Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Mother of All Parliaments

Gorbals Mick

The amusement caused by the discomfort of the Speaker in allowing the Police to roam freely throughout the Palace of Westminster searching for God knows what is only a partial hoot when compared to all the other commonly accepted nonsense regarding the Mother of Parliaments.

I wish I could find the book called, True Brit. I last read it in the 1970's. It's all about those commonly accepted (but equally commonly fallacious) ideas that British people have about their own country – the ones that are completely wrong, of course. Like, for example, the mistaken belief that the English Parliamentary system is somehow the envy of the civilised world or even a semi-sensible form of government. Neither statement is actually true or remotely sensible.

I just happened to be reading, The Victorians by A. N. Wilson when Michael Martin came a cropper at Westminster and I came across a most entertaining passage. I apologise for quoting it almost in full.

Wilson tells us, “Britain became so used to being governed (in Victorian times – my italics) by what could be called an autocratic consensus or settlement that it was years before the existence of a so-called democracy took hold of the collective political imagination. Indeed it is open to question whether an enthusiasm for democracy has ever counted for much in Britain, if by that is meant such things as a Bill of Rights, a democratically chosen judiciary or an elected head of state. Prime Ministers, Cabinets, civil servants continue to govern Britain with only nominal reference to the results of ballot box or polls. The exclusion of adults from the voting process on grounds of income or gender would now be abhorred by all but a few manic die-hards. But, the electorate, being given the right to chose its government, has seldom shown any enthusiasm for changing the Constitution, the method of dividing power between the two Houses of Parliament, or the composition of the Cabinet, the actual decision-making political body.
Until very recently,the hereditary peers of England sat in the upper chamber as of right; a proportion, at the time of writing, still do so. Their rights and privileges were removed, not as a result of some populist movement, but by modern-minded politicians who felt for whatever reason that enough of that particular system was enough. All the same, whatever happens to the House of Lords in our own day or in the future, we can say that the way Britain was governed remained substantially unaltered from the time of Disraeli to the premiership of John Major and Tony Blair. The electorate has been extended, but elections still take place in roughly the same manner. Thereafter, parliamentary members claim to represent, not a political faction but a place – members are not announced as “The Labour Member” or “The Conservative who has just spoken”, but as (until very recently) “The Honourable Member for Scunthorpe” - just as might have been the case at any time since the reign of Edward III. The Cabinet and the government are still referred to as administrations, their task being primarily to administer the business of the government on behalf of the Crown.
In a sense, Britain retains a largely aristocratic (or perhaps oligarchic would be more accurate) form of government, even though the prime minister and his or her team do not come from the landed section of society. The parties do not, as in other parts of the world (or as in one specific part of the United Kingdom to this day, Northern Ireland), represent single sections of society or single interests. Only very seldom in British history – the most obvious example is the General Strike of 1926 – does the populace appear to divide along purely class lines.”

So, the True Brit idea of a Parliament which is the envy of the world and the basis for all civilised government is really just balderdash. What is truly surprising is that the British voters are so thick as to presume they really matter at all. That's why, for example, we get a neo-fascist “New Labour” government which makes the Tories look like a bunch of left wing loonies.

This system also produces some outstandingly bad polices and politicians. One is almost tempted to say that is it's real purpose.

A. N. Wilson again: “Any observer of the English scene over the last two hundred years knows that . . . the political history of Britain is one of chancellors of the Exchequers who know nothing about money, education ministers who can't spell, bishops with little or no religious faith.”

This is precisely the type of government Parliament is designed to produce. A bunch of boundlessly hopeless amateurs who are supposed to be, in some respects, guided and in others rescued by the Mandarins of the Civil Service – the real government of the country. No wonder Yes Minister remains one of the most popular sit-coms ever made.

Seen in this light, the Speaker's present predicament is as predictable as it is sad.

To Wilson again (regarding the electoral reforms of 1884): . . . how much of a true political shift took place as a result of the electoral reforms of 1884. Did the granting of the vote to 4,376,916 male adults (as opposed to (2.619,435) before the Representation of the People Act appreciably change the way Great Britain was governed over the next few decades? Believers in Parliament might see British history as an unfolding progression of freedoms which, as general election followed general election, more and more people -first the urban males, then the entire working class (males), then all adults, male and female – were empowered. But empowered to do what? To elect representatives who for the most part perpetuated the system that placed them there. . . . If the majority of the population was working class, how did it come about that until the twentieth century there were next to no working class parliamentarians thrown up by this supposedly democratic system?”

Which brings us neatly to the archetypical working class hero, Gorbals Mick and his particular brand of parliamentary oversight.

I think I hear Speaker Lenthall's bones shrieking.

May it please your majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as this house is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here; and humbly beg your majesty’s pardon that I cannot give any other answer than this. Are you listening, Mick?

Monday, December 01, 2008

Acts of God

An important part of our culture has disappeared. Exactly when, I'm not sure; but it now seems no longer possible to attribute disasters to that convient catch-all category of Acts of God. No. Someone must be blamed.

This is, in many cases, a backward step.

Nothing so gut-wrenchingly demonstrates this as the murder of Baby P at the hands of those who should have been caring for him. Already much of what has been written about this case is at best well-meaning clap-trap and at worst diabolically unhelpful recommendations masquerading as potential explanations.

The facts are horribly unavoidable. Baby P was tortured and murdered by adults whose actions cannot be accounted for rationally. Biologically we are programmed to protect and nurture babies. Our own off-spring certainly, but in a wider sense we are drawn to see every baby as something to be cherished. That's why we find these cases so alarming. We have no comprehension or understanding of the motives or actions of the perpetrators and this makes us rightly disturbed.

When the Director of Children's Services in Haringey seemed to say that this tragedy was chiefly the fault of the adults who killed the baby, she was pilloried in the media and, I expect, in many living rooms across the country. But, in some respects, she was right.

In a gentler more accepting time this tragedy might have been termed (no matter how obscene it may sound) as an Act of God.

Traditionally this terminology has been used when tragedies happen without the direct cause being some human action. We walk to the shop to get a newspaper. The pilot of a light aircraft flying overhead opens the window and, as he leans out, accidentally drops his clipboard. The clipboard hurtles earthward and strikes us on the back of the neck as we stop to tie our shoe – decapitating us in the process. An Act of God because the process by which we become an ex-person is only casually related to the acts of the people involved. Traditionally, society would adjudge that no-one is to blame. It is an Act of God.

Unfortunately, now-a-days our surviving spouse would be encouraged to ring Injury Lawyers For You and sue the pilot (he should have followed Health and Safety Guidelines and had the clipboard on a string tied around his neck), the aircraft manufacturer (they should have made it impossible to open the aircraft window sufficiently to drop a clipboard out of it), the CAA (they should never have certified such an aircraft in the first place), Uncle Tom Cobley and all. It's the compensation culture gone mad.

What's worse, this kind of culture colours how we look at the tragedy of Baby P.

Now, of course, the aircraft and Baby P are not exactly the same. No matter how rapacious the solicitors for the wife of our unfortunate late newspaper buying friend it seems unlikely that the court would award damages. Unlikely, perhaps – but not unheard of.

Example: “A teacher collected £14,000 in compensation for injuries suffered when she toppled off a toilet seat at a primary school.

The woman dislocated her hip when she fell off the under-sized bowl that was designed for use by children aged under eleven.
Liverpool City Council paid £12,958 to settle out of court her claim for compensation that was back by the National Union of Teachers and details emerged in the union's annual report.”
“Lancashire education bosses have been hit by more than a hundred compensation claims after children were injured in the playground.

A catalogue of accidents such as youngsters slipping or falling in the school-yard, trapping fingers or being hit by swinging doors have led to 114 claims against Lancashire County Council over the past five years.

In total, 24 were successful, with County Hall paying out £105,596 in compensation. It is estimated that much more has been paid out in legal fees to "ambulance chasing" lawyers.

Headteachers told the Evening Post pupils suffering injuries during a football match, staff walking into doors and youngsters scraping their knees in the school playground have all led to claims being made.

Fractures after falling off school walls, or injuries from slipping in canteens have also led to claims.

But one MP said the startling figures suggest many of the claims are spurious, with little or no evidence to back them up.

And today community leaders and teachers predicted the growing "no win, no fee" compensation culture would spark an explosion in future claims.”

Perhaps there is more hope for our now husband-less wifely clipboard survivor than you thought.

Before you switch off, dear reader, I confess that the Baby P case is not much like the supersonic clipboard. Paby P was killed by adults who (and you may find this hard to believe) were convicted of “causing or allowing his death”. That is to say they were not even tried for or convicted of murder. The implication here is clear: there are some features of this case that we just don't know about. Some features that may move the case uncomfortably more towards the Act of God than the murder of a toddler.

However uncomfortable, this needs to be addressed.
Last word to the Telegraph – who report:
The mother of Baby P, the toddler who died after a catalogue of horrific abuse, has given birth to another child in jail and wants access to the baby, according to reports.

This is not normal and certainly Baby P's mother should not be allowed to have any children with her. Ever.

Don't go down that road!

Finally. A win, and even better, a win over the Raiders. Praise be the Lord!

Already (and very unfortunately) the KC media have started overplaying their hand – like the poker player who has just drawn a card to the inside of a straight, the pundits are talking up a Chiefs revival led by Tyler Thigpen.

This is a distraction and we've been here before. Last year it was Brodie Croyle who would lead the tribe of the chosen people to the promised land. After his season-ending injury it was anyone who could stand up and throw the ball. Now it's Tyler.

This has got to stop.

If not, we go to the next training camp with a QB controversy. Tyler or Brodie. The scenario is well-known and well-scripted. These two battle it out for the starting job – distracting the team and the coaches from the real business of winning football matches. You end up with a starter who is always looking over his shoulder. There are examples of how disastrous this is and you don't have far to go. Just look at the Bears and the Bills. Both teams decided to swap horses in a fast-flowing stream this week and got so wet they nearly sank out of sight. The Chiefs must not go down that road.

The management must get smart. Draft a high-profile QB who will start next season. Decide to keep either Tyler or Brodie as backup. Get a franchise QB who will lead the team for the next decade. That is the only way.

Just look at the QB's taken this year. Joe Flacco is doing very well thank you in Baltimore. True, he has a good team to work with; but for a QB taken relatively low in the draft, he is making all the right moves. Over in Atlanta Matt Ryan is leading a poor team steeped in soul-destroying self doubt by the Vick saga to a play-off berth. And, according to the experts this was a poor year for QBs. The brave choice is to take the top QB in the draft – particularly as the Chiefs are likely to be picking in the 3,4,5 slot again.

In the Tyler Thigpen hype we are suffering from at the moment, it is forgotten that last April the Chiefs could have drafted either Ryan or Flacco. Certainly, they could have had Flacco easily He was taken 18th when the Chiefs had already had two picks. To get Ryan, taken at three, might have involved a trade, but it could have been done.

Next year looks a good one for QBs. Pundits are listing two in the top three picks, Bradford of Oklahoma and Stafford of Georgia – one of whom will probably be available when the Chief's turn comes.

The Chiefs must get off the fence and grab one. Fans are rightly getting fed up with the “build through the draft” scenario. This only works if you truly build in all positions. It's time to take a risk. Pay the big bucks. Go for broke. Grab the best QB that fits and give him the team.

If not, five years of mediocrity is almost ensured.