Posts Tagged ‘King John’

Dr. Who Meets Rosa Parks and the Beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement

October 21, 2018

In this evening’s edition of Dr. Who, ‘Rosa’ The Timelady and her friends travel back to 1950’s America and meet Rosa Parks. Parks was the woman of colour, whose refusal to move from her seat for a White person on America’s segregated buses started the famous bus boycott and mobilized Black America. It was the spark that launched the mass Civil Rights movement.

The blurb for it in the Radio Times reads

The Doctor and her friends travel to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. There they meet someone trying to rewrite the history of the black civil rights movements. (p. 64).

There’s another piece about it on page 62, which adds some more details about the episode.

The Doctor and her friends land in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955 hours before seamstress Rosa Parks lights a fire under the civil rights movement by refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white person.

It is, of course, one of the great turning points in history, where the actions of just one person triggered a convulsive change for good. But someone wants to stop it, someone wants to alter time to keep things, bad things, just as they are. So the gang must paly their part to ensure events remain exactly as they should be to allow Rosa (Vinette Robinson) her defining moment.

It’s an odd episode, co-written by Majorie Blackman and Chris Chibnall, that’s preachy and teachy, giving itself the had task of explaining segregation, racism and the Montgomery bus boycott to a young audience. So it loses its way as a bit of teatime fun and becomes more of a lecture.

The reactionary Right has been out in force and in full cry against this series of Dr. Who from before it was even aired. The decision to have the Doctor regenerate as a woman resulted in Rebel Media, a far-right Canadian broadcaster, posting a video on the internight declaring that ‘Feminism Has Ruined Dr. Who’. This was by Jack Buckby, a self-declared activist for traditional British values, who used to be a member of the BNP. Hope Not Hate, the anti-racist, anti-religious extremism organization have published articles about him, including a pic of Buckby grinning with his Fuehrer, Nick Griffin. There’s absolutely no reason for any decent person to take anything he says remotely seriously.

Despite the denunciations of the racists, there isn’t anything particularly radical going on here. Star Trek explicitly tackled racism from the very beginning. The kiss between Kirk and Uhura in the episode ‘Plato’s Stephchildren’, was the first interracial smooch on American TV. It was so radical, that I think that part of the episode may even have been removed when it was broadcast in the Deep South in case it caused a massive outrage. In one episode of Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, Sisko and his family found themselves in a holographic recreation of Las Vegas. This caused him problems with his conscience, as in the period recreated – the 1960s – Blacks weren’t allowed in the casinos except as entertainers. The conflict is resolved by his wife pointing out to him that this isn’t really Vegas, but Vegas as it should have been. Back to the Classic series, there was also an episode where the crew of the Enterprise discovered a planet, where a rogue federation anthropologist had remodeled its culture on Nazi Germany. The planet was a fully-fledged Nazi dictatorship, with a bitter, racial hatred of a neighbouring world and its people. Kirk, Spock and the others then try to defeat the planet and its leader before they launch a devastating missile at the peaceful, unaggressive other world. The episode was an explicitly anti-Nazi statement, but naturally some viewers were still shocked by Kirk donning Nazi uniform as he disguises himself as one of them in his efforts to bring it down.

Dr. Who also started out partly as a programme to teach children about history, and so the Doctor travelled back in time with his companions to particular periods to meet some of the great figures of the past, in stories like ‘The Crusades’ and ‘The Aztecs’. In the Peter Davison story in the 1980s, ‘The King’s Demons’, the Doctor and his companions travelled back to the 13th century to meet King John on the eve of Magna Carta. He finds that the Master is trying to interfere in history so that the Great Charter is never passed. He describes it as minor mischief-making by the renegade Time Lord, who is trying to destabilize the galaxy’s major civilisations.

It also reminds me somewhat of Ward Moore’s SF classic, Bring the Jubilee, in which a group of modern Confederate nationalists travel back to the 19th century to try and help the South win the American Civil War.

I think, however, this will be the first time that Dr. Who has devoted an entire episode to the issue of anti-Black racism. In some ways, this is really just the series going back to do something like ‘The King’s Demons’ and the earlier historical episodes, but this time taking an episode from Black history as a natural result of Britain’s population having become far more diverse since the early 60s when the series was launched. Majorie Blackman is Black, and a prize-winning children’s author, so I’m not surprised that she was asked to write for the series. I’ve also no doubt that this episode was created because October is Black History month.

It’ll be interesting to see how this episode turns out. It sounds terribly worthy and not as much fun as the other shows. Which was one of the points one of the right-wing detractors of the new series raised in one of his videos attacking it. He quoted Blackman herself as saying that the programme would be ‘educative’ as well as fun. My experience of some of the anti-racist children’s literature recommended for schools during the 1980s is that they were unrelievedly grim, and were also racist in their own way. They seemed to see Whites as being essentially racist, and teach that Blacks could only expect racism and maltreatment from them. I’m sure this episode of Dr. Who will be far different in that respect, as society has become more tolerant.

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Jacob Rees-Mogg and Tory Self-Delusions

March 31, 2018

I found this little gem in the ‘Pseud’s Corner’ column of an old copy of Private Eye. Amid the usual, very pseudish remarks from football pundits and cookery writers comparing that last goal by Arsenal to Julius Caesar crossing the Tiber, or literary types extolling the virtues of their last excursion around the globe, where they took part in the ancient tribal ceremonies of primal peoples, was a truly astounding quote from the Young Master. This is, of course, the current darling of the Tory party, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who declared.

“I am a man of the people. Vox populi, vox dei!”

This was in response to Andrew Neil questioning him about the influence of public schools on British political life.

Rees-Mogg probably does see himself as ‘man of the people’. He’s in a party, which considers itself the natural party of government. Decades ago, the Tory ideologue, Trevor Oakeshott, tried to justify the overpowering influence of the middle classes by saying they were the modern equivalent of the barons who stood up to King John, in providing a bulwark against the power of the state. True in some case, but very wrong when the middle classes are in power, and the state functions as their servant.

Rees-Mogg has never, ever, remotely been a man of the people. He’s an aristo toff, who has made his money from investment banking. He holds deeply reactionary views on abortion and homosexuality, which are very much out of touch with those of the genuinely liberal middle and lower classes. And he has always represented the aristocracy and the rich against the poor, the sick, and the disabled. He began his political career in Scotland trying to folks of a declining fishing community that what this country really needed was to keep an unelected, hereditary House of Lords. In parliament, he has continued to promote the interests of the rich by demanding greater subsidies and tax cuts for them. For the poor, he has done nothing except demand greater tax increases on them, to subsidise the already very wealthy to whom he wants to give these tax cuts, and voted to cut welfare services and state funding for vital services. No doubt he genuinely believes all that Thatcherite bilge about making life as tough as possible for the poor in order to encourage them to work harder and do well for themselves.

Personally, he comes across as quiet-spoken, gentlemanly and polite. But he is not a man of the people. He hates them with a passion, but clearly thinks of himself as their champion and saviour against the dreaded welfare state.

Let’s prove him wrong and throw him out of parliament!

Resources for Constitutional History: Kenneth Mackenzie’s The English Parliament

March 9, 2014

Parliament Book Cover

Mike over at Vox Political has several times mentioned that there’s a need for books on parliament because of the way the Coalition has repeatedly interfered with it, or ignored it, when MPs have had the audacity to do something it didn’t like. Like demand a cumulative assessment on the impact of the government’s welfare reforms on the poor and disabled. Mike blogged on this live, as the debate was broadcast from parliament. What emerged from that debate was the government’s absolute and complete contempt for those who didn’t agree with it. They sent about three members of the Tory party to defend the government’s policies during the debate, which shows you precisely how far they feel they have to justify themselves to the nation’s elected representatives at Westminster.

I strongly agree with Mike about this issue. The past two decades have seen profound changes to the British constitution. The most obvious of this was Blair’s reform of the House of Lords, which has resulted in a partly appointed upper house. Other changes have been in the way consecutive prime ministers since Blair have begun side-lining or ignoring parliament. Blair’s administration was strongly criticised for the way he reduced Prime Minister’s Question Time to once a week, and appeared to attempt to stage manage his appearances before parliament as carefully as his other, public appearances were choreographed. The most notorious example of the offhand way Blair treated parliament was in his refusal to hold a proper debate in Westminster prior to the invasion of Iraq. Blair’s regime has been described, with more than a little justification, as ‘presidential’, which causes problems as this is a parliamentary democracy. The Coalition have continued this transformation of the office of Prime Minister into a quasi-presidency. This needs to be stopped, and more power restored to parliament as the expression of the people’s political will, and a check to the growing, arbitrary powers of the prime Minister.

Unfortunately, there appear to be very, very few books actually on the shelves of bookshops on parliament. Looking around the ‘Politics’ section of Waterstones, I can’t remember seeing a single book on it. There are any number of books on other, important political issues, such as the situation in the Middle East, Islamic radicalism in the UK, analyses of the structure of British politics, the European Union, the global policies towards the Developing World, analyses of race relations and tensions in Britain, and questions of poverty, entrepreneurship and so on, as well as books on various political philosophies and tendencies, like Neo-Liberalism. But no book could I see on parliament, what is and does.

One book on the subject I did manage to find was Kenneth Mackenzie’s The English Parliament (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1951). Subtitled ‘A survey of the historical development of parliament describing how and why it has come to work in the way that it does today’, it does indeed trace the rise and development of the English parliament from its emergence from the feudal grand conseil of the king’s feudal lords during the Middle Ages and its foundation by Simon de Montfort.

It has the following chapters:

1. A Court Becomes a Parliament, with sections on the feudal nature of parliament and the arrival of the House of Commons;

2. The Commons Become Legislators, with sections on the position of the commons, and petition and bill;

3. Liberty from Tyranny, with sections on freedom of speech, freedom from arrest, and the power to commit;

4. Rules, Clerks, Records, with sections on the early history of procedure, clerks and journals, and the publication of proceedings and debates;

5. Consent to Taxation, with sections on the final establishment of the consent of parliament to taxation, and the Commons’ gain of sole control over taxation;

6. The Ministry Becomes Responsible to the Commons, with sections on early attempts to control policy, and ministerial responsibility.

7. The Commons Represent the People, with sections on the early history of representation, the reform of the electoral system, and the party system;

8. The Modernisation of Procedure, with sections on procedural reform, 1800-72, obstruction and disorderly conduct, 1877-88, the pressure of business, and the government takes the time of the House.

10. The Commons Control Expenditure, with sections on the history of the attempt, and the modern system;

11. Parliament Delegates Power to Make Law;

12. The Second Chamber, on the House of Lords, which has sections on its composition, its financial and legislative powers, and its jurisdiction.

There is also a concluding chapter 13, The Secret Garden of the Crown, which assesses it history and considering some of the problems facing the future of parliament.

Each chapter is prefaced with a suitable quotation from that age’s leading politicians and constitutional theorists. The two quotes for the first chapter on the origins of parliament give a very good summary of its feudal origins and the role they have played in keeping Britain free from tyranny. The first is by the great 19th century Liberal constitutional historian, Lord Acton. Acton said

The one thing that saved England from the fate of other countries was not her insular position, nor the independent spirit nor the magnanimity of her people – for we have been proud of the despotism we obeyed under the Tudors, and not ashamed of the tyranny we exercised in our dependencies – but only the consistent, uninventive, stupid fidelity to that political system which originally belonged to all the nations that traverse the ordeal of feudalism.

Acton was an ardent advocate of constitutional liberty and an enemy of absolute tyranny. It was Lord Acton who coined the phrase, ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

The second quote comes from the Anglo-Norman legal writer, Bracton. Bracton was one of the magistrates responsible for founding the British common law tradition, in which law is influenced not just by abstract legislation, but also by custom and precedent. This quote runs

Moreover, the King has over him a court, that is to say the earls and barons; for the earls, as their name (comites) implies, are the companions of the king, and he who has a colleague has a master.

The word ‘comites’, which is translated as ‘earls’ in the above passages, is the origin of the modern English word ‘count’. it comes from the Latin word comes, companion. This became a technical term for a very senior Roman governor, as it stood for someone, who was the companion of the emperor.

That passage shows how, even during the Middle Ages when kings had massive powers and could rule for years without calling parliament, there was nevertheless a feeling that there were constitutional checks to the power of the monarch. Indeed, after John’s defeat by the barons at Runnymede and the issuing of the Magna Carta, there appeared a saying in Norman French. Translated into modern English, this read ‘This is the Commune of England, in which everyone has his own opinion’. ‘Commune’ was the term used in the Middle Ages for a town, which had acquired the freedom to govern itself. It’s a classic summary of English political liberty as it has descended from the Middle Ages. The monarchy has gradually been the subject of even further checks, so that they liberty of people under parliament has grown since the time that was uttered. Unfortunately, the Coalition are doing their level best to undermine it.

The book is very dated, but nevertheless it gives a good introduction to parliament in England. We need more books like this as parliamentary procedure is increasingly attacked under the guise of reform.

The Lib-Dem’s Introduction of Secret Courts

July 13, 2013

The political blog, Another Angry Voice, has this piece about legislation by the Lib-Dems introducing secret courts into Britain:

Secret Courts: The Very Illiberal Democrats

On the 4th of March 2013 the majority of Lib Dem MPs sided with the Tory government to shoot down two last minute amendments to the Justice and Security (Secret Courts) Bill.

For those of you that don’t know about what the Tory “Secret Courts” bill entails, here’s a brief description: As it now stands, defendants (or claimants in civil cases) can be excluded from the hearings where their fates are decided; they will not be allowed to know what the case against them is; they will not be allowed to enter the courtroom; they will not be allowed to know or challenge the details of the case; and they will not be allowed representation from their own lawyer, but will instead be represented (in their absence) by a security-cleared “special advocate”.

The full article can be read here: http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/secret-courts-very-illiberal-democrats.html

This is a violation of Magna Carta and a return to regime of the 15th and 16th Star Chamber that was used to degrade, disgrace and punish members of the aristocracy.

The Star Chamber Court

The Court of Star Chamber is the name given to the King’s Council, from the chamber in which it sat. When it sat as a court, it was held in a chamber in Westminster Palace decorated with a blue ceiling with stars. It is not to be confused with the court that enforce laws against the maintenance of private armies by the aristocracy, corrupt juries and rioting, which a sixteenth century clerk described as ‘pro camera stellata’ in the provisions for it in the statute book.

The court of Star Chamber was not an exclusive criminal court. Half of the business it dealt with were civil cases. It could, however, proceed unimpeded by the restrictions on other law courts. For example, it could try cases in secret and without a jury. The cases it tried came from private petitions brought by aggravated suitors. In contrast to its notorious reputation, it only levied moderate fines. Those convicted by the court were only jailed until they paid them. Nevertheless, it was bitterly resented by the aristocracy, who complained:

‘There were very few persons of quality who had not suffered or been perplexed by the weight or fear’ from the censures and judgements’ of the Star Chamber Court. They bitterly resented this attack on their personal honour, and felt it degraded them to the level of the ordinary Englishman. They complained that

‘persons of honour and great quality … were every day cited in the High Commission Court, upon the fame of their incontinence, or other scandal in their lives, and were there prosecuted to their shame and punishment … (which they called an insolent triumph upon their degree and quality, and levelling them with the common people …’.

It was one of the causes of the disaffection with Charles I’s reign that resulted in the outbreak of the British Civil War/ War of the Three Kingdoms. Another cause was the increasing tax burden that fell on the peasantry, urban artisans and the ‘middling sort’, from which the aristocracy were exempt.

Magna Carta

Several of the most celebrated and famous passages in the Magna Carta, wrung out of king John by the barons at Runnymede, are for the effective provision of justice against its abuse by royal power. Chapter 39 expressed the basic foundation of the rule of law:

‘No freeman shall be arrested, or kept in prison or disseised (of his freehold) or outlawed or banished, or in any way brought to ruin – and we will not act against him or send others against bhim -unless by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land’.

Chapter 40 promises that

‘To none will we sell, refuse, or delay right or justice’.

This was in response to the complaint that it cost too much to secure a writ from the king, who in any case accepted gifts and bribes to speed or delay court cases. Chapter 20 also contains the provision that fines will be of a reasonable size, and not be so great as to deprive men of their livelihood.

The Magna Carta has been for centuries the outstanding symbol of English justice, and the baron’s victory over John at Runnymede a shining illustration of the ‘Commune of England’, in which ‘every man has his own opinion’, as one Anglo-Norman baron put it. In actual fact Magna Carta is much less impressive when examined critically. Most of its clauses are to secure the privileges of the aristocracy, rather than the establishment of anything like democracy. When these do occur, they are so vague and interpretation that no two people could necessarily agree on what they actually mean. They contain no penalties, nor means of enforcement. Nevertheless, they were seen at the time and by future monarchs as the foundation of traditional English liberties. It was repeatedly reissued by monarchs such as John’s son, Henry III.

Regardless of whether or not Magna Carta is an effective guarantee of English freedom, it was one of the major foundations of British constitutional government. The legislation introduce by Lib-Dems that allows for secret trials overturns these principles and threatens to return Britain to the days of the Star Chambers. The only difference this time will be that it is the poor, rather than the aristocracy and the wealthy, who are ground under foot.

Sources

Sinclair Atkins, England and Wales under the Tudors (Sevenoaks: Hodder and Stoughton 1975).

Frank Barlow, The Feudal Kingdom of England 1042-1216, 4th Edition, (London: Longman 1988)

Brian Manning, ‘The Aristocracy and the Downfall of Charles I’, in W.R. Owens (ed.), Seventeenth Century England: A Changing Culture. Two volumes. Volume 2: Modern Studies (London: Ward Lock Eductation/ The Open University Press 1980) 109-18.