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Diamond speeches

March 20, 2012

Just back from the Royal Gallery in the House of Lords where I met the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.  The reception for  300 MPs and Peers followed the full turnout of both Houses for the “presentation of addresses” in Westminster Hall.

The British do pageantry very well.  This morning we had the Yeoman of the Guard in their uniforms designed in the time of Henry VII complete with their pikes, or were they halberds?  The Lord Speaker and Mr Speaker processed with our maces and sat behind red and green lecterns.  The State Trumpeters of  the Household Cavalry, standing on the window sill of the great south window in front of us, blasted out a welcome.  And there she was, dressed in a lemon outfit, with the hat not quite making up for the fact that she seems smaller than you expect close up.

Mr Speaker Bercow made an excellent address on behalf of the House of Commons, referring to how Britain had changed for the better during the Queen’s 60 year reign.   She now presided over a kaleidoscope nation where people were comfortable with everyone, whatever their social background, race or how we love each other.  There may have been some twitching in seats at the latter point.

The Queen replied that after 60 years, 12 Prime Ministers and signing 3,500 Bills into Acts of Parliament, she would rededicate herself to serving the country.

At the reception afterwards we were grouped in eights to meet either the Queen or the Duke.  My group met Prince Philip first, who asked if we were all MPs?  No, said Baroness Doreen Miller.  Duke – “how am I supposed to tell the difference?”  Lady Miller promptly produced her red striped badge identifying her as a member of the House of Lords.  I showed him my green striped Commons photo-badge.  He held it – “could be anyone, easily faked!” And off he went, our royal encounter over.    But I was pleased at the end, just as the Queen was leaving, Mr Speaker introduced her to me and some colleagues.  He called for “three cheers” and, looking somewhat startled she gave us a wave and was off back to her other London Palace.

So my morning escapism is over.  Back to an afternoon of letters, meetings and debates.

40 Comments leave one →
  1. smoothsilk permalink
    March 20, 2012 7:21 pm

    I cannot think that all this respect & love would happen if we had a President of Britain, or England if Scotland goes independent.

    Long live the Queen & the continuity Monarchy represents built up over so many years.

    No system is perfect, but this is as good as it gets!

    If it isn’t broke don’t fix it, as the saying goes.

  2. March 21, 2012 1:12 am

    As a firm Monarchist I was struck by the Queen’s “Reaffirmation” of her intention to continue to serve the Nation: this, to me, sounded very much like her determination NOT to abdicate in favour of Charles, who in my opinion would make a disastrous King. So I look forward to her long further successful reign and a quick transfer to Prince William and Kate who would be brilliant in the job.

  3. rosemary permalink
    March 21, 2012 11:59 am

    Thank you for this Stephen. It inspired me to stay up and watch the proceedings on The Record.

    I was struck by the aesthetic simplicity of the occasion: the yellow gold stone, the stained glass windows, the understated flowers, the muted band, the plain yellow dress and black gloves of the Queen, set off by the black robes and yellow braid of the two Speakers and the dark suits of the other men around her. All this impeccable good taste and restraint, under Richard II’s hammerbeam roof – an engineering feat which was the most astonishing, remarkable, and revolutionary thing in the Europe of its day.

    Lady De Souza spoke beautifully, but I was a bit perturbed by the theatrical Mr Speaker hailing the Queen as a Kaleidoscopic Queen, and fancy I discerned the very faintest reaction it is possible with good manners to betray, in Her Majesty’s otherwise serious and mostly impassive countenance. It was a pity too that the Home Secretary didn’t curtsy when the Queen passed her. Mrs T always curtsied very low, as was correct, and this in no way demeaned her: it reminded us that PMs come and go, 12 of them so far, while the Queen remains constant. For those who have to endure long years of administrations they don’t feel represented by, this is no small comfort in the grand scheme of things.

    What impressed and delighted me most, was not the formalities, but the informalities. We are quite used to seeing the civilized and intelligent discourse of the Lords – though their ethos is not quite what it was since the accelerated influx of new members from the other place has made it less easy to impart their civilized ways to the novices. The Church, too, usually behaves itself, and the mediaeval stone interior of Westminster Hall gave a sense of being in a sacred place. But never, ever have I seen the Commons behave so beautifully and naturally amongst themselves. It was a revelation.

    Of course the Queen has only known 60 years of everyone being on their best behaviour, so it may not have struck her in quite the same way. But, apart from the very important and necessary function of separating the pomp and heredity from the transient political power, this seems to me the constitutional monarchy’s greatest gift to its subjects: it raises them up to be their best. No coarse, anti elitist “dumbing down” of her people when the Queen is around. And, dear John, the phenomenon works too with the Prince of Wales.

    • rosemary permalink
      March 21, 2012 12:47 pm

      PS I should like to have been a fly on the wall when Prince Philip made his astute observation! Don’t we need someone to point out when the Emperor has no clothes? Of course it is bound to be embarrassing when it happens.

      By the way, what happened to the rule of protocol that you don’t repeat the private words of members of the Royal Family? I know it has never been applied to him – for as long as I can remember. On the contrary, causing international diplomatic difficulties by repeating his words out of context has been a national sport!

      • rosemary permalink
        March 23, 2012 12:25 pm

        PS One of the main reasons to have a constitutional monarchy is that when there is a hung parliament or some other constitutional impasse, there needs to be someone of very great integrity above the party frey, to decide who to send for.

        These decisions should not be made, or the execution of the unifying process controlled, by the cabinet secretary; but it rather looks as if that is the momentous constitutional change being slipped in.

        Liberal Democrats who advocate PR and therefore more hung parliaments, should be thinking about whether they want the monarch to be the chairman of our democracy, or an invisible mandarin.

      • March 23, 2012 10:32 pm

        I wrote about Prince Philip’s comments because I thought they were amusing and were typical of the persona he has developed/cultivated over 60 years. He has also given 60 years service to the country and through the Duke of Edinburgh awards scheme has done a lot of good. As for comments by the Queen I think you just have to use your common sense over discretion, if she makes a personal remark keep it private. If she says something that has wide public interest then I see no harm in it being revealed. On this occasion she just smiled and we shook hands. The last time I met her (at an MPs reception in Buckingham Palace in 2007) she discussed Wallace & Gromit with me because we’d previously met at Aardmans when they got an Oscar!

        While I think having a hereditary Head of State is irrational I think our existing monarch has discharged her duty in an exemplary fashion. I think Prince Charles has also done a lot of good, particularly with the Prince’s Trust, which has helped a lot of young people in Bristol.

  4. March 21, 2012 1:35 pm

    Congratulations to the Lib Dems for getting within a spitting distance of £10,000 tax threshold. Perhaps next year, but near enough.

    • rosemary permalink
      March 21, 2012 2:54 pm

      It’s a pity that morality has gone out of budgets: no longer are married men rewarded for keeping a family; no longer are married women rewarded for devoting themselves to looking after their families; no longer are people of both sexes rewarded for continuing to work into old age; no longer is the creation of employment itself rewarded.

      Very good to flatten and simplify though. And very good, as Dave says, to raise the threshold of income tax – presumably paid for by scrapping the 50% rate.

      • rosemary permalink
        March 21, 2012 2:58 pm

        How could I have forgotten to add : And no longer are people rewarded for saving.

      • March 22, 2012 2:06 pm

        Unless you think fiscal rectitude is a moral position, I think the tax system should be free of moral considerations, we can leave that to social policy. I’m not sure why it is fair to impose higher taxes on people who are single?

      • rosemary permalink
        March 23, 2012 11:39 am

        I do indeed think an insistence on balancing the books and preserving a sound currency to be moral, the most moral thing a chancellor can do – as Mr Gladstone and Mr Chamberlain both did in very different circumstances. The latter managed in this way to deliver a period of low interest rates, sound money, falling prices, and industrial growth. This meant the housing built then for ordinary people was of a quantity, quality, and value for money, never since attained. It was also a period of social stability and increasing prosperity. By all means object that there was unemployment too. But compare it to that in Germany at the same time, and to the political effects there too, of being in debt and printing money.

        Of course it isn’t fair to tax single people to pay for other people’s children – to be born, to be looked after by the NHS, to be educated and trained. But this is done in all welfare states. Furthermore, single people come off worst in getting benefits from the welfare state: always bottom of the housing queue for instance. It is all rather worse than the lot of single people in hotels as compared to couples and families, where the families pay proportionately the least and get the best rooms of all; the couples do OK; and the single people get the dark poky rooms over the lift shaft and extractor fans.

        The reason for single people to accept that it is a good idea for the state to prop up the family is that when it breaks down, the costs bear even more harshly on tax paying single people as they pick up the bill for the broken society. And these costs are not just monetary.

        Even if it doesn’t break, a society based on taxing everyone as single means single people must eventually pay for universal childcare on top of everything else. It is better value for everyone to have mothers and grandmothers, supported by their menfolk, looking after their own children, not just in money terms but in the whole quality of life.

        Women now have to work whether they want to or not. It is one of the consequences of Nigel Lawson’s taxing them separately and giving them double tax relief on mortgages. The price of houses doubled. Another minus for single people.

      • rosemary permalink
        March 23, 2012 11:58 am

        A tax system that forces married women out to work will affect single people in other ways too – by increasing the competition for jobs, for example.

      • rosemary permalink
        March 23, 2012 12:01 pm

        And in increasing the labour market in this way, not only are single people finding employment harder to get, but single people’s wages are driven down.

      • May 29, 2012 12:16 am

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  5. robertjessetelford permalink
    March 21, 2012 11:27 pm

    The Royal Family is your escapism? You need to get out more, Stephen…

  6. John Rippon permalink
    March 24, 2012 12:40 am

    You point to the Prince’s Trust etc. but forget that he has put his foot in it more times than his father! As A Monarch I think he would be a disaster: Pamela Parker-Bowles may be a very nice, decent person but I have serious doubts about her competence to be effectively the Princess-Consort to King Charles III. I still believe the swift transfer to William and Kate would be the best for our Monarchical system which I fervently support.

    • rosemary permalink
      March 24, 2012 9:47 am

      How do you know Mrs P-B will outlive the Queen?

      • rosemary permalink
        March 24, 2012 9:58 am

        And the elderly Edward VII turned out a very successful, much-loved and respected monarch, contrary to the expectations of many, including his own parents.

      • John Rippon permalink
        March 25, 2012 1:32 am

        Pointless comments Rosemary:
        (a) if Mrs. P-B died we would then have a dubious King WITHOUT a Consort: you think that this would a better deal???
        (b) as the Prince of Wales, Edward VII led an appallingly sleazy life some details of which were heard of despite Victoria’s desperate efforts to suppress the details by her near Dictatorial control over the Press/Government. Edward today would never have been able to withstand the full glare 0f 2012 style Media/Government and would certainly have been passed over!!

      • rosemary permalink
        March 26, 2012 5:25 pm

        Sorry to have been pointless, John – I was trying to be brief. Please forgive the length now, Stephen.

        There is a long essay to be written on the merits and demerits of fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, and polygamists as leaders; and a shorter one on adulteresses, lesbians, and polyandrists. A long essay too on debtors, if that is what you also mean by “sleaze” – a slangword which was recoined especially for bringing down the Major administration when there weren’t serious policy differences between the parties on which to do it. For now, I simply draw your attention to Richard II and Charles I as exemplary husbands, and to Catherine II as an enlightened and successful monarch.

        George VI was the only monarch I can think of who was a successful and much-loved king, a faithful husband, a good father, and not in anyone’s debt – probably above all reproach, even by today’s hypocritical standards. But then his temperament is not said to have been of the best.

        We can’t just pass over heirs to the throne if some of us don’t like the look of them. What about those of us who do like the look of them? And what about the Acts of Succession?

        After the Norman Conquest and for the rest of the middle ages it took some time for male primogeniture to settle down: Stephen and Matilda had a long tussle; King John was deposed, having previously supplanted his older brother’s heirs; Edward II was deposed and murdered; Richard II was deposed and murdered; Richard III was killed in battle, having supplanted the sons of his older brother. In the Tudor period, Lady Jane Grey was deposed and executed; in the Stuart period Charles I was tried and executed; James II fled the country and his vacant throne then passed jointly to his elder daughter Mary and her husband who was also a descendant of the royal line.

        With that came a glorious revolutionary constitutional settlement: so no more regicide, no more depositions, no more military defeats, no more flights; and no more falling out between Crown and Parliament.

        Male primogeniture, not Salic Law, became the sole deciding factor, subject to the Acts of Succession – until the abdication crisis in the 1930s. Do we want to go through that again?

        Through all this history, the institution of monarchy survived, the oldest monarchy in Europe, i.e. not older than Japan’s, and it is the institution which matters, not the individual.

        The individual in our modern constitutional monarchy gets a lot of help from a lot of people to make their reign a success, and having been set apart from birth should be above being bought if the family remain well off. This Queen has benefited greatly from the support of countless people over the 60 years, not least her highly intelligent husband – as Queen Victoria and the country did from Prince Albert.

        A practical argument against the current anti-sexist reform of the succession laws is that women can live a lot longer than men, and you might get stuck with a wrong’un for a very long time, rather more often than would otherwise be the case. A philosophical reason is that the old Anglo-Norman laws of inheritance are usually anti-ageist where daughters are concerned, and this reform may set off a general reform in inheritance law which is therefore regressive for girls.

        The main problem I forsee for whoever outlives the Queen to succeed her, is that heredity is a difficult thing to justify now the hereditary peerage has been largely thrown out of the House of Lords, and courtiers can therefore no longer be drawn from it with the same logic. The monarchy is more isolated than the Queen’s standing in the world might lead one to suppose. “No Bishop, No King” might have been given way under New Labour to “No Aristocracy, No Monarchy”, but it didn’t.

        If I had to criticise our present Queen, it might be over the signing of the 1972 European Treaty, and others on the back of it. We don’t know whether Mr Heath lied to her at the time. We know he lied to the Cabinet and to Parliament, and we know he lied to the electorate.

        We don’t know whether the Prince of Wales would have insisted on hanging on to our national sovereignty and independence. I don’t agree that he and his father have put their feet in it – apart from the P of W agreeing to be interviewed by the most impertinent Dimbleby and answering questions he shouldn’t have.

        It is a short step from passing over the heir to the throne to not having an heir at all. We could then get a hugely expensive popularity contest between a couple of multi-billionaires, and end up with Richard Branson, or some foreign oligarch’s daughter. Democracy, accountability, openness and transparency – or whatever the cliches will be by then – almost certainly won’t improve on what we have grown organically here at home.

        Finally, if Mrs P-B were to die before the Queen, and the Prince of Wales outlive them both, why shouldn’t he enjoy the company and friendship of many women as he has always done? He didn’t particularly want to “marry” Mrs P-B in the first place. He gave in to pressure from the media and other ill-judged quarters. He has two heirs of his own, and there are other children in the family, so there would be no need to make another marriage on accession. So yes, in answer to your question, I do think it would be better, because there would not be the difficulty there was over Mrs Simpson. (We can discuss disestablishment another time perhaps.)

  7. January 29, 2013 3:41 am

    This is a great little place, I can not believe that I didn’t find it already!


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