The Queen’s Speech is one of those fascinating state events that tells so much about where power lies in our political system in the UK.
So many aspects of its traditions and its regalia have so much historic resonance. The crown, the sword of state, the cap of maintenance and other items are all laid out for the public to see. The state coaches, the gathering of all the key members of the royal family and the great officers of state, the changing of flags when the Queen steps foot into the Palace of Westminster. So many traditions, so much history.
Two of my favourites revolve around Black Rod, and around the hostage. Black Rod is the official sent from the Lords to the Commons to summon all the MPs to attend on Her Majesty for the speech. As he approaches the Commons chamber, the door is ceremoniously slammed in his face, forcing him to knock, and request their attendance. It’s all done as a reminder that the MPs ultimately do recognise the Queen’s authority, but also feel able to assert their independence. A Civil War was fought over these issues 350 years ago, so it’s important that lesson learned and victories won are not forgotten.
The hostage also goes back to Civil War times. The Royal family have clearly never forgotten that it was a group of MPs, led by Oliver Cromwell, who tried and executed King Charles I. And so now at each state opening of parliament, to guarantee the Queen’s safety, an MP from the ruling party is taken hostage and delivered to Buckingham Palace. They spend the whole ceremony there, presumably being treated well, watching it all on TV, and enjoying some cucumber sandwiches. But acting as an insurance policy, and a discouragement should any MP decide to attack the monarch.
All these traditions and ceremonies accompany the Queen’s speech. And in many ways they all go back to one issue… power. The crown, the sword, the state coaches, the officers of state, the hostage, the slamming the door… they all are little reminders of the power of the sovereign, and of the power of the MPs.
Westminster is a whole city that now exists around the exercising of power. Its history is really a series of power battles over who rules the Kingdom; first it was King v. Barons, then King v. Parliament, and now it’s often Parliament v. Prime Minister.
Ironically, the one who exercises supreme power in our system, the Queen, is someone who has devoted her life to servant leadership for the past 60 years. Her whole use of power is based on service.
So as the new government seeks to enact all the legislation detailed in the Queen’s speech, pray for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, that they would exercise power as servant leaders, and not as those “seeking to lord it over us.”
Mark Williamson also blogs regularly for One Rock, a training organisation developing missionary leaders across the globe. He’s passionate about good films, good food, getting into deep conversations, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markraynespark.