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.

 

The Curious Case of Barron Trump

There are many strange phenomena associated with Donald Trump and his immediate family, who spent many years in business and reality TV before acceding to the heart of government. The one that I will discuss today is the fandom that has developed in the last few years around his youngest son.

Donald Junior (1977) and Eric have been both executives in The Trump Organization and judges on The Apprentice. They are active in their father’s election campaigns and engaged in international business dealings. Ivanka (1981) was a board member of the Donald J. Trump Foundation now serving as Advisor to the President. She participated alongside her father at international conferences and diplomatic meetings. Her husband Jared (1981) was appointed Senior Advisor and Director of the Office of American Innovation, among other things. 2006-born Barron, of course, is too young to be involved in such matters, and his mother has made efforts to maintain for him an appropriate level of distance from public scrutiny. He is rarely heard to speak, and reportedly is not allowed a social media presence, so little can be known about him outside of what few snippets are uttered to the press by his parents and what can be spotted when he is brought to public events.

His relative anonymity gives Barron a fascinating quality – he becomes a sort of blank state onto which others can project their own imagination. Above all, his fans feel a pity for him having to grow up in the shadow of his dysfunctional elders, and a hope that he can be “saved” from their fates as an adult. As is to be expected, there are rumours of autism, with some even suggesting that this could have influenced his father’s credulity to anti-vaccination ideas. It is at least faintly plausible given that the president was fifty-nine years old when he conceived his last son (advanced paternal age being a known risk factor), but I would be more inclined to believe it were this not a trendy claim to make about seemingly everyone in the public eye nowadays. Of course, the common perceptions of those on the spectrum (some true, some false) often overlap with those of the people in these kinds of online communities, which could go some way to explaining why they feel a natural affinity with Barron – or at any rate more of an affinity than feel for the rest of the entourage.

Prior to Barron in 2017, the last minor son of an incumbent POTUS was John F. Kennedy Junior, who was frequently under the spotlight during his years at the White House and is immortalised in the photograph of him saluting his father’s coffin. Generally speaking most presidents’ children in the last century or so reached their majority some time before their fathers’ election, so a dependent First Son is a rarity, which of course adds to the excitement whenever it does occur.

As with much about the Trump family, certain precedents can be found in royal dynasties of centuries ago: Edward of Middleham, lone son of Richard III & Anne Neville, lived so brief and so ill-recorded a life that there is even an uncertainty of four years as to when he was born, and of about forty miles as to where he was buried. Had he not died so young then the course of British history would have been very different – the House of York might have been secured on the throne for many more decades and the Tudor coup of 1485 averted. He is important in that sense, and obviously would have been well-documented had he survived to become king, but as it is he serves as little more than a placeholder. The only contemporary likeness is a crude cartoon on the Rous Roll, and the only personal characteristic recorded was his sickliness. Two other namesake Princes of Wales fare little better: He of Lancaster was active military (and indeed was England’s only heir apparent to die in battle) so we can at least record his movements, but what we know of his personality is limited to a few sensationalist excerpts and is almost certainly exaggerated for propaganda purposes. He of Warwick survived into adulthood, but spent most of his life hidden away in the Tower of London. Again he was important as a placeholder, for Yorkist forces rallied around him as a potential replacement for Henry VII, but almost nothing is known about the man himself except that he had a mental illness, and even that is based on a one-off line written years after his death. He of the Sanctuary fares a little better in this regard, perhaps because he actually made it to the throne if (of only for eleven weeks) and spent nearly all of his life before that as heir apparent. Details were therefore recorded of his upbringing and his education, and we even have a few snippets describing his character. Even so, he is more remembered for his death than for his life. His brother Richard is a case in point – except for his child marriages and peerage there is very little in his biography that would not also apply to Edward V, and it is suggested that so many more pretenders posed as Richard than Edward precisely because the younger son was less well-documented and so granted wider latitude for invention.

For a modern example, one possible candidate is Prince John, youngest son of George V & Mary of Teck. Like Edward of Middleham his health was poor and, like Barron Trump, many suspect autism. In 1916 he was removed from public life and sent to live at Wood Farm on the Sandringham Estate (where the Duke of Edinburgh has lived since retiring in 2017) due to his increasingly-frequent epileptic seizures. He died in 1919. He has been the subject of some intrigue since his death, styled as The Lost Prince or The Windsors’ Tragic Secret. Unlike the earlier examples there was plenty of contemporary documentation of his life, but it was made public for a long time after his death. The void encouraged fiction, and some writers liked to exaggerate John’s seclusion so as to paint the family in a negative light, but later revelations indicate that he was treated as well as could be expected for the time, especially given that the First World War was in full swing.

If I had to single out one example of a historical antecedent for Barron my choice would fall upon Gioffre Borgia, youngest son (if he was his son at all) of Pope Alexander VI, who lacked his relatives’ political ambition. He is generally regarded as the innocent one in a dynasty renowned for its depravity. This is best illustrated in the Horrible Histories song about the family from 2012, in which Gioffre sits in mute confusion while his father and siblings go on about their various crimes, scandals and machinations. Gioffre lived into his thirties, playing a modest role in the Second Italian War and ruling indirectly over the city principality of Squillace.

Barron, at this point, has already most of the people to whom I have referred, and his encounter with SARS-CoV-2 appears not to have caused any harm. Nor, for that matter, has there been any sign of an assassination attempt. Only time will tell which path he ultimately takes, and whether his fans’ hopes will be fulfilled or betrayed. All we can say for certain at this point is that he’ll be extremely tall, which might be an omen for the Cambridge and Sussex children, too.

Turn Right and Change the World!

Cameron 2015 Dissolution

We are turning our country around… we must see this through together.

Five years ago, the fifty-fifth Parliament of the United Kingdom dissolved, commencing the general election campaign. As usual, proclamations were read out from the steps of the Royal Exchange in London, and from the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh, but on this occasion the text was quite a bit shorter than had been the norm before. The substance of the revised version concerns only the convocation date for the newborn legislature and the issue of writs of summons to the Lords Spiritual and Temporal. The act of dissolution itself was omitted, as was any reference to writs of election.

The reason for this was, of course, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, which curtailed the monarch’s prerogative to make and break parliaments whenever her prime minister said so. From then on, a general election would happen on the first Thursday in May of the fifth year since the previous election took place, with dissolution occurring twenty-five working days in advance. There were of course some exceptions, but they will be detailed later.

For the first time, the date of the next general election was known years in advance. Even better, the death date of the 56th Parliament was known before it was even born: the five years after 2015 included two leap days to bring the days of the week right around, so this year the general election timetable is exactly the same as last time. Some commentators lamented that the element of surprise had been lost from British politics.

That at least was the dream, now to the reality: The second Cameron ministry did not gracefully live out a full term. Nor, for that matter, did the next three governments. The fifty-sixth Parliament dissolved on 3rd May 2017, after Cameron’s successor Theresa May successfully sought a two-thirds majority in the Commons for an early election motion under Section 2 of the Act. The fifty-seventh parliament was dissolved on 6th November 2019 by a special act of its own creation, May’s own successor Boris Johnson having tried a Section 2 motion several times and failed miserably. We are now in the time of the 58th Parliament, which is currently expected to expire on 25th March 2024, though that expectation has little solidity given that the present government intends to repeal the FTPA altogether at some point.

Jeremy Corbyn, who emerged from three decades of backbench obscurity to become Leader of the Labour Party in the aftermath of the 2015 general election, is due imminently to retire again. The result of the leadership election is due to be announced on Saturday, though the large conference originally planned has had to be scaled back dramatically due to the world events which have transpired in the meantime. It strikes me that, of the six Labour MPs who originally set out to be Corbyn’s replacement, four only joined the House of Commons in 2015. Had politics gone normally they would only now be at the end of their first term, instead of well into their third.

Obviously, it may have been awkward now if those snap elections hadn’t taken place, since all elections scheduled to take place on 7th May this year have been pushed back to 6th May 2021. Presumably the general election would have had to be delayed too*, the first instance of such an action since 1944.

As noted in my posts about Paul Danahar and Terence Casey, it has become common to remark that we currently inhabit the dark timeline, or words to that effect. Neither man could decide precisely on the point of divergence. Until someone else can suggest a better point, I will choose 2015. Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is an entirely separate issue, but the issues that most prompted the calamitous musings prior to the outbreak were the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States and the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. These phenomena both had their gestation five years ago. It was in May that the Conservative & Unionist Party won the general election outright with a manifesto that included an In-Out referendum, which would likely have been dropped in coalition negotiations had that parliament been hung as expected. It was in June that Donald Trump came down that escalator and announced his desire for the GOP nomination.

Life would never be the same again. Still, at least I got to rack up my edit count in the past few years.

*Section 1 of the FTPA allows the prime minister to delay polling by statutory instrument, but only for two months as opposed to the twelve now in place.

UPDATE (9th November)

Turn Left is apparently trending on Twitter. It’s not entirely clear, but I think it’s something to do with the US presidential election.

Heraldic Humour – A History

Eight days ago the President of the United States gave an address at the Teen Student Action Summit of the political organisation Turning Point USA. As is often the case for such appearances, he was flanked by projections of the presidential seal. This time, however, something was wrong.

A derivative of the Great Seal, the presidential seal is known less for the rather diminutive escutcheon (Paly of thirteen Argent and Gules, a chief Azure.) than for the much larger supporter – a bald eagle displayed, holding in its dexter talon an olive branch and in the sinister thirteen arrows all Proper – and for the motto of “E Pluribus Unum”, which was considered the effective motto for the whole country until the controversial imposition of “In God We Trust” in 1956. The presidential seal in all its variants is famous worldwide. Even my own letterhead is based on it, though swapping the eagle for my namesake passerine. This very familiarity makes it all the odder for the recent substitution to have gone unnoticed until too late.

The seal which appeared beside the president last week may have looked legitimate at first glance, but on the second there are some glaring differences. The most obvious is that the bundle of arrows has been replaced with a set of golf clubs. The next is that the eagle has two heads pointing in opposite directions. Peering closely at the emblem, it can also be seen that the olive branch has been replaced by a wad of dollar bills and that the motto scroll says “45 es un títere”.

Designed by Charles Leazott, once a loyal Republican who defected after the rise of Donald Trump, the doctored image paints the incumbent as a puppet of the Russian Federation whose primary concern is for his own wealth and leisure.

This is far from the first instance of heraldry being used for satirical purposes. During the American Civil War, H. H. Tilley produced a mock coat of arms for the Confederacy – which had not yet adopted a real state emblem. A cigar-smoking plantation owner and a hand-manacled slave support a shield of cotton, tobacco, and sugar, with three slaves hoeing the fields in base and some of their owners’ characteristic tools in chief. The motto given is “Servitudo Esto Perpetua”. Behind the crest rooster are two flags in saltire. One is clearly the battle flag used by several of the southern armies, the other is a skull and crossbones with the number 290. This latter flag could refer to the CSS Alabama, which was built in secret and known merely as “Hull No. 290” prior to launch.

Going back further to 1814, the Anglo-German publisher Rudolph Ackermann released and Explanation of the Arms of Napoleon Bonaparte. This particularly savage illustration has, for a crest, the world being set on fire and stabbed with French standards. The escutcheon, a montage of eight acts of barbarity attributed to the recently-deposed Emperor, is supported on the dexter by Death holding an hourglass and on the sinister by Satan wearing an iron crown.

Not all heraldic satire is quite so brutal: a 1909 Punch cartoon by Bernard Patridge alludes to the art by citing “an heraldic inversion”, in which the prime minister Herbert Asquith has to stand with his limbs awkwardly spread out to hold Winston Churchill (President of the Board of Trade) and David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer) on his shoulders. The drawing was made during the crisis over the “People’s Budget”, the commentary being that Asquith’s prominent ministers were the real protagonists of the government, their nominal leader being in fact subservient.

A famous Gillray cartoon from 1797 shows William Pitt the Younger looming over the House of Commons. Notable is the suggestive positioning of the royal coat of arms (affixed to the canopy above the speaker’s chair to indicate the royal authority of the legislature) between the premier’s legs. The message is that Pitt had no passion beyond the accumulation and exercise of state power.

These armorial parodies continue into the modern day – many being found on Wikimedia Commons, though these do not see much use. A particularly memorable instance comes from 2011, showing the arms of Princess Beatrice of York, the coronets replaced by the unusual hat she wore to the wedding of her cousin the Duke of Cambridge.

FURTHER READING

From the Axis of Evil to Trumpland

A mere five days after hearing a lecture on Brexit, I went to hear about the other half of the present day’s news obsession – Donald Trump.

The university’s alumni association runs a programme called “Inspired in Hull”, whereby former students who have risen to prominence are called back to give their life stories before their successors. So far I have attended five of these events, though unfortunately I never got around to logging them here. They were Democracy & Theatre by playwright James Graham (8th February), From Hull to Hogwarts by illustrator Olivia Lomenech Gill (9th March), From Hull to the Cosmos by philanthropist Dill Faulkes (3rd May), Breaking open the Boardroom with businesswoman Denise Wilson, and most recently this one by journalist Paul Danahar.

Paul began his story with an anecdote from 15 years ago in central Baghdad, shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein when he had to flag down an approaching American tank with nothing but a dirty hotel tablecloth. He said that he had witnessed many key historical events, including wars, revolutions and natural disasters. After being kidnapped, deported and fired upon several times, he decided that life might be quieter if he left his role in the Middle East and took up the role in Washington D. C. instead. But then, in his words “Donald Trump came down an escalator… it’s been quite busy since then.”.

Mr Danahar matriculated at this university in 1985, studying physics. He was the first of his family to go to university and arrived with a narrow view of the world and his career path. He joined the university newspaper over the objections of the English students who ran it and eventually went to work for BBC Radio Humberside. He described his path from Hull to Leeds to London, through India, South Africa, Beijing and Jerusalem before finally winding up where he wanted to be.

Paul described his work as the study of how decisions (and equally non-decisions) made in Washington would affect the rest of the world. He travelled through Afghanistan during the late 1990s and was in place to see the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Lately he has seen how decades of carefully lain international agreements can be casually destroyed by the upload of a few words online.

The rise of social media changed the nature of political journalism, especially the Arab Spring in 2011. Dictatorship, said Paul, relies on state control of the media – the party line and the face of the dear leader must be plastered on every public surface. The internet changed this, allowing young revolutionaries to organise a decentralised campaign. The establishment’s traditional strategy of capturing or bribing the leaders failed, because there were none. This could, however, prove to be the downfall of the revolution at a later stage, for there was no clear authority figure to succeed the ousted tyrants. The opposition “thrived on the adrenaline of revolt, but quickly got bored of the tediousness of government.” This loss of passion on behalf of the masses allowed their tormentors to return, consolidate their power, and snuff out those who had once threatened them.

Our alumnus lamented that it was easy to be passionate about politics while at university – when one has the time and the inclination to imagine a better world – but that the best and brightest among his audience would probably go elsewhere in search of more fulfilling lives. In his view, the statesmen of recent decades were neither best nor brightest, and rather than conspiracy or corruption most of the problems in the world today were caused by mere incompetence.

Paul then gave a somewhat ominous warning to his young attendees that they should not lose their voice upon graduation, assume someone else will fix everything, convince themselves that voting does not matter, or put blind faith in those who sought power on their behalf. “Shouting into the echo chamber of Twitter might feel good, but unless you use social media to organise – not rant – you will find that others use it to war.” He noted that in recent years fascists and other authoritarians around the world had gotten to grips with the internet and were using it to destabilise civilisation.

To contrast, Danahar spoke about his visit to the technologically-retarded North Korea. The capital of Pyongyang had bus queues into the hundreds and public buildings unheated through the depths of winter. As a foreign guest he was accompanied everywhere by two minders – they would monitor him as well as each other. China was a little different: there were unmarked policemen with umbrellas who would obstruct the view of news cameras. In Iraq the reporters could sometimes incapacitate their minders with a heavy meal, but in North Korea this was not possible. They will, however, do anything for whiskey. Paul briefly managed to interact with some civilian locals during a bowling tournament, but this was swiftly interrupted by a power cut.

Our inspired guest went on to recall his time in Jerusalem as Chairman of the Middle East Foreign Press Association. There the media were regularly harassed by the public and by political campaign groups. Death threats and abusive comments were commonplace. In particular, Mr Danahar highlighted the different ways in which domestic and international press covered conflicts in that region – the former would show graphic violence in all its gruesome glory whereas the latter would focus on dry statistics. This difference in coverage led to a divergence of Eastern and Western perspectives, so that the former think of the latter as detached and uncaring. He also said that there was a “blame game” around the reporting of these statistics (fights over “children died” versus “children were killed”, for example) with pressure groups hoping to harass the media into silence.

China went to the other extreme: In Paul’s experience, you only knew you had displeased the government when the already slow bureaucracy ground to a complete standstill and one could get no work done. If anything it was a delight to hear locals criticise your coverage, because that at least was proof that somebody could see it. Foreign press is heavily censored in China, and officials will even give out transcripts of interviews with inconvenient segments excised. He was keen to stress how hard it was to comprehend that country’s culture, even if you had some contacts and knowledge of the language.

It was at this point our guest moved to the United States. He claimed many of us forget that, although their tongue is the same as ours and we consume a lot of their media, America is still a very foreign country – a fact exemplified by the accession of Donald John Trump. Danahar told us that journalism in D.C. was “like trying to drink from a fire hose” in that reporters struggle to focus on matters of true importance when bombarded by the daily torrent of scandals and controversies which emanate from the White House. Many of this administration’s high level appointments have gone to hugely unsuitable people, and there is no unified voice from the executive – the president and his underlings will regularly produce antonymous assertions in their statements and briefings to the press, the public and each other.

We were treated to a case study regarding the United Nations General Assembly: Trump arrived late, then spent his speech inflating his own ego, then flatly denied the mockery he received from his foreign counterparts, insisting they laughed with him rather than at him. The pernicious part of this fiasco was that while most of the world had the true version of events reported, Trump’s domestic supporters knew only his take. Through their social media routines they filtered out the more critical evaluations. The president is able to communicate directly to his rural voter base without interference by the traditional channels, meaning that his supporters have no alternative worldview supplied to them. As a result, they believe Trump to be trustworthy and dismiss reports of his incompetence as enemy propaganda. Despite what most professional commentators would say, the president’s supporters believe him to be staying true to his campaign promises. They are correct with regard to tax cuts, immigration control, and shedding of environmental promises. They deny, or remain unaware of, the many areas on which he lied or failed.

That said, our guest did not hold America’s traditional news organisations in high regard either Most of them have become firmly entrenched as agents of either the government (Fox) or the resistance (CNN). Their motivation for this is financial rather than moral, for their ratings – and consequently revenue – have shot up in the last few years as Americans have turned on each other. How one communicates with the White House has also changed. Whereas professional observers would once have spent hours speculating over Barack Obama’s inner thoughts, nowadays the general public can know Donald Trump’s convictions before his own cabinet do. Danahar singled out the particularly tragi-comical example of the Honourable Rex Tillerson, formerly Secretary of State: He did not use Twitter himself, so had an aide print out his leader’s bulletins for him to read. One of these was the announcement of his own dismissal. Paul brought up the abnormally high frequency of leaks from high office. He put it down to the lack of any unifying creed between Trump’s officials. Many of them had accepted his invitations purely for personal gain, having previously languished in political obscurity. Once in office they dedicated much time and effort to lashing out at their colleagues in a battle for predominance and presidential favour. Another source of informational incontinence is what Trump calls the “deep state”. These are lower level officials who are firmly opposed to his policies and deliberately sabotage his every move, hoping to save the United States from its own president. Danahar notes that many on the left, despite their democratic principles, seem to favour this approach: They despise the current president so much that they would permit his removal by coup.

Paul’s friends in the media have accepted that this daily torrent of outrage and scandal will not subside while the current presidency lasts. To answer the inevitable question, he predicted that Trump could indeed secure a second term of office. The support among the president’s base has endured, and he has been seen to deliver on many of his campaign promises. Paul also predicted that the Democrats would still be in denial by 2020, and would pick a candidate who might have won last time around – such as Bernie Sanders – rather than one for the present.

To round up his speech, Mr Danahar turned to how he had indeed been inspired by the university, city and people of Kingston-Upon-Hull. He told his student audience that though the best years of our lives remained ahead, this time would be the most transformational. University would shape us for decades in the future.

There then followed the question and answer session. Again, I got the very last one and again the answer was a little off-point: In the last few years many newspapers, broadcasts and comments thereon, both in Britain and abroad, have alluded to a decline in the standards of political discourse and behaviour. This is not solely about Trump – it also relates to our withdrawal from the European Union, the rise of the Islamic State and the emergence of far right figures many formerly stable nations. I have found many people despairing at the rapid decline of democracy and discourse. Frequently their are remarks to the effect that “reality has ended” or that we have entered a new political dark age. One particularly illustrative example is The Thick of It. The series was still airing as late as October 2012 and was at the time considered the peak of cynical satire, with its unfiltered profanity and its dark, desperate atmosphere. By 2016, Armando Iannucci was already saying that it could never be renewed – real life has moved beyond parody. I wanted to know precisely when, in Paul’s mind, the cut-off point had been. When did he consider politics to have last been “normal”?

My question triggered much nervous chuckling from the audience and the speaker asked sarcastically how much time he had available. He pointed to the late George Bush senior’s presidency as a time when one had opponents rather than enemies, a fact which changed during the Clinton years thanks to the work of Newt Gingrich. He was not the first to make this observations. He said that the office has never recovered from the damage of the Lewinsky scandal, even with the impeccable behaviour of Barack Obama. He said the bar nowadays is much lower than it had been in the past – where once Howard Dean had ruined his bid with one inappropriate shriek, now Trump could brag about groping women and still wind up successful (he’s not the first to make this comparison either). Paul predicted that this change in standards could lead to more people of great wealth from outside the mainstream parties to run for office on their own steam, with better but poorer candidates being forced out as a result. In particular, he said that someone like Ross Perot might have a decent chance of victory if he ran again today, for the political environment has changed to favour him.

Finally, the event drew to a close. Paul was given another round of applause and handed the traditional goody bag of university merchandise. The audience withdrew from the lecture theatre to navigate home through the darkness which had fallen outside. This is the penultimate teaching week, so the semester is winding down. I am sure that there will be a further series of Inspired in Hull lectures in the new year, but that is a story for another post.

EXTERNAL LINKS