Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The State of the Union vs the State Opening of Parliament

President Obama delivering the State of the Union address in 2011.
     Tonight, President Barack Obama will give his 6th State of the Union address to Congress, where he will outline the agenda of his Administration for the coming year. 

Elizabeth II delivering the Queen's Speech at the State Opening of Parliament in 2013.

     In the United Kingdom, the closest equivalent is the annual State Opening of Parliament, where the Queen officially commences a new session of Parliament, and addresses Parliament with a speech from the throne which spells out the priorities of the elected government of the day.

     Here is a basic point-by-point outline of the how the two ceremonies compare and contrast.

When and where are these state occasions held?
  • The State of the Union is held at night in either late January or early February in the lower house of the United States Congress, the House of Representatives, with members of both the House and Senate, the Supreme Court, the Cabinet, and the military in attendance.
  • The State Opening of Parliament is held during the day in either May or June in the upper house of the United Kingdom Parliament, the House of Lords, with members of the Lords and the House of Commons in attendance (though the Commons members stand in the back of the chamber).

What happens before the speech?
  • Before the State of the Union, Members of Congress from both houses assemble in the House chamber before the President arrives. The Supreme Court justices, top military brass, members of the Cabinet, and the Vice President are introduced before the President walks down the center aisle to the dais.
  • Before the State Opening of Parliament, members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons assemble in their respective chambers before the Queen arrives. Upon her arrival, the Queen is robed and places the Imperial State Crown on her head. She then proceeds to sit on the throne in the Lords chamber, and the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (usually only known as "Black Rod") is sent to request the attendance of members of the Commons (including the Prime Minister) to the proceedings. Upon reaching the Commons, Black Rod has the doors shut in his face, before being allowed in to summon the members. This symbolizes the independence of the Commons from the monarch and its right to refuse the monarch's representative.

What happens during the proceedings?
  • During the State of the Union, the President stands at a rostrum before the assembled Congress to read a speech written by him and his adviser's which spells out the legislative and policy priorities of the Administration for the coming year.
  • During the State Opening of Parliament, the Queen sits in a throne before the assembled Parliament to read Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech - also commonly known as the Queen's Speech - which is written by the Prime Minister and his office, which outlines the Government's program for the new Parliamentary term.

What happens afterward?
  • After the State of the Union, the President returns to the White House and an elected official from the opposition party gives a response to the address given by the President.
  • After the State Opening of Parliament, the Queen returns to Buckingham Palace, and both the House of Commons and House of Lords debate the content of the speech, with a focus on particular issues over the course of several days. Both houses agree to an ‘Address in Reply to Her Majesty’s Gracious Speech’, but only in the Commons is the speech voted on. The failure of the Speech to command a majority in the Commons may result in the resignation of the Prime Minister and the call for a fresh General Election.

Photo Credit: Blatant World via Flickr cc

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