© Lionel Beck - North Yorkshire - UK Return to Top Our Theatrical Talent I believe it is a commonly held view amongst the citizens of other countries that one of Great Britain's talents is the maintenance and practice of ancient and colourful traditions. I believe such a view is likely because we constantly demonstrate our obsession with things spectacularly ancient. Whether it is the Trooping of the Colour on the Queen's Birthday, the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace, or the State of Opening of Parliament, then we can always be relied upon to “put on a good show”. Are we a Giant Theme Park? It is, arguably, a huge and expensive waste of money and manpower to be recreating in our every day lives in the 21st century, scenes and practices from our ancient history that have little relevance to today's world. Of course it earns us money from an international tourist industry, but I find it hard to accept that these practices, coupled with the undoubted treasure of museums, stately homes, castles, Roman ruins, and so on, have turned us almost exclusively into a giant theme park. Parliamentary Pantomime Every year we are treated to the semi-farcical State Opening of a new Session of Parliament, with the Queen in attendance to read out to the assembled members of the Lords and the Commons her Government's programme for the coming session (which has been written by the Prime Minister). How is it possible to keep a straight face when describing this? .. The Queen comes out of a robing room in the House of Lords, complete with crown on her head and proceeds to sit on a throne at the head of the assembled Lords. Some guy called "Black Rod" is then despatched to the House of Commons where all the MPs are assembled there waiting to be summoned to the House of Lords to attend the Queen. Just as Black Rod arrives at the doorway to the Commons, the door is slammed in his face. He then lifts his long black rod (so that's why he's called Black Rod!) and bangs three times on the door. The door, which has only recently been slammed in his face, is then reopened, and all 600 or so MPs file out, walk down the corridor to the House of Lords and cram themselves into the available space (standing room only, of course, because the place is already full of Lords). Black Rod is not the only ridiculous thing in this charade. There is also a man carrying a Cap of Maintenance (whatever that is), and there is a woman in attendance on the Queen called Gold Stick in Waiting. What kind of mad nation is it that conducts its affairs using a mix of elements from Alice through the Looking Glass, Hans Christian Anderson Fairy Tales and Gilbert & Sullivan operettas? One Leg in the Past, One Leg in the Future In so many ways we have stepped forward into the new technological age. We have a society that is for the most part civilised and socially just. And yet we have only stepped forward with one leg. The other is stuck in some kind of historical quagmire and we can't pull it out. What's in a Name? We are, I think, a very confused nation. For one thing, the Country does not really know what it is called. Is it Great Britain? If so, why? We were only "great" when we ruled half the world ("rule" being a polite word for subjugation, pillage and generally kicking the shit out of so-called inferior races). Are we the United Kingdom? Well, hardly, since we have recently devolved government to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Not only has this made the Scots and Welsh more aware of themselves as separate entities, but it has given us the residual problem of England and the English. We have a Scottish Parliament, a Welsh Assembly and a Northern Ireland Assembly, but England has no separate voice of its own. This, to my mind, is unacceptable! The Westminster Parliament administers the whole of the UK on matters of strategic and financial importance, and so we have MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland making national laws and voting on issues affecting England. What kind of democracy is that?! The Luck of the Irish, and The Bad Luck of the Northern Irish Then of course there's the Irish question. We (quite correctly) relinquished most of Ireland a long time ago, which now has its own Republic, but we obstinately retained the Six Counties in the North, because the majority of the intransigent people who live there insisted on living in a kind of anti- Catholic history time warp, and have ever since proclaimed their Britishness ad nauseum. Unfortunately they don't seem to share the same values as the rest of us. Whereas, as an Englishman, I don't (to quote Frank McCourt) give a fiddler's fart whether my neighbour is Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, or Moslem, in Northern Ireland this seems to be a matter of supreme importance. And of course if you are a Christian, it is important to be the right kind of Christian. Protestants and Catholics reserve to themselves the right to maim, shoot, and bomb each other in pursuit of the right kind of Christianity. I ask myself, "What kind of Christianity is this?"  Confusing the Foreigners Our nationality is an even greater puzzle for foreigners. Some think that by talking about England they are talking about the whole country, when really they mean Britain. Any American telling a Welshman how happy he is to be in England is likely to be beaten about the head with a wet sheep, and completion of any conversation in unintelligible Welsh - a terrifying experience because the Welsh language contains a surfeit of consonants and sounds that resemble an impressive build-up to a shot at a distant spittoon. Off with their Heads! And so I come to the conclusion that in order to survive as a coherent nation, we should ditch the Monarchy - because you cannot justify a Head of State being there by accident of birth. We need an elected Head of State, though I would not give him or her any executive powers. A British President would exist to represent the Nation at international state functions, and speak on our behalf in matters which are above Party Politics. Furthermore we should cast Northern Ireland adrift so they can get on with their bombs, bullets, and celebrations of 300-hundred year old battles; we should set up an English Parliament so the English can be on an even footing with the Scots and the Welsh. We are no longer "United", and we would not be a "Kingdom" without the Monarchy, and since we are no longer "Great" in the old sense of the word, we should just call ourselves Britain and get on with a sensible life. Is that too much to ask? Probably. ©Lionel Beck 26 Jun 2001, 23 Feb 2005 & 22 Jul 2009     Queen's Address to Parliament Queen Elizabeth II Accidental Head of State Return to Top Return to Top Northern Ireland