The Sketch: PM comes out swinging against lightweight opponent

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The Independent Online

Black Rod. Gold Stick. Silver Stick. Maltravers Herald Extraordinary. Bluemantle. Rouge Dragon Pursuivant. Personally, I find it hard to see any of this as ridiculous. How can you be unattractive in so much braid and in such sheer stockings? The Serjeant at Arms has extremely nice legs, we can all see that. And of course the ostrich plumes, the gold breastplates and the tight, white riding trousers that stir those odd feelings we better not go into.

Golden lions, shields, angels. They were the powerful communicators in a pre-literate society. They are graphic devices representing power and protection. They are icons that make it easier for modern young people to understand what's going on. They help connect people to the political process. The Commons say that history-heavy costumes get in the way - but we can't help notice that they themselves don't wear the day-glow lime waistcoats that modern working people are now forced into.

This is the irrational part of the British Constitution. It's a marvel of enduring ceremony, considering how indefensible it has become. But it does make two powerful points to civilians: 1) The Queen is the Head of State. This mass of brushed and burnished bodies - horse and human - surrounds her, not the Prime Minister. And 2) this has been going on for longer than anyone present. Sometimes not for very much longer, but there's quite enough medieval content to make us sentimental about the world's first parliamentary democracy.

I watched it on a computer feed. The broadband buffering produced musical effects. The Queen said in her impenetrably respectable way: "Twing twang, twong... with new powers... dwang, dwong... prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction... dwinkle donk... trials without jury... boink... free off-peak local bus travel for pensioners."

Forty-three new Bills, mostly for John Reid to propose. We do all realise, don't we, that Blair is doing to Brown what Howard did to David Davis? And that Brown and Reid are struggling for control of the terror agenda in order to be more popular by being more frightening?

The PM's only hanging on by sheer willpower. Dear me, he sounded threadbare in the Loyal Address. Exhausted by office. And quite childish in some of his points. But he made a fierce defence of his position by a attack on the last Tory government. It was in an excursion from his text, in order to lambast his young opponent about being "soft on crime". He said with great disgust: "The answer isn't in LOVE in inverted commas!" That's when his voice started to shake. He's come a long way, hasn't he?

"The politics of fear from a government of failure," Cameron said. There wasn't much radiance from the Sunshine Party in that remark. And Blair lashed back that Cameron was a lightweight who was getting into the ring only to "come within the reach of the big, clunking fist" of his successor. Cheers, laughter. gasps. (But John Reid's a boxer, remember.)

Back at the Palace, the Queen was having a glass of sherry with her hostage, more or less meaninglessly. But we shouldn't abandon these old customs, like parliamentary democracy, just because we don't understand them any more.

sketch@simoncarr.co.uk

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