18 Reasons Why The Queen’s Speech Is A Really Weird Ceremony

It’s the State Opening of Parliament! Pageboys for all.

1. It’s time for the State Opening of Parliament, featuring the Queen’s Speech. Which is one of the greatest, most bizarre British traditions.

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Half the army goes on parade and hundreds of bears are turned into hats. Westminster comes to a standstill.

2. The Queen comes to parliament in an official coach to read out her speech. Which is actually a legislative wish list for the next year written by David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

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This happens every year or so. It’s the government equivalent of when your boss calls a “progress meeting” and everyone in your team sets over-ambitious targets and promises to work extra hard and do great stuff over the next 12 months.

3. First up, the Yeoman of the Guard arrive in full regalia to symbolically sweep the cellars in order to symbolically prevent any modern day Guy Fawkes symbolically blowing up parliament with the Queen inside.

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4. Then a single MP is taken hostage at Buckingham Palace. Symbolically. To ensure nothing symbolically untoward happens to the Queen while she’s in parliament.

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We’d like to think they spend this period playing hopscotch with the corgis and enjoying a large sherry.

5. The benches of the House of Lords start to fill up with the spouses of peers wearing diamond tiaras, who have the right to sit there because they always have.

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In some cases this is because they married the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandson of someone who once knew someone who had an affair with King Charles II.

6. Because the House of Lords is a bit odd, you’ll find Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellows and children’s TV star Floella Benjamin on the red benches.

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7. And then the Queen parades through a room of dignitaries and sits on the throne at the top of the House of Lords.

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Meanwhile, all the country’s top judges sit like naughty schoolchildren on the benches in the middle, wearing wigs.

8. The official order of procession contains the most astonishing list of names and terms you’ll ever see.

Jim Waterson

Really, don’t skip this. Take the time to have a good read and soak up each term.

Holler for my Richmond Herald! Big up the Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary! Let’s hear it for the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod!

9. No really, it gets better.

Jim Waterson

The Earl Marshal is a hereditary position, so the first born son of the current holder has a responsibility to prance about in front of the Queen at the opening of parliament whether he likes it or not. And his son. And his son.

Meanwhile the position of Lord Great Chamberlain, whose role is to a carry a white stick, is a hereditary position shared by several families according to a fractional system. This is so confusing it seems to have been allocated by some form of aristocratic roulette.

10. Once everyone’s paraded into the Lords, Black Rod is despatched down to House of Commons, has the door symbolically slammed in his face and not-so-symbolically attempts to smash it down.

Eventually the Commons lets him in and take up the Queen’s invitation to join her in the Lords.

11. Labour MP Dennis Skinner is then constitutionally required to crack a bad joke while refusing to be summoned to the House of Lords.

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The role of the “Reluctant Skinner” is thought to date from medieval times and has passed down from generation-to-generation of stubborn Derbyshire men. It’s in Erskine May, honest.

12. Speaker Bercow has a little bit too much fun being paraded through to the Commons, as MPs and staff look on.

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13. The party leaders, who spend most of the year kicking seven shades out of each other, then pretend to make small talk for the cameras while they walk through to the House of Lords.

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14. Eventually everyone, including the new Lords in hired stoat fur clothing, settles down for the main event.

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15. The Queen then has the speech presented to her by the Lord Chancellor. There’s also a copy made on goat-like paper.

Toby Melville / Reuters

Until recently whenever the government included something in the Queen’s Speech it had to be written down on vellum. In a positive development for goats, this has been superseded by “goatskin parchment paper”.

16. And finally, the speech. The Queen reels off a list of things the government wants to do. She has to read out whatever’s on the page.

Last year the government made her say “internet protocol”, presumably as part of an internal Downing Street joke.

But remember, every time the Queen says “my government will”, what she actually means “if the coalition holds it together for another few months then this lot might just pass something resembling the law I’m announcing”.

17. And then, as soon as it’s over, parliament goes back to normal and tries to do some of the stuff the Queen just promised.

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Pensions reforms, awlright!

18. Still, although the whole thing’s a bit silly it’s a pleasingly awkward family outing for some people.

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Jim Waterson is politics editor at BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.
 
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