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Behind the headlines

Britain’s secret weapon

Kirsty Wigglesworth/AFP/Getty

The world may be falling apart, says Adrian Wooldridge in Bloomberg, but the King’s Speech on Tuesday “proceeded like well-oiled clockwork”. The Yeomen of the Guard searched the cellars of the Palace of Westminster for gunpowder plotters. The King arrived in the Diamond Jubilee Stage Coach and proceeded to his gold throne in the House of Lords. The junior whip was dispatched to Buckingham Palace to act as a hostage until the boss was safely home. The speech itself, written by No 10, was striking for its “thinness”, but the richness of the ritual reveals something important: “the fundamental stability of the British political system”.

That system has been under “extraordinary strain” in recent years. Brexit, Covid, the “flamethrower” politics of Dominic Cummings and then Liz Truss. Even under the calmer leadership of Rishi Sunak, headbangers like Suella Braverman continue to throw “rhetorical firebombs” in a bid to polarise the electorate. And to cap it all, recent weeks have seen huge pro-Palestine marches, including some attendees “openly supporting Hamas and making anti-Semitic gestures”. Yet despite all this, Britain has seen nothing like the Jan 6 outrage in Washington, or the riots that “regularly consume Paris in flames”, or the surreal 2022 pro-monarchist coup attempt in Germany. Part of the reason is what Victorian journalist Walter Bagehot identified as the division of powers between the “dignified branch” that excites “reverence and enthusiasm”, and the “efficient part”, which delivers policies. Ceremonies like the King’s Speech remind us that political spats come and go, but something grander endures.