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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By refusing to stand down, Jeremy Corbyn has betrayed the British working classes

The most successful Labour politicians of the last decades brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes but also an understanding of how free market economies work.

Jeremy Corbyn has defended his refusal to resign the leadership of the Labour Party on the grounds that to do so would be betraying all his supporters in the country at large. But by staying on as leader of the party and hence dooming it to heavy defeat in the next general election he would be betraying the interests of the working classes this country. More years of Tory rule means more years of austerity, further cuts in public services, and perpetuation of the gross inequality of incomes. The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Seema Malhotra, made the same point when she told Newsnight that “We have an unelectable leader, and if we lose elections then the price of our failure is paid by the working people of this country and their families who do not have a government to stand up for them.”

Of course, in different ways, many leading figures in the Labour movement, particularly in the trade unions, have betrayed the interests of the working classes for several decades. For example, in contrast with their union counterparts in the Scandinavian countries who pressurised governments to help move workers out of declining industries into expanding sectors of the economy, many British trade union leaders adopted the opposite policy. More generally, the trade unions have played a big part in the election of Labour party leaders, like Corbyn, who were unlikely to win a parliamentary election, thereby perpetuating the rule of Tory governments dedicated to promoting the interests of the richer sections of society.

And worse still, even in opposition Corbyn failed to protect the interests of the working classes. He did this by his abysmal failure to understand the significance of Tory economic policies. For example, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer had finished presenting the last budget, in which taxes were reduced for the rich at the expense of public services that benefit everybody, especially the poor, the best John McConnell could do – presumably in agreement with Corbyn – was to stand up and mock the Chancellor for having failed to fulfill his party’s old promise to balance the budget by this year! Obviously neither he nor Corbyn understood that had the government done so the effects on working class standards of living would have been even worse. Neither of them seems to have learnt that the object of fiscal policy is to balance the economy, not the budget.

Instead, they have gone along with Tory myth about the importance of not leaving future generations with the burden of debt. They have never asked “To whom would future generations owe this debt?” To their dead ancestors? To Martians? When Cameron and his accomplices banged on about how important it was to cut public expenditures because the average household in Britain owed about £3,000, they never pointed out that this meant that the average household in Britain was a creditor to the tune of about the same amount (after allowing for net overseas lending). Instead they went along with all this balanced budget nonsense. They did not understand that balancing the budget was just the excuse needed to justify the prime objective of the Tory Party, namely to reduce public expenditures in order to be able to reduce taxes on the rich. For Corbyn and his allies to go along with an overriding objective of balancing the budget is breathtaking economic illiteracy. And the working classes have paid the price.

One left-wing member of the panel on Question Time last week complained that the interests of the working classes were ignored by “the elite”. But it is members of the elite who have been most successful in promoting the interests of the working classes. The most successful pro-working class governments since the war have all been led mainly by politicians who would be castigated for being part of the elite, such as Clement Atlee, Harold Wilson, Tony Crosland, Barbara Castle, Richard Crossman, Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey, Tony Blair, and many others too numerous to list. They brought to politics not only a burning desire to improve the lot of the working classes (from which some of them, like me, had emerged) and reduce inequality in society but also an understanding of how free market economies work and how to deal with its deficiencies. This happens to be more effective than ignorant rhetoric that can only stroke the egos and satisfy the vanity of demagogues

People of stature like those I have singled out above seem to be much more rare in politics these days. But there is surely no need to go to other extreme and persist with leaders like Jeremy Corbyn, a certain election loser, however pure his motives and principled his ambitions.

Wilfred Beckerman is an Emeritus Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, and was, for several years in the 1970s, the economics correspondent for the New Statesman