The Mother of Parliaments and the mother of all silliness

After I promoted a post on political absurdity, a Google+ user, Andrew Knighton, wrote to say that “when Caroline Lucas [Member of Parliament for the Green Party] became an MP she received a ceremonial dagger on a ribbon days before she received the computer equipment she needed to do her job. I love absurdity as much as the next man, but as a Brit I’d really like to see the traditions swept up and replaced with decent processes.”

I can’t disagree—what happened is completely batty and I’m sure politics would make more sense if they stopped handing out ceremonial daggers and started handing out computers—but you have to admire the sheer insanity of it all. Or at least, I do.

Before I go on, I should either remind or inform you that Parliament likes to call itself the Mother of Parliaments. I’m not enough of a historian to know if that’s a fair claim, but it does at least explain the title I used.

Screamingly irrelevant photo: Minnie the Moocher (left) and Fast Eddie

Screamingly irrelevant photo: Minnie the Moocher (left) and Fast Eddie

With that behind us, I should tell you that I tried to confirm that whole dagger business by googling variations of Caroline Lucas, ceremonial dagger, and so forth. I ended up with articles on Sikh ceremonial daggers, The Vampire Diaries (I’m sure there’s some connection but I didn’t click through and try to figure out what it is), fracking as a dagger pointed at I didn’t click through to find out what—the heart of England, if I had to guess—and so forth. I did click through to something about the City Remembrancer, whose role dates back to 1571 and who does I didn’t read enough to find out what but damn, wouldn’t it be fun when someone asks what you do to say, “I’m the City Remembrancer”?

Anyway, I can’t confirm that the thing about Lucas and the dagger is true, although I’m sure it is. It’s too batty not to be. What I did find was an article by Lucas on what no one tells you before you enter Parliament.

Among other things, she reports that although the parliamentary smoking ban dates back to 1693, snuff is available at taxpayer expense. She’s never seen anyone dip in, but she did try it once, just to see what it was like. She says Parliament is like Hogwarts meets Gilbert and Sullivan. In the old palace, “The wood panelling is gloomy, the carpets have come straight from a 1970s pub, and there’s a pervading smell of school dinners.” Ah, the majesty of it all.

MPs don’t refer to each other by name when they’re speaking in the chamber. They call each other “the honorable member from [wherever]” or if the person being talked about is of higher status “the right honorable. . . .” She capitalizes all of that. There’s probably a rule about that too. These people can talk in capital letters. Me, I can manage italics once in a while, but I’m sparing with capital letters.

She also writes that most MPs have no idea what they’re voting on, so they have to follow party discipline and vote the way they’re told.

She doesn’t mention daggers, but I recommend the article anyway. Whether you agree with her politics or not, this woman can write. And she’s got a sense of humor.

27 thoughts on “The Mother of Parliaments and the mother of all silliness

  1. Ah yes. This ceremonial dagger thing. They are issued so that one can stab one’s fellow MPs in the jolly old back. These days one can achieve the same thing on Twitter & Facebook via one’s computer of course. So order doesn’t matter in one’s humble opinion. All the best.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I fully expect the dagger story is true. Traditions coming before practicalities seems very likely for the British parliament. Having grown up within that system, it has never struck me as odd that names are not used. I think there’s a ring of private school elitism and “them and us” about the whole thing really. If an institution maintains its arcane practices it means you’ve got to be a member of the secret club to be in the know. It’s a distancing thing like the “old school tie”. Maybe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re onto something about tradition there. It’s a way of keep the power held tightly, but a tight little knot of people. Although if you take it seriously enough–and I’m sure some of the MPs do–I expect you do it for its own sake, without questioning it.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hmm, maybe I’ll start looking through Congress for people that either have a ceremonial dagger or a sense of humor – the latter will be hard to find. If yours is the mother of all parliaments, I suppose we are one of the bastard step-children.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Possibly. I’m not sure how fair the claim to be the mother of all parliaments is, though. It strikes me as the kind of thing you might be better off waiting for someone else to say about you instead of making the claim yourself.

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  4. What I love most about the British Parliament is the booing and cheering during question time. It is not the mean-spirited heckling we get at political rallies, rather it is pompous, silly and utterly delightful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you want mean spirited, you have to listen to Prime Minister’s Question Time. It gets pretty toxic, but roughly on the level of twelve-year-old boys being toxic. I’m all for political debate, but this is mostly name calling and point scoring.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. After nigh on a 1000 years of passing laws with recent help from the European Union we have quite enought legislation on the books. All it requires now is a judiciary with the common sense to apply them. My only worry is that there are not enough arcane and weird rituals , more should be added to slow down the obsessive desire all MP’s have to control our lives even more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve often wondered if anyone goes through all those thousand years of laws to see how many of them contradict each other. Or apply to things no longer in use. Or only make sense if, I don’t know, you believe the world is flat. Back in the sixties, as part of a plea bargain, some civil rights demonstrators in New York were charged under an archaic law with interfering with a steam engine. They were fined $5–and even then that wasn’t a whoppingly large amount of money. I don’t know when the last steam engine in New York City was taken out of service, but it was long before the sixties, I’m pretty sure.

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  6. In this part of the world if something is the Mother of Whatever, there’s usually an F-word after Mother, so I’m trying to get my head wrapped around it being a good thing. And isn’t a privy cabinet something else entirely?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Believe me, I know where mother usually leads. As for the privy council, it’s not the group of politicians who meet in the privy, sadly. I think it descends from private to close to most trusted–the small group around the leader. Or something like that, since I’m improvising here. I should look it up.

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  7. Pingback: Great British traditions: the boot sale | Notes from the U.K.

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