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What on earth is the State Opening of Parliament?

Written by
Luke Abrahams

If you watch ‘The Crown’, you’ll know that once a year Her Maj gets all glammed up to tell the lousy Parliamentarians what they’ve got to do for the next year. But why? To set the agenda for the government of the day, silly – she is head of the whole show. Here’s everything you need to know about the State Opening of Parliament. 

What’s all the pomp and circumstance about? 

In a nutshell, the centuries-old State Opening of Parliament marks the formal start of the Parliamentary year, and it’s the Queen’s job to lay out her government’s proposed policies and legislation in what’s popularly dubbed the ‘Queen’s Speech’.  

The Yeomen of the Guard looking for gunpowder | © House of Lords 2016 / Roger Harris

What happens?

It all begins when the Queen leaves Buckingham Palace, jumps in her fancy coach and is escorted by the Household Cavalry along The Mall, past Horseguards, down Whitehall and towards the Palace of Westminster. However, this year, things will be a little different: Her Maj will be driven to Westminster by car (blame the snap general election) and the crown will not be sent to Parliament in its own snazzy horse and carriage.

On arrival at the Sovereign’s Entrance to Parliament, Her Maj is greeted by several hundred guards and Parliamentary representatives who escort her inside the palace. As trumpets bellow, she proceeds to the Robing Room. Here, the Queen would normally put on the Imperial State Crown, but because she’s getting older, her poor neck can no longer handle the weight of the 1.06 kilo headgear, so for this, and all upcoming State Openings, it will be brought directly to her instead. 

The Queen | © House of Lords 2016/Roger Harris

After she’s checked her make-up and adjusted the crown to her liking, the Queen leads the Royal Procession through the Royal Gallery, past the Commons and all the way down to the House of Lords. Monarchs ain’t welcome in the Commons – blame Charles I and his absolutism for that. #thecivilwar. 

The Queen wearing the Imperial State Crown | © UK Parliament/Roger Harris

Once she’s firmly sat on her 24-carat gold-gilded throne, Black Rod (Queenie’s rep in the House of Lords, aka Lieutenant General David Leakey) will be sent to summon Theresa May and her posse in the Commons. If you’ve seen the State Opening on telly, you’re probably aware that the door of the Commons is slammed in poor Black Rod’s face. Why? Well, the slamming of the door symbolises the authority of the elected house and its independence from the monarchy. It’s a power thing, basically.  

Black Rod | © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

After Black Rod strikes the door three times to beg entry into the chamber and Dennis Skinner has aimed a few digs at the establishment, all the Parliamentarians gather and follow him into the House of Lords. Inside, they squeeze in like sardines and listen to Her Majesty’s speech. 

A packed-out House of Lords Chamber | © House of Lords 2016/Roger Harris

During the spectacle, the Queen sets out all the policies and proposed legislation written by the government for the new Parliamentary session. Following the odd gasp, snore and cheeky giggle (some of which might come from Philip), she gets up, thanks and nods at her privy Lords a few times, leaves Parliament and heads back to the palace.

The Queen reading her speech | © House of Lords 2016 / Roger Harris

What’s next for the government? 

Back at Parliament, the houses return to their respective chambers and debate what Liz has set out in the speech ready for a new and controversial year of post-Brexit politics. Sigh. Weeks or months later, a big red box will be sent to the Queen so that all the policies and legislation set out in the speech can be made law. 

This year’s State Opening of Parliament will take place on June 21 2017.

Remember when this Queen’s Guardsman took down a tourist dancing in front of St James’s Palace?

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