Royal Roundup: Queen Delivers Address to Parliament; Windsor Pageant Kicks Off Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth speaking to Parliament. (Express Newspapers/AP Images)

Amid pomp and ceremony, Queen Elizabeth traveled to Westminster on Wednesday to deliver her annual speech to Parliament outlining the government’s plans for the upcoming year.

“Think the State of the Union but with royal bling,” wrote the Washington Post of the ceremony. The address is actually drafted by members of parliament, in this case the ruling coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, but delivered by the monarch.

Pledging that new laws would address “economic growth, justice and constitutional reform,” the Queen said that “the first priority will be to reduce the deficit and restore economic stability.” She outlined legislation in a variety of areas, including public and private pensions, intelligence gathering and even reform of the non-elected House of Lords.

For a point-by-point list of the bills, take a look at this BBC News report.

The speech came at a tricky time for Prime Minister David Cameron’s government, which suffered defeats in elections last week. Voters in Britain appear to be cooling to current austerity measures, just like their French and Greek counterparts.

Some of the proposals in the speech were met with criticism.

“No change and no hope,” Labor leader Ed Miliband was quoted as saying by AFP.  Many conservatives are unhappy about proposals to democratize the House of Lords.

Still, the ceremony of the speech itself, which the Queen delivers from a throne in the House of Lords, is impressive. “The ceremonial trappings surrounding the speech make the event one of the high points of the parliamentary calendar, unrivalled in its spectacle and tradition,” writes BBC News.

But because the speech is drawn up by government ministers, it is normally the result of months of behind-the-scenes political dealing.

“The coalition government means that negotiations are likely to have been more protracted than usual,” writes BBC News of this year’s speech.

In other news about Queen Elizabeth:

• The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee weekend is next month, but observances have already started. Members of the royal family have been making their special Jubilee visits, and yesterday saw the beginning of a special four-day pageant dedicated to the celebration of everything equestrian at Windsor Castle.

The annual royal horse show has been expanded this year, with some 550 horses and 1,200 performers from 17 countries. They’re converging on the castle in honor of the Queen’s 250-plus international visits in a show themed “The World Comes to Windsor.”

Bringing in all the horses was a “once in a lifetime” logistical feat, equestrian transporter Sheila Duckworth told AFP.

Horses play a special role in British culture – and in the life of the Queen, says the British Horse Society’s Annemarie Westwood.

Even at age 86, the Queen still rides.

“Her Majesty has always loved horses — she literally talks to her horses, she knows the names of all her horses,” Westwood told USA Today.

In addition to all the horses and riders, pageant performers will also include Helen Mirren (who famously played the Queen in the film The Queen) and singer Susan Boyle.

USA Today says that 15,000 people are expected to attend, and that tickets sold out so fast that another day of the pageant was added.

The Queen and Prince Philip will attend on Sunday.

• The Washington Post reports that Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell, helped to celebrate the Jubilee and received a letter from the Queen for his efforts.

The first-term Republican planted a tree in Her Majesty’s honor in Richmond’s Capitol Square, where he was joined by Lord Alan Watson, a member of the House of Lords, who wrote a book about the Queen and her relationship with the U.S. and the state of Virginia.

Virginia, you’ll remember, was founded as a British colony by Sir Walter Raleigh, under a charter granted by the current Queen’s predecessor and namesake, Elizabeth I.

“The Queen was interested to learn about the tree planting which is taking place in Virginia today to commemorate the Sixtieth Anniversary of her Accession to the Throne,” the letter read. “Her Majesty appreciates your support on her Diamond Jubilee and sends her best wishes to all those who will be present for a most memorable and enjoyable event.”

“I’ve never received a letter from a queen before, other than my wife,’’ McDonnell said.

• Let them eat cupcakes, to paraphrase another famous royal figure. Dr. Oetker, a baking company based in Leeds, England, has collaborated with food artist Prudence Staite to make a portrait of the Queen using a symbolically significant 2012 cupcakes. “I was excited to be given the chance to create such a meaningful portrait to celebrate the Queen’s reign,” Staite was quoted as saying in Smittenbybritain.com. It took her more than 300 hours. You can see some of the process, sped-up, in this video: