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Baroness Sal Brinton writes: When pageantry precedes politics

June 4, 2014 12:08 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

As I write this, the military band is just arriving outside my office. Well, all right, outside the House of Lords, to entertain the waiting crowds prior to the Queen's arrival. I feel sometimes that we've got the balance between pageant/history/tradition slightly out of kilter on days like this. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the marching bands, the Queen in her regalia reading out the Government's legislative plan for the coming year.

Parliament seems to go out of its way to lock itself in not just the last century, but the one before. For example, there is a ballot for peers to be able to sit in the Chamber, in their robes. Fine, as there are too many to all be seated in the Chamber. What is less well known is that a number of wives of nobles Lords take precedence over peers providing they wear court dress (tiaras, white silk long court gown, long white gloves are the order of the day). Bizarre.

Most people know of the convention of Black Rod (the Queen's messenger in Parliament) having the door of the Commons slammed in his face, to remind us of the supremacy of the Commons, and that we are a constitutional monarchy. What is less well known is that one of the Whips is "kidnapped" by the Crown, and has to remain as a hostage at Buckingham Palace for the duration of the State Opening. You couldn't make it up.

And then, after the Queen's Speech the Lords is adjourned until 3.30. Why? So that everyone who wants to, and has booked weeks in advance, can go and eat an expensive and slow lunch. Still it must be one of the days that the catering operations in both Houses make a good profit, given the costs of the meal!

Perhaps it is appropriate that my office and the Lib Dem Whips office are both near the plaque marking the site where Guy Fawkes left his barrels of gunpowder…. Perhaps we should reform the House of Lords?