Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Carry on don't lose your head

It's been fascinating to trawl through the opinion pieces in the papers and the political blogs today. There's a lot of revolutionary esprit about - wheels on tumbrils being oiled, pikes being sharpened. But is there a latter-day Danton anywhere who might turn this outrage into radical action? I can't see one. Just as well? In any event, that's not how things are done over here - usually.

The current Commons, impotent and indulged, reminds me of De Toqueville's observation:

'Nothing is quite so wretchedly corrupt as an aristocracy which has lost its power but kept its wealth and which still has endless leisure to devote to nothing but banal enjoyments. All its great thoughts and passionate energy are things of the past, and nothing but a host of petty, gnawing vices now cling to it like worms to a corpse.'


Gadjo Dilo said...

It's often the very seedbed of outrageous creativity, though. I'm thinking Oscar Wilde, The Earl of Rochester, errr The Marquis de Sade... (I should probably stop there.)

Gaw said...

That's a good point - Wilde made me think of the Anglo-Irish ascendency and all that they produced when they were past their best. But I'm struggling to think of anything that approaches even a sub-Wildean quip from the current benches of the Commons, let alone a book. Now Alan Clark and Douglas Hurd are gone, all I can come up with is Babs Follett being married to a renowned Man of Letters. Got one: Billy Hague!

Bunny Smedley said...

At the risk of being spotted for the annoying pedant I actually am, or accused of being the sort of social snob I am not - isn't there a bit of a gulf between the performance of the political 'aristocracy' as instantiated by Hazel Blears, Michael Martin, Margaret Moran & Co on one hand, versus the performance of, say, Lord Willoughby de Broke, the Countess of Cranbrook and the Countess of Mar?

Personally, I'd be happy with the total removal of all parliamentary remuneration, in a world where MPs were expected to carry on normal lives outside politics, and where parliament sat c. 6 weeks out of the year at most, unless of course summoned for a few days to approve one of those extraordinary levies that would replace income tax ... but then, my views on the French Revolution and yours perhaps do not fully coincide.

Gaw said...

There is a gulf, it's true. Our old-time aristos seemed to engage in a lot more interesting vices than minor peculation. However, the British aristocracy do appear to have managed to go politically from global importance to inconsequentiality without any intervening period of decadence.

Re your extremely radical proposals: could be worth a try. BTW, French Revolution: I'm agin it. It's you who appear the revolutionary in this instance!

Bunny Smedley said...

Blogger swallowed my last comment.

What I wanted to say was a better version of this, typed in haste:

1) 'Reactionary', surely! Don't get me on to the Court of Star Chamber and my plans for it ...

2) George Osborne, Harriet Harman, Hilary Benn, Michael Ancram et al would be surprised, I think, to learn that the British aristocracy is now 'inconsequential'. (I am leaving out Mr primarily Russian, not British - but, well, even so ...)

What's happened is that British politicians are now rather furtive about facing up to their class identity. Silly, really.

And finally, more importantly,

3) I'm quite serious about the example of Lord Willoughby de Broke, Lady Mar and Lady Cranbrook ... if that level of genuine public service is what the hereditary peerage achieves for us, with virtually no money from the taxpayer, why bother with democracy?

Barendina Smedley said...

Annoyingly, (2) was again partially eaten by Blogger. The missing bit was about Mr Clegg's aristocratic background, which is mostly Russian - although the Dutch sides looks quite smart, too.

Gaw said...

Wow, what a lot of bracing reactionary thoughts. But as I'm sure you know, many radicals couch their appeals in the language of ancient freedoms and a return to the prelapsarian; radicalism too can properly be a going-back to the roots. Just learn to love it: you've obviously got a hankering to be a dangerous revolutionary.

With regard to the British aristocracy and at the risk of coming over all Marxist, I was referring to them as a class. I think that up until WW2 you could describe them politically as mostly coherent and very influential. But this is a notoriously slippery thing to prove beyond reasonable contradiction.

I must say your list of the current blue-bloods engaged in politics does not inspire me to doff my cap in a spirit of reverence and dread.

Finally, without wishing to disparage their contributions, I don't believe we have enough Willoughby de Brokes, Mars and Cranbrooks to keep us in the comfort to which we have become accustomed. But that's probably part of your point. Only by reducing the size of the state will we encourage public-spiritedness and self-reliance. Tory anarchism? I'd like to see it tried out somewhere.

BTW, Barendina?

Gaw said...

Oh, and I'd rather point to Helen Mirren as a gorgeous late-flowering of the Russian aristocracy.

Bunny said...

Barendina? Don't blame me - blame my forefathers. It was just a joke, in case some posh Dutch person happened to observe my passing Clegg-commentary.

Beyond that, there's a school run to do, plus food for the cats, so I sort of give up. Except to add that - simply because this point never seems to get through - just look at what, for instance, Lady Mar does. How much do you pay for Lady Mar? And then, look at your MP. How much do you pay for your MP? (I am assuming, for no good reason, that your MP isn't a scion of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, although, heaven knows, enough of them are.)

More broadly, though - aristocrats? There aren't many of them. If unelected, they don't get paid. In the main, they don't care that they don't get paid, because the better ones aren't in this game for the money. They have a duty of stewardship, they believe in it, and that's that. But please don't underestimate what the Countess of Cranbrook, Willoughby de Broke etc do on your behalf. If your freedoms aren't entirely eroded, they deserve some credit for that. They won't get the credit of course, because, unlike elected politicians, they don't fight for credit. Still, I'd promise you, they do rather more for your quality of life than Helen Mirin.

Gaw said...

The De Toqueville quote was directed against the Commons rather than the other lot. I think the aristos that remain there do a thoroughly good job, as well they might, being members of the most historically successful social group in world history. Anyway, I mustn't deprive your cat any longer.