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British Democracy: State Opening of Parliament

Pic: AFFG 5-6-14. This article was updated on the State Opening of Parliament, 17-7-24.

"History" is what happened in the past. "Heritage" is what survives from history, today! And in that sense, the pageantry of the State Opening of Parliament reminds us that the political constitution which we enjoy today, has been forged through the ages.


Some people will always use the State Opening to complain about "the pageantry" or "the cost". For us, it's an opportunity to highlight the things which help to make up our unique British identity, as we explain below.


After all, a nation is more than its voting system! A nation also consists of its culture, its overall political constitution, its heritage – that which survives from its history today – and which taken together help to create an identity for the nation.

The State Opening of Parliament is a meaningful ritual, a colourful spectacle, and a regular reminder of the roots of our democracy.

It is appreciated by those who love the richness of our British Heritage and History, and it tends to be dismissed by those who don't like British Heritage and History.

In the ceremony and symbolism can be found the reminders of how we got to where we are.

The value of this heritage has to be constantly explained because every generation has its Philistines who would prefer we raze everything of the past, and begin again at their beloved Year Zero, based upon their materialistic view of the world.


The ceremony marks the formal start of the Parliamentary Year and is usually held every 12 months, either in the Spring or Autumn, and can change depending upon the date of the last General Election.

It is usually the only time of the year that the 3 branches of government; the Sovereign, the Lords, and the Commons meet together in the Palace of Westminster.

The King's Speech is held in the House of Lords to emphasise the separation of the Monarch from the Commons.

Those who would attack the "fanciful and archaic practices" do not seem to appreciate their meaning.

For example, the cellars are searched by the Yeoman of the Guard to keep alive the memory of Scotsman James VI's survival from assassination. We even have a national day to commemorate that one, the Fifth of November! Of course, the cellars are also searched by Police dogs in case the Yeomen miss anything!

The reason Black Rod, the Monarch's representative, is initially refused entry to the Commons is to symbolise the independence of the Commons from the Monarch. That is hardly a "deferential ritual" or an "outmoded symbol".

Indeed, there is also a rather gruesome element. Apparently there is a copy of Charles I's death warrant displayed in the robing room used by the Monarch as a reminder of what can happen to a Monarch who attempts to interfere with Parliament!

The ceremony and symbolism, and the associated pomp and pageantry, reminds us where we have come from in order to get to where we are today.

It links the consciousness of the present to the national story of the past.

This has the practical benefit of grounding our lives within a meaningful national context. That is to say, by knowing where we've been, we have a better idea where we are, and where we should go, while those who don't understand history are destined to repeat it.

As for the objections about it being an "extravagance" which we "cannot afford" – that's bogus! The "cost" is minimal. All the clothes, paraphernalia and vehicles are bought and paid for long ago. They are not purchased each year specially for this event!

All the public servants involved – Police, Soldiers, Civil Servants, Politicians – are getting paid, whether or not they are working at the State Opening, and regardless of how they are dressed! There is no additional cost attached to putting on a robe or uniform. And even if there were, the ceremony is worth it!

"The Queen's Speech is an event of grand pageantry and ceremonial, one of elaborate pomp and circumstance designed to register and to emphasise the sovereignty, the dignity and the majesty of our nationhood, to remind us, the British people, of the glories of our history and the supreme triumph of our achievements in establishing the sublime dignity of democratic government in the Mother of Parliaments and all that pertains to our sense of justice, freedom and the rule of law over the forces of arbitrary power-mongering and dictatorial chicanery."


Holyrood also has an Opening Ceremony every 5 years, where the Crown of Scotland is escorted down the Royal Mile in a Rolls Royce, and in the presence of the Scots Guards, the Royal Archers, and the Lord Lyon King of Arms. Some republican-minded people will complain about this, but they would still complain if the Crown was carted down the Royal Mile in a wheelbarrow!

Pic of the Ceremony on 2 October 2021, courtesy of AFFG.



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