It’s time to replace the state opening of parliament with an annual festival on Parliament Square and along Whitehall
After the dizzying success of the opening ceremonies for the Olympics and the Paralympics there will be producers and directors who now yearn to emulate Danny Boyle and get their hands on ceremonial occasions that combine great popular entertainment with a more serious purpose – in this case to tell a story about who, as a nation, we are. The perfect opportunity already exists in the annual state opening of parliament. At some time in the history of early modern England (sic), the state opening allowed the monarch to check the credentials of those who’d turned up. But long before the palace of Westminster burned down in 1834 the procedure had evolved into a romantic pageant. The architects of the new palace saw the chance to embody their sense of Britishness in a building that provided both an account of their version of English history and a setting for an occasion combining music, costume and celebrity in a show celebrating the good fortune of being born into the perfect constitutional monarchy. Now, its form long since atrophied, hundreds of thousands are spent staging what was once an accessible description of the constitution that now requires Huw Edwards to explain what it means. Time to replace the liveried retainers and doddery peers with an annual festival – no longer in the palace, but on Parliament Square and along Whitehall. For the same money, every May, there could be a new spectacular, a commentary on what it means to live in Britain that frames debate for the political year.