Welcome to the Cabinet, Ma’am, be prepared for party squabbling

Quentin Letts


23:29 GMT, 17 December 2012



23:29 GMT, 17 December 2012

TODAY the Queen will attend Cabinet – the first time she has done so in her 60-year reign. The visit, at the invitation of David Cameron, is to mark her Diamond Jubilee. Here QUENTIN LETTS offers Her Majesty a briefing note …

Royal visitor: The Queen will attend the Commons, for the first time in 60 years

Royal visitor: The Queen will attend the Commons, for the first time in 60 years

We are still awaiting confirmation but Your Majesty is likely to be met at the door of No 10 by the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron. It is possible that a pasty-faced man in an unpleasant yellow tie may also be hovering on the doorstep, trying to get himself in camera shot. This will be Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister.

Mr Clegg is a highly-strung little fella, Ma’am. He needs careful handling. If Foreign Secretary William Hague happens, during the Cabinet meeting, to crack jokes at the expense of bearded, sandal-wearing Liberal Democrats, it might be impolitic to smile.

Mr Clegg has a Spanish wife. If he is looking glum, one can console him with a jaunty ‘ola, Cleggito! Que pasa, guapo’.

Your Majesty will be sitting next to Mr Cameron. No 10 has not yet disclosed who will be on the other side but it may be Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood. He is ‘Sir Humphrey’, yet he should be called ‘Sir Jeremy’, if that makes sense.

Sir Jeremy has rimless spectacles, a blinky manner and all the answers (or so he thinks).

He used to be the most powerful man in the country but in recent months Mr Cameron seems to have woken up to some of this slippery civil servant’s more questionable ‘great ideas’ such as the Leveson Inquiry. If a telephone rings during the meeting, the sound may come from one of Sir Jeremy’s pockets. He carries two mobile phones, the better to cope with all his busy stratagems.

Sir Jeremy, along with Mr Clegg, may not be the most ardent royalist in the room. This will not stop them behaving in the most ingratiating of manners.

Things will start with the PM clapping his palms in a gesture of false bonhomie. He will probably say ‘right, everyone, let’s get down to business!’ and then make some jokey reference to Your Majesty attending her first Cabinet.

There is a possibility that the men may dress down to something called ‘shirt sleeves’. This is done in order to convey a sense of urgency/despatch/rolling-up-the-sleeves-getting-on-national-recovery etc. Courtiers (eg Lord-Lieutenant/equerries/ladies-in-waiting) should not feel the need to join this sartorial informality.

Prime location: Will her Majesty sit between the Coalition leaders

Prime location: Will her Majesty sit between the Coalition leaders

After the Prime Minister’s introduction it is customary for this Coalition Cabinet to descend into blatant party squabbles, with Business Secretary Vince Cable being the most frequent source (and, quite understandably, target) of abuse.

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We think it likely, given the usual conditions of ‘red carpet fever’ which obtain when Your Majesty is in a room, that the normal level of ‘aggro’ will not be witnessed. Even so, if Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey makes a presentation about his impending announcement on oil and gas security, we may have some snorts of derision from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Tory chairman Grant Schnapps may peashoot a couple of paper pellets at Lib Dem Treasury minister Danny Alexander (the one with the carrot-top and the look of permanent amazement that he’s a minister, let alone in Cabinet).

Wardrobe: For political balance, the colours blue and yellow should preferably not be worn.

Catering: Biscuits will be available beforehand, provided Communities Secretary Eric Pickles does not get there first. Cabinet meetings are not always scintillating. Your Majesty may wish to have a strong coffee – or gin and Dubonnet, depending on the hour – beforehand, in order to stave off any waves of snooziness.

Last, may we please just check that the Duke of Edinburgh will not be attending If he insists on going along, could it please be stressed to His Royal Highness that tact is of the utmost importance

Sorely tempting though it might be to shout ‘how much is that going to cost’ and ‘I suppose that’s another ruddy concession to the Lib Dems’, this would not be harmonious to relations between Crown and ministers. It might make Mr Clegg burst into tears, too.