Glen Newey · The Queen’s Speech
The Queen’s Speech has all the pomposity and solemnity of a panto you’re not allowed to laugh at. This bowdlerises its political content, grimly apparent were it delivered by a nerd in a lounge suit. Elizabeth lumbers in, glazed and jowly, with the familiar cast of attendant lords, including her husband, her heir and her heir’s duchess, who’s kitted out with a purple sash that could be left over from the Ukip election campaign. As ever the queen herself looks as if her breakfast porridge had too much mogadon in it. Since she always reads her script as if she were reciting the E numbers on a packet of jelly, it’s anyone’s guess what, if anything, she thinks about it. The custodian of the speech is a nerd usually seen in a lounge suit, Michael Gove, who from journeyman beginnings as a Times hack and a Commons expenses home-flipper, has now hit it big as lord chancellor. Yesterday he got to try out his new 18th-century chancellorial garb.
Aided by the Tory speech team, Gove has clearly put his trade to work ventriloquising the queen, of whom he’s a diehard fan. Some utterances seem patently mendacious: ‘My government will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country.’ One Nation under Gove, previously the Big Society, is a bigger marquee than cynical commentators have supposed. Things will be especially nice for the well-to-do mansion-dweller, the non-immigrant, the non-zero-hours employee, the non-druggie, the non-fox, and above all for the hard-working working-class worker, his toiling family, his slavishly diligent dog and its no less Stakhanovite, busily bloodsucking fleas. The more austerity depresses output – creates more work – the more virtue there is in industry. One falls to wondering if it’s the queen or her government who counts as lying. Is she to be held responsible for what drops from her lips, or is she, as her government’s puppet, legibus soluta, no more a moral agent than Kermit the frog? Her mien suggests the queen suspects it’s the latter.
In his online introduction to the speech, David Cameron avows his plan to get people’s noses out to the grindstone rather than ‘sitting at home’, where if not teleworking or enjoying the proceeds of their trust fund, they may be doing non-work things like bringing up children or caring for a frail relative. Whence the ‘workless households’ Cameron mentions, which menace the docility that is the Englishman’s birthright and solemn duty. Trade unions, organisations to stop workers working, get a further whack – ‘essential service’ employees will need a turnout of 50 per cent to authorise strike action, with 40 per cent of eligible voters in favour of it (so at least 80 per cent of votes on a 50 per cent turnout). The work business even pops up in the section that promises to ban so-called ‘legal highs’ (normals’ psychoactive drugs of choice – ethanol, caffeine, nicotine and so on – are unaffected; after all, you need something to make working life bearable). The ban aims to ‘protect hard-working citizens’ from psychoactive degeneracy; slackers are fair game from whom no better can be expected.
Quasi-privatisation continues with the spread of ‘free’ schools and the enforced flog-off of housing association properties. The government still wants to crash out of the European human rights convention. There will, on top, be English votes for English laws. All this makes it likelier that the Scots try to peel off from the Union, particularly if the English (for they will be responsible) choose to leave the EU in 2017. Either the English will fume at being locked into the EU by No-voting Welsh and Scots, or the latter will resent being sprung from it by the English. Her majesty reads out the recipe for strife and the possible dismemberment of her kingdom phlegmatically. The mogadon has done its job.
That’s more than can be said for Gove, who managed to fluff his one duty of the day – putting the speech in its fetching damask bag, an operation he’s walked through by the nonagenarian Duke of Edinburgh. On day one of his old job as chief whip, Gove locked himself in a toilet, from which someone had the heartlessness to rescue him.