So the Rouge Dragon Pursuivant has hung up his playing card outfit, the Cap of Maintenance is packed away in its moth-free box; the Guards are back on guard, their ladyships’ tiaras secure in the bank vault, and the ermine duly returned to Moss Bros. The State Opening of Parliament is over for another year, and legislators in Lords and Commons can get about their more mundane legislative duties. I personally love the flummery, the history, the pageantry. It’s what makes us British, and we are extremely good at it. Everyone knows about Black Rod having the door slammed in his face to symbolise the supremacy and independence of the elected House of Commons. It may sound silly; but it has important symbolism in the balance of our ancient constitution.
The Gracious Speech itself, of course, is written not by Her Majesty, but by some pretty dry civil servants. And it sounds like it. Why can’t they at least try to draft it in slightly more Monarchical language? It did seem to me pretty thin this year – fifteen worthy but unexciting Bills for us to mull over for 12 months. I personally will be taking a keen interest in the Defence Bill, which amongst other things will try to make the Reserves fit to be deployed in Theatre of War. But otherwise, three years into the Parliament, we have carried out the biggest and most radical of our plans, and suppose we are moving towards a bit of tidying up before the next General Election.
The real story has been about what was NOT in the Speech- namely a Bill to legislate for an In/Out Referendum on our membership of the EU. I was one of the first Tory rebels to sign up to an amendment decrying that omission, the outcome of the vote on which you will know by the time you read this.
David Cameron has promised an In/Out Referendum in 2017. But who knows what events or changes may intervene in the meantime. He plans a fundamental renegotiation of our membership of the EU, but what if he fails to achieve it? He will hardly want to go to the country with some kind of a limp rag of a failed renegotiation, and most of us recognise that it’s pretty unlikely that he will genuinely be able to achieve a fundamental change to the architecture of the European behemoth. So let’s have an Act of Parliament which will guarantee such a referendum. It will shoot UKIP’s fox; it will give the voters some real red meat for the 2015 General Election; and it will flush out Labour and the Lib Dems, who will, we imagine, vote against any such proposal.
These are very big issues – potentially affecting the way we are governed for generations to come. Thanks only to a rock-solid Constitution such as ours, symbolised by the Imperial State Crown and the like, can we contemplate such a fundamental re-alignment. In other countries round the world it would take a revolution. Here we do it by slamming a door in a retired general’s face.