08 March 2007

The Political Middle Ages c.1295-2007

The House of Lords last nightThe Political Middle Ages died yesterday when members of the Commons voted overwhelmingly for a fully elected House of Lords and the abolition of all hereditary peers under Leader of the House Jack Straw’s daring plans to drag the Upper Chamber by its be-wigged, be-gartered and be-ermined costume into the modern democracy of the, er … nineteenth century.

The Political Middle Ages began with the first Model Parliament held in 1295 when archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons (or anyone else who had a spare million groats to pop into the monarch's campaigning fund) - along with a couple of local burgesses to represent the, er, people - formed a royal council to freely discuss the important issues of the day… and then do whatever the king told them to do.

For centuries, the Political Middle Ages ruled the country with no-one raising any objection, in part because most of the people were too busy being swept up into ultimately-doomed crusades in the Middle East or suffering the black death but chiefly because, this being the Middle Ages, it somehow seemed appropriate. Time, however, moved on and people began to believe that it was somehow inappropriate for them to be ruled over by a bunch of people whose only qualifications for leadership were either (a) an ancestor having fought alongside the monarch's great-great-granddad, (b) an ancestor having slept with the monarch's great-great granddad or (c) an ancestor having bunged large amounts of cash into the monarch's great-great-granddad's campaign chest.

Gradually the power of the people began to grow, mainly because the Black Death had left so few of them standing that if all those nobles wanted their fields tilling they'd have to pay through the nose for the privilege. By the reign of Edward III, The Political Middle Ages found itself having to put up with an unwelcome division between the power of the nobility in the House of Lords and the powers of the knights and burgesses, quite rightly named "The Commons".

Matters came to a head - literally - when the country's ruler Tony Blair King Charles I started wandering around proclaiming that he was divinely appointed and could freely ignore the will of parliament, prompting Oliver Cromwell to test out the theory of whether the King's divine appointment also enabled him to ignore the lack of that bit of his body usually found above the neck.

For four years from 1649 it was believed that the Political Middle Ages had died and that Britain would be ruled by the will of its people. Sadly, by 1653 Cromwell himself had become almost as tired of democracy as those he ruled had become tired of wearing plain clothes and not being allowed to dance, and abolished parliament altogether. By 1660, the Political Middle Ages had returned to their usual position (along with several accommodating actresses) under Charles II.

Their LordshipsBy now, however, the Political Middle Ages were beginning to show their age, barely managing to stagger through Glorious Revolutions and the gradual diminution of kingly power. A series of punishing body blows were suffered during the 19th century and 20th centuries, with the passing of a series of Parliament Acts curtailing the power of the House of Lords. Soon The Political Middle Ages could only be sustained thanks to the tendency of Prime Ministers from Lloyd-George onwards to call in the ermine outfitters for anyone who could bung their party a bit of cash, no questions asked.

Despite the fond attentions of political leaders down the years, the last gasp of the Political Middle Ages was uttered last night. The death came following a vote on Lords reform in a ballot more confusing than the Eurovision song contest and with all the logic of Deal or No Deal. As MPs poured through the Division Lobby to express a) their desire for a fully-elected Upper Chamber; b) the plan most offensive to peers that they will reject it; or c) any option – it doesn’t really matter because it’s an indicative vote which won’t become an Act of Parliament, but trust us, it will inform government policy, some time in the future… The Political Middle Ages cried “Fie!” and “Zounds!” and fell into a deep sleep from which it could not be woken – although it may just have been taking forty winks during an important debate on increasing peers’ expenses to cover the exorbitant dry-cleaning costs for getting stains out of ermine.

The Political Middle Ages will not be buried during the lifetime of this government, or even Gordon Brown’s, but some time in the future, no really it will… at the Palace of Westminster where the remaining 92 hereditary peers, appointed peers and bishops will gather to sing The House That Jack Built. It is survived by Tony Blair, the Royal Family and a vote on Lords reform by peers themselves – yes, including Lord Levy – next week…

1 Comment:

Jungle VIP said...

I'm not convinced anything, except lip-service and later, a rictus adherence to an even more opprssive and one-dimensional democracy will be served by this "reform"