The House of Lords announced the appointment of a new Black Rod yesterday, Sir Freddie Viggers. He replaces Sir Michael Willcocks (right).
The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is responsible for the daily management of the House of Lords and summons MPs to the Lords for the Queen's Speech.
Lord Strathclyde spoke for the Conservatives, citing Downing Street's revolting attempt to muscle in on the Queen Mother's funeral, which Black Rod saw off:
"My Lords, I wholeheartedly associate myself and this side of the House with the tribute that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has just made in welcoming Lieutenant-General Sir Freddie Viggers and with her tremendous expressions of gratitude to Sir Michael Willcocks.
I would like to speak particularly of Sir Michael's role in ceremonial. Need I say more of Sir Michael's conduct than that it was masterly in every sense of the word? After all, he is one of the few to come under attack from that notorious network of spin doctors and not only to survive it but, with characteristic tenacity and courage, to teach those who tried to bully him a sharp lesson or two.
Ceremony is an expression of the roots and the continuities that are needed in a fast-changing modern world. It is an affirmation that institutions are greater than those who temporarily embody them and it is something that I believe we in Britain do better than anyone. Day in, day out, in small things and big, Black Rod has unfailingly seen that we put our feet in the right place—and he has never put a foot wrong either.
Sir Michael's place in the history books is assured, when all is said and done, for his conduct of, and in, that immense and moving event of the lying-in-state of a greatly loved Queen. No one who witnessed that event will ever forget it, or the fact that Westminster Hall was open 24 hours a day for people to pay their respects. It was largely thanks to Sir Michael that it was a unifying ceremony of state and nothing more.
In that great work of literature, the Alastair Campbell Diaries, Sir Michael is described as “that little … (expletive deleted)”. That accolade alone shows that he must have done something right. I am told that Black Rod's reaction, with that typically pithy sense of humour, was, “How dare he call me little?”
Sir Michael was a big man, in a great office, that he carried out with exemplary loyalty and devotion to this House and, above all, to the Crown. We will all miss him. We thank him sincerely, and we wish him well."
Traditions like these make Britain special. And no, it is not an unnecessary diversion to talk about such things in a recession. David Cameron's Government should be sure not to take a wrecking ball to our structures. Nor should it be afraid to put back together the bits that Labour have broken. Respect for well established institutions is as crucial an element of Conservatism as belief in free markets.