The centrepiece of the book, and the lecture, was Thomas Ashe, whom the injured consort had commissioned to write her memoirs. His book The Claustral Palace was suppressed from publication, for it would have revealed the intimate life stories of her sisters-in-law who were confined at Frogmore House.
How much of the novel was true is unclear, but it put Ashe in conflict with the government as well as George IV’s brother the Duke of Cumberland (later Ernest Augustus I of Hanover).
Travers’s lecture was quite convoluted in its story, which combined with his soft way of speaking and some technical glitches at my end meant it wasn’t always easy to follow the plot, so reading the book itself is probably necessary to get a full understanding.
In early July, two by-elections are to take place in the upper house, following the retirement of the Lord Brabazon of Tara in April and the death of the Lord Swinfen in June. Both were among the Conservative section of the excepted hereditary peers, which means there is no partisan competition for their replacements.
Despite the smallness of the electorate, the statements made by the twelve peers to offer their candidacy have been released on Parliament’s website. Most are essentially short CVs, with nothing particularly jumping out save Lord Wrottesley’s self-description as “closet tree hugger, as reflected in my business interests”, apparently forgetting that the whole point of being a closet anything is precisely not to announce it in public.
The exception is the Earl of Dudley, who instead of giving any information about himself simply linked to his YouTube channel, technodemic. Its content comprises nothing but music videos, some featuring (I would guess) the earl himself and others made up of television clips. There is a lengthy description on the about page, but confidence is not inspired by the lack of an avatar, nor the names of some of the channels to which he subscribes.
Somehow, I don’t think he’ll win.
UPDATE (6th July)
The by-elections have been won by the Lords Remnant and Wrottesley. Dudley received no votes at all.
I asked her at what point in English history the Saxons and Normans were no longer considered different races/nations. She replied that the Normans quickly came to call themselves English, but that twelfth century sources still indicate a cultural and linguistic split, with non-Francophones held back in life.
Late last night Professor Norton blogged about the decease of his noble friend Roger Swinfen Eady, 3rd Baron Swinfen. The photograph he used in his post was a screenshot of him in the upper chamber on 1st February 2018, taken from parliamentlive.tv, and displayed on his Wikipedia page. I know because I put it there.
Swinfen was not photographed for an official parliamentary portrait, nor in any other setting that resulted in an image released with a Wiki-compatible licence, so I had to resort to a Fair Use screenshot, as with so many other deceased parliamentarians, in order to illustrate his page. Thankfully the fact that both houses (and indeed the devolved legislatures) have recently gotten into the habit of publishing high-quality portraits under CC-BY-3.0 or similar means that such a trick will likely be needed less often in the future.
Of course, I also illustrated his coat of arms a year ago, and being the copyright owner for that graphic I released it under the same.
Last month Norton blogged on a different topic – the repeated floating by the government of plans to move the House of Lords to York. Not, to be clear, moving Parliament as a whole along with the royal households, the senior courts and the departmental headquarters of the executive, but just moving the upper house while leaving everything else in London. On Thursday he secured a lengthy debate in the chamber on that topic. The peers who spoke were unanimous in their savaging of their proposal. Many of the issues I commented on Norton’s post regarding the practical absurdities of a separation and the apparent powerlessness of ministers in the upper house to influence their Commons colleagues were repeated by members in their speeches. My favourite contribution was by the Lord Addington: Michael Gove’s comment was the sort that usually comes up halfway through the third round in a pub, that should be forgotten by the end of the fourth, and certainly not remembered the next morning.
Today’s virtual outing took an unusual turn, featuring the London Natural History Society. The title proved a little misleading as the lecture was less about the streets and railways themselves than the plants growing on them.
At about 50:45, I asked Dr Spencer which species were most advantaged or disadvantaged by the presence of a railway line. He said the most advantaged were wind-dispersed plants, such as the “classic story” of Oxford ragwort which was confined to the walls of that town from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century when the railway arrived to blow its seeds around the country.
I was faintly amused when he brought up a still from The White Queen (2013) featuring Aneurin Barnard and Faye Marsay, if only so he could point out the inaccuracies. Then again, this coronation does not have many other televisual depictions to my knowledge.
Politician’s autobiographies are a strange beast. Everyone who’s anyone (and some who maybe aren’t) eventually publishes a weighty tome detailing their time in (or out of) power with a view to putting a favourable account of themselves in the public’s minds, as well as perhaps generating income and attention lost since holding office. A few of these, such as Alastair Campbell or Alan Clark, become famous in their own right but I suspect the majority sink into obscurity as fast as their authors do.
When I discovered it four days ago, the Wikipedia article on British political memoirs was a left much to be desired. The list was long and disorganised. After many hours of code crunching, I had rearranged it into three big tables, searchable by name and publication date. I also added details of the authors’ notability as well as the publisher. The list is, of course, incomplete, given that there are new memoirs coming out every year as well as older ones overlooked (indeed I discovered a few along the way), but with as much as is already there I can spot a few trends. Harper and Collins (together or apart) got the top picks of the right wing while Penguin and Random House (ditto) got the left’s. I don’t know if that says anything about those companies’ corporate politics or if it’s just a herd mentality among their clients. Biteback, a company dedicated to political publications, is happy to print for any party.
I am sometimes struck by how early some of these books were published: Jess Phillips, who became MP for Birmingham Yardley in 2015, released her first book Everywoman in 2017 and already seems to be on at least her third. Gerald Kaufman published How to be a Minister in 1980, when his own ministerial experience amounted to just five years as a junior minister. Maureen Colquhoun wrote A Woman In The House having been voted out of the Commons after just five years. Even those who have served a long time still stand to miss out on what happens after – Ken Clarke’s Kind of Blue, debuting in 2016, mentioned how he was glad that Kaufman cut ahead of him when taking the oath in 1970, for he had no desire to be Father of the House. I presume he didn’t expect Sir Gerald to die so soon, to say nothing of the chaos of 2019.
The titles of such books are also interesting. Both Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester 2001-10) and Matthew Parris (West Derbyshire 1979-86) described themselves as “outsider”. Almost forty of the books listed actually had “memoir” as part of the name. Some attempted puns on their own names, such as Coming Up Trumps or Teddy Boy Blue. Of particular significance is the number of books actually named after people other than the subject: Three Conservative autobiographers defined themselves in relation to Thatcher, while only one Labour book similarly refers to Blair.
Although a large proportion of the writers end up being members of the House of Lords at some point, relatively few devote more to it than a brief note in the epilogue. Those who were MPs tend to regard their time on the green benches as their real career, with ennoblement marking its end. Often the book is already out by the time the scarlet robes are put on. Clement Attlee stands out here – he apparently wrote and released As It Happened in 1954 while he was still leading his party!
After eight years as a Wikipedia editor, I have made over eighteen thousand edits, which puts me at the service rank of Veteran III, or Most Perfect Tutnum. These ranks are gained automatically by reaching the necessary tenure and edit count, with users themselves left to keep track of them. They are not any kind of deliberately-selected prize from those in charge. The Wikipedian honours system is large, varied and probably not well understood by the majority of users, including me. The one thing I had managed to comprehend was the barnstar, essentially a token of appreciation which any ordinary user can award to any other. I woke up today for some reason thinking of these, pondering why I had never gotten one. Of course, I could never draw attention to this, for nothing could be more pitiful. I thought of designing a userbox saying “This user has never received a barnstar, but he pretends not to be disappointed”. It’s the sort of ironic cloak to one’s frustrations that could well have caught on. Then, late this afternoon, I found a message on my Commons talk page from senior editor Cardofk, giving me the graphic designer’s barnstar for all the the coats of arms I’ve uploaded. So much for that plan!
Meetings of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council are not usually a big event. Although the committees (particularly the Cabinet and the Supreme Court) are very busy institutions, the plenaries generally take place once per month, minimally attended (the quorum is four) and enacting mere formalities.
A major exception to the norm is upon the demise of the crown. Then an Accession Council is swiftly convened to greet the new monarch. This is typically the only occasion on which the entire council meets.
Nowadays, even that is set to change. It was reported in Private Eye some time ago that places at the next accession will have to be rationed, on account of the council having grown too large over the course of the present reign. Certain office-holders will be invited automatically, but everyone else will have to enter a ballot.
Recently there has been a freedom of information request which revealed which offices would grant automatic invitation. As it turned out, the list was still quite long. I have endeavoured to break it down by category for ease of understanding.
Members of the Royal Family who are Privy Counsellors
The Lord Great Chamberlain
The Earl Marshal
The Garter Principal King of Arms
The Lord Lyon King of Arms
Members of the Royal Household who are Privy Counsellors
Certain senior members of the Royal Household who are not Privy Counsellors
The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
The Prime Minister
The Lord President of the Council
The Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal
The Speaker of the House of Commons
The Lord Speaker
Serving Cabinet ministers (and ministers who attend Cabinet)
The Leader of the Opposition
Members of the Shadow Cabinet who are Privy Counsellors
Westminster Leaders of political parties represented in the House of Commons
The First Minister of Scotland
The First Minister of Wales
The First Minister of Northern Ireland
The Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland
The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament
The Presiding Officer of the Welsh Parliament
The Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly
Deputy Speakers (of where?)
Former Prime Ministers
Former Lord Presidents of the Council
Former leaders of political parties who are Privy Counsellors
The Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop of York
The Bishop of London
Former Archbishops of Canterbury and York
Former Bishops of London
The Judicial Committee
The Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales
The Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland
The Lord President of the Court of Session
The Lord Advocate
The Master of the Rolls
The President of the Queen’s Bench Division
The President of the Family Division
The Chancellor of the High Court of England & Wales
Lord and Lady Justices of Appeal
Diplomats and civil servants
The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations
High Commissioners of the Commonwealth Realms
The Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps
The Cabinet Secretary
The Permanent Secretary of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office
The City of London
The Lord Mayor
Notably the reply did not specify how many places were available by ballot.
UPDATE (8th September)
Elizabeth II died earlier today. The council website currently advises attendees to await for an email giving further instructions.