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The Met on the prowl, welcome to our new Lord Chancellor, and being mistaken for a minor royal

An American lady leaned in and whispered, “Are you going to the coronation?” This is where things went wrong.

By Joanna Hardy-Susskind

It was my birthday recently. Don’t worry, that’s not the entirety of the Diary column. I gather that there were some other minor celebrations this month, though it is hard to recall any that rivalled my birthday for pomp or pageantry. My husband surprised me with a trip to a hotel in Italy. It was fancier than anticipated. The kind with thick carpets, heavy curtains and the crushing need to fit in. It was full of enthusiastic Americans, two of whom became embroiled in what my husband would later dub “The Royal Lie”.

I was at the breakfast buffet when one American woman waiting for the toast conveyor-belt overheard my accent. “Are you British?” she asked. Her friend leaned in and whispered, “Are you” – she looked furtively over her shoulder – “going to the coronation?” This is where things went wrong. I could not bear to puncture their enthusiasm. The truth was that I intended to honour His Majesty from a sedentary position on my sofa, decked out in mismatched pyjamas and eating crisps. I sensed this was not going to satisfy their curiosity, so I instead offered polite ambiguity: “The whole country is just so excited.” I beamed.

Unfortunately, the women mistook my vagueness for British modesty and concluded that I must be an invitee to the ceremony. A dignitary. Perhaps an obscure minor royal. I am pretty sure one of them performed a curtsy but I have a tendency for exaggeration and cannot be trusted with the retelling of any story.

I took my eggs back to the table and tried to channel the Princess of Wales as I sat down with my knees elegantly together. “Why,” my husband asked, munching, “are you sitting like that and why,” he gestured across the dining room, “are those people waving at you?” I returned a regal wave to my new friends, who had promised to keep their eyes peeled for me on the television coverage.

You’re nicked

The Metropolitan Police had a careful balance to strike in policing the coronation. However, its public communications could do with a little work. At one stage it seemed to mistake a democratic society celebrating an old chap having a crown plonked on his head for some kind of Judge Dredd dystopia. “Our tolerance for any disruption, whether through protest or otherwise, will be low,” the Met cheerfully tweeted as people whipped cream for their trifles and pinned up their bunting. “We will deal robustly with anyone intent on undermining this celebration,” the tweet merrily and terrifyingly continued.

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This is the country of streakers at football matches and hand-painted signs slung from motorway bridges. The police speaking of “tolerance”, like a parent before a long car journey or a referee shuffling his red cards, should sit uneasily with us. Our protest laws, recently tightened, will need rigorous scrutiny before Prince William is coronated. By then, and at the current rate, your local copper could be nicking you for grave and weighty offences such as “spoiling everyone’s fun” or “disrupting the curated Instagram ambience” of the official photographs.

[See also: Abolish the Met Police]

Justice delayed

A belated welcome to our new Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk, tasked with fixing a justice system that is on its knees. I wonder if he read the newspaper article written by his predecessor, Dominic Raab, in the aftermath of his resignation. Dignified in defeat, Raab bemoaned the unfairness of the delay that there had been in bringing and dealing with the allegations levelled against him. This sailed unwisely close to hypocrisy, coming as it did from a man who had presided over some of the worst court delays in recent memory.

I read his words with interest while defending a young man accused of a crime from 2020. It was brought to court in 2021. He was told to wait for trial until 2023. He waited one year, four months and 27 days before, finally, making it to the last working day before his trial was due to begin. It did not begin. The court had no capacity to hear his case. He, and everyone involved, had to rejoin the queue and wait again. I am sure Chalk will agree with me – and, of course, with Raab – that delayed justice is an acute problem that now requires urgent redress. 

The quiche alternative

Not content with winning over the masses with his trending podcast, Rory Stewart firmed up his man-of-the-people credentials with his restaurant choice after attending the coronation. Dressed up in golden Privy Council finery, and carrying a feathered hat, he wandered, unironically, into PizzaExpress. I understand it was not the Woking branch, but we cannot have everything. Ten out of ten, Rory. A majestic choice.

[See also: Why should the Met Police get the benefit of the doubt?]

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This article appears in the 10 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, What could go wrong?