable six dunkings before finally conking out. Some calls were made recently to introduce an electric ducking stool but most Lords seemed to feel this was one modernisation too far."

What must foreigners think if they accidentally pick up this cobblers on their televisions? If they see Black Rod, with his black leather gloves, frilly cravat, garters, pointy shoes and huge black rod they must think they've tuned in to the most bizarre porn channel in Europe. There must be Europeans who have come here specially, wandered into sex shops and muttered: "Have you got any Black Rod stuff? Are the rods off-the-peg or customised to order? Do they take batteries or run off the mains?" There are probably adverts in Berlin telephone boxes, where you can ring for a man to come round in all the gear, bang three times on your door and bark: "Come here commoner, I'm ready for you now."

At one point we were told the Queen has a "remarkable record" in her duties, as she's only missed the state opening twice. Well, what a bloody trooper she is. She has to be dressed by ladies-in-waiting, driven in a stagecoach, placed on her throne with a replacement cushion and read a speech delivered by a purse-bearer. Surely even royalists would think it a bit much if she rang, in and said: "I won't be in this morning. I had a dodgy curry last night and I'm feeling a bit queasy."

Yet there are plenty of opportunities for her to be a real hero. The whole procession inside Parliament can't begin until she says so, so couldn't she have a game and keep the Lords waiting, occasionally saying: "Not yet. Hang on. Wait! The purse-bearer is a signal for me, it is not a signal for you."

And yesterday the speech began by promising: "My Government will introduce a Bill to abolish up-front tuition fees," without mentioning what New Labour are planning to replace them with. If the Queen was performing her constitutional role of keeping a check on the excesses of Parliament she'd have continued: "But hang on, where's the bit saying you're bringing in a system demanding three times as much, you cheeky buggers."

Even the promised "modernisation" of the Lord Chancellor no longer walking backwards after retrieving the speech from the Queen failed to materialise, as he went backwards as usual. Modernisation can't be rushed I suppose.

The tragedy of this is we were so close to abolishing it 350 years ago. But there's one tale from the civil war that says something about our subservience. After Cromwell and his comrades had signed the order to execute King Charles, Henry Marten splashed ink over the person next to him. Within seconds the whole room descended into a huge ink-fight until, the records say, one man brought the room to its senses. Which means even then there was someone thinking: "Hang on, we'd better not make a mess of the walls. After all, if we get done for killing the King we'll be in enough trouble as it is."