It would be easy to deride the State Opening of Parliament as a load of flannel and frippery, flunkies and floozies, flummery and folderol.
Black Rod knocks three times on the door of the Commons Chamber which we have slammed in his face. He’s the Queen’s servant, so he can only come in by invitation, not by right. “Admit Black Rod” we rather laconically say, and then we saunter down to the Lords Chamber to see what’s on the menu for this year. Hands in pockets. Bit of a yawn.
But there we slovenly Commoners are greeted by the full panoply of State Ceremonial. Her Majesty resplendent as always, The Duke of Edinburgh implacable, The Prince of Wales and our own North Wiltshire Royal, Camilla; peers in their scarlet and ermine, peeresses in tiaras recovered from bank vaults; chaps dressed as playing cards, one peer with a velvety ‘Cap of Maintenance’ atop a stick, people with mediaeval titles walking backwards, a fainting page boy, oriental ambassadors in full fig. What a magnificent sight it all is.
And what an important symbol of the State. We are all men of straw without these very visible symbols of our ancient and mighty, our stable if slightly dotty, constitution. The laws which we will make as the first majority Conservative Government for a generation are the product of months of thought, acres of drafting, consultation and argument. Yet it is Her Majesty who reads it out for us and enjoins us to trot off back to the Commons end of the Palace and set about putting it into law. There is important - if sometimes mysteriously important - symbolism about the whole thing.
For we Commoners it is the start of five years hard work - a series of important and sometimes controversial proposals which we will have to get through the complexity of the Parliamentary legislative system on a wafer-thin majority. The In/Out Referendum; further controlling immigration and benefits; supporting enterprise and sorting out the Scottish muddle. Those and so many more proposals will find their way through Parliament: amended; scrutinised; changed around. But their legitimacy comes ultimately from the Conservative majority, the primacy of the House of Commons (ruefully admitted by the Lords), and ultimately the authority of the Monarch.
Our constitutional arrangements are the product of a thousand years of development symbolised by the pageantry of the State Opening. It may all seem out of date, obscure or complex. But one thing is for sure: like it or not it produces the best laws and the best governance of any Parliament in the world.