The demise of the Queen has been planned for and the processes that followed her death were developed and agreed years ago. Operation London Bridge and Unicorn have been rehearsed and improved over time. That’s not cruel, it reflects two facts. First the Queen was well into her nineties, so no one was being premature and second as the head of the monarchy a transition is required that is quick and legally binding. We have known for years that Prince Charles would ascend to the throne. The speed of transition is to dampen down any discussion around a republic and also provide continuity which at least historically was seen to be desirable. The events that have taken place since the Queen died and will continue for two days after her funeral will seem to many as unnecessary or over the top. To others the pomp and circumstance around these ceremonies is valued and respected. I find myself as the elected member of parliament caught in the middle. I never like pomp and circumstance, I don’t like to stand on ceremony. It’s not something I am personally comfortable with. But I do understand that at times of great change there is a need for that change to be in the public eye and therefore it is open, transparent and can be critiqued.
On Monday, I was present at the Presentation of Addresses. This is basically two speeches from the House of Lords and House of Commons to the new monarch. The King then replied with his speech. This is the first time it has been such a public affair, it’s normally a more low-key event but this time it became a public ceremony in its own right. It would be wrong to say London came to a standstill to accommodate it but the city of Westminster did. During my short walk in to work there were noticeably more police vans parked up in side streets. A couple of police cars sped through red traffic lights with their blue lights flashing. The pop-up media city has grown overnight and my normal entrance to the estate is not available and so I enter the parliamentary estate via Black Rod’s gate at the House of Lords. There is a stillness and a calm within the estate but that’s not unusual for 8am. What is unusual is the queue of MPs that is already forming to get into Westminster Hall. Some MPs relish such events. Westminster hall is the oldest part of the palace estate and dates back over 900 years. It has seen many a state occasion and monarchs and prime minister have lay in state within its walls. It’s also where William Wallace was tried before the King in 1305 before being hung, drawn and quartered. It seems trivial amidst such history to note that the acoustics are not great and the sound of the band of the Household Cavalry emanating from their position below the south window balcony is slightly muffled. But nobody seems to care. The Yeomen of the Guard enter in their instantly recognisable red uniforms along with the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen with preposterous white feathered helmets. Together they are officially the King’s Bodyguard. They look a trifle old for that in my opinion and the men in blue suits with ear-pieces and bulging jackets standing inconspicuously at the fringes seem leaner and keener to me. Security is high. With MPs, Lords and the new Monarch all under one roof, I am not surprised. The media are accommodated with some very cleverly disguised partitions that look like the walls of the hall but they weren’t there the day before and they won’t be there the day after. The speeches are made, trumpets are blown, and everyone troops back out. Was it all necessary? Not really. It happens so people can dress up in costumes that make them and the event seem important and then people that attend hope the importance rubs off on them. The new King barely glanced at anyone in the crowd, but grown men and women cried at the thought of just being in his presence. I was happy to represent Inverclyde, but I didn’t shed a tear.
Picture – ©UK Parliament_Photography by Roger Harris