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Why the Westminster Crisis matters - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Why the Westminster Crisis matters


The only deadly poisonous serpent native to the British Isles – the Lord Mandelson of the Seven Little Foys and Not Only But Also Hartlepool, Minister for Ugandan Brazilian Affaires – has once more answered the prayers of the Labour front bench (‘Endarken our lightness, we beseech thee, o Lord Mandy’).  Several organs – if the term is not indelicate in the context – of the Establishment, have been swift to adopt the latest spin and obfuscation put out by the Prince of Darkness and of the Air (-waves, and Satellite and Cable, as well).  Such luminaries (or anti-luminaries) as – well, let us leave them some fig-leaf of anonymity – Mr Peter Marvolo Riddle and Professor Verdant Bogroll have joined the swelling chorus to tell us – the people who don’t matter, in the formulation of that Iberian Maoist bugger El EU-Presidente Barroso – that parliamentary privilege is a chimæra and that Damian Green MP is in fact a fit object of being banged up in quod, on suss, by the political, indeed the increasingly political, police.


Balls.  And I am not referring to Yvette Cooper’s blinky, although hardly better, half.


Mr Speaker, for whatever reasons seemed good, or at least politically correct, to him at the time, disembarrassed himself of the previous Serjeant at Arms, the usual plainspoken retired general officer (too plainspoken, when it came to Speaker Martin’s fiddles).  He chose, as Serjeant at Arms Peterkin’s successor, one Jill Pay.  Mrs Pay is a long-serving, if not particularly distinguished, civil servant from one of the blander bureaucracies.  She is doubtless a woman of blameless life, and I am certain she is in fact perfectly competent as a civil servant.


It is as Serjeant at Arms that she may be found wanting.  One presumes that this is so, not only because Mr Speaker has now, in the wake of the Affaire Green, attempted to shield himself by hiding behind her skirts – well, tights – in a manoeuvre that can only be likened to an elephant trying to conceal himself behind a maypole, but also because her appointment was so oddly handled.  She was given only half the pay and rather less than half the duties of her predecessor; notably, she was charged only with the duties of a serjeant at arms within the Commons chamber itself, and not, as formerly, throughout the (ahem) Royal Palace of Westminster (bar the Lords, which is looked after by Black Rod).


Far be it from me to suggest that Mr Speaker’s tokenism has invoked a nemesis.  It seems rather that the salient points here are two: that Mrs Pay as Serjeant at Arms has no responsibility or authority outwith the Commons chamber, such having been rather amorphously given to a ‘security coordinator’, and that in consequence, the remainder of the building falls into rather an interesting posture (and I am not referring to Pugin’s whimsies).


Simply put, if the remit of the Serjeant at Arms is limited to the floor of the House and the four walls of the chamber, she could not have consented to the search of any member’s offices.  And that being so, the remainder of the premises are what in theory they have always been: HM Royal Palace of Westminster.  Now, I speak subject to correction by learned friends, but from my mere historian’s perspective it seems to me rather simple.  Set aside all the dodgy claims of who was informed of what, when, and by whom, and you are left with the stark fact that the police, in searching the offices of Damian Green MP, were executing a warrantless search – and seizure of confidential papers, invasive of the privacy of the member’s constituents – of a royal palace without any effective consent from anyone authorised to give it.  (Clearly, after all, no one in the Household was consulted.  We should have heard.  And what we should have heard was a resounding, Are you mad?  Of course you mayn’t, now get out.  Nor did the slops evidently seek to coordinate with the ‘security coordinator’ who is now doing much of what it was always the Serjeant’s office to do.)


This goes past a contempt of parliament and treads perilously close to lese majeste, or, in plain English, contempt of the Sovereign.  The law has fallen into desuetude, but then, so had the law under which Damian Green MP is being charged and persecuted (no, I did not mean to say, ‘prosecuted’).


One needn’t have a Habsburg conception of the monarchy to find it shocking that the Old Bill should go rummaging through a Member’s offices in a royal palace without warrant or effective consent.

The reason one needn’t have a Habsburg conception of the monarchy to find it shocking, is, simply, that we grant certain privileges, statutory and customary, under our famously unwritten constitution, to parliamentarians for a reason.  MPs are not granted special status because they are our representatives in parliament; they are granted special status because they are our representatives in parliament.  They meet in the Royal Palace of Westminster because the people will that the Crown should stand as a symbol of order and continuity and the fount not only of honour but also of authority: whereby is derived the special magic of the Crown in Parliament.  The Serjeant at Arms is a Speaker’s officer, but in the high theory of the thing a royal appointment detailed to HM loyal Commons.  And symbolism matters.

But so too of course do law and liberty, and these have been infringed.  An idea of how far the unwritten but customary privileges of the House extend may be derived by trying – just you try it and see – by trying to imagine how Jack Weatherill or Betty Boothroyd would have responded to PC Plod’s demand that he be allowed to ransack any Member’s office without a warrant.  It is as inconceivable as a warrantless and unconsented search of any other royal palace.

MPs are set apart from the common run of subjects, not because they are our masters, but because they are our servants.  We write to them in confidence – or did do.  We expect them to exert their efforts and judgement on our behalf.  And we most assuredly demand that they resist an overweening executive, whether that executive power wears a crown or slouches upon the Treasury Bench with a finger up his … nose.

It is all too easy today, when one hears the phrase ‘contempt of parliament’, to recall the exchange between FE Smith (as he then was) and a High Court judge: ‘Mr Smith, are you attempting to show contempt of this Court?’; ‘Oh, no, m’lud, I’m striving desperately to conceal it’: yet a contempt of the people’s representatives is, at bottom, a contempt of the people, of liberty and democracy.

This is why, when one hears political chief constables and tuft-hunting toadies in police uniform bleating about the ‘operational independence of the police’, and members of that criminal gang that currently occupies the Treasury Bench parroting the line, it is not enough to recall Mr Ghandi’s response, when asked what he thought of Western civilisation (‘I think it would be an excellent idea’).  A decade of Labour government has – I will use the term with the most deliberate intent – groomed the civil service and the police not only to put the interests of their governmental masters first, but to adopt the tribal policies.  This may seem, at first blush, odd: surely the police, at least, are natural Tories, devoted to law and order and the old values and All That?  Perhaps; but when we speak of the institution, we are speaking of the senior officers.  And they know what the civil servants know.  The civil servants, in turn, know what too many of HM subjects know.

And what is that?  It is, simply, who is the engine-driver for the gravy train.  We have had a decade of Labour in no small part because of the combination of gerrymandering and State largesse: there are large constituencies in which a majority of the populace are dependent upon or employed by the State.  It is only rational that they, like government departments, should have come to realise that it is in their interests to sign up to the party programme of that party that will, until it bankrupts the realm, continue to shovel largesse in their direction.  It is a commonplace that when electors realise they can vote themselves monies from the public purse, they will elect representatives who will ladle out public monies to them and soak their neighbours in their behalf.  And what is true of these constituencies is of course true a fortiori of government departments.

Even having granted that point, however, there is a gross unseemliness in the noisome fact that the senior police officials whose fingerprints are all over this raid, and those who have taken to the public prints and the airwaves to defend it, are jockeying for positions that can be filled only by sucking up to the Sir Humphrey who most immediately initiated the raid, and the Home Secretary who is defending it to the last ditch whilst expecting those who seek her favour (political, please.  The other is too disgusting to contemplate) to shield her from any allegation of complicity.  ‘Unseemliness’, did I say?  ‘Corruption’ is hardly too strong a word for this squalid situation.

Most recently, the malefic, baneful visage of Lord Mandelson, attempting as always to look like Jonathan Pryce channelling David Warner in a juicily villainous role, and the basilisk stare of the Home Secretary, resembling nothing so much as a saurian John Prescott in drag, have glared at us in a minatory fashion from every screen devoted to echoing the putatively great and purportedly good.  They are warning us not to get above ourselves: we, after all, are merely the people, we after all Do Not Know All the Facts (and shan’t be allowed to, cocky), and we had damned well best know our place.  Damian Green MP was a danger to the State so as to justify a counter-terror raid, we are told: we mustn’t be misled by Tory obfuscation (‘obfuscation’ here meaning ‘a plain recital of uncontroverted fact’) that he was doing his job, or that he was in receipt only of material that was in the public interest yet not a security issue.  After all, we are hectored and lectured by our masters (I refuse to call, or to contemplate, Jacqui Smith as a mistress, in any sense.  Shudder), he might at some future point have been given access to National Security Secrets, so bang him up on suss now.  And anyway, he was receiving regular briefings from his mole and embarrassing the government of the day on an ongoing basis, not only a one-off, and That Is Wrong.

Balls, again.  (And again, not Ed.)

Is it really to be taken as a principle that it is an offence for an MP to recruit civil servants to pass on to him, on an ongoing basis, information in the public interest, even including materials that touch upon, say, threat assessment and military preparedness, and for the MP to use the leaks he ahs encouraged to mount a sustained attack upon the government of the day?

Is it really?

The Mandelson-Smith Principle, if I may thus christen it, would have had the approbation of certain civil servants and their political masters in the past, it is true.  It puts them squarely in the tradition of Stanley Baldwin, Neville Chamberlain, and their crawling, boot-licking creature, Sir Horace Wilson.  If that is the company they wish to keep, of course, that is their pigeon, but they ought then to be judged by that kept company.  (Mandy ought by now be used to being judged on the basis of kept company.)

Those who believe that Winston’s persistence in opposing his own party in the ‘long, downward slurge’ into appeasement and consequent war, by recruiting and running his ongoing moles in Whitehall, and ‘aiding, abetting, and procuring’ the leaks with which he forced the government of the day to account, was the classic sample of a parliamentarian doing his duty in the public interest, will naturally take a different view to that embraced by the Noble Lord and the Right Honourable the Home Secretary.

Of course I disagree with and indeed abhor the current government upon matters of principle and policy.  If I agreed with them upon matters of principle and policy, I should be a Labour Party member: I at least believe in the principle of intellectual honesty.  But I should be vehemently and unalterably opposed to this government or any other, of what political colour and complexion soever, on this matter, because the liberties of parliament are a measure of the liberties of the subject.  And this government have form: they have launched assault after assault upon the liberties of HM subjects.

By way of example, I rather like the whilom Viscount Stansgate, the Rt Hon Tony Benn.  This is not an instance of that famous British tendency to wax fond of elderly opponents so soon as they have become elderly and thus presumably harmless.  For one thing, age hath not withered nor custom staled Tony Benn’s infinite capacity to cause trouble and mix it up in a free fight: to the contrary, thank God.  I always have and I always shall deprecate his policy prescriptions and his politics, and I shall always believe that, had they been adopted, the United Kingdom should have been delivered, bound and captive, to the grim, grey Cold War enemy.  However – and this is the material point – that should have been an unintended consequence, so far as Tony Benn: it is impossible for me to refer with any comfort even to a disclaimed peer simply as ‘Mister’: this should, I was saying, have been an unintended consequence, so far as Tony Benn was concerned: his wrong-headedness, however dangerous, was not bloody-mindedness nor yet a result of evil will, but arose and arises from a failure of consequential imagination.  For Tony Benn is at bottom a liberal, even a libertarian, figure in every instinct: he hasn’t a despotic or authoritarian bone in his body, which is why, when the chips were down, one saw him, for example, standing shoulder to shoulder with Basher Davis in opposing the last enormity but one of the current government.  For all his manifold faults and mad policies, he is a tribune of the people.  Like the irreplaceable Gwyneth Dunwoody, he is deserving of that highest of accolades in our democracy: he is a great House of Commons man. 

By contrast, the gang currently disporting themselves upon the Treasury bench are instinctively statist, illiberal, and despotically-minded, motivated by an undying and deep-dyed hatred of the liberty of the subject, the people, whom they wish rather to rule than to serve.  They are precisely the sort of petty tyrants whom one might expect to announce that the government, having lost confidence in the people, are choosing a new people over whom to exert their powers.  (I say ‘powers’ because these ghastly creatures have no moral authority.)

These after all are the gang whose characteristic actions are to attack even the traditions of the House whenever they dare, partly because they instinctively hate and fear tradition as such but largely because it trammels them in their Stalinist determination to reengineer us all.  Whatever one thinks of abortion, who will forget the disgusting sight of a Certain Female Minister of the Crown effectively whipping what was to have been a free vote on a matter of conscience?  Whatever one thinks of Mr Speaker, who can forget the naked partisanship and contempt of good faith in his out-of-turn elevation to that august eminence at Labour’s hands?

It is a mortal pity that Leo McKern is dead.  It is the Pavlovian response of Labour in office to meet every outrage over each latest, well, outrage, with a new campaign; and no one else could match the late Mr McKern in what must inevitably be the government campaign to lull us back into a false sense of precarious security.  Forty-two days?  Oh, that would never be misused.  Counterterrorism measures and powers?  If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.  ID cards?  Oh, they’ll never be used internally.  The emasculation of parliament?  We’d not think of such a thing.  Or, in the only possible tagline for the campaign, ‘My dear Thomas!  This isn’t Spain.

No one can believe a word this government and its ministers say in its defence.  Nor can their assurances regarding the object and effect of yet more statist legislation be trusted for a moment.

The very idea of a Labour Party is to stand as tribunes of the people against the pretensions of executive power and the Optimates, and to insist that the poor be not forgotten; to hold the Conservatives and the LibDem representatives of the urban chatterati to their One Nation promises.  They are there to be the Nonconformist conscience in politics.  This, the current vile gang cannot do, and doesn’t wish to do.   When one considers that Clem Attlee was an officer and a gentleman, and looks at Gordon Brown, who is neither, once can only conclude that for Labour, as for the American motorcar manufacturers, bankruptcy and forced reorganisation in a few years’s wilderness, will be the saving of them.

Yet – of course – the renewal of Labour is a secondary consideration to the liberties of the subject and the representation of the people.  Whatever becomes of its current leadership and the party itself, cannot sway anyone from the immediate path to be taken.  By their own grudging, forced admission, they are either fools or liars (or, of course, both).  By their own grudging, forced admission, they are fundamentally inimical to freedom: if they are willing to treat a fellow MP in the way they have done in the case of the Member for Ashford, what are they not willing to do to the common or garden subject?  They must all of them – Blinky Balls and the Feartie of Fife, the Harridan at Large and the Raid Your Home Secretary, and even Our Little Chipmunk, Margaret the Wonder Horse, Darling Means Dearer Than Ever, and Earnest Jack Straw – be hurled so headlong from power that they dare never again show their Stalinist faces around Westminster, or indeed in public.

For if they will dare do these things to a fellow MP, first deniably procuring and then conniving at so grave an insult to his liberty, what will they not dare do to us?



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leni_jess From: leni_jess Date: December 5th, 2008 11:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
An excellent rant, and well deserved. Thank you for taking the trouble to froth so literately. Pity nothing can be done about that government (not mine, as I left shortly after Maggie got in, but one I feel a home interest in, nonetheless). Until the next election. God forbid their masters the people should take them out and line them up and shoot them; that seldom leads to good.
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