What the Hell Is the 'Lady Usher of the Black Rod'

Illustration for article titled What the Hell Is the 'Lady Usher of the Black Rod'
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Brexit has reached new heights of absurdity with the “prorogation” or temporary suspension of Parliament, which involved the special appearance of the cravat-wearing, gold-stick toting “Lady Usher of the Black Rod.” Truly they are having a normal one over there!


Proroguing Parliament is normal for a new administration, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is quite clearly using it as a tactic to run out the clock on leaving the EU and force a no-deal Brexit. Hence the vehement opposition to the move, which Johnson requested and the queen granted (because really she’s supposed to grant whatever the PM asks). There’s an entire ceremony for the shutdown, which involves the appearance of the “Black Rod,” Sarah Clarke—the first woman to hold the position in its 669-year history, a number which is not a typo. It’s a ceremonial position in the House of Lords that quite literally involves getting a big door slammed in your face. The Guardian explained the gig when Clarke’s appointment was announced:

Originating from a role created in 1348 by Edward III to guard the door outside meetings of his advisory council, the Order of the Garter, Black Rod is now a senior official in the House of Lords.

The post is most visible at the annual state opening of parliament, when Black Rod is sent from the Lords to the House of Commons to summon MPs to hear the Queen’s speech.

The ceremony involves the door to the Commons being slammed in Black Rod’s face. He – as it has been until now – uses his staff to knock three times on the door and gain admittance.

The door-slamming is meant as a symbol of the independence of the House of Commons, and it goes back to the strife between Parliament and Charles I, who ultimately lost his power struggle with the body—and consequently lost his head. (Another remnant of less settled days: During the Queen’s speech, an MP from the Commons is “held hostage” at Buckingham Palace—a guaranteed that there won’t be any trouble while the monarch is at Parliament, a bit of ass-covering that also dates back to Charles I. Personally, if I were Prince Charles, I would choose another regnant name, just for better luck.)

Anyway, when Clarke arrived in the Commons to summon the MPs for the prorogation ceremony, many did not go quietly, according to CNN:

The arrival of Black Rod — Sarah Clarke, the first woman to hold the post — was met with a wall of noise from lawmakers opposed to prorogation. A group of opposition MPs then advanced towards the Speaker’s chair and a small scuffle broke out.

MPs crowded around Speaker John Bercow, who had announced his resignation earlier on Monday, holding signs reading “Silenced.”

Bercow then added to the drama with an extraordinary show of dissent, briefly refusing to heed Black Rod’s order to leave the Commons.

There’s video, too:


American political pundits can spread their calls for civility on a piece of toast and eat it—our congress would be better off if they hollered at each other instead of acting like a sack of snakes.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.


Mortal Dictata

Proroguing Parliament is normal for a new administration, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is quite clearly using it as a tactic to run out the clock on leaving the EU and force a no-deal Brexit.

Yes and no. Prorogation is typically a yearly exercise that happens over a couple of days so that the coming year’s parliamentary agenda of the executive’s Bills are announced (and before the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011 was seen as one of the two main confidence votes along with the Budget) and each of these sets out a Parliamentary Session. These sessions usually last a year but this current one because of the Withdrawal Act has lasted more than two.

In terms of sitting days this prorogation is not five weeks, it’s by my sums 4-5 days at most because of the conference recess that none of the opposition parties made a serious attempt to curtail. This whole thing is an argument being hyped up by certain camps to try and build momentum ahead of the inevitable general election coming up as both Labour and Tories are now running “Us (The People) vs The Elites” campaigns where facts are second to beliefs (which is funny when both parties are led by people whose entire lives are defined by the Westminster village and have zero connection to the majority of the population).

So essentially this country is going to have five weeks of insane campaigning with none of the usual payoff to get through.

As for the fucking farce last night, I’ve pretty much decided to spoil my ballot because clearly anyone from the Commons is a fucking nutcase now. All screaming and shouting, attempting to physically grab each other, and claim somehow because of some perceived moral superiority their bullshit is better than another’s bullshit. Tories want to shove through No Deal, LDs want to shove through revocation, and Labour just want to scream about being silenced while blocking all attempts at an election like some student protest bollocks.

When the most out of touch (and not to mention batshit) aspect aren’t the traditions and customs dating back centuries if not millennia but the MPs (mostly from after the War) and how they conduct themselves as people then that’s a sign you’re fucked.