I have written often about leaders and their actions in Leaders we deserve for over ten years and in a thousand posts. The State Opening of the new Parliament provides me with yet another case example.
The event [wednesday 21 June 2017] took place after a spectacular disruption of events in the UK. A year ago, the unexpected result of the EU referendum dislodged Prime Minister Cameron. Infighting finished off leading pretenders, and outsider Theresa May took over unopposed.
At the start of the election campaign, the Prime Minister faced a Labour Party opposition led by the unpopular Jeremy Corbyn. She resisted the temptation to call a premature second election but then changed her mind. The campaign was badly run, May campaigned weakly on a platform of her being a Strong and Stable leader. Corbyn offered his expected radical alternative. The result shocked most observers, and left the government worse off in seats in Parliament .Rule with a minority of votes was a possibility. An attempt to boost numbers of seats by support from the Northern Irish DUP (Democratic Unionists Party) was being negotiated. The State Opening of Parliament took place without resolution of the matter..
Meanwhile, events conspired against the wounded leader. Several dreadful terrorist attacks, and a horrendous tower-block fire, reinforced her difficulty in revealing her deeply-held emotions. Her description as robotic, The Maybot, gained traction from regular political sketches by John Scace, and entered political vocabulary.
The Ritual Opening of Parliament
The Queen eschewed the customary State Carriage with its requirement for full ceremonial dress. This was announced earlier, but the occasion retained its air of unreality and still with much ritual. There were plenty of weirdly dressed personages. The Queen arrived in a very large car. The royal crown arrived it its own car, and had its own special place as she read out ‘her’ speech. The charade of knocking on locked doors and enacting the mystical relationship between monarch and parliament is enacted.
The proceedings are transmitted to a bemused world, showing what a funny place this country is. The image make up a simulacrum, a fiction based on an original which never existed of Olde England.
In the space of a few hours, a scene unfolded which captured the stability, perhaps the over-stability of the culture transmitted around the world. The bizarre trappings of the State Opening of Parliament have ossified over centuries and reinforce.the image of the funny old-fashioned country we are.
The Queen’s Speech and Brexit
“The main focus of the speech was breakfast,” says a TV reporter, adding “Brexit, not breakfast. Sorry, I knew I’d get that wrong, sooner or later.”
Brexit was indeed much-mentioned in the speech, which was briefer than usual. It had been revised hastily to remove mention of the policies on which the Government fought and dismally failed to convince the electorate, during the General Election.
The little problem of the DUP
“The DUP are very experienced in these matters” Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP and ultra-committed Brexiteer said afterwards, trying to explain why the planned confidence and support arrangement is still being negotiated. This leaves the Government with a parliamentary minority. It has not go unnoticed that the Government’s negotiating difficulties with ten DUP members does not auger well for the tasks ahead with the EU team of crack negotiators..
The Great Repeal Bill
An excited Brexit advocate insists the social benefits of membership of the EU will be retained by the Great Repeal Bill which will incorporate all Euro legislation. I need guidance, I can’t make sense of it and look to be enlightened in the debate on the queen’s speech. If the original legislation was bad, why take it over with the claimed intention of not changing anything?
Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the speech.
Corbyn began with his deepest regrets of the loss of life in the recent disasters, and from the Houses of Parliament. He moved on to strong condemnation of the paucity of policy in speech. He welcomed absence of several undesirable policies in the manifesto, including new grammar schools, offering a new vote on fox-hunting, and repealing the triple-lock on OAP pensions.
He asked for a response from the Goverment mostly on points just about exhausted during the election. He also offered a few signals for attack points to be expected, during the further days of debate. The speech was not exactly a block-buster. Unlike the effect of many of his earlier efforts, the noises from the government benches sounded half-hearted in response.
The PM rises to respond
First she sends best wishes to the hospitalized Duke of Edinburgh. Then she chooses a less combative style than usual in her opening remarks about terrorism. Soon however, the orchestrated questions return her and viewers to the same old PMQ culture.
The PM seems uncomfortable with the requirements of being heart-broken, and needs a little more practice. Her first attempt at a joke was a dreadful pun over the missing (Alex) Salmon, but was applauded loudly by her loyal supporters.
When challenged about the election result, the PM tries to rouse the ranks with a ploy which used to work, three questions requiring a crescendo of triumphant cries in answer. Something went wrong amid points of order. Something has changed about the House. She was not helped by the lethargy behind her. In contrast, Corbyn had more support from erstwhile opponents in his own ranks. She continued pluckily, but the speech always promised to have an uninspiring end. In that, I was not disappointed.
Dinosaurs and unparliamentary language
DUP interventions give an indication of hallmark truculence and easily-roused resentments in Northern Ireland’s political encounters. Sir Geoffrey Robinson objected to reference to his party as Dinosaurs. Speaker Berkow assured him it was not unparliamentary language, and anyway, dinosaurs existed for a very long time. It is easy to see how the Goverment discussions with the DUP were taking longer than anyone thought at the outset.
Corbyn and May: Compare and Contrast
Image and reality. Since her unelected accession to leader of the Conservative party and prime Minister of HM’s Government, Teresa May has appeared as a dominant force in the public showings in Prime Minister’s Question Time. Her weekly humiliation of Jeremy Corbyn showed a streak of cruelty in her cleverly constructed put-downs. All polls suggested a sudden election would produce a landslide. The encouragement from the Main Stream Media prompted the PM to complete a U-turn on the grounds of obstructive behaviour of opposition parties at a time the country needed strong and stable leadership. This was to become her at the election slogan, and one which contributed to her party’s election misfortunes. Her performance increasingly revealed her skills at Question Time were not replicated in unstructured situations. Corbyn was winning large audiences of young people who were immune to the daily venom supplied by the Conservative Sun and Daily Mail, partly because they got their information from social networks and media.
The Guardian’s John Crace produced a series of brilliant political sketches during the Election campaign. His description of Theresa May as the Maybot has moved into popular use. Here is an extract from his take on the State Opening of Parliament.
No one could say they weren’t warned. The Supreme Leader had promised a coalition of chaos if she lost six seats and a coalition of chaos was what the country was getting. What she hadn’t made clear was that the coalition of chaos would be all hers.
After a morning’s work of emergency repairs to her circuits, which had overloaded the night before, the Maybot was eventually in a fit state to meet the Queen shortly after 12 o’clock. Her husband Philip put her through her final tests. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am the Supreme Leader,” the Maybot replied, rather more confidently than she felt. “Strong and stable. Strong and stable”.
John Crace, The Guardian, Friday 9th June, The Maybot is trapped in the first phase of election grief – denial
The earlier perceptions of Theresa May as strong and stable, and Corbyn as wildly radical and unable to command respect were shown to be at best based on partial and temporary sets of beliefs. Both became leaders because other candidates were considered wanting. Both came to power almost my accident, Corbyn after forty years of activism on the fringes of power Almost immediately, his parliamentary party suffered voters’ regret, and have been trying to get rid of him, and his unfashionably and socialist policies and closest political supporters. ever since.
For the first time, the General Election result has made him perceived as an asset to his party. His popularity among new party recruits was a big factor in his apotheosis.
In contrast, May is considered politically toast (a dead woman walking, as the former Chancellor George Osborne put it), with would-be successors lined up silently (for the moment) among her cabinet colleagues.
May and Corbyn are in one sense the leaders their supporters wanted and worked for, the Leaders they deserved, for better or for worse.
The snarling debate on the Queen’s speech continues this week. The Government finds a £billion to ensure support from Northern Ireland’s DUP, to keep it going.
Jeremy Corbyn auditions for a career as a pop star while waiting for a vacancy to arise as Prime Minister.
To be continued