The Bus Law of By-Elections

Portraits by Richard Townshend, 12th January 2020 (CC-BY-3.0)

It has been nearly two years since the last by-election to the UK House of Commons – in Brecon & Radfordshire, where Jane Dodds unseated Chris Davies. This is said to be the longest gap since the end of World War Two, though I suspect you could look a lot further back than that and not find one. It is quite remarkable that over the course of 2020 no MPs died despite several testing positive and one having to be put on a ventilator.*

Things got moving again on 16th March when Mike Hill, facing an employment tribunal, took the Chiltern Hundreds. A by-election for his constituency of Hartlepool is scheduled to take place on 6th May, alongside the many local elections across the country. Already eleven candidates have been put forward. The list is rather fascinating in that three former Labour MPs will be competing against each other for different parties: Paul Williams (Stockton South 2017-19) is still fighting for the red rose but Hilton Dawson (Lancaster & Wyre 1997-2005) is now secretary of the North East Party which seeks a devolved parliament for the region similar to those in Scotland and Wales and Thelma Walker (Colne Valley, 2017-19) has defected to the Northern Independence Party which seeks to revive the ancient kingdom of Northumbria as a democratic socialist republic. The Conservative candidate Jill Mortimer is a farmer and Hambleton (North Yorkshire) District Councillor. Reform UK (formerly the Brexit Party) is putting forward businessman John Prescott (not the former Labour MP) and the Liberal Democrats have chosen Andy Hagon, a teacher who also stood there in 2017 and 2019. It has cause some controversy (and mirth) to note that so few of the candidates are actually from Hartlepool. Once the domain of Peter Mandelson, this constituency is part of the so-called “Red Wall” of traditional Labour seats that has swung towards the Conservatives after voting to leave the European Union. You might reasonably think that any seat which stayed red in 2019 couldn’t possibly go blue now, but a recent Survation poll gave the Conservatives a seven-point lead. Obviously it’s too early to call at this stage, but the prospect of the government gaining a seat from the opposition again in just over four years would be seriously humiliating for the latter, although we can hope that on this occasion the prime minister will not be tempted to go for a snap general election as a consequence.

On 23rd March Neil Gray took the Manor of Northstead, vacating the constituency of Airdrie & Shotts in order to contest the same seat for the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood**. In this instance the returning officer has decided that it would be safer not to have the two polls on one day, so instead the by-election will take place a week later on 13th May. The candidate list for this election is not yet as long, nor as amusing. Notable here is that there has not been a Commons by-election in Scotland since Inverclyde in 2011 and never at all where the National Party was defending.

On 4th April Dame Cheryl Gillan died at the age of 68 following “a long illness“. She had been MP for Chesham & Amersham since 1992 and was the twenty-fourth most senior by continuous service. No candidates have yet been announced for this by-election and neither has the writ been moved when the others were. Partly this is because she died when the Commons had already risen for the Easter recess, and partly it is because of the convention to delay political machinations until after the late member’s funeral.

*The other place was less lucky, with Lord Gordon of Strathblane succumbing to COVID on 31st of last March. A few hereditary peers have retired or died of other causes in that time but their by-elections have been repeatedly postponed.

**This is required by the party’s rules, rather than those of either legislature.

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

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.

More Podcasts

For the whole of January I wondered when the third episode of the House of Lords podcast was going to arrive. On 10th February it finally did so. The Lord Patel, Chair of the Science & Technology Committee, was interviewed about healthy ageing. The Lord Cashman, former MEP and actor, recalled his role in founding Stonewall. I hope that new episodes will be produced more frequently in future so that momentum is not lost among potential listeners.

The Heraldry Society recently started a podcast of its own, the first episode being an interview of Quentin Peacock about Digital Heraldry. Peacock spoke about the time and difficulty of creating high-quality vector graphics. Notice was also taken of the growth of online heraldist communities in recent years.

Back on Wikipedia, I have spent the last week constructing another armorial page – that for Anglican Bishops of the Diocese of Chester. The bulk of the necessary information was found on the website of the now-defunct Cheshire Heraldry Society. The vast majority of the escutcheons (no crests or mottoes listed) were simple enough to recreate in a short time, so that it only took a few days to illustrate and upload the whole lot. Creating the list page itself was also quite easy, given that I am well used to the template by now. It is too early to say if the page will survive. At present no other editor appears to have noticed it at all. If it is accepted then I may go on to produce armorials for the more senior bishoprics of Canterbury and York, though so far I have not found the relevant information so conveniently assembled.

UPDATE (15th February)

Searching around I uncovered this presentation by Dr Adrian Ailes for the National Archives, recorded a decade ago.

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.

The Next State Opening

There has been a lot of uncertainty over the last few years with respect to the beginnings and endings of parliamentary sessions. It might have been hoped that in 2021 the process would go back to normal, with a speech from the throne each May (typically the third Wednesday, with prorogation the week before). Now, alas, the pandemic could have thrown that out as well. A Cheapo’s Guide to London currently hints that it will take place in October, while Parliament’s own website gives no information at all. It is likely that any planned date could be changed many times depending on how events unfold in the coronavirus saga.

The key difference between this year and last is that now we have a smorgasbord of vaccines to thwart the disease and – in contrast to our poor performance in controlling the outbreak – are distributing them much faster than most other countries. Priority for vaccination is given largely in descending order of age, which could mean that for a few months of this year we have the paradoxical situation in which the elderly are safe to mingle outside while the young have to remain shielded. Overall this bodes well for the House of Lords, the majority of whose members are aged 70 and over. The Lord Speaker went for his first vaccine back in December. The Queen received hers in January. If the government’s target of 2 million vaccinations per week is maintained then the majority of Britain’s population, including nearly all peers, should have received at least one vaccine dose by the start of May.

Still, that doesn’t mean the ceremony will be plain sailing: likely there will still be some social distancing required and face coverings will remain prominent, which could dampen the splendour a little. In particular the crowding of MPs in the cramped space behind the bar of the upper chamber could prove dangerous, and it may be required that only a small delegation from the lower house is allowed to come. Of the frontal foursome it is probable that Mr Speaker (63), Black Rod (55) and the Commons Clerk (62-ish) will have immunity but the Serjeant-at-Arms (44) might not. As with the introduction ceremonies there could be some subtle changes in choreography to allow the key players to stand further apart.

The preceding prorogation would need to have such tweaks as well – although attendance for that is usually quite a lot lower anyway. Lady Evans of Bowes Park is by far the youngest of the five commissioners and thus probably the last to be immunised, unfortunate given that as the Leader of the House she is the one least able to be substituted, as well as the one who sits in the middle and the one doing all the talking. It could be that this year’s prorogation is again done with just three commissioners in attendance rather than five. It is hard to find the dimensions of the chamber online but I think there might just be room to space them out properly, though perhaps it may have to be contrived so that they sit in a triangular instead of linear formation.

To make matters worse, the devolved legislatures in Cardiff and Holyrood are expected to go up for election in the same month. They traditionally welcome the monarch for an opening ceremony in the summer months – though unlike in Wesminster the speech is not a prerequisite for the commencement of parliamentary business. As with so much in this phenomenon, all we can do is wait and see.

UPDATE (22nd March)

The government has put out a press release announcing that the state opening will be on Tuesday 11th May, “adapted, with reduced ceremonial elements and attendees to ensure it is COVID-secure”.

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.

The Long Arms of the Law

The Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore died on the first of this month, having retired on the last of September. He was both the last Lord of Appeal in Ordinary appointed to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 (just ninety-four days before their respective dissolution and appeal took effect) and the last of that group’s veterans to retire from the successor Supreme Court.

Undeterred by the recent obliteration of so many such pages, I wondered if the law lords were worth an armorial list on Wikipedia, and so have begun to draft one. As with my article last year on Speakers of the House of Commons, I found that there were quite a few names on the list who died so soon after being ennobled that they miss out being recorded in the genealogy books (and the law lords are of course life peers, so no heirs or successors can hold the place). What’s more, those books themselves are in shorter supply than they were last year – whereas Wikipedians used to have access to online scans of Burke’s Peerage from 1949 (on The Internet Archive) and 1959 (on Hathitrust), those files have been removed in the latter half of this year. Our earliest edition now is a copy of Debrett’s Peerage from 1936, and that is a poor-quality scan with many sections of prose missing.

Of course, nowadays the country’s highest judges would not be mentioned in such volumes at all: The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which brought about the change barred those justices already holding peerages from resuming their seats in the House of Lords until their time on the court had ended. Further, a political decision was made that subsequent appointments to the new court would not be ennobled at all, but merely granted courtesy titles akin to those of hereditary peers’ heirs apparent. An exception was made at the start of this year when the new President of the Supreme Court Robert Reed, who had already used the courtesy title Lord Reed since his appointment to the College of Justice in 1998, was substantively created Baron Reed of Allermuir, of Sundridge Park in the London Borough of Bromley, under the Life Peerages Act 1958. It remains to be seen whether this favour will be repeated for his successors in that office.

How then, do I find the missing entries? My experience hunting down the speakers’ arms taught me the importance of looking for unofficial records, especially fan labour. I discovered some time ago the Flickr account of Baz Manning, an older heraldist who has carefully photographed a lot of armorial art and architecture over the years. In particular he has uploaded a scrupulous catalogue of the coats of arms displayed on the walls and windows of Lincoln’s Inn, where so many of Britain’s senior lawyers and judges are trained. The collection of shields of the institution’s alumni stretches back centuries, and proved very helpful to me in resuming my contributions to the Commons, which had petered out in the previous month due to running out of source material. The mean real drawback to using this method is that I have no access to the text of the original blazon, and so can only copy what the previous artist has done, and if any charge or ordinary is unclear in the image I see then it is not possible to identify it. I would not attempt to reverse engineer the blazon from the depiction and risk getting any parts wrong.

Obviously not all of the UK’s judiciary went to Lincoln’s Inn – or even necessarily to the other Inns of Court – but the proportion who did is significant enough to keep my hobby going for the present, and hopefully the presence of such a large armorial display in such a prestigious location dedicated specifically to legal professionals should bolster my case (ahem) for the notability of an armorial list for the law lords, so that it would not be so casually junked as were the others.

EXTERNAL LINKS

More Armorials

Photographs by Baz Manning, 2014

A month ago I mentioned that I was creating a Wikipedia armorial page for schools in the United Kingdom. Since then I have moved the page from Draft to Mainspace. Whether it can be called successful is not yet clear – nobody has attempted to delete it, but few have come to contribute to it either. Having run out of obvious categories of corporate arms, I went back to a personal one. Having already created a page for Speakers of the House of Commons, earlier this year I drafted one for their old counterparts, the Lord Chancellors. These were generally easier to source than those of the speakers of the lower house, for the chancellors acceded to the peerage – and thus the pages of Burke or Debrett – at the beginning of their tenures rather than the end. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 complicates matters somewhat, as the office has since been given to a disturbingly rapid succession of MPs, none of whom are yet armigerous as far as I know. The new, separate office of Lord Speaker has only had three incumbents so far and I have no information on any of their heraldic bearings or lack thereof.

That page having apparently worked, yesterday I embarked on yet another armorial, this time for the Chancellors of the Exchequer. Already I have filled in most of the entries for those who have held the office since the dawn of the eighteenth century, helped in part because the list significantly overlaps with that of the prime ministers. Now I am unsure of how to tread further, for the office is not as simple as it appears. The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom is a merger (confusingly not done until sixteen years after the kingdoms themselves were merged) of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Ireland with the Chancellor of the Exchequer of Great Britain. The latter was itself a merger of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of England with the Treasurer-depute of Scotland. The Lord Chancellorship similarly has existed in various forms in multiple polities. I am not sure that it would be possible to make armorial pages for all of them, for some of the lists stretch back to the high medieval era and there are many uncertain entries. If even their names are not remembered then it is not likely that their blazons would be.

On a slightly different note, most major media sources have determined beyond reasonable doubt (though reason has been tested in the last few years) that Joe Biden is the President-elect of the United States. Parliamentary democracies tend to have a full-time shadow cabinet whose members are ready to form the real cabinet at moment’s notice should their party win power. In the states there is a lengthy period between election and inauguration during which the outgoing and incoming presidents negotiate the transfer of power and decisions can be made in advance about the composition of the new administration. In at least the last three instances the transition team has been construed as a formal office with its own website and its own insignia. Obama’s team used a wide rectangle with the national coat of arms adjacent to the name in a stylised typeface, notable in that it shows the heraldic achievement separated from the context of the round seal, and rather resembles the departmental branding seen in Roadkill. Trump used an oval with a depiction of the White House in the centre and his own title around the border. Biden’s team is currently using a minimalist version of the presidential seal with the number 46 at the base. Though its cause was ultimately jossed, in 2012 a Romney transition was planned, its logo being a conjoined circle and oval, the former showing what I assume to be an eagle volant, though the resolution is too poor to make out. I have yet to find one for Hillary Clinton in 2016. It remains to be seen if future presidential transitions will settle on a standardised emblem, for it seems a pity to put so much work into a brand that will only be used for a couple of months. Personally I would quite like to see the shield differenced by the three-point label of an heir apparent – though actually that could belong to the Vice-President as well. Another thing to note is that, at noon on inauguration day the White House website and all associated social media accounts are wiped clean ready for the new president to start again, with all previous content copied swiftly onto an archive site. This is necessary so that communications by an earlier administration are not attributed to those of a later one. I have a faint memory of this being a problem for the Mayor of London’s account on Twitter, where if you crawl back far enough you can see Boris Johnson’s words alongside Sadiq Khan’s face, with somewhat confusing results. It is interesting that since the launch of the World Wide Web there have not yet between two consecutive POTUSes from the same party, and I wonder how the digital transition would then be handled – especially if the new leader had been a senior figure in the administration of his predecessor.

Back to the main topic, recently I discovered (though how recently it happened I cannot say for certain) that the Heraldry Society has released its 2019 articles from The Coat of Arms as downloadable pdfs. The 2020 article titles are listed but presumably the content will remain reserved for members only until next year. The most tantalising of these is Arms and the woman: the heraldry of women parliamentarians by Duncan Sutherland, which I had already seen advertised as a live event but obviously did not have the means to attend. If the lecture was recorded then the video is not one to which I have access.

UPDATE (13th November)

No sooner had I completed the pages than a user by the name of Fram prodded several of them for deletion, as well as a few earlier such armorials that I did not create, on the grounds that the lists of coats of arms are not notable in their own right. I have a week to argue my case. So far nobody else from the heraldry and vexillology project seems to have noticed. Just in case I fail, I have backed up the code for all the affected pages in my own userspace – which was not possible for the Sudrian material on account of the non-free photographs.