P is for Parliaments, Politicians and all things Political

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When I was taught history at school I never thought much about the focus. But focus it did, on 1066 and William the Conker, Henry VIII and his appetite for wives, Liz 1 and her potato man, a bit of a muddle in the middle, lots of people called George and the Victorians inventing everything from flushing toilets to beach holidays. But really, looking back the Muddle in the Middle was the bit they should have focused on. Our 17th century revolution, coupled with plagues and fires and then another revolution, this one Glorious. And at the end of it we had the proper beginnings of a parliamentary democracy and a royal family that is big on formality and frocks and light on demagoguery.

 

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And wandering around London these days and seeing all the grand buildings from which we are governed is to recognize that we, here, in the UK have been very lucky to have had our form of government and freedom from the nonsense of an absolute monarchy for the last 400 plus years.

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If only what we voted for every five years actually was democracy then it would be really quite splendid.

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You have to start with an ornate pile of horses do-dos that is Parliament, really two houses in a Palace – the Palace of Westminster. I know it looks good and Big Ben – The Elizabeth Tower in fact – Big Ben is a bell – is the epitome of iconic but it’s jerry built and falling apart. The current estimate – if the MPs stay put – it will cost £5.7 billion and take 32 years to fix; move the precious little darlings out to a Travelodge somewhere north of Hemel and it drops to £3.2 million and 6 years.

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In front of Parliament is Parliament Square, a pretty little open space that currently contains a frankly zany selection of statues. I mean can anyone else see the irony of Nelson Mandela

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and Jan Smuts in the same place?

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I’m not part of the ‘Rhodes Must Go’ school of sanitising history and Smuts was seen as a war hero and all that for a large part of the 20th century but there is no doubt he was one of the architects of apartheid too. Maybe that’s the famous British idea of balance. More likely it is our ingrained irony and what passes for a sense of humour when politicians are involved.

There are other famous folks – Gandhi

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Lloyd George about to take off

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Palmerston ready to send in a  gunboat

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and, um, Beaconsfield

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who? Ok so maybe his heroship is rather forgotten.

There used to have a protest camp here for many years, started by Brian Haw. It eventually covered a range of protests but our open democracy has to give best to the need to let tourists and locals like me take neat clean photos so it was unceremoniously cleared away. Sad really.

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On the far side of the square, on the outside pavement, Abe Lincoln looks on, a bronze metaphor for many years of isolationism perhaps and a warning for the direction of US foreign policy if a certain preening popping-jay wins through in November.

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Parliament is all very fine and the Wednesday bun fight that is PMQs – Prime Minister’s Questions – all great theatre, even if it sounds like a group of teenage boys watching America’s Top Model, but it’s not where the real work is done. That is in the ministries which line Whitehall.

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First up – is anyone surprised – is the Treasury.

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This huge slab of grandiose monumentalism fills the corner with a  lumpen inertia much like the way the Treasury officials treats any policy the chancellor does not like.

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By crushing the life out of it.

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Beyond we have the aloof foreign office

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the smug cabinet office

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a new on the block Ministry of Culture Media and Sport – an odd mix when you think about it and really it would be better if it was called what is was – the Ministry of C List Celebrities – I didn’t bother with a picture

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And part of the Department of health, more modern this.

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You reach Horse Guards and the rather splendid guards in their camp finery

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why is it that our military, when dressed in their uniforms, look like extras from a Busby Berkeley musical?

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Wander through the arch to the parade ground

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where guards change

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colours are trooped

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and tourists gather and it feels another world.

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Along side each edge there are more, non specific government offices

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– the Ministry of Policy Wonkery, the Office of Quango Burning, The Home of the Unelected Control Freaks – I made the last one up

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plus heroes of long forgotten escapades.

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On the other side of Whitehall from Horse Guards sits the Banqueting House

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rather wonderfully old it is too.

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I’ve had dinner here, in its ancient hall. Lucky me. A German lawyer played a grand piano which was very nice but I’d have preferred Coldplay TBH.

It is a serious question, this. These buddings are fantastic. Part of our history. But really are they fit for the purpose of running a 21st Century government? Dotted here and there are signs threatening near instant death under the Serious and Organised Crime Act if you look a bit moody in the direction of some guy in black totting a sub-machine-gun. I fully accept in today’s world our politicians need proper protection but providing it in a 18th and 19th Century context is not so easy. A conundrum this and one that probably costs us all in the long term.

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There are nice touches too. A memorial to some 200 British Citizens killed in the Bali bomb was unexpected. Touching too.

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The Churchill War rooms, a museum I forgot in my M is for Museums post is there too and as an insight into how the WW2 was fought without abandoning the capital, fascinating.

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And finally as you skirt the edge of St James Park, you come to Admiralty Arch, home of the Admiralty and other bits of government.

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For me this is the best of the bunch, crossing the Mall and neatly bookending it with a certain Buck House at the other end.

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But more of that later.

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Oh, did I mention Downing Street? Oh well, it’s through there.

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Meah. This is more interesting.

 

This is part of the 2016 A to Z Blogging challenge. Please click here to find your way to other participants.

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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31 Responses to P is for Parliaments, Politicians and all things Political

  1. The content in your a to z posts is always comprehensive and interesting. It’s an impressive undertaking. You’ve jogged a few memories, and actually helped in research for my latest project 🙂

    Like

  2. Al Lane says:

    Another impressive post. I’m not so sure you did make up any of those Government departments though!

    Like

  3. Re. the picture below “where guards change”, I was there with some friends a year or so ago by the smaller yard on the other side of the building which faces onto the parade ground and where some of the soldiers are on foot as well, and a lady from America who was next to us said “That’s some kind of a job, isn’t it, looking up a horse’s ass all day” (!).

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sue Vincent says:

    My grandfather was at Horse Guards. Until his horse sat on him.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ritu says:

    Hate politics! Love the post though!!!!

    Like

  6. gordon759 says:

    “Beaconsfield who? Ok so maybe his heroship is rather forgotten”
    Come now brother, surely you remember one half of the greatest double act in British politics.

    And as for Palmerston, every red top editor must regret that he doesn’t live in our time. He would make the peccadillos of modern politicians pale by comparison. Even his death was unique, I believe, in British politics, involving as it did a billiard table, a maidservant and a dodgy heart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Yes Soz for that lapse of good taste. I just said to Anabel that it was done deliberately to wind you up but that would be a failure to admit a lapse of memory. And indeed Palmerston is extraordinary. How old when he sired his last child I should look it up.

      Like

      • gordon759 says:

        He was in his 70’s. The story goes that there was an election and the Liberals discovered that Palmerston’s teenage mistress had just had a baby.
        “We should publicise that as a symbol of the immorality of the Tories” said one Liberal MP.
        Another, who had been campaigning on the theme of,
        “Do you want an old dotard as Prime Minister.”
        Replied.
        “Keep quiet about the child, do you want us to loose the election.”
        True Victorian values.

        Like

  7. Anabel Marsh says:

    Your brother has pre-empted my comment. That’s Disraeli you are talking about! Apart from that shocking, and untypical, lapse, great post – I like your scepticism.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. jan says:

    William the Conker? Haha. It is sad that Mandela and Smuts must spend eternity so close to each other but then statues don’t get a voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I was almost tempted to give ‘P for Politics’ a pass. So glad I didn’t!! Spat my morning coffee again [Abe Lincoln comment]. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. roweeee says:

    Great post, Geoff. I was also dubious about reading about politicians after experiencing bullshit overload with the US election circus and now we’re going to the polls because our pollies couldn’t play nicely together, which could equate into Turnbull not getting his own way.
    Of course, my personal fave was the red telephone box followed by the horse and cart and Admiralty Arch. I’m looking forward to seeing British Parliament and all its pomp reconvening at the Travelodge during renovations. Perhaps, McDonalds will also be available! (We call it “Maccas”).
    xx Ro

    Liked by 1 person

  11. More good stuff, Geoff. In another of our coincidences, I was there on the day you posted this

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great photos – and I think you’re right. The practicalities of running twenty-first-century government from eighteenth-century buildings sounds absurd! Is there a deeper symbolic significance to this? Is the way Westminster does it politics still stuck in a by-gone world? It’s certainly disconnected!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: R is for Royalty #atozchallenge | TanGental

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