Another Day, Another Death

James Brokenshire was not the most high-profile of British politicians. Overall he spent sixteen years in the House of Commons, including seven years as a junior minister in a senior department and three as the senior minister in two junior departments, twice having to resign from the government due to the lung cancer which ultimately ended his life earlier this month. Even so, the fact that he had been a cabinet minister, the relatively low age at which he passed and the level of public fear surrounding cancer, one would reasonably have thought it unlikely that his demise could be outdone in the eleven days before the house was to meet again. Then, to the shock of the nation and world, Sir David Amess was stabbed to death. MPs were already due to return from the conference recess today, but scheduled business in both chambers was abandoned in favour of tributes to Amess, with a service following in St Margaret’s Church. Brokenshire’s tributes have been postponed to Wednesday.

Something similar happened during the Easter recess – the death of Dame Cheryl Gillan on 4th April and of the Baroness Williams of Crosby* on 11th would have been the principal concern of their respective houses, had not the Duke of Edinburgh died on 9th. In that instance it was the social and constitutional rank of the departed that determined priority of mourning rather than the manner of death.

The most obvious comparison, made frequently by those who have spoken publicly in the last few days, is to the murder of Jo Cox a week before the EU referendum. There has even been a move to design a shield of arms for Sir David and place it on the chamber wall next to hers. Of course, the two victims had very different profiles – Cox was a Labour woman who supported remaining in the EU, Amess a Conservative man who favoured leaving. This is reflected in the different profiles of their killers – Thomas Mair was a white supremacist with links to the English Defence League, Ali Hari Ali is said to be of Somalian heritage and a suspected Islamist.**

Also distinguishing the two victims is the time they had spent in politics. As I mentioned before, Jo Cox was not well-known to the general public, having only begun her tenure in the House of Commons thirteen months prior. She could well have joined the shadow cabinet in the mass reshuffle later that month, and by this point she might even have been a contender for the party leadership, but back then she was a much a footnote as most of the other MPs from the 2015 intake. Part of what made her death so tragic was precisely that she died so young and so early in her political career, with so much potential thereby wasted. Amess, by contrast, had been an MP for almost long as the average Brit has been alive. Though never a minister, he was a creature of the house, serving on many important if low-profile committees as well as being involved in numerous campaigns and publications. Most in the political sphere knew his reputation, in contrast to Cox who was something of a cipher.

More broadly, the country must acknowledge the worrying frequency with which politicians and their entourages have been attacked (whether or not the attack succeeded in killing the victim) in recent decades, and consider how this can be rectified, both in terms of personal security to defend from those with evil motivations, and in the public attitude to politics that would encourage such evil in the first place. As the pandemic has shown this year and last, the kind of openness and accessibility required of parliamentarians can also be very dangerous to them in person, yet to abandon it can be very damaging to democracy as a whole.

EXTERNAL LINKS

*The speaker mentioned on 13th April that four other former MPs had died during the recess – Peter Ainsworth, Ian Gibson, Robert Howarth, Paul Marland.

**Almost immediately upon the announcement of the attack and the description of the attacker as a “British national” there were people denouncing immigration policy and calling for border closure.

More Heraldry on Screen

In the last few weeks I have discovered the old ITV series Crown Court, which simulated high criminal trials in the fictional town of Fulchester. It debuted in October 1972, just 292 days after the establishment of the real Crown Court in England & Wales took effect.

The series ran for over eleven years, and the set underwent multiple refurbishments. In the earliest episodes the courtroom was furnished in plain wood panel, but by the end of the seventies this had been replaced with darker wood in more ornate carvings. In 1982 what looked like a sheet of marble was placed behind the judges chair and the tables were lined with copious red padding.

Freak Out

The focus of this post is on the depiction of the royal arms behind the judge. In the pilot episode Doctor’s Neglect? it is rarely focused on, and looks to be a grey cutout, little detail of which is discernible at such low resolution. For much of the early seasons a fully-coloured relief is used, and the camera often focuses on it at the beginning and end of a story. The depiction is a curious hybrid of the greater and lesser versions of the achievement, for it has the escutcheon fully enclosed by the Garter circlet as in the latter but also shows the helm and crest as in the former. The motto “DIEU ET MON DROIT” is shown on a blue ribbon below the shield. Otherwise the only real errors that I can make out are the absence of the double tressure from the Scottish quarter and the mantling being Or instead of Ermine, though that could be considered an artistic choice. Possibly the unicorn is missing its chain, but that could be a trick of the light.

Cat in Hell

In Cat in Hell (1978), a bizarre mistake can be seen – everything else about the achievement looks the same (including the missing tressure) but the scroll is now golden and bears the motto “NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT” normally only seen on the Scottish version. Why this would be used in an English courtroom is not explained. By 1979’s Question of Care the original scroll has been restored.

Leonora

Leonora (1981) is even more confusing – the familiar relief is still used as the background for the credits, but looking behind the judge during the episode proper one can see an entirely different design on the wall – the shield sticking out of the circlet and a green compartment beneath the supporters. Then, during the transition cards before the commercial breaks, a third variant is shown – a golden drawing upon a brown backdrop. This one is very intricate in style, similar to those used in the Georgian and Victorian eras.

Ignorance in the Field

By Ignorance in the Field (1982) the fuller variant is being shown up close. This depiction is unambiguously the greater version, with Ermine mantling, the tressure in place and the unicorn’s chain clearly visible. The tinctures are very bold on this one, almost giving it an 8-bit appearance. The crowns are rather angular in design, and seem to be based on the Tudor crown instead of St Edward’s. The motto is in gold letters on a pale blue scroll, which makes it a bit hard to read.

The Jolly Swagmen

On some episodes a completely different shield can be glimpsed on the back wall of the courtroom which perhaps is intended to represent Fulchester’s municipal arms. The only time I’ve gotten a good look at it is in The Jolly Swagmen (1976). It appears to be per pall inverted Gules Azure and Or. The charge in the dexter chief is clearly a key Or, that in the sinister chief perhaps an oak tree Or. The base shows a castle triple-towered Argent windows and port Sable on top of a mound of grass. There is another charge at the very bottom of the shield which I cannot make out. The crest and motto similarly indecipherable. In any case I have not seen the insides of enough courtrooms to know whether or not the inclusion of local civic heraldry is standard practice.

Shifting genre a little, I have spent much of the last year babysitting, which has left me far too familiar with the Channel 5 series Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. It is produced by the same companies responsible for Peppa Pig, and essentially is to that series as is American Dad to Family Guy. There is only one piece of heraldry or vexillology with prominence in the series – the forked banner flying over the Little Castle, blazonable as quarterly 1st & 4th Argent an ancient crown Or 2nd & 3rd Azure a cinquefoil pierced Argent. This seems to function as both King Thistle’s personal arms and as the nation’s civil flag. The design features on shield’s carved into the king & queen’s thrones and the sash worn by the Fairy Mayor. The tinctures sometimes vary.

In one episode King Thistle’s parents, Viktor & Milicent, are visited at their own much larger in the clouds. From the towers many different-coloured pennons are flying charged with golden crowns and cinquefoils. Inside we see several more off-tincture versions of the Little Kingdom’s arms, as well as two other shields hanging on the wall in a corridor – one of them Purpure three bends Vert, the other Azure three mullets one and two Or. Given their simplicity these are likely to be the arms of real people, though I have not yet identified them.

King & Queen Marigold also had their own castle (resembling St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow) but there wasn’t any heraldry that I could see. Perhaps it was too old-fashioned for them?

Who am I to Judge?

This has been a busy week for state ceremony, yet you wouldn’t know it from the news.

Friday 1st October was the beginning of the legal year 2021-22 in England & Wales, marked by the procession of hundreds of judges in their full dress uniform to a special service at Westminster Abbey. This included readings by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, as well as a sermon by the preacher of Lincoln’s Inn.

The legal year in Scotland began on Monday 27th September. It featured similar events at the Court of Session and St Giles’s Cathedral. The Lyon Court was one of the bodies involved and a number of new officers of arms had their inaugurations.

On Saturday 2nd October the sixth devolved Scottish Parliament had its ceremonial opening, though of course it has been sitting and legislating since May.  The Queen visited the chamber, accompanied by the Duke & Duchess of Rothesay and Edinburgh. Many heralds were in attendance carrying with them the crown of James V.

It is a little disappointing that these events were so ill-publicised, even accounting for the distraction of party conferences and fuel queues. Rather than major newspapers I have mostly had to piece together details of all three ceremonies from the websites and social media accounts of the people involved.

Curiously this is not consistent across time – footage of judges’ processions from a few years ago can be found on YouTube, and some from many decades back are archived by British Pathé.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Judges at Westminster Abbey

Heralds at the Court of Session

The Scottish Parliament

Discerning Dukes

This afternoon I missed a turnoff on the way to my second COVID vaccination. While navigating back to where I should have been I discovered Church Street where there was a pub called the Duke of York. This struck me because the pub’s sign showed an illustration of the duke’s coat of arms which I instantly recognised as Sodacan’s illustration from Wikimedia Commons. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to stop and take a photograph and what I can find in the pub’s own galleries or on Google Street View isn’t very clear, so I cannot work out which particular duke is being honoured here.

The Prince Andrew, Duke of York since 1986, uses the royal arms of the United Kingdom differenced by a label of three points Argent, the centre bearing an anchor Azure. This same cadency label was also used by his grandfather George VI from 1920 to 1936, and by his father George V from 1892 to 1901. It plainly cannot be George V represented here since his arms as Duke of York included the inescutcheon of Saxony. The main identifier, therefore, is the harp of Ireland – versions made during the present reign use a plain harp, while those issued in earlier reigns show a woman’s head and chest carved into the side. I think that this pub sign shows the modern version but the image resolution is too low to be sure.

Ever to Succeed

News has broken that two days ago Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice, Mrs Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, gave birth for the first time. Her yet-unnamed daughter is eleventh in line to the throne. I wished to edit the relevant Wikipedia article accordingly, but that proved difficult as the list had multiple levels of indentation to reflect the generations and all the numbers had to be changed manually.

There is a challenge in deciding just how many names to include on the page. The legitimate non-Papist descendants of George I’s mother number well into the thousands nowadays and the vast majority of them are non-notable. The editors have here decided to limit the display to the descendants of the sons of George V. In practice this just means Bertie, Harry and Georgie, since David and John both died without issue. Even that restricted selection comprises sixty-three living people, of whom thirty-two have no pages of their own.

The clumsiness of editing this list brought up an idea I had some years ago for giving each member of the diaspora a numerical code to indicate their position within the succession. The electress herself, being the origin of the succession, would be 0. Her eldest son Georg Ludwig would be 1, her next son Frederick Augustus 2, Maximilian William 3 and so on. For each generation a digit is added, so Georg’s offspring George Augustus and Sophia Dorothea would be 1.1 and 1.2, while George Augustus’s children would be 1.11, 1.12, 1.13 and so forth. Under this system Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent & Strathearn would be 1.11141 while Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of York would be 1.111411221. Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark would, I think, be 1.111416331. The beauty of this system is that the crown always goes to the living person with the lowest number, rather than each new birth or death close to the throne forcing everyone downstream to be renumbered.

There are downsides, of course. First, there is always the danger of one day discovering a missing sibling who died young and was forgotten to history. Second, until the commencement of the Perth Agreement the crown followed male-preference primogeniture, so any girl’s code was liable to change upon the arrival of a brother. Third, if any person in the line has more than nine legitimate children then the numerals would be inadequate (as in George III’s case, though perhaps there one could only number his nine sons and omit his nine daughters, none of whom had surviving children of her own), and an alphabetical system might be needed instead – Elizabeth II would be AAAADAABBA and the late Prince Philip AAAADAFCCA.

On a related note, I have been keeping tabs on Judiciary UK for some months looking at new judgements as they come out. My main interest was Bell v Tavistock, but the day before that was resolved my eye was caught by the decision of Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Division) not to publish the Duke of Edinburgh’s will. Sir Andrew spoke at length about official etiquette regarding the royal family, and shed some light on that term’s definition. For Wikipedians, academics, press and others, there has always been a little confusion as to when membership of the family ends**. Is it the top X in line to the throne? Everyone descended from the current monarch? All descendants in the male line from George V? From Victoria? Everyone styled Royal Highness? Everyone on the balcony at Trooping the Colour? Then there are the gradations – often the headlines talk of “minor royals”, usually meaning the Dukes of Gloucester and Kent but sometimes including the Prince of Wales’s siblings and niblings, while mentions of “senior royals” are even more nebulous. One reason for this difficulty is that there are really three separate types of rank within group – precedence is determined by one’s relationship to the incumbent monarch, style and title by generations’ removal from any monarch and succession by primogeniture of descent from Sophia. McFarlane, in his judgement, may have given some more substance on which to build at least the latter’s definition.

From paragraph 15: This Court has been informed that in recent times the definition of the members of the Royal Family whose executors might,as a matter of course,apply to have the will sealed up has been limited to the children of the Sovereign or a former Sovereign, the Consort of the Sovereign or former Sovereign, and a member of the Royal Family who at the time of death was first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person. In addition, the wills of other, less senior, members of the Royal Family may have been sealed for specific reasons, or, as the list of names suggests, a wider definition of “Royal Family” may have been applied in this context in earlier times.

From paragraph 23: The confidential note that was disclosed and is attached to Charles J’s judgment contains an interesting account of the development of the practice of sealing Royal wills during the last century. That note provided that, in particular,the practice of applying to the Family Division applied, as a matter of course,to ‘senior members of the Royal Family’ who were defined as:

•The Consort of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;

•The child of a Sovereign or former Sovereign;and

•A member of the Royal Family who, at the time of His/or Her death, is first or second in line of succession to the throne or the child of such a person.

This means that, for judges’ purposes “senior royal” essentially means monarchs themselves, their consorts and their children (not necessarily children-in-law), as well as the first two in line to the throne and their children. Monarchs’ children are easy enough to spot from the rest, with the definitive article in their princely styles and their coronets of crosses interspersed with fleur-de-lys, but the latter category could be unstable – Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret of York would have been senior by this definition during their grandfather’s reign but would have lost that status had Edward VIII sired children of his own.

Applying it to the current situation, then, we can see that the seniors of the present royal family are:

  • HM The Queen
  • HRH The Prince Charles, Prince of Wales
  • HRH The Prince Andrew, Duke of York
  • HRH The Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex
  • HRH The Princess Anne, Princess Royal
  • HRH Prince William, Duke of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Sussex
  • HRH Prince George of Cambridge
  • HRH Princess Charlotte of Cambridge
  • HRH Prince Louis of Cambridge

There is one part of the judgement with which I take issue – paragraph 13 says It is understood that the first member of the Royal Family whose will was sealed on the direction of the President of the Probate, Admiralty and Divorce Division was His Serene Highness Prince Francis of Teck. Prince Francis was the younger brother of Princess Mary of Teck who, upon her marriage to King George V, became Queen Mary in 1910. Later that same year, at the age of 40 years, Prince Francis died. An application was made for the will to be sealed and not published. The application was granted. This is a little misleading, as Mary married Prince George, Duke of York in 1893 and became Queen on his accession in 1910. The judge’s text implies that she didn’t marry him until he was already King.

*Some in the press have claimed that as her father is an Italian count, the baby will be a countess, but the title is not recognised by the Italian republic or by the United Kingdom. Most likely she will be Miss [[Firstname]] Mapelli Mozzi.
**Of course, any family can present this difficulty as few are consciously defined by any formal rules.

UPDATE (1st October)

Princess Beatrice’s baby is named Sienna Elizabeth Mapelli Mozzi.

Two Newcomers

The Lord Stevens of Birmingham was introduced to the upper house at noon today, having been ennobled yesterday.

This is the first introduction ceremony since Sentamu’s, and the first to feature David Vines White, who succeeded Sir Thomas Woodcock as Garter Principal King of Arms last Thursday.

Even though she left the Scottish Parliament two months ago, we are still waiting for Ruth Davidson’s peerage to be Gazetted.

Sentamu Returns

It was not the norm for bishops to retire. They could be translated to another – preferably more senior – diocese, but one they reached the upper ranks they would expect to serve until death*.

Change began in 1928 when the octogenarian Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury since 1903, decided to step down. He had been one of the Lords Spiritual since his appointment as Bishop of Winchester in 1895 and two days after retirement was reintroduced to the upper house among the Lords Temporal (Baron Davidson of Lambeth, of Lambeth in the County of London). His successor, Cosmo Gordon Lang, retired in 1942 and was likewise ennobled. There was a break in the new trend when William Temple died suddenly in 1944**, but after that the next six (Fisher, Ramsay, Coggan, Runcie, Carey and Williams) were granted baronies after stepping down. The Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975 imposed an obligation for each bishop to retire upon his seventieth birthday. Justin Welby must therefore relinquish his post on 6th January 1926.

The first Archbishop of York to resign voluntarily was William Maclagan in 1908. He died two years later as a commoner. Four of the next five Archbishops were translated from that office to Canterbury, three of them being ennobled as already mentioned. The exception was Cyril Garbett (1942-1955) who died forty-seven weeks after retirement, having accepted the offer of a peerage (reportedly Baron Garbett of Tongham) but not seen the patent sealed. Later Archbishops Stuart Blanch (1975-1983), John Habgood (1983-1995) and David Hope (1995-2005) were all ennobled shortly after the ends of their tenures.

John Sentamu‘s timeline was rather more drawn out. His retirement was announced on 1st October 2018 but did not take effect until 7th June 2020. When the dual honours lists were announced on 31st July there was some consternation that he had not been included. The list released on 22nd December did include him, but it was not until 27th this April that his barony was conferred. Today, nearly a year after leaving the house he was finally introduced. I had expected him to have other former bishops as his supporters (e.g. Carey of Clifton and Chartres) but instead he chose Lady Hale of Richmond and Lord Popat.

Two things struck me about the ceremony. First was the presence of Thomas Woodcock as Garter King of Arms, which surprised me as the College of Arms also has a retirement age of seventy and his is thus five days overdue. The second was that Sentamu, along with so many other peers introduced this year and last, got a little too close to the Lord Privy Seal.

Long before the pandemic it was the norm for the front benches on either side of the chamber to be left empty during an introduction ceremony. I presume this is to reduce the risk of the robed newcomer tripping over other peers’ legs. Ministers tend to wait by the doorway at the right of the throne (leading to the Content lobby) and greet the new peer as he leaves the chamber. This I have seen taking place at a great many introduction ceremonies and I find it quite alarming that often the new member gets right up to the leader of the house’s face without either wearing a mask and in many cases they even shake hands. That nobody else apparently notices this glaring breach of COVID-safety protocol is a real headscratcher.

*There have been rare cases of bishops being deposed for political reasons.
**He was the son of Frederick Temple, Davidson’s predecessor and thus the last in the regular line of those dying incumbent.

The Late Duke

His Royal Highness Prince Philip of Greece & Denmark was born on 10th June 1921. He was the only son of His Royal Highness Prince Andrew of Greece & Denmark, who in turn was a younger son of His Majesty King George I of the Hellenes. Through his agnatic line he was a member of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, while his mother Princess Alice was from the House of Battenberg. Queen Victoria was his enatic great-great grandmother.

Philip’s titles have an interesting history, in that he was born a prince of Greece and of Denmark but later renounced these titles to obtain British citizenship. This move later turned out to be unnecessary as the Sophia Naturalization Act 1705 meant he had British citizenship already. He adopted the surname Mountbatten, which was used by his maternal uncle Louis (later Earl Mountbatten of Burma) and represented an Anglicised version of Battenberg. The subsequent controversy over whether his descendants should be the House of Windsor or Mountbatten-Windsor is a little ironic given that Philip himself was already effectively going by his mother’s maiden name rather than his father’s.

The marriage certificate says Philip Mountbatten.

New titles were bestowed rapidly in advance of his wedding: On 19th November George VI appointed him a Royal Knight of the Garter (one day after The Princess Elizabeth, to maintain her seniority) and granted him the style of Royal Highness (on British authority this time), then on 20th raised him to the peerage of the United Kingdom as Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich – all of which now belong to his eldest son. The lack of simultaneity between these events means that for a single day he was styled “Lieutenant His Royal Highness Sir Philip Mountbatten”. On the 21st his title was inserted into the Book of Common Prayer. He was ceremonially introduced to the House of Lords on 21st July 1948. For a while there was some controversy over whether or not he was a prince. This was resolved on 22nd February 1957 when his wife, now sovereign, made him a Prince of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland, which put him level with her sons and uncles. There were some suggestions of making him “Prince Consort” like Albert or “Prince of the Commonwealth” to reflect the monarchy’s larger purview but these were ultimately turned down.

His precedence at this time is unclear, though obviously the lowest he could have ranked was as the newest ordinary duke. A royal warrant on 26th September 1952 declared his should “upon all occasions and in all Meetings except where otherwise provided by Act of Parliament have, hold and enjoy Place, Pre-eminence and Precedence next to Her Majesty”, which again followed the example set by Victoria with Albert. This technically made him second man in the land, for the monarch is always first man even when female, and is the reason he was often seen walking two paces behind his wife on formal occasions.

Heraldic banner at St Giles’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, 2010

Philip’s heraldic status in his youth is not clear to me, but as a British adult he was – rather unconventionally – given two grants of arms. In 1947 his armorial achievement showed the arms of Greece surmounted by those of Denmark, which in turn were surmounted by those of his great-grandmother Alice (albeit omitting the Saxe-Coburg inescutcheon she used, which the British royals had abandoned in 1917). For reasons difficult to uncover these were deemed “unsatisfactory” so in 1949 the shield was replaced by a new quarterly version. The first quarter showed the lesser arms of the Kingdom of Denmark, the second quarter the white cross of Greece, the third the black and white stripes of Battenberg and the fourth a castle on a rock for Edinburgh. That last part is especially unusual as peers’ shields do not normally incorporate the municipal insignia of their nominal territories. These arms were of course rendered as a rectangular flag (confusingly called a royal standard, even though “standard” refers to a very different style of flag) and a square banner above his Garter stall at Windsor. In composing this article I also discovered that he had a badge, showing the castle surmounted by a princely coronet and encircled by the Garter, though I do not recall ever seeing it in use. Livery colours are not so prominent in modern times, and those of the royal family no longer change with the dynasty. Philip had his own personal livery of “Edinburgh Green”, used for his personal cars and the uniforms of his staff.

New badge illustration, published mere minutes ago.

Sodacan has of course illustrated all of these for Wikimedia Commons, and already I have spotted several instances of his illustrations being used in television coverage of his death as well as in reports online.

EXTERNAL LINKS

The Chris Whitty Collection

Since about 2015 I have been an avid consumer of the public lectures put out by Gresham College. Initially the main draw for me was Vernon Bogdanor’s lectures on politics, followed by Simon Thurley’s series on the history of British architecture. The college has a sizeable online back-catalogue in addition to a high rate of new updates, so I was rarely stuck for something to watch.

By 2019 (or maybe it was 2018) I was branching out into lectures about medicine. I do not recall exactly which such video it was that I chose first and nor, until last year, did I remember much about the speaker. When the coronavirus crisis began and the government began doing daily press conferences, I did not think of Professor Whitty as a familiar name or face. Occasionally I think this of a public figure only to discover that I have edited their Wikipedia page years prior, but even that was not the case here. It was only upon searching for him on YouTube and finding familiar thumbnails that I realised I had seen him before.

Sure enough, Whitty spent some years as Visiting Professor of Public Health, and is currently Professor of Physic. He has produced seven series of lectures for the college since 2013, and continues to do so even during the pandemic.

In addition to these he has been the star – or at least a participant – of quite a few other videos over the years.

As far back as July 2012 he gave the Walker Institute Annual Lecture for the University of Reading, talking about Climate Change & Development in Africa.

In February 2013 he gave a speech at the STEPS Centre Symposium about the importance of evidence in health policy. In contrast to his eventual catchphrase, he makes a point here of deliberately including no slides at all. There was also a Q&A session.

In September 2014 he told the Science & Development Network why synthesis is key to science influence.

In late January 2015 he lectured the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene on forty years of fighting Malaria. That October he returned to talk about the pitfalls of eradication attempts.

In March he was a team of speakers lecturing the Royal Society of London about the inside story of the ongoing Ebola epidemic.

In June 2015 he chaired a panel discussion on the control of Malaria, presented by the Faculty of 1000.

In this one from five years ago he is interviewed alongside Professor Dame Sally Davies (his predecessor as Chief Medical Officer for England) about the experience of giving medical advice to the government.

In 2016 he gave a speech to launch the Centre for Global Health Research for Brighton & Sussex Medical School, in which he talks about global demography and its implications for the prevalence of various diseases.

The next week he appeared alongside Nicola Blackwood MP (then Chair of the Science & Technology Select Committee) and others in a panel discussion on Ebola vaccination.

Two months later he recorded a short message for International Nurses day, played by the National Institute for Health Research. Another month after that he gave a presentation commemorating the last ten years of the institute’s work.

In July 2017 he was asked how UKCDS contributes to development.

In April 2018 he launched the King’s Global Health Institute. In May he gave the George Griffin Lecture for the Association of Physicians of Great Britain & Ireland, talking about the direction of health research. That December he gave a short speech at the IDEAL International Conference about the importance of scientific evaluation of innovation.

In September 2019 he was filmed by the Medical Research Council advising on how to influence policy and practice in health prevention.

The most interesting videos are those from the first two months of 2020, just before the pandemic made him famous nationwide. On 23rd January he was interviewed for Public Health England about the importance of physical activity – a theme which has remained prominent in government policy since. On 27th February he appeared at the summit session for the Nuffield Trust to talk about health trends and projections over the next twenty years. At this stage the virus is a looming threat but has not yet taken over. Whitty is asked how he plans to deal with the coming epidemic. His answers are still abstract but already there are references to school closures, banning of mass gatherings and “flattening the peak”.

Leaving YouTube aside for the moment I also found two brief clips of him on DailyMotion: on 31st January he told ODN it was too early to tell if the virus would spread, and outlined the plans the government had in place to stop it. On 6th February he gave advice for those showing symptoms to self-isolate.

On 3rd March the Prime Minister held the first of what would turn out to be a very long series of press conferences on the coronavirus outbreak. Chris Whitty stood to his right and Sir Patrick Vallance (Chief Scientific Adviser) to his left. You might expect me to close here by saying “the rest is history” but, unfortunately, this particular piece of history is far from over yet.

A Clean Slate

Four years ago, when watching Donald Trump’s inauguration on the television, my eyes kept flicking to the White House website. It proclaimed “Yes we did. Yes, we can.”, the triumphal culmination of eight years of Obama’s presidency. There were pages upon pages of policies, speeches, appointments and events. No sooner had the 12 noon mark passed (or 5pm for us in Britain) than it all was gone. In its place was a “transitionsplash” page showing Trump & Pence together and a link to sign up for updates. Continuing to the main site one saw that, while the template was still the same (though a more substantial redesign was done some months later), all of the old content had been removed and the biographies about the first and second couples had been changed to reflect the new incumbents. As the news was quick to point out, this was planned long in advance as part of the post-electoral transition process. The same had occurred, albeit less smoothly, when Obama first entered office in 2009. Sure enough it happened again in 2021, despite all the shenanigans over the previous ten weeks. Biden’s new site has been the subject of much excitement and a little intrigue. The old sites haven’t gone of course, rather they have been moved to the archives – preserved forever in digital aspic.

Really, changing over the website itself is the easy part – a relatively simple matter of swapping the domains around. More difficult is the treatment of the many associated official accounts on various other platforms. These are similarly archived and wiped, which I assume requires the intervention of the platform owners (as it would in many cases be beyond the capabilities of the ordinary user) to move all of the existing material to a different account name and then opening a new account under the old name. This means that the incumbent president always possesses the undifferentiated “whitehouse” address while his predecessors are specifically named or numbered, important for both practical and symbolic reasons. This only appears to apply to the presidency, however, and not to the other cabinet departments, whose websites and other outlets all carry on regardless.

The World Wide Web became available to the public in 1991, during the tenure of George Bush Sr. Since then there have been five presidential transitions, all of them occurring on 20th January of a leap year and all seeing a change of party – from Republican Bush Sr to Democratic Clinton in 1993, to Republican Bush Jr in 2001, to Democratic Obama in 2009, to Republican Trump in 2017, to Democratic Biden in 2021. Interestingly, Biden is the first challenger with a website to win. Each entailed a change of most if not all senior executive offices, making a clean break from what existed before. Not all transitions, though, are quite so discrete. Imagine that the web had launched four years earlier and that the White House had its main website up by the end of Reagan’s term. He was succeeded by his own Vice President of the last eight years and quite a few cabinet officials (such as Nicholas Brady, Dick Thornburgh and Lauro Cavazos) remained the same. Would it have made sense to wipe the slate at that point, given that much of the work being erased would have been the new president’s own? Alternatively, one could have asked the same question in 2001 had the Florida recount gone differently and Al Gore succeeded Clinton. Indeed sometimes the transition cannot even be planned – such as with Nixon’s resignation in 1974 or Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Would Johnson and Ford have been given new accounts immediately, or would they have continued with the old? Given Biden’s advanced years and hints that he will only serve one term, this question could shortly become pertinent again.

In Britain, at least for the last decade, there has been little in the way of neatness. In 2010, following an inconclusive general election and days of tense negotiation, the New Labour government of Gordon Brown was replaced by the coalition government of David Cameron and Nick Clegg (beginning what many term “ConDemNation”). That government had no continuity with its predecessor – every single minister being replaced and no party continuing in power. The coalition survived with reasonably little churn until the long-awaited 2015 election, in which the Conservatives won a majority in the House of Commons while the Liberal Democrats were all but obliterated. Clegg and his ministers resigned from the government, to be replaced by an all-blue team. There was surprisingly little change in the cabinet lineup at this point – out of 30 members (22 full and 8 extras), 17 continued in the same post they held prior to the election, including all four great offices of state. Of those new appointments that were made, four were to replace the excised Liberal Democrats and three more to replace Conservatives who had ceased (voluntarily or not) to be MPs. Cameron’s second government lasted only 14 months, brought down by the EU referendum and replaced by Theresa May. Her reshuffle in July 2016 was a great deal more substantial than that of the previous year – 20 cabinet posts changing hands (including all four great offices of state) as well as one office dissolved and two created. May’s first government was to be even shorter-lived, for the next year there was a snap general election. Contrary to her intentions, this resulted in a small net loss of seats for the Conservatives, forcing her to form a minority government with confidence & supply from the Democratic Unionists. This prompted a fairly small reshuffle of just seven changes, though the next two years saw a high rate of turnover due to fallouts, scandals and protests. In July 2019 the leader herself finally resigned, replaced by Boris Johnson. That reshuffle saw 27 cabinet ministers replaced (again, including all four greats). Johnson’s first government technically still enjoyed supply from the DUP, but in practice had no majority as a large number of Conservatives defected (indeed, party discipline on important votes had broken down long before). It was only fifteen weeks before the chaotic 57th Parliament was dissolved. The Conservatives won a large majority at the ensuing election, allowing Johnson to form a second government without the need for DUP support. Fearful of too much disruption so close to the Brexit deadline, he purposely kept his existing ministers in place until February before carrying out a reshuffle, even ennobling Nicky Morgan so that she could continue her role in the other place for a few weeks.

The purpose of the preceding paragraph’s whistle-stop tour through the politics of the New Tens is to demonstrate that in the past eleven years this country has technically had six changes of government, only the first of which represented a clean break of the kind shown by recent US Presidential transitions. What’s more, looking further back we see little improvement: Brown took over in the middle of the 54th Parliament from Tony Blair, who had been in charge for over ten years of Labour rule. Before that we find an even longer period of Conservative rule, featuring during the 50th Parliament the substitution of John Major for Margaret Thatcher due to a backbench revolt. Only Blair’s succession from Major in 1997 represents a total renewal, which means that in the average Briton’s lifetime* what we imagine as the normal way of regime change – an opposition wins a majority in the House of Commons, then its leader is swiftly appointed Prime Minister – has really only happened once.

How, then, do our government’s websites adapt to events? The online presence of the Her Majesty’s Government has had several incarnations, beginning in 1994 with the Government Information Service, then moving in 2001 to UKonline, a portal allowing the public to search various smaller departments. In 2004 this was in turn replaced by Directgov, and the next month a website was established for Business Link, a service which gave advice for the commercial sector. In 2012, under the coalition, both of these websites were scrapped in favour of the unified GOV.UK, a process which I have discussed here before. Old documentation going back decades is incorporated into the site, with notices such as “This was published under the 1983 to 1987 Conservative government.”  slapped on the tops of the pages. Prior to the move, the Prime Minister’s office could be found at number10.gov.uk (or sometimes number-10, just to confuse you). After Brown left office it appears that posts relating to his tenure were hidden to make space for Cameron. It can be seen that many other accounts were changed at this point, in the aim of “reducing potential confusion to users”. I am disinclined to go through every social media account for every ministerial department, but a little checking shows that HM Treasury has been on Flickr and YouTube since 2008 (albeit the only pictures from pre-2010 are apolitical shots of the building). The Home Office likewise established a YouTube channel in 2008 but its earliest videos are from 2012. The Department for Transport’s channel, established in 2009, averts this a little.

Of course, the US President is head of state as well as head of government, so perhaps a comparison with the royal family would be more appropriate. On the other hand, the most recent demise of the crown occurred when computer science had barely emerged as an academic discipline, and long before the creation of the internet. The earliest government crawls make reference to royal.gov.uk, but the first time I can find it is 1998. The site was redesigned a few times over the following years and then, in 2016, was replaced entirely by royal.uk. A YouTube channel debuted in 2007. Of course, the firm is rather large and contains many subsidiary households, such as for the Prince of Wales, or the Duke of Cambridge. There was a minor headline some years ago when it emerged that the family had been buying up domain names to prevent them being used for cyber-squatting. Most now simply redirect to the main homepage. A massive archiving and wiping operation upon the current monarch’s decease is unlikely, put perhaps the Prince of Wales site will be handed over to Prince William at the time of his investiture. Let us be thankful that the Duke of Windsor never had a Twitter account.

If Britain has any office that functionally resembles a presidency, it would be the directly elected mayors – be they for cities, counties or regions. The most obvious case, naturally, is the Mayor of Greater London, and not just because its most recent holder is now Prime Minister. Its official Twitter account just says “Tweets before 9 May 2016 are from the previous Mayor.” and hopes you won’t be too confused by the appearance of Sadiq Khan’s face next to Boris Johnson’s words. It could be worse, I suppose.

*Worldometers has the median age of the UK population at 40.5 years, which puts Thatcher’s accession in 1979 a little out of reach.

UPDATE (2nd February)

Shortly after departing, Trump established the “Office of the Former President”. While the establishment is routine, the name is not – the many other former presidents have generally named the office after themselves. There has been some controversy around Trump’s use of the bald eagle, though I note that other presidents have continued to use similar devices on their stationery long after leaving office. The discussion is a little reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher in the nineties. So far I have not found a website for Trump’s new office, and indeed he may struggle to find the right domain, as officeoftheformerpresident.org currently redirects to an Atlantic article calling him the worst president in history.