Royalty: Backward tradition or Britain's unity?

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The spectacle of the queen in a long evening dress and diamond-laden crown holding forth in a mellow monotone about "unclaimed money in dormant bank accounts" and other urgent legislative topics is unsettling enough.

But anyone watching the queen unveil the government's new legislative agenda at the State Opening of Parliament here last week, where that very scene took place, would have noticed something even more jarring. There was the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw - former socialist, former head of the radical National Union of Students - reverting to the old and obsequious tradition of walking down the steps of the throne backwards away from the queen, so as not to turn his back to her.

He did not have to do it; the two previous Lord Chancellors descended the modern way, forwards. It was a surprise, but it was his "personal choice," explained an official at the Ministry of Justice, the government agency Straw runs. The official asked that her name not be used, in accordance with government policy.

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