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Monday, September 13, 2010 

Don't cancel the Queen's speech; abolish it.

Compared to the "botched" reshuffle of 2003, when Tony Blair all but abolished the historic post of Lord Chancellor in one fell swoop, the proposed moving of the Queen's speech from autumn to spring is not likely to trouble too much those with a fetish for Britain's unique constitution and its arcane unwritten strictures. That hasn't however stopped Labour's shadow ministers, experiencing their last hurrah before their posts are put up for election when the new leader takes over, from objecting in terms similar to those expressed 7 years ago. While the reasons put forward for not holding a Queen's speech next year at all are far from water tight, given it would make sense to start as they mean to go on at the earliest opportunity, rather than skipping a year, and it does look like the government expects there to be serious opposition to the setting out of the cuts coming in comprehensive spending review, most will shrug it off. After all, even though Blair's botched reshuffle had such controversial beginnings, its chief aims, achieved through the 2005 constitutional reform act, established the supreme court replacing the law lords, removed the anomalies associated with the position of Lord Chancellor without abolishing the post itself and established a fully independent body to appoint judges, all thoroughly laudable and necessary changes.

While the reason for moving the Queen's speech is to ensure it ties in with fixed term parliaments, as well as also getting rid of the shortened final parliament at the end of a term prior to a election, there's more than a case for not just cancelling the speech next year but abolishing it in its entirety. The state opening of parliament and connected speech by monarch setting out the government's proposed legislation programme which goes with it are not legally or constitutionally required; instead they are purely ceremonial and traditional, although it does provide a vivid example of the separation of powers and bring together all three branches of government for one special occasion. Increasingly, as with much else surrounding parliament and the monarchy, much of it seems to be continued with not out of any great fondness for the overblown pomp and circumstance, but for both tourism purposes and due to how no one seems to want to be the one to put an end to something which looks increasingly ridiculous as each year passes.

For those of us who hoped that with the Queen's advancing years the whole thing might be quietly forgotten as it becomes increasingly deranged for her to have to don the full regalia and read out a load of what is almost always nonsense inscribed on goatskin vellum to a posse of quaintly dressed lords and legislators, the bad news is that her place will likely be simply taken by the Lord Chancellor. One already suspects that she resents the entire charade, especially considering how she complained when posing in similar garb when being photographed by Annie Liebovitz. It isn't just though that expecting the Queen to keep taking her place in the anachronisms of parliamentary tradition is daft; modernising parliament in its entirety is long overdue. We could start by dispensing with the inane silliness: what, after all, is simply stopping the Speaker from reading out the proposed legislation program at the beginning of each new parliament, a more independent figure now than the Lord Chancellor will be should he be called upon at some point? Some almost certainly would describe it as cultural vandalism, just as they did Blair's "botched" reshuffle, and it's true that it would be consigning part of our cultural history to the dustbin. Parliament must though move with the times; not forgetting its heritage, yet still progressing as society itself has. Hell, perhaps afterwards we could even consider ridding ourselves of the monarchy itself.

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