Political sketch: Best of British

The Queen's Speech production: men in tights and curtains, and a non-hat on a stick.

When Ronnie O' Sullivan announced a six month sabbatical after winning the World Snooker final last weekend, no one expected him to turn up at the State Opening of Parliament.

But there he was wearing a set of curtains in his part-time job as Lord Great Chamberlain of the United Kingdom with only his snooker cue - painted white for disguise - to give the game away.

Lese-majeste comes in many forms but few can be as cruel as forcing the Queen to dress up for a night out in the middle of the morning to announce where the latest rabble who claim to be her Government plan to spend the nation's non-existent money in the next 12 months.

She got time off for good behaviour last year but with the country back up to its ears in odure she found herself booked again to provide entertainment for the tourists who had mis-read their tickets and arrived early for the Olympics.

And not just the tourists since the unemployed were also provided with diversion from signing on as Ronnie, masquerading as the Marquis Of Cholmondeley (pronounced Cholmondeley), accompanied various Sticks, Rods and Yeomen through a rehearsal of the Mikado.

With the House of Lords booked for the occasion and Europe's supply of gold thread bought up months ago the scene was set for the bit of business we do better than anyone else: the past.

Even before the Queen turned up Britain's answer to the Department of Homeland Security - the Beefeaters, distinguished by wearing tea cosies on their heads - disappeared into the cellars clutching lanterns and pikestaffs to check on terrorist activity.

With the Palace of Westminster apparently swept clean, more men in tights turned up in a coach at the backdoor carrying a sword, a crown and a hat on a stick.

The BBC's Huw Edwards, that other national treasure, explained that the crown - carrying enough jewels to clear the national debt on its own - was the one Her Majesty wears for special occasions; obviously, as opposed to the one she wears for putting out the bins which she turned up in.

The hat on stick is not a hat, he also explained, but the Cap of Maintenance which in the best British tradition has no relevance whatsoever apart from being carried around by someone who looked like the Jack of Hearts.

With everything now in place the Queen herself arrived accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh who appeared to have hired the uniform of a Lord High Admiral - and several other people's medals - for the event.

But even with all these entries the best-in-show prize has to go to a surprise late entrant, the Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain himself, Nottingham's own Ken Clarke. For once without his hush-puppies and instead resplendent in buckles, wig and bows, Ken looked every inch the great panjandrum as he clutched an ornate cushion cover containing the Queen's Speech.

Just to prove the event was not just a comedy, over in the Commons Speaker Bercow, wearing his own coat of many colours, was hanging about with a few friendly but mostly enemy MPs waiting for the summons to hear the Speech which they had all read in the morning papers. The summons is delivered by Black Rod so called because he carries it. (Do try to keep up!)

His job is to go to the Commons, bash on the door, pop inside and demand the oiks make their way to the Lords where their elders and betters have already taken all the seats, and hear what they will be up to for the next 12 months.

With Speaker Bercow gladly on his own out in front, MPs clearly excited by a school trip followed their leaders Ed and Dave both demonstrating that being well brought up enough means you can make polite conversation.

Finally the Queen got down to what she had been booked for. Ten minutes later it was done and she and a relieved Prince Philip were off again back to the real Palace for the last half hour of This Morning.

Meanwhile back in the Commons, chief oik Denis Skinner, who once again had refused the Royal invitation, must have been happily musing over the cries of "shame" from the Tory benches which accompanied his own part in the historical event: the mauling of the monarch's representative.

As Black Rod nervously made his way back to safety Denis summed up the proceedings: "Jubilee year, double-dip recession, what a start ".

 

Photograph: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.