The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Sunday, February 19, 2006


This probably goes to explain rather a lot:

"One of the strangest facts in British history, and one which had the most lasting consequences, was that Parliament was six hundred years old before universal suffrage emerged in 1918. In most European states, parliamentary life only began at the same time, or shortly before, the arrival of full democracy. In Britain, it was possible to be parliamentary without being democratic, which in the rest of Europe was largely impossible. Whigs were parliamentarians but not democrats. They passionately defended all the liberties associated with regular debate, the rule of law and a respect for majorities, but thought that universal suffrage might well put all this in jeopardy. Europe had no Whiggery because Europe had no parliamentary life before democracy. It was an exclusively British experience."

The author, Leslie Mitchell, goes on to write:

"If Parliament [today] is controlled by public opinion, and that public opinion is moulded by an international media, who then effectively governs? Should it be a matter of concern that the bulk of public opinion may be neither educated, interested or informed? Why, having achieved universal suffrage, are fewer and fewer people inclined to vote?"

Good questions indeed, but they proceed from a flawed premise. In surveys, the British public often shows itself to be far more left-wing than the vast majority of politicians representing it, and than the vaster majority of the media supposedly informing it. Politicians may be concerned about what they think the public thinks, and even more concerned about what the papers say, but I'm far from convinced they worry too much about - or even know - what the public really thinks. Viz, the reaction to the protests over Iraq. Can we really say that Parliament is controlled by public opinion? Only when that opinion coincides with a share of the big money. The notion that these poor politicians are cowering under the threat of the baying, manipulated mob is pure bunk.

Further, it's impossible for the public to be adequately educated or informed by mainstream media, and given that, why should they be interested? It's simply the case that the interests of the public and those of most Parliamentarians do not coincide. Hence the falling vote.

* * *

Robert Lindsay tells a story about how he was going up the red carpet in New York one time as he'd been nominated for a Tony for Me and My Girl. Feeling rather pleased with himself, he was smiling and waving to all the press and public when some wag in the crowd shouted "Freedom for Tooting!". My God, he thought, will this never go away?


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