From a Queen's Speech modelled more closely on adolescent sex than parliamentary convention (hours of breathless anticipation, then wham, bam, thank you Ma'am, it's over in about two seconds), I learned two things.
Firstly, "enhance" is pronounced not En Harntz, but In Hants. I'm aware this sounds a bit northern, like rhyming bath with Sylvia Plath, but if you can't trust Her Maj to talk proper, who can you trust? In Hants-ing stuff is what Her Government will be doing, she told us, and on so many fronts that it fair blows your mind.
And secondly, I love her. Until just before noon yesterday, it was no more than a chilly amalgam of respect, reverence and muted affection incited solely by her stoic permanence and Helen Mirren. Then she made an infinitesimal facial gesture, and, from the moment I saw it, I was lost.
It is the curse of the rigidly inscrutable that observers can interpret the tiniest indications to suit themselves, so humblest apologies if this is wishful thinking. But as our Monarch recited some vacuous drivel about My Government intending to In Hants and safeguard democratic institutions, she seemed to pause for about 0.07 seconds and raise her left eyebrow 1/16th of an inch.
PG Wodehouse fans know this method of expressing weary disdain. It's what Jeeves does whenever Bertie mentions a deranged scheme to reunite Gussie Fink Nottle with Madeleine Basset, or to wear a retina-cauterising white smoking jacket after Royal Ascot.
In one respect Reginald Jeeves and Elizabeth Windsor are diametric opposites, the one being technically subservient but ruling the roost, and the other nominally boss but entirely powerless. What links them, however, is that they are older and far wiser than the person who effectively pays their wages, but are never permitted to say so.
So when the Queen raised the brow, it was clear what she would have said had Black Rod fired a truth serum at her regal nostrils from an aerosol. "My Government has made a right bollix of this place, cravenly indulging all you other rapacious tea leaves until Parliament became a hissing and a byword for legalised larceny. Now they claim they're going to sort it out... and if you believe that, pop round to the Palace at tea time 'cos there's an email from a Nigerian oil man who wants to deposit $70m in your bank account the Duke of Edinburgh's dying to show you."
Well into her ninth decade, Her Majesty's tone of ironic detachment is hardening. A friend likens her to Jane Austen, ever that one step removed from events, inwardly smiling at the absurdities. The Queen may not be a comic genius at chronicling social mores, but she is clever enough to know it when she's parroting specious gibberish.
Take the Children Schools and Families Bill. Like most of the rot she recited, the odds on this becoming law with so few parliamentary days left are similar to those against England winning the World Cup with Darren Bent, Jermaine Jenas, Desert Orchid, Shaun Wright-Philips, Elvis, Matthew Upson and Fatty Soames among the outfield players, and Hattie Jacques fighting Two Ton Tessie O'Shea for the goalkeeper's jersey. This, as with so many eye-catching initiatives of the kind, is its saving grace.
If by some miracle it reached the statute book, try to imagine what "a series of specific entitlements for all and a means of redress if expectations are not met" would mean in effect. Let's hope the Engima machine isn't tied up with Nick Griffin's secret radio intercepts from the Eastern front, because this no doddle.
What the Schools Secretary Ed Balls is proposing is that children are given 38 guarantees – everything from PE lessons and one-on-one tuition to a new kite mark for that Moroccan pollen Wayne from 5b is touting round the playground.
With the exception of the hash pledge, it all sounds perfectly spiffing. But the cynics and sneerers, our sovereign perhaps among them, must wonder where the money to fund these "guarantees" is to come from, and how they will be enforced. If little Eminem or Shania isn't getting those weekly five hours of games, possibly because the games field was sold to Tesco in 1999, the Government would presumably have to be sued.
After all, it would be beneath this administration's dignity to palm off such a grandiose ambition on local authorities or education boards without handing over the cash to make it achievable, or to rush bad law through just to saddle the Tories with an unfeasible commitment they never made. That would be the kind of transparent pre-election posturing that will do nothing to In Hants our damaged democratic institutions.
With the "means of redress" we run into more problems. Even if Crown immunity were waived, for example, and cheekily so on behalf of future governments, there is the time frame. Let's assume that half a million 12-year-olds need personal tuition, what with struggling with the one times table, but are denied it, quite possibly because there are no tutors. There are teachers, certainly, but they are horribly overworked as it is, and if they had the time for one-on-one tuition they'd be doing it already.
In the absence of this army of tutors, then what? Half a million appeals to tribunals, or trips to the small claims court for compensation? A world record-size class action before the Supreme Court 15 years down the line, by when the loss of earnings from being inadequately educated have become quantifiable?
Assuming that the litigants haven't all become QCs themselves, which might prima facie defeat the claim anyway, will it be covered by legal aid? And will Mr Balls, who effectively guaranteed that children would leave school numerate and literate, be liable for negligence or breach of contract?
It's a lovely thought. If cabinet ministers could be bankrupted and sent down for lengthy stretches for broken promises, it would concentrate their minds wonderfully. But here, as with the contents of Her Majesty's Speech, we have slipped through a tear in the fabric of space-time into a fantasy universe.
In this world, a necrotic government has done little more than gaze upon secondary education and thrown up its hands in defeatist dismay. The only way to rescue education was, as it remains, with a massive, sustained injection of funding for buildings, equipment and above all teachers. Given the choice between that hard path and the facile road to cheap headlines signposted by pointless league tables, as always it chose gimmick over policy.
So it is now with this opportunistic nonsense. "Yeah, sure, like that's gonna happen" was the Queen's unspoken addendum to it, as to the other fictions about caning bankers and, most laughable, halving the deficit in four years. To that, I felt, she also tacitly appended a Royle "My arse".
"My Government hasn't a clue what to do about anything," was the sub-text to her oration, "so it's making some very crude electoral bribes, and laying a series of elephant traps for the Tories that David Blunkett would easily avoid if he took his quad bike for a spin in the woods after sticking away a quart of Scotch. My Government is a mirthless joke that will In Hants nothing, and the sooner it becomes my former Government, so much the better for us all."Reuse content