Division Bell

Since Parliamentary democracy has been televised live, I’ve got used to watching how the House of Commons debate and vote on issues, and the sheer anachronistic physicality of it all never ceases to amaze me. In a modern world where we can all use technology to assist us in simplifying so many labourious or repetitive daily tasks, we still rely in Parliament on people – on our politicians – actually getting up and voting with their feet.

After an issue has been thoroughly debated – usually quite vociferously – in the Chamber, the Speaker of the House asks for the Members of Parliament sitting in the House to vote ‘aye’ or ‘no’ on the matter. And if there is no clear difference in the decibel level between the two, the Speaker shouts ‘Division!’ and the whole Chamber clears to allow individuals to pass through one of two lobbies to cast their vote.

The Division Bell rings, and not only those present in the chamber but all MPs present in the building will drop whatever they are doing to rush to the particular lobby of their choice to vote. If they are not present, they do not get to vote, and some MPs actively choose to abstain from voting (for whatever reason). Obviously the bigger the issue (like with the current Brexit votes) the more MPs are present for each vote, and as each motion requires the same procedure, with votes often occurring one after the other in straight succession, there can be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and milling around waiting.

Once the MPs have voted, everyone returns to the Chamber awaiting the result, where after the votes are physically count one of the four ‘tellers’ of the House stand at the front and read out the total numbers of ‘ayes’ and ‘noes’ for that vote. The Speaker of the House then repeats these out loud for the benefit of everyone, and states whether the ‘ayes’ or the ‘noes’ have it, before the results are formally recorded for posterity.

I suppose as well as tradition, there are very good reasons for having one vote for one MP in person – there can be no confusion, no obfuscation, and an indisputable transparency of process that cannot be hijacked or fiddled about with. We all know – and often see – how each MP votes on each motion, and who defies the Whip (and sometimes even resigns their Cabinet post) to vote with their concsience rather than along party lines.

And as we currently have a political party Government in power without a majority of MPs to necessarily vote in their favour, these individual votes have a far greater signifiance than when a party is in Government with a clear majority across the House. There is often no foregone conclusion, and so the actual voting procedure is no longer just a basic formality of Parliamentary process.

The fact of the Government having to rely on every individual vote makes it all the more uncertain as to the result of each motion, which may be proving exteremely frustrating for Theresa May at the moment but is democratically just for the country as a whole. The country seems to be as divided now on the question of Brexit as it was three years ago, and this division is inevitably showing within the House of Commons too.

To the rest of the world it looks bad, laughable and incompetent even, but the current Parliamentary stalemate over Brexit is nevertheless giving an accurate political reflection of where we all are right now as a country – a thoroughly disunited kingdom – so whether we like it or not, it shows us all clearly that our democractic process is actually working…

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Division


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Fandango’s Provocative Question: 13 March 2019

This week’s provocative question asks: โ€œWhen you learn about highly regarded artists being accused of inappropriate sexual behavior, especially with minors, can you separate the artists from their art, or would you refuse to listen to, watch, or read the artistsโ€™ works?โ€

Hmmm… Well, to be honest I’m not a huge Michael Jackson fan and there are many other artists with music similar enough to R Kelly, so I’m not likely to listen to their music any more or less than I have done so far.

But back in the day in the glam-rock seventies I absolutely loved Gary Glitter with his showy sparkly arrogance on stage, asking if I wanted to be in his gang… and I sang along at the top of my voice with all my young teenage peers, starry eyed and caught up in the moment. But now it just feels creepy, considering his predeliction for young vietnamese kids, and so it seems in hindsight I can’t separate the artist from the art and no, I don’t listen to him any more, not even for the sake of nostalgia.

And as well as musicians, another famous publicly-shamed sexually-abusive celebrity of my innocent youth was Jimmy Saville of ‘Jim’ll Fix It’ TV fame, where for years the ‘lucky’ kids for whom he fixed their particular dream come true were privileged to sit on his lap live on air… Again, just too creepy to think about these days…

But of course it’s not only money-laden celebrities who take advantage of the trusting dollar/pound-sign blinkers placed over the eyes of both parents and children, but also certain members of the Catholic Church. The sheer arrogance of power, whether financial or religious, creates a trust imbalance that seems to allow certain predatory types to behave atrociously and apparently expect to get away with it, whether through physical or sexual abuse of children in their charge.

So to take the question a step further from considering only musical artists or celebrities, does the dubious historical action of the Catholic Church relating to allegations of child abuse affect the way I consider the Catholic religion? Absolutely – my grandmother and her younger siblings were brought up between the two wars in several orphanages run by the Catholic Church, and were treated cruelly enough by the nuns that as adults they all refused to attend church, and this experiential distrust has been passed down the generations.

Additionally, my husband was also brought up in the Catholic faith, and during the 1980s attended a prestigious private fee-paying boarding school in the Highlands of Scotland run by Benedictine monks in an actual abbey setting. Yet only a few years ago we had two policemen at our door asking my husband for a statement about his time at that school, as his second-year house-master has been accused of the sexual abuse of one of my husband’s class-mates. Sadly this is not a unique allegation, and an entire TV documentary was made at that time relating to the school (and monks) in question.

So can I separate the church from the child abuse? Nope, not then, not now, and not ever. Had the church dealt with any and all accurations of abuse openly and justly, then fair enough. But instead offenders were simply protected in order to protect the good name of the church and quietly moved on elsewhere, ostensibly free to offend again, leaving their vulnerable victims disbelieved and traumatised for the rest of their lives.

But in the longterm it does seem that the abuse of power negates whatever artistic achievements have been made by the offender. Off the top of my head just look at Jimmy Saville here in the UK for example, where there were discussions about him being posthumously stripped of his knighthood (not possible, as the honour dies with him) or the spectacular falling-off-a-cliff careers of Harvey Weinstein or Kevin Spacey in the US… what goes around, comes around, I guess…

Chuntering From a Sedentary Position

After a couple of very stressful days watching our so-called democratic processes derail so definitively here in the UK there has certainly been plenty of chuntering from a sedentary position in our house – it’s a common refrain from the Speaker of the House of Commons when disgruntled politicians in that place sit and mutter and more at what is being said without standing respectfully to show their desire to speak in turn.

What can I say about the train-wreck that is our current Brexit negotiations other than mumble with embarrassment at the sheer ludicrousy of it all. In my personal opinion it was ludicrous for Prime Minister (at the time) David Cameron to call a referendum in the first place, ludicrous for his successor Theresa May to negotiate with the EU without at any point considering the opinion of Parliament, and completely ludicrous for her to expect to now be able to bully Parliament to follow her lead through sheer stubbornness.

The supercillious smugness of Theresa May’s self-centred and self-righteous autocratic response last night after failing in her quest to keep her dubious bargaining chip of No Deal on the table was to my mind a disrespectful smack in the face to Parliamentary will. Especially after changing her mind about offering a free vote to Conservative MPs and applying a three-line whip to vote down her own amended motion out of sheer desperation to hold on to her fast-depleting political power.

Mrs May and her Brexit bullies never shut up about respecting ‘the will of the people’ by insisting that the British people have spoken and there is no need for a second run at a referendum. And yet at the same time although her dodgy withdrawal deal has already been resoundingly defeated twice now in Parliament, she seems perfectly happy to ignore the will of the House and keep on asking the same question until she gets the result she wants.

What adds insult to injury is that the result of the referendum was really close, in horse-racing terms a photo-finish race won ‘on the nod’, whereas the result of both Parliamentary votes to date have both been defeated by a clear undisputed gap of several furlongs. If the PM expects politicians to be given the chance to change their minds by effectively re-running the race, then surely she has to be open to allowing the British public to change their minds in a similar fashion also?

Enough chuntering from a sedentary position from me for now – I can’t help but wonder what tonight’s exciting installment of political power-play in the Houses of Parliament will bring… what a bloody mess! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Fandango’s One Word Challenge: Power

Weekly Smile: Fancy Dress

Walking along to the health clinic this morning on my way to have my blood test I passed several excited young school children walking to school in fancy dress – I passed a pirate, a spiderman, a Snow White, a rag doll, an Alice in Wonderland, a tiger, a princess and a Darth Vader! The smiles on their faces (well, those faces not covered in a full face mask) certainly made me smile ๐Ÿ™‚

Weekly Smile