Buckingham: from the Palace to the Parliamentary Constituency

So on the one hand, the Tories really don’t like John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. And on the other hand, the hilarious letters Prince Charles used to write to ministers are finally going to be made public (full judgment here [pdf]), raising a question-mark over how he might try to shape public and ministerial opinion in the future in support of his various idiosyncratic and reactionary agendas.

A solution presents itself. John Bercow will stand for re-election in Buckingham as Speaker, and the three major parties will not stand against him, as is customary. (There’ll be a Ukipper and a Green–and this is where Farage stood last time, of course.) So what the Tories will be looking for is a way of running a candidate against him who is (i) officially an Independent, but in practice a Tory, and who (ii) might actually win the seat. Well, there’s Jeremy Clarkson, of course, who lives not so far away in Chipping Norton, and is looking for something new to do. He probably isn’t interested. But there’s also HRH The Prince of Wales.

Is the Prince eligible to stand for election to the House of Commons? I think he is. He is a peer, but he’s no longer a voting member of the House of Lords, which seems to be the key eligibility criterion. (There’s a quick guide to the question here [pdf], which refers you on to the 1975 House of Commons Disqualification Act, of which I haven’t read every word, but at a glance can’t see the bit that says No Royals.) And were he to be elected to the Commons, no-one could ever complain that he was exercising illegitimate influence by writing eccentric letters to ministers as often as he chose. He’d even have the benefit of Parliamentary privilege, if he wanted to slag off his enemies beyond the reach of the libel law. And the constituency work would give him something useful to do, while he continues to wait for his mother to die.

“Expensive appendages to the science of robbery”

So I spent part of the morning reading stuff by the eccentric eighteenth-century Welsh philosopher (and friend of Brissot) David Williams, as one does, in which he more or less calls for the Hanoverian political system to be replaced with something that looks quite a bit like what the Marxists later called democratic centralism. Anyway, I liked the rhetoric of this bit, towards the end of the sixth of his 1782 Letters on Political Liberty:

It will probably be said, that the revival of this mode of establishing political liberty would have all the effect of innovation; and that innovations, even on the most perfect principles, are hurtful, because they press on the prejudices of the people.

This is always the shallow pretence of political Jesuitism. The throne is daily innovating; while every step presses out the blood of the most industrious and excellent among the people. A standing army is an innovation against the prepossessions, habits, and judgement, of every independent man in the nation; and yet it has been established. Is it to be imagined, the people will object to the very little trouble attending to such an arrangement, as will afford them an intire security against the encroachments of the Crown, and the depredations of fluctuating parties in their legislature, who plunder them in succession? If they were to arm themselves slightly, they would also have a police on the best footing; and be perfectly secured against the collusions of thieves and thief-takers, watchmen, constables, church-wardens, overseers, trading justices, and the whole train of expensive appendages to the science of robbery.

Lewis Carroll, Photographer

Anne, in comments below, reminds me that this weekend is, apparently, Alice Weekend here in Oxford. That would explain why there’s a rather good picture of the Mock Turtle just inside the Bodleian Library this week.

Lewis Carroll didn’t just write the Alice books, of course. He also liked to take photographs of young girls–a subject on which Kate Middleton, curiously enough, is an authority, as it was the subject of her undergraduate dissertation at St Andrews. Here’s one of them:

And these are three of my great-great aunts: Honor, Evelyn, and Olive Brooke. (Photo reproduced from over here.)

Honor, the oldest girl here, is the one I’m interested in. She first crossed my radar screen when I came across a footnote in Yvonne Kapp’s classic life of Eleanor Marx, reporting that Brooke, Marx and Edith Lees (later Mrs Havelock Ellis) addressed a rally to support the strike in Silvertown on 29 November 1889. I don’t know anything else about any connection she had to Marx, outside of the information reported in this post, but she was for a time very close to Lees, with Havelock Ellis writing that, “I do not know how they met, but I know that Miss Brooke, with a self-sacrificing devotion and skill that called out Edith’s deep love, nursed her back to health” after a nervous breakdown. And she features in a passage by Lees that is occasionally reprinted in studies of late ninteenth-century feminism:

How well I remember, after the first performance of Ibsen’s drama [A Doll’s House] in London, with Janet Achurch as Nora, when a few of us collected outside the theater breathless with excitement. Olive Schreiner was there and Dolly Radford the poetess, Dr. Alice Corthorn, Honor Brooke (Stopford Brooke’s eldest daughter,) Mrs. Holman Hunt and Eleanor Marx. We were restive and impetuous and almost savage in our arguments. This was either the end of the world or the beginning of a new world for women. What did it mean? Was there hope or despair in the banging of that door? Was it life or death for women? Was it joy or sorrow for men? Was it revelation or disaster? We almost cantered home. I remember that I was literally prostrate with excitement because of the new revelation.

Edith Lees / Ellis later wrote a novel, Attainment, with a lightly fictionalised account of the Brooke family in it, ‘Stanley Evans’ a barely disguised Stopford Brooke–who, I have now come to realise, was basically the Rev. Giles Fraser of his day (though he doesn’t come out of the novel especially well).

It’s not, however, a terribly good novel, all things considered. Here is a typical passage, from one of the heroine’s letters home, after she has recently fallen in with ‘Robert Dane’, i.e., William Morris:

I came to Stanley Evans to help to reform the masses. I must be on the verge of delirium, for I feel that the masses are reforming me. I am ashamed to go and offer my patronage any more to these desperately tired people. I try to shake myself free from the convictions that are creeping over me, but they won’t go. Who is Karl Marx, Daddy? What does he know about the poor?

Bonus Kate Middleton-themed bit of trivia (since this has ended up being a post about Victorian feminist aunts): she’s Harriet Martineau’s great-great-great-great-great niece. (Ah–I see in fact that the Daily Telegraph has covered this already, reporting that there is ‘more than a passing resemblance’, apparently.)

The Virtual Stoa Salutes The Bard Of Finisterre

Actually, I think the position of Poet Laureate is a silly one, and I hope Carol Ann Duffy doesn’t start writing dreadful poems about the royal family. (She may not, in fact, given her opinion that “No self-respecting poet should have to” write poems about Edward and Sophie of Wessex.) But her appointment is a permanent rebuke to those who struck Finisterre out of the Shipping Forecast seven years ago, and that’s a very good thing.

Pancake Day May Have Been British Values Day, But This Coming Tuesday Is Republic Day!

This just in. No idea who or what is behind it. Sounds fun, though.

Reminder: Republic Day – 17 March 2009

On 17 March 1649, Parliament voted to abolish the office of king, and England became a republic until 1660. We will be marking the 360th anniversary of that historic occasion, and reaffirming the current relevance of the issues raised then – the monarchy and House of Lords, democratic rights and civil liberties – with a rally in Oxford town centre.

Professor David Norbrook to speak

We are delighted to confirm that amongst the speakers will be Professor David Norbrook, Merton Professor of Renaissance English literature at Oxford University, and author of such works as Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance and Writing the English Republic: Poetry, Rhetoric and Politics, 1627-1660.

Also speaking will be city councillors John Tanner (Labour) and David Williams (Green Party), as well as Bill MacKeith on behalf of Oxford and District Trades Union Council, and representatives from a variety of left and progressive organisations from the city. We will also read out a message of support we have received, from the Society for Robespierrist Studies, an association of French scholars who specialize in revolutionary history.

Event: Republic Day outdoor rally
Date: Tuesday 17 March
Time: 6pm to 7pm (approx.)
Location: Carfax

Whatever Love Means

Anyone see the Charles-Camilla biopic last night? Was it any good? I’m assuming the answer is, “No, it wasn’t”, but since these things occasionally reach great heights of excellence, I thought it worth checking. (Though I forget whether it’s the film of Diana: Her True Story or of Princess in Love which is the real classic – the one where Prince Harry’s clearly American, etc. Probably the former. Yes, I think it must be.)

Story that Reflects Badly on the Royal Family of the Year

It’s probably got to be the Harry the Nazi kerfuffle from back in January. Nothing quite as funny as Prince Charles’s views on education, I think, in 2005, but Harry dressing as a Nazi isn’t bad.

The story also produced this gem, from the mother of someone called Guy Pelly, who is apparently a friend of Prince Harry’s, which ought to win some award or other for crass stupidity:

“It certainly wasn’t disrespectful to dress as the Queen. No more than it would be disrespectful for a white man to dress as a black man. I myself went as a penguin. And you could argue that it was a good thing Harry wore that costume. After all it highlighted the whole debate about Auschwitz � and that’s a positive thing, surely.”

But if there were other Stories that Reflect Badly on the Royal Family in the year about to end, please remind me what they were in comments below.

Royal Wedding Fun

Can it get funnier? Yes, it can. Yesterday gave us “Media Barred From Royal Wedding“, but what I liked in particular about that BBC page was the list of related “key stories” down the right-hand column, which nicely sets the tone: Royal wedding ‘legal’, Panorama: Lawful impediment?, Prince not feeling snubbed – aide, No best man at Charles’ wedding, Prince and Camilla change venue.