An Insoluble Problem

Nearly five years ago, in one of my earliest posts on this site, I discussed how the National Assembly for Wales recalled to deliberate on the Tata steel crisis a few days before the body was due to dissolve for the upcoming elections.

That election day – 5th May 2016 – was dubbed “Super Thursday” by some commentators owing to the great number and variety of different polls going on at the same time around the country. Thursday 6th of this year’s May will be an even bigger event because the pandemic forced a delay in last year’s elections and so this year all those elected in 2016 will be up again as well as those elected in 2017.*

A major difference with this cycle is the need to conform to COVID regulations. The present lockdown is hoped to be the last and most UK adults have now received at least one vaccination, but it is likely that for many months to come there will still be strict controls on public mingling. The rapidity with which the pandemic situation can change, and the consequent need for various legislatures to make adjustments to the law at short notice, has caused another, less visible change in the electoral timetable.

Yesterday the fifth Scottish Parliament sat for what was intended to be its last meeting. Under normal circumstances it would have dissolved today, but instead it is merely receding, with dissolution not set to occur until the day before the election. The Welsh Parliament** undergoes a less drastic change, receding on 7th April and dissolving on 29th. The intention of these changes (which are intended to be a one-off) is to allow either legislature to reconvene should the pandemic require immediate attention during the campaign.

As a Wikipedian, this saves me some work. Normally after the dissolution of a large legislature I and other editors spend many hours racing through the pages of ex-lawmakers to delete the relevant post-nominals and remove any suggestion of incumbency, then reverting after the election as members are voted back in. This time around we have decided not to bother for the Scottish Parliament as the dissolution period will last only a day*** and so we would probably be reverting the edits before we had even finished making them. The Welsh Parliament might still be worth the effort as their dissolution period is a whole week and it has fewer than half as many members. At some point it will be worth looking into the possibility of creating a bot account to make these kinds of edits for us, so rote are they.

The process of dissolution is not universal. In other countries, such as Germany and the United States, incumbent lawmakers continue to hold office until after the election (and may even continue to sit during this time) so that there is no vacancy between old and new members. This is also the case in Britain for most local councillors.

The London Assembly and Mayor will also be up for election this year. Their set up is somewhere between a local government and a national one, and it is not clear from what literature I can find whether it has a dissolution in the way that the parliaments do. Their guide for candidates says that “In normal times it would be expected for the new Mayor and Assembly Members to come into office on Sunday 9th May, following declaration of the election results on Friday 7th May.” which to me suggests that the outgoing Mayor and AMs remain incumbent during the election period.

*Exceptions are Scottish and Welsh local elections which are on a five year cycle and the Northern Ireland Assembly which had a snap election in March 2017. These will all be up again on 5th May 2022.
**The change of name from National Assembly for Wales to Welsh Parliament (or Senedd Cymru) occurred on 6th May. AMs simultaneously became MSs.
***In practice it could be more like two or even three days depending on the exact hour on which dissolution occurs and the time taken to count the votes.

FURTHER READING

When I Looked North

BBC Yorkshire & Lincolnshire at Queen’s Court, photographed in July 2017.

It is often remarked that one cannot appreciate what one has until it is gone. The twenty-tweens are a good example of this in that few people at the time would have thought them a golden age, yet they can appear as such by comparison to 2016-19, let alone the pandemic era. Aesthetically that period is a little strange as well, being part of the transition from an analogue world to a fully digital one. Most of the major social media were well-established by then by then but had not yet achieved their current level of cultural dominance. High Definition video was widely available but still far from universally receivable, and web design was a few steps away from its current incarnation – photographs and videos shown online were much fewer in number and lower in resolution compared to 2014-ish and onwards when multiple large graphics can be chucked into every page with little care for data capacity.

The particular event to be covered in this article is BBC School Report 2011. Preparations at our school began weeks in advance when we were shown a promotional video by Huw Edwards. A letter was also sent out to parents on 15th February announcing a BBC Hull project called “Life on the Docks – The People’s Archive” for which they wanted pupils to look through old newspapers and interview elderly acquaintances. Most pupils would be completing the project at school, but four delegates would be picked to visit the BBC in person. News and journalism became the topic of our English lessons for most of that month. We were set a homework task on 9th March of watching and taking notes on that night’s broadcast news to then discuss in the lesson the next day. On 16th March my parents received another letter telling them that I had been picked as one of the four delegates.

That morning I was driven from school in a minibus with the three other pupils who were chosen. Along the way the conversation turned to television more generally and somehow we wound up singing the Family Guy theme song. We parked the van in an area of the city where the buildings were in a state of decay and the tarmac rather worn. I remarked on the general dinginess of the place only for one of my comrades to tell me I would get myself shot. When we arrived at the BBC building we were reshuffled into groups with pupils from other schools who had come. I was put into the television group because it was otherwise all-female. The two girls who had come with me were put into the online team and would stay at the office all day. The other boy was put in the radio team who would be walking around with the TV team for most of the morning.

From the way this has been set up you would be forgiven for thinking that we then devised a television segment for ourselves. Certainly that is what we thought going in, but we were a little disappointed to find that the script had already been written and the stock montages composed before we arrived – we were just going through the motions.

The location shoots were fairly close by so the groups traveled on foot. In what I think was the Hull Maritime Museum we interviewed an old man (called Jim in the script) about what the elder days. Amusingly there was a bit of a mix-up at this point and Jim was interviewed by one of the pupils assigned to the radio group, who didn’t realise until later that day that she was on television as well.

We also had to record short teaser sections, including one standing by the railings on the marina. I recall a couple of interesting moments during this time – one was that we were supposed to reference the Cod Wars of the 1970s only to find that the script had said 19070s instead, another was a discussion between our guides as to whether it would cause continuity problems if I took off my blue coat between shots. Early in the day I asked about the technical details of the production and was surprised to be told that news footage was still captured on videotape rather than digital cameras.

After we had finished the shoot we returned to the centre for lunch. It happened also to be the birthday of someone in the office and we enjoyed an excess of chocolate cake in addition to the packed lunches we had brought, which made it a little difficult to move around that afternoon. I also remember at this point getting a little lost on the way back from the toilet. It was also at this point in the day that I realised I had left a bundle of papers on a side table. These were the research notes than I and my classmates had been assembling over the past few weeks to take on the excursion, only for me to completely forget about them. Obviously my group didn’t actually need them, though the online team probably would have appreciated their availability.

All of thus were subsequently treated to a tour of the complex, including the Look North studio itself where I briefly sat in Peter Levy’s chair. My recollections of the end of that day’s events are a little hazy. I think I and some other children – not the ones who had been with me earlier – were seated around a boardroom table strewn with recent newspaper cuttings and we had a group discussion on journalistic ethics. The only piece of conversation I retain now is one woman – not sure if teacher or BBC staff – bringing up an anecdote of a struggling mother being interviewed for the news and saying she sometimes thought her children were worse off than third world kids. This was used an example of where reporters have to tread sensitively around things which their interviewees sincerely believe but which objectively are absurd – oddly prescient of the Brexit era.

We went back to school grabbing as many freebies as possible (I even stuffed post-it notes into my socks.) and arrived just in time for the big bus home. My segment was on local news later that night though my mother complains to this day that she was out at the time and never saw it.

Ten years later it is hard to find much record of our contribution online as even now iPlayer tends not to retain local news very long. The BBC even has a webpage listing all of the schools taking part in the event from which mine is mysteriously omitted. I didn’t take a personal camera with me and nor, to my memory, did any of the others. Until late last year I still had the flimsily-laminated BBC pass hanging on my bedroom wall, but now even that has disappeared. Happily I have been able to find the script we used for that day as well as many of the notes and research from the preceding weeks. I do not have any of them in digital form so will need to scan or photograph them (or, God forbid, type them out again) to show them here. Perhaps the bulk of the material would be better suited to the remit of Homework Direct, but recent experience with Monty on the Green has reminded me what a pain it is to update Wix, so I am reluctant to add anything more to that site without a major redesign.

I was a little amused, five years later, when ITV Calendar came to Wilberforce for a debate about the EU Referendum and once again I was scripted to ask about Hull’s fishing industry. Not wanting to be caught out by follow-up questions, I did a lot of hurried online research for that one as well, but that also proved entirely redundant.

Something Along Those Lines

As much as I write blog posts and make Wikipedia edits concerning Sudrian lore my personal experience of real trains is not extensive – my last rail journey was in 2016. There is little railway coverage in East Yorkshire, though hints of its former extent can occasionally be glimpsed. In the three times I have been to London I of course used the underground a lot: The first two were with family at New Year 2004 (staying near Golders Green) and 2005 (staying near King’s Cross). The canned phrase “This train terminates at Morden via Bank.” from the Northern Line remained burned into my mind for some time afterward. The third was with school in 2015 on a day trip to the Hunterian Museum and the Royal Society. On that occasion I lost my pass shortly before we were due to catch the East Coast train back to Hull Paragon, but was spared from an awkward situation by the fact that the one remaining ticket barrier at King’s Cross had been mysteriously left open.

While living at Cottingham I often went on walks past the Thwaite Street level crossing and around the neighbouring station, but never had cause to actually get on the trains (perhaps just as well – they were mostly the notorious Pacers, after all) that went there.

In the last week I have voraciously consumed the YouTube offerings of Geoff Marshall, who has spent many years making short documentaries about British trains, particularly those on the London Underground. He and his wife Vicki Pipe made it their mission to visit all of Great Britain’s mainline train stations in 2017. In particular they highlighted stops at the least used stations, including some that appear to be spookily unpopulated.

Remarkably Marshall’s efforts continued even during the pandemic, including an episode about a train being used as a rapid COVID test centre. In addition to cutting edge modern trains, Marshall also does a few episodes about the emotional retirement of older stock and special appearances by vintage steam locomotives. The series is well worth a watch, although scenes of sweaty commuters huddled together on the crowded tube can be hard to watch nowadays.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Geoff Marshall:

Trains in Yorkshire:

UPDATE (23rd March)

I have compiled all the videos and photographs I took of the trains in Hull and Cottingham, which can be found here. The password is hull.

Deutschland 89 in Brief

The natural result of trying to remember the plot.

I was not aware of Deutschland 83 when it first came out, only seeing it on 4OD in 2017, shortly after taking up residence at Ferens Hall. The plot of the first series is, in retrospect comparatively simple: Martin Raunch is recruited from East Germany to spy on West Germany and has to convince his home government that Operation Able Archer is not a real missile strike.

At Lambert Hall two years ago I watched Deutschland 86, set three year’s later when the GDR is facing bankruptcy and the Stasi must concoct wild schemes to acquire worthwhile currency. This includes selling weapons to both Iran and Iraq while they are at war with each other, as well as Botha’s government in South Africa whose policies and ideology are in sharp opposition to their own. Alongside this is the ongoing AIDS crisis, which is itself a money-grabbing opportunity as the East can sell its citizens’ blood to the West, as well as use them in less-than-ethical trials for potential cures. All the while Martin is desperately trying to get back home and see his toddler son Max.

This final series begins at the fall of the Berlin wall and the realisation that the entire Second World is in its death throes. The Stasi disbands and shreds its documents for fear of upcoming revolution. Martin is by now working for (and simultaneously against) three countries’ intelligence services and fleeing around Europe to avoid himself or his son being kidnapped or killed.

That summary barely scratches the surface of the convolution of the storyline, with a large recurring cast and constant switching of sides. Helpfully last autumn a promotional montage was released with Jonas Nay narrating (in English) a recap of everything that happened in the first two series in anticipation of the third’s release.

The series was more popular in Britain than its home country, with the highest ratings of any foreign-language drama in the history of British television. It was of particular appeal to me as much of my history course for both GCSE and AS-Level had been about communism, German division and the Cold War. My only real problem was that upon seeing Martin for the first time I was struck by his resemblance to Wesley Crusher. This thought never fully left me throughout the run.

The United Kingdom itself does not play a significant role in the series, bar the odd mention of Thatcher opposing reunification. The finale caps of with a rapid flash forward through international politics since 1990, including clips of Merkel, Farage and – of course – Donald Trump waxing lyrical about his southern border wall. Obviously that last part may have lost a little significance as Trump was voted out of office shortly after the series aired and construction of the wall has been halted. Obviously the franchise was launched long before the EU referendum, and even before the one on Scottish Independence, but watching it now from a British perspective the tale of a former superpower facing an increasingly-ungovernable population, looming threats of dissolution and a forsaking of its entire national constitutional philosophy makes for a rather uncomfortable omen.

On What Authority

A sign welcoming drivers to Humberside, defaced by black and white splatters.

By Adpopulum, 1992 (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

The people of Yorkshire have an unusually strong local identity compared to those of other English regions, and Kingston-upon-Hull a greater notability (or perhaps notoriety?) compared to other cities.

Around 208 CE York was established by Emperor Septimius Severus as the provincial capital of Lower Britain. A reorganisation in 296 made it the probable capital of Second Britain. From around 450 to 654 it was the capital of the Anglian Kingdom of Deira, which then became the southern half of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. From 867 to 954 it was known as Jórvík and was under Danish rule. It was during this period that the North, West and East Ridings* were established to subdivide the area. The territory was absorbed into the unified Kingdom of England in 954, then from 966 to 1055 an Earl of York was appointed to govern on the monarch’s behalf.

Prior to the Norman conquest the earls of England had each ruled multiple shires and considered themselves of equal stature to continental dukes, but William of Normandy did not want to be outranked and so diminished them to one shire each, putting the earls level with European counts and so leading to their administrations being called counties. The county system emerging from this time remained fairly stable until Victoria’s reign.

Parts of Cumberland, Lancashire of Westmorland were split off from Yorkshire in the twelfth century, but by the time of the 1831 census it was still by far the largest of England’s forty then-counties, having more than more than twice the acreage of Lincolnshire or Devon and nearly thrice of Norfolk. The Local Government Act 1888 removed many administrative duties from the courts of quarter sessions and invented county councils to take them on instead. The three ridings, already given separate sessions, also had their own separate councils. The next big reform was the Local Government Act 1972, which sought to radically alter the county map of England and Wales so that the borders corresponded to the modern – rather than medieval – population distribution. Yorkshire’s three ridings were abandoned. A few smaller parts around the edges were given to other neigbouring counties, and the rest reconstituted as four entities – North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, and Humberside.

The non-metropolitan county of Humberside mainly replaced the East Riding, but also incorporated parts of the West Riding and northern Lincolnshire. It was subdivided into nine districts, all of which obtained borough status: North Wolds, Holderness, Kingston-upon-Hull, Beverley, Boothferry, Scunthorpe, Glanford, Grimsby and Cleethorpes. Although the government had used the term Humberside in planning since 1964 and the BBC had launched Radio Humberside in 1971, the creation of a county by that name was strongly disliked by a significant proportion of its residents. In 1981 North Wolds renamed itself East Yorkshire and Beverley became the East Yorkshire Borough of Beverley. Already by the 1990s it was clear that the county could not last. With effect from 1996 the area was reformed yet again. Those parts which had been in Lincolnshire were returned, while the Yorkshire part was made into the new ceremonial county (also called a lieutenancy area) called East Riding of Yorkshire. The governance of the new county was split between two unitary authorities – Kingston-upon-Hull became one, while Beverley, Boothferry, Holderness and North Wolds were merged into the other, which confusingly was also called East Riding of Yorkshire.

Even though Humberside has now been dead longer than it was ever alive (as well as longer than I have been) the name continues to haunt us in the aforementioned radio station, the fire service, the airport, the scouts and the police force. There was even a Humberside Police & Crime Commissioner created in 2012. A lot of junk mail continues to put Humberside in our address, and many official notices put up by the former borough councils are still in place.

Hull itself has a place in the national consciousness – particularly in comedy – long before its designation as City of Culture. By the end of the thirteenth century the King’s town upon the River Hull had an active market, a travelling funfair, a seat in the House of Commons and a royal charter. From 1331 the burgesses had the power to elect a mayor. Another charter in 1440 created the municipal corporation and made Hull a county of itself (an early version of the same idea that a unitary authority today expresses). Seven years later the county’s boundaries were widened to include some nearby villages, which were sometimes called Hullshire. These were removed in 1835. The 1888 act made Hull a county borough. Victoria bestowed city status on the town to commemorate her diamond jubilee. George V upgraded the mayor to lord mayor after opening King George Dock. The city council replaced the corporation in 1972.

Readers may be wondering why I have bothered to tell them all of this. Well, in Eye 1540 I came across this passage in the Rotten Boroughs section:

HOW DEMOCRACY WORKS (1): Labour Hull city council is keen to get into bed with Tory East Riding of Yorkshire Council to set up a combined authority. Jumping on the devolution bandwagon with an elected mayor and all could bring in a hoped-for £1.6bn in Whitehall funding.
Under the planned timetable for the creation of the combined authority, a deal will be signed off by 31 March. But public “consultation” on any agreement will not start until late June at the earliest. How might the (meaningless) public consultation go?
Back in 2014, Hull wanted to extend its boundary to take over part of East Riding, so a referendum was held. Fewer than 2,000 voters were in favour, with more than 51,000 against, so the plan was ditched. But this time the public may not have any effective say in the matter.

Looking back I found a story about the plan in the Hull Daily Mail from October, with other hints still earlier but public interest only really seems to have picked up a few days ago. The gist of the plan seems to be that the existing councils will remain, but they will pool their resources to form a combined authority similar to that used by metropolitan counties, and on top will be a directly-elected “metro mayor”. It is not clear if the mayor will absorb the role of the existing Police & Crime Commissioner, as has been the case in other regions. It will also be interesting to see what name the combined authority will take – most have been named after the counties in which their constituent districts are situated, and indeed the county councils which used to be there before 1986, but in this case one of the districts has the same name as the overall county, so most likely the combination will be called something like “Hull & East Riding”, a redundancy akin to saying “Parliament and the Lords” or “Europeans and the French”.

The existence of directly-elected executives is a new development in Britain, and one at odds with the traditions of our constitution. This has long been a nation of parliamentary government, not presidential. The scramble for local and regional devolution has not been without controversy, especially the PCCs. The cost of and confusing of so many reorganisations in local administration also tends to provoke public anger. Many mock the patchwork of differing political structures across the United Kingdom, but attempts to standardise them never really seem to work. In particular it is noted that local personal identity tends to align more with the pre-Heath counties than with the modern ones, which were designed around administrative efficiency rather than emotional allegiance.

In this instance any controversy over the merits of the plans themselves is accompanied by anger at the secretive manner in which negotiations were carried out, and in the apparent intention of both central and local government to impose the new system without public consent. Two items arrived in my postbox today: Issue 39 of Your East Riding, and a campaign leaflet. The first is keen to announce that East Riding won Council of the Year 2020, but makes no mention of the new combined authority, merely having a brief segment about the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership on page 5. The second is credited to Matthew Grove, who was Conservative PCC from 2012 to 2016 but has since defected to the Liberal Democrats. Half of the front page is dedicated to a large-lettered condemnation of the deal and its negotiation process.

There is also a partisan component to consider here, which the Eye briefly mentioned. Generally it is observed that urban voters lean to the left and rural voters to the right. This is clear in recent election results for the two districts.

Hull City Council, 2018: Labour 31, Liberal Democrats 24, Conservatives 2.
East Riding Council, 2019: Conservative 49**, Liberal Democrat 8, Yorkshire Party 2.

The latter result is particularly impressive given that the UK-wide results were disatrous for the Conservative party. While there have been times when the Liberal Democrats gained significant footholds, the norm has been for Labour to have a majority within City of Hull and the Conservatives an ascendancy without. By contrast, the metro mayoral elections across the combined county would be very tight races. I wonder if, without the promise of such a large payment, the existing council leaders would have been more reluctant to relinquish such secure areas of control.

As this blog is so often about heraldry, I will end with some of the arms of the authorities I have been discussing.

Kingston-upon-Hull: Azure three ducal coronets in pale Or. Certified in 1879 but seen in use as early as the fifteenth century.

York: Argent on a Cross Gules five Lions passant guardant Or. Recorded in the 1584 visitation but in use as early as Edward III’s reign.

On 11th February 2004 Hull was also granted a badge of Three coronets in pale Or without the blue background.

The creation of county councils in the nineteenth century led to a proliferation of county heraldry, which previously had been inapplicable. In medieval times it was considered that helmets and crests were appropriate only for human men not impersonal corporations, so older grants of arms are of just a shield, though York obtained semi-official permission to ornament its arms with sword, mace and cap of maintenance in 1396. By Victoria’s reign this principle had been abandoned and so later civic grants of arms frequently include crests, supporters and mottoes. In contrast to the city arms which have been carried through multiple reconstitutions, the county arms have been designed anew as often as the counties themselves.

East Riding County Council (1889-1974): Escutcheon Per chevron Argent and Or in chief two garbs Proper and in base an eagle displayed Azure on a chief Sable three Roses of the first barbed and seeded Proper; crest On a wreath of the colours on a garb fessewise Or an eagle displayed Azure; motto Solis Ortum Conspicere. Granted 28th February 1945.

Humberside County Council (1974-1996): Escutcheon Per fess Sable and Gules on a fess wavy Argent between in chief a coronet Or between two roses Argent barbed and seeded Proper and in base two fleurs de lis Or a bar wavy Azure; crest On a wreath Or and Gules rising from flames Proper a demi-eagle Azure goutté d’Or armed also Gold holding in the beak a sword point downwards Proper hilt and pommel Or; supporters On the dexter a dolphin Argent finned Or charged on the shoulder with a terrestrial globe Azure the land masses Or supporting an anchor Proper and on the sinister a female figure habited representing Ceres with cornucopia all Proper upon a compartment per pale water barry wavy Azure and Argent and a grassy field Proper; motto United We Flourish. Granted 28th July 1976.

Holderness Borough Council (1974-1996): Escutcheon Per saltire the chief Azure charged with a sun in splendour Or the base barry wavy Argent and Azure the dexter flaunch per fess Vert and Sable the sinister flaunch per fess Sable and Vert each charged with a rose Argent barbed and seeded Proper; crest On a wreath Or Vert and Sable within a mural crown Argent charged with a saltire Gules an ancient ship with one mast and two sails set standing on the poop a man with cocked hat and telescope beneath his sinister arm Sable mantled parted Vert and Sable doubled Or.; supporters On the dexter side a mermaid on her head a Roman helm proper and holding in her exterior hand a trident Or and on the sinister side a Triton on his head a horned Danish helm Proper and brandishing with his exterior hand a sword Argent pommel and hilt Or; motto Think Right Do Right; badge A Viking ship with sail and pennon flying within an annulet compony Or and Argent. Granted 30th March 1978.

East Riding of Yorkshire District Council (1996-present): Escutcheon Barry Vert and Or on a chevron engrailed plain cotised Gules three roses Argent barbed and seeded Proper; crest Issuing from a mural crown Argent an eagle displayed Gules armed and langued Azure supporting with the dexter talons a sword hilt upwards and with the sinister talons a crozier in saltire Or mantled Gules doubled Argent.; supporters On the dexter a lion Azure guardant armed and langued Gules gorged with a wreath of barley supporting between the forelegs a trident Or on the sinister a demi-horse Argent langued Gules maned Or the feet webbed Vert conjoined to the lower half of a hippocampus Vert supporting between the forelegs set upon a staff a cross fleury Gules.; motto Tradition and Progress. Granted August 1996.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7e/Choosing_the_Red_and_White_Roses.jpg
Finally a note about the roses: while the white rose was indeed a badge used by many heads of the House of York, and the red rose a badge used by many heads of the House of Lancaster, the status of each as the badge of its respective faction was imposed retroactively by Henry VII’s creation of the Tudor rose upon his marriage to Elizabeth of York, then bolstered by William Shakespeare’s writing of the Temple Gardens scene in Henry VI, Part 1. The name “Wars of the Roses” came into common use after 1829 in reference to said scene. Their use of symbols for the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire emerged still later. Notably the roses appear frequently in municipal grants of arms since the 1888 reforms but not in earlier ones. In spite of what some may claim today, the conflict was not a petty rivalry between two northern counties.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*The term riding literally means one third (in contrast to the farthings used prominently by a different famous shire) so one of the compass directions had to be left out. Much like the Diocese of Sodor and Man, the name was eventually adopted for a fictional location in Winifred Holtby’s novel. The BBC adapted the novel in 2011 for a miniseries, some parts of which were filmed close to my house.
**Two of them, Leo Hammond and Benjamin Weeks, were at university with me at the time of the election.