Queen's Speech: Lords sketch

Queen's Speech was a little lacking in... well, everything
Queen's Speech was a little lacking in... well, everything

The Queen will be wondering why she bothered.

By Alex Stevenson

After three hours of buildup, just six minutes passed between the lord high chancellor Jack Straw's bowing and scraping to give her the Speech and his bowing and scraping to stuff it back in his sack. Not all of the Speech was even about the government's legislative agenda, anyway.

"The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our visit to Bermuda and our state visit to Trinidad and Tobago," the Queen said lightly, completely lacking the air of one telling others about a coming holiday. It seemed much more relevant than what Gordon Brown was hoping to shove through parliament, anyway.

Then, towards the end, Her Majesty demanded the attention of "members of the House of Commons". Was a stinging rebuke about their expenses forthcoming? No, just a handy piece of information that "estimates of the public services will be laid before you". Brown nodded approvingly, apropos of nothing, before looking round to see if any peers had noticed his enthusiasm. It didn't look as if they had.

They just sat there as the Queen rattled through the government's curtailed agenda. Norman Lamont's eyes drooped as she trotted out New Labour speak. Hearing her royal tones proclaim the importance of ensuring the "national debt is at a sustainable level" brought a few stifled snorts of laughter. So too did the comments on the equality bill, which the Queen said would "help address the difference in pay between men and women". Prince Philip, by far the coolest man in the building as he gazed out with utter disdain at all and sundry, didn't even twitch.

As usual with these occasions, the buildup inside the Lords chamber provided the greatest potential for amusement. By the time I arrived almost all had taken their seats, the sea of ermine mixed with rows and rows of tiara-laden baronesses. The sparkling jewellery was somewhat overwhelming. An off-the-shoulder number proved especially eye-catching; as an observer close by put it, another's cleavage was just "an inch away from obscenity".

Lady Thatcher tottered in, looking whiter than ever. Lord Goldsmith, the ex-attorney general, exchanged a joke with Baroness Scotland. Baroness Uddin took a picture on her mobile phone. Alan Sugar checked his mobile.

But there was still some time to go, as the rigmarole - mostly taking place elsewhere - dragged on and on. Peers spent their time chattering loudly, before suddenly falling silent as the Sovereign's coach pulled through the gates. "They do this every year," a Lords attendant next to me whispered indignantly. "She'll be at least another 12 minutes!"

Slowly quiet chatter restored itself. Sarah Brown, wearing a spectacular sparkly object on her head, appeared in one of the side galleries, accompanied by the black-hat wearing Maggie Darling. Was the economy really that bad? Sally Bercow didn't seem to think so. She had arrived even earlier than us, perhaps to give the kingdom's barons time to get used to the bizarrely extensive foliage which had sprouted from her right ear. Her fishnet tights caused some excitement, too.

Some vague shouting echoed through the chamber. Shortly afterwards vague trumpeting was heard, too. Heralds wandered in looking confused. A soldier snapped to attention, as if the arrival of the monarch was the last thing in the world he was expecting.

Maybe he was disappointed when she was preceded by a sulky-looking Straw. He looked like a small boy unwillingly forced into fancy dress. Peter Mandelson's ermine, by contrast, was fabulous. The pair lingered by the side as the Queen entered, looking utterly placid. She sat down, folded her hands in her lap, and waited.

Assembled foreign dignitaries looked utterly baffled as she sat there patiently while Black Rod scurried across the Palace to fetch the Commoners. They turned up eventually, to the diplomats' relief, Speaker Bercow looking his usual delighted self and Brown appearing unusually imperious.

David Cameron, to his immediate left, looked less impressed. At least that's it looked like from my perspective, positioned about six feet above his head. He has a strange side-parting on the left side of his scalp. You can say what you like about the prime minister, but don't diss his grey-white swirls. Not a bald spot in sight.

Nick Clegg, peering between their shoulders, was relegated to the third row alongside William Hague and the chancellor. Behind them it was the volume of talking which jarred. The atmosphere in the Lords exuded centuries of superiority; the sublime dignity and delicacy of the place was being trampled upon by the everyday chatter of MPs.

And, for shame, those among them responsible for running the government hadn't even provided something meaty for the Queen to get into. The monarch didn't hang around afterwards; as I write her coach has wheeled away past Parliament Square up Whitehall, back for a little bite of royal lunch. In six months she'll be back, with something much more interesting to reveal to the nation.


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