The first King’s Speech in over 70 years went off wonderfully well. The Yeomen of the Guard, the Heralds in their tabards, the Imperial State Coach, all were immaculate on this beautiful autumn day, the colours gorgeous, and I could not tell why tears came to my eyes.
The King has a rich and expressive voice, worthy of a better script than this. But he read his words straight, as a constitutional monarch should, with perfect submission to his Ministers, and no hint of irony, no sign that he found this stuff dull as ditchwater.
“By taking these long-term decisions,” he assured us in an even tone, “my Government will change this country and build a better future.”
Afterwards, as she took his hand, the Queen gave him a smile of congratulation and relief. He had played his part, and now it was for his Ministers, and the loyal Opposition, who had listened from the far end of the House of Lords, to play theirs.
Play it they did when the House of Commons met after lunch. The tradition is that two backbenchers from the Government propose and second, in light-hearted and unpartisan speeches, a motion for a Loyal Address thanking the King for his Speech, after which the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister open six days of debate on the Government’s programme.
Once again, the machinery worked perfectly. The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, made a statement about the standards of behaviour he expects to see in the new Parliament, and Sir Robert Goodwill (Con, Scarborough and Whitby) and Siobhan Baillie (Con, Stroud) proposed and seconded.
Their jokes were fine. Goodwill told a “true story” of canvassing in the 2019 general election on an estate in his constituency which was in previous elections staunchly Labour.
But this time people were “actually crossing the street” to promise their support to the Conservatives, and a voter explained that “Boris is one of us”.
When Goodwill alluded to Boris Johnson’s education at Eton and Balliol, the voter retorted triumphantly: “He had a row with his wife and the police came round.”
There was nothing like that today. Everyone was on their best behaviour, which is perhaps why the start of the debate hung fire.
Sir Keir Starmer reminded anyone who was listening that he is a decent man with respectable views on every subject under the sun.
He described the Government’s message, “trust us, we’ve changed”, as “laughable”, and said the Conservative Party was “so devoid of leadership it is happy to follow a Home Secretary who describes homelessness as ‘a lifestyle choice’.”
Suella Braverman, sitting next to the Prime Minister, shook her head.
Rishi Sunak came on next, and declared that “we will not stand for the anti-Semitism we have seen on our streets”, which “sickens” him.
We are, he added, “the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy”.
Soon he was warning that a Labour Government would mean “higher immigration, more strikes, higher inflation and higher borrowing”.
All this was said in a lucid manner, but not one that struck fear into his listeners. Sir Chris Bryant (Lab, Rhondda) asked the Prime Minister whether he agrees with Braverman about homelessness being “a lifestyle choice”, and Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) wished to know “when he’s going to start being straight with the British public” about North Sea oil and gas being sold to the highest bidder.
Sunak retorted that he is straight with the British people about the cost of getting to Net Zero, while she is “on the side of the eco-zealots”.
This too was not a bad speech. The Prime Minister was, as usual, civilised and self-possessed, and made a reasonable case for his “long-term decisions”.
But Brendan Carlin, of The Mail on Sunday, informed me afterwards that he had seen me yawning.