This week we had the spectacle that is the state opening of the Westminster Parliament in which elderly men and women raided the dressing up box and bedecked themselves in fancy costumes. The vast majority of the Lords and Ladies in their ermine robes and coronets are no more lords or ladies than anyone else. They owe their pretendy titles to the patronage of a Prime Minister for services or donations rendered. They don’t embody nobility, they embody grift and time-serving.
The ceremony of the state opening of Parliament is neither ancient nor steeped in tradition, the pageant was devised in its essentials in Victorian times in order to bestow an air of hoary legitimacy to an undemocratic Parliament which was under severe pressure to grant the vote to all adult men irrespective of wealth or property, a pressure which Westminster resisted until 1918, when women over the age of 30 were granted the right to vote too. Its supposedly ancient rituals are nothing of the sort. They are simply a species of theatre aimed at hiding the lack of democracy and accountability in the British state.
The traditional search of the cellars of the Palace of Westminster is conducted ahead of the State opening of Parliament and dates back to 1605 when Tory MPs used to hide stashes of tractor porn and cocaine down there.
In its current form the state opening is a creation of the reign of Victoria’s successor Edward VII, a vain and insecure man more interested in gambling, eating, drinking, hunting, and womanising than the welfare of his subjects. The pomp and flummery of the state opening was designed as a sop to the massive ego of a man who devoted his life and energies to self-indulgence. Just like the privileged and entitled royals who starred in this panto, it was an embarrassment. This is what democracy in the UK in 2022 looks like.
In the absence of the Queen the event was presided over by Prince Charles, wearing a full dress admiral’s uniform for the occasion even though he has never been and never will be a real admiral, he was dripping with jewels and his chest was weighed down with medals he’d never earned but which he had been given by his maw so that he wouldn’t feel left out when in the company of people who really had earned the medals pinned to their uniforms. What Charles and other members of his family sport are not medals won for valour or for great achievement, the only thing they have achieved is the great fortune of being born into immense wealth and privilege. The medals, decorations and gew-gaws which adorn their fancy uniforms are nothing more than the awards equivalent of a pity fuck.
Charles sat on a golden throne beside a crown of gold and precious jewels and informed his mother’s subjects that her government could not be arsed to do anything much to help its citizens cope with a cost of living crisis which in no small measure is a creation of this government and which it is about to make even worse by threatening a trade war with the EU in order to reward the DUP for its pig-headed intransigence over the Northern Irish protocol which the British Government itself negotiated and agreed to. This is despite the fact that in last week’s Stormont elections the people of Northern Ireland, using a strictly proportional voting system, gave a large majority to parties which support the Protocol.
The jewel encrusted crown which was brought to Westminster in its own Rolls Royce is worth an estimated £3.5 billion, a sum which could rescue millions of families from poverty. It sat beside a jewel encrusted prince who lives a life of privilege and luxury beyond the imaginations of most of us, privileges and luxury which we all pay for. You couldn’t ask for a starker illustration of the priorities of the British state.
However this is a government which is not content with rewarding the parties which lost last week’s elections in Northern Ireland, the speech intoned by Charles like he was doing us all a favour also contained provisions to further the UK’s descent into authoritarianism, Having recently given itself control over the hitherto independent electoral commission, this government wants to follow it up by criminalising many forms of public protest and demonstrations, demonising refugees, deporting asylum seekers to a dictatorship which recently experienced an actual genocide, and trashing what is left of Britain’s international reputation by ripping up an international treaty that it had negotiated and agreed to.
Just like democracy in the UK, the entire event is play acting which is devoid of real substance, a ridiculous travesty where people dressed up in fancy uniforms covered in medals which they have not earned pretend that they are participating in an ancient and time honoured ritual in order to showcase a democracy which is as fake as the historicity of this sop of a pageant. This was the British establishment saying, “Look here peasants, this is our imperial state, not the modern democracy you want, so just do as you’re told, pay your taxes, and Nicholas Witchell will be along in a few minutes to witter on about street parties for the platinum jubilee.”
The State Opening of Parliament is an absurd, archaic, pantomime that should be consigned to the dustbin of history, along with all the rest of the ridiculous, anachronistic pseudo-historical rituals. It’s long past time that Britain grew up and stopped wallowing in a dream of the past.
The state opening of Parliament is a ritual introduced in Victorian times in order to distract and deflect from the popular demand for a government which was democratic, representative, and accountable. One hundred and seventy years later it is still performing the same role. However with the inevitability that within a couple of years Charles will take over from his mother, who by virtue of her longevity enjoys a respect which the scandal ridden Charles can never hope to receive, there is a sense that the wheels are about to come off the royal carriage of pageantry and pomp which sustains and inflates the British nationalist exceptionalism disguising the democratic deficit at the heart of the British state.
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