The State Opening of Congress?

At the beginning of each new session of the Westminster Parliament, there is an event known as the State Opening of Parliament. Her Majesty proceeds from Buckingham Palace to Westminster, changes into her imperial regalia, and ascends the throne in the House of Lords. At this point, the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (the House of Lords’s equivalent to the House of Commons’s sergeant-at-arms) is sent to summon the Commons to attend upon Her Majesty and to hear the Queen’s Speech (which is, of course, written in its entirety by the Cabinet). When Black Rod arrives at the Commons’s chamber, the door is slammed in his face. He then knocks three times with his staff of office, at which point the door is opened and the Commons follow Black Rod to the Lords to hear the speech. You can see video of the whole thing here. The point, of course, is to symbolize the Commons’s independence from both Crown and Lords.

For some reason, recent events in the United States have put me in mind of this practice .

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1 Response

  1. Ken Rhodes says:

    Independence is a good thing, and it needs to be asserted occasionally, even if only symbolically.

    Politeness is nice too, so the finish of the story, which sounds very British, is also a good thing. Black Rod knocks, they open the door, and each having asserted his role, they all get together to hear the speech. Wouldn’t a little of that civility be a welcome change here?

    By the way, the one word I didn’t hear was “invite.” After the Commons door is slammed and Black Rod knocks, he “summons” the Commons to attend. In a play of manners, that’s probably significant. I think it simply means that, even though the Commons can slam the door, they are still each (individually) subject to being “commanded” by their Queen.