Most people will have heard of Black Rod, though some may think he is some sort of pirate; Jake’s brother perhaps. Who knows what he gets up to in his spare time. To give him his full title, The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is a servant in the House of Lords, responsible for ceremony and security.
His television appearances are generally restricted to the State Opening of Parliament, formerly an annual affair, not just once every two years. Which is a pity, particularly in the case of the current Black Rod, who has a twinkle in his eye, a fine sense of humour and could gladden our hearts in winter when we are all mourning the loss of summer and the end of the Olympics.
Don’t be fooled by the outfit. This is no dandy. He’s a military man; look at the medals. A man who doesn’t give up easily. Which is a good thing as he’s the one sent to summon the Commons at the State Opening.
Why the Queen can’t just give the thumbs up to the Speaker, I don’t know. After all, with all the doors open she can see him facing her down the spine of the building. But no, Black Rod has to go to tell the Commons they are needed. Of course. They can see him coming, and as he approaches, they slam the door in his face. Well, nuts to that. He lifts the Black Rod that signifies his office and raps on the door. Dennis Skinner, MP, and others call out all sorts of rude things that loosely translate as Go Away. He doesn’t. They let him in. He says quite a lot, including the words, “Her Majesty commands the presence of this House immediately in the House of Peers.”
So the Prime Minister, the Leader of the opposition, all the front bench MPs and those who have never before attended a State Opening, heave them selves to their feet and make their way down to the Lords in an orderly school crocodile. They can’t sit down when they get there, so they all bunch together beneath the Strangers’ Gallery to listen to the Queen’s Speech. By the way, although it is called the Queen’s Speech, she doesn’t write it, though she has a seen a copy beforehand. I don’t know if she takes a blue pencil and corrects spelling and punctuation. Probably not.
Once the State Opening is over, Black Rod tends to fade from the public eye. But he’s still around, and in another post, I’ll say a bit more about him. And why he has the door slammed in his face.