It’s democracy, Jim, but not as you know it

I’M BACK in my office at the Commons, having just witnessed the official ceremony for the prorogation of parliament.

Essentially, this is just like the ceremony for the official opening of parliament: those MPs who haven’t headed home after the last vote wait in the chamber for Black Rod to arrive from the Lords. When he’s in sight, one of the Serjeant-at-Arms staff alerts the Serjeant-at-Arms (sitting in her place in the chamber) that Black Rod’s approaching. She slams the door in his face (at which point Stephen Pound shouted out: “We’re not in to canvassers!”), and Black Rod batters lumps out of the door until she relents and lets him in, then he summons us to go with him to the Lords. So we all troop along, through Central Lobby, into the Lords where a very odd ceremony involving much hat-doffing and Norman French takes place. Lots of “heretofores” and “Lords temporal and spiritual” and that sort of thing.

Then the Lords make it clear we’ve outstayed our welcome and we troop back to the Commons to listen to the Speaker read out more or less the same speech we just heard in the Lords. And then, at the end, we all file past Mr Speaker, who shakes our hands before we head home.

Now, I know that there are a lot of people out there who think this is all a load of nonsense and who think we should (shudder) modernise, and get rid of all the pomp and circumstance. You will be unsurprised to know that I am not among their number. I love all this stuff. And yes, of course it’s nonsense, and of course it doesn’t seem particularly relevant to a 21st century democracy. But what would abolishing it all achieve? Nothing whatsoever. And in the meantime it serves as a useful reminder to MPs (and Lords) that we’ve inherited a remarkable history and are incredibly privileged to be our democracy’s current stewards.

So, now that my own little spurt of pomposity is out of the way, I’m going to concentrate on how to kill time between now and the departure of the sleeper to Glasgow.

Evenin’ all.



Filed under Parliament

23 responses to “It’s democracy, Jim, but not as you know it

  1. You should have watched The Devil’s Whore on telly and been reminded what The Levelers wanted instead!

  2. You think this is a democracy?

  3. John Smith

    Quite right.

  4. Johnny Norfolk

    Yes it is English culture and our heritage. I am pleased you support it like so few in your party.

  5. Nothing whatsoever.

    You come across as a total defeatist, Tom. I have visions of you sitting in a dusty chamber as the place moulders around you. Still as long as you think you’re doing something valuable, and you aren’t hurting anyone else, I expect that’s fine. I’d sack the entire House of Lords as soon as look at them.

  6. I have always had you down as a Cavalier, young Tom!

  7. Out of curiosity, and not because I have a political axe to grind, would this be the same sleeper train that wanted to charge £500 for me and the missus to head up to Aviemore and back for the weekend?

    But yes, I quite enjoy a bit of pomp – reminds us of the days when all this locking the door business was an important step towards telling the King where to go! (Yes, I have been watching Channel4’s The Devil’s Whore this week)…

  8. I saw a powerful scene in the Devil’s Whore the other week when one of the Generals refused to bow his cap to a Lord. The lord got into a strop, and the General eventually did bow. Curiously it left the General’s esteem raised amongst his men – I reckon these Lords have got something coming, even if the Parliamentarians are a bunch of cowards.

  9. Jay

    But we all know how it ends, don’t we? The people got pretty damned sick of the parliamentarians interfering in the minutiae of their everyday lives – banning maypoles and Christmas celebrations, for instance – and brought back the monarchy.

    The ‘Godly’ of the 17th Century claimed knowledge of God’s wishes to justify their impositions on the people. The evidence of today’s Health Zealots on which, for example, the smoking ban was based is no more compelling.

    Even the Godly, however, managed not to close the pubs in not so Merrie England.

  10. Martin, that was John Lilburne, a Leveller, or kind of early communist. I believe the quote was something along the lines of:

    “There’ll be nothing right in this land until the Earl of Manchester is no more than plain Mr. Montagu”

    No wonder the Daily Mail’s been calling the thing a piece of marxist revisionism!

  11. Headless

    Tom – a great way of explaining why there’s nothing to be gained by changing/abolishing the “pomp”.

    I may “pinch” it at some point for down-the-pub arguments!

  12. Tom, I’m very glad to hear that you are proud of our democratic tradition. Can we have an election, then, please? Now?

    Because the alternative is for a Prime Minister with no democratic mandate* embarking on a huge and unprecedented departure from the norms of past financial behaviour. If this proceeds, I foresee huge harm being done to what remains of the public’s confidence in our system of government.

    I for one am not at all happy with his plans. I do not seem to be alone.

    Gordon should go to the people and check that he truly has their support for this. If you and he are genuine democrats, you will not find this prospect at all frightening.

    *if you recall, Blair promised to serve a full parliamentary term. In other words, New Labour promised us an election when or soon after he left.

  13. Adam

    Being a tad sad, I watched this on BBC Parliament last night and thought it fantastic (did see you at the back Tom…).

    BBC Parliament provided a commentary from an expert which was useful (to the Norman French bit, in particular) but as a ceremony its a reminder of the rich history of this country. We are truly blessed (and I mean that…).

  14. Red eyes

    DEMOCRACY. Don’t make me laugh, when has anyone in your Party done anything for the good of the people or the country and not for yourselves. You are consummed by your own arrogance and self inflated opinions and could not have done a worse job of running this country if you had sat down in May 1997 with a 10 point plan on how to wreck Britain.

    You have nothing to be proud about, your party has done its most to undermine democracy and push forward your own corrupt sleazy lapdogs.

  15. So, you’re thinking about leaving the Labour Party, is that it?

  16. //So, you’re thinking about leaving the Labour Party, is that it?// Was that aimed at me?

  17. No, it was aimed at “Red eyes”. Post-irony. Or something.

  18. Nick the Greek

    The one solitary, single thing that Labour can be proud of is the minimum wage. What a tragedy after the optimism of 97.

    Will you be up to watch Brown lose Kirkcaldy?

  19. For a party so enthused with the idea of restoring trust in politics and politicians you could not have been more of a disappointment. Were those optimistic promises of reform just a cheap joke or did you mean them at some stage?

    If democracy is the systematic squandering of goodwill then yes, we have a democracy.

  20. richard

    Breaking news from Zimbabwe; A member of the oposition MDC has just been arrested for releasing politically embarassing information to the press. Apparently he was led off to a local police station by anti-terrorist police for “questioning” while his home and office were ransacked.

    I gather the arrest was timed to coincide with the breaking story in India (to minimise the unfavourable press coverage) and just after Parliament had gone into recess.

  21. Great quote Alisdair. I left Labour through sheer disillusionment, couldn’t understand the membership renewal request form, and the fact that Jack Straw banned Tibetan flags during the Chinese leaders’ visit circa 1999. I thought it was a disgusting thing to happen in a democracy, and I was proved right several years later when some protesters (I wasn’t in those protests myself) received legal redress. Free Country and you can’t wave bit coloured cloth, you havin’ a bubble …

  22. Sue

    I am not a political blogger or activist. Just an average Jane Doe on the street. I would like to inform you that we do not think we live in a democracy anymore.

    I can’t wait for an election to kick your power crazed, sleezy, money grabbing, immoral, sanctimonious, obnoxious, lying, cheating, scumbags out of power.

  23. Northern Colour

    Pomp is cool. It’s funny in a simple way. It confers upon its subjects a sense of supreme dignity when it’s respected as though it maintained its original intention. It’s also fun to rebel against it when feeling a touch mischievous. I get my fill of it where I am, but, being English, I don’t quite understand where the boundary extists between pomp and everyday life. That’s fine.

    However, pomp tends not to exist in organisations where the public both participates and has an effect on how things are run: shops, streets, mountainsides, beaches. (My mind went blank there – took me ages to come up with that list!)

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