Batty Great Aunt Margaret Hodgepodge suggests we use the occasion of the anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession in 2009 to have a bit of a collective bellyache about being English (hat-tip W&W). Does she ever turn up to cabinet meetings in her nightie? I think we should be told. I must admit I haven’t actually finalised my own plans for celebrating the anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession yet, but at the moment they involve turning thirty so I’m quite open to the idea of distractions.

I wonder why Henry VIII? On consulting my voluminous memory, I find that there are several other monarchs since 1066 whose accession anniversaries have fallen under the current government. Have they been hubristically planning to make a big thing of Henry VIII’s anniversary ever since 1997, or have other candidates been given the chop along the way, so to speak? I wonder what Batty Aunt Margaret’s researcher’s notes looked like?

John – 1199 – is a Disney character voiced by Peter Ustinov. Nickname “Lackland” would draw unwanted attention to the housing crisis.

Henry IV 1399 – deposed his predecessor, faced rebellion in Wales, set events of Wars of the Roses in train. Not inspiring.

Henry I – 1100 - hm, everyone knows medieval history is pointless and rubbish, but let’s see what Wiki says…

Upon his succession he granted the baronage a Charter of Liberties, which formed a basis for subsequent challenges to rights of kings and presaged the Magna Carta, which subjected the King to law.

The rest of Henry’s reign was filled with judicial and financial reforms. He established the biannual Exchequer to reform the treasury. He used itinerant officials to curb abuses of power at the local and regional level, garnering the praise of the people

Ha, strike him out! Last thing we need is a medieval monarch who is more liberal and competent than the Labour party.

Edward VII 1901 – playboy. Reign saw zenith of Liberal Party. Hm.

James I 1603 – united England and Scotland – don’t even GO there, the SNP will bay like prairie wolves.

Edward II 1307 – probably gay, which is good, but deposed and murdered, bad. 

Anne 1707 – died youngish after lots of miscarriages, was a bit jowly. Nah. Too close to the Bill of Rights for comfort.

Henry VIII 1509 – absolutist monarch who confiscated private property from his subjects, used fear to demonise religious minorities, constantly involved in sleazy scandal – hey, he almost makes us look good!  

The Tories meanwhile are probably holding out for 2013, which will be the six-hundredth anniversary of the accession of Henry V, victor of Agincourt, and de facto the monarch who gave the English language a royal seal of approval when he took his coronation oath in English, whatever Batty Aunt Hodge might think. Not many people know that.

For an authentically Lib Dem flavoured reign I think I’d plump for Edward III (1327-1377). Not only did he have a dark and anti-disestablishmentarian sense of humour (“I shall never again appoint a chancellor I cannot hang”), lose bets to Rose, his laundress (it’s true, it’s in the Patent Rolls), and re-mould the office of Justice of the Peace to allow more types of case to be tried locally and accessibly, but his reign oversaw the development of parliament as an institution that could answer back. In 1341, the plucky half-formed little Commons refused to grant him a tax to fund the French wars unless he listened to their grievances first, thus establishing a pattern of tit-for-tat that ultmately prevented the equivalent of the French Revolution in England. The Good Parliament of 1376 saw the first open rebellion in the Commons against the wishes of the Crown (with the tacit backing of some of the lords), and the appointment of the first Speaker.

You get exactly the same sense of the uncannily familiar in the economic and social fabric of the time. The Black Death killed possibly up to a half of the population in 1348, and killed off the new shoots again in 1361. That meant a sudden surfeit of land and no-one to work it, and the market – and the enterprising individual within it – duly got to work. People could suddenly be a little more choosy about who they worked for, how much they were paid - they got a taste of setting their own terms. Legislation attempting to deal with the situation by fixing wage rates was as much use as a pebble against a flood.  They negotiated their way out of the already archaic serfdom bonds so that by the time of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, the peasants in question were not so much downtrodden starvelings yearning to be free of their bonds as prosperous kulaks incensed at the idea that anyone should be able to order them around. The heightened individual wealth led to the first trends of conspicuous consumption among the mass of the population (and, predictably, the first laws attempting to curb it).

The period also saw the first highly amusing almighty database-style cock-up in the history of government administration. In 1371, a tax was to be collected for prosecuting the French wars (again), and for the purpose of working out how much each parish would need to pay, the number of parishes was estimated at45,000. Actual number? 8,000. The first clumsy fledgeling attempts at progressive taxation were made, with a scale ranging from 10 marks on the Duke of Lancaster down to a groat on the baldricks. The Bible was translated into English, the first gun was fired by an English army, the first English bankers jostled for business with the old Italian banking houses, most of the Inns of Court and a flood of Oxbridge colleges were founded to train up the administrative class - lawyers, priests and government ministers.

It really is possible to see the modern nation struggling to be born in the fourteenth century, and from this side of English history, the Tudors appear as a bit of a self-absorbed, absolutist, panicky aberration with control-freakish tendencies. But it’s written by the winners and all that, so their version of the medieval era has stood. They were, really, the original spin doctors. I’m sure I don’t need to, ahem, labour this too much more…

Well, there’s got to be some explanation for her shocking blitheness on the subject of seizing the property of innocent people on the Today programme this morning.

The context is a “crack-down” on drug dealers (no pun intended, presumably) but it goes beyond Jacqui’s other recent “crack-downs”, which normally just give the authorities responsible for cracking down the power to mutter “That’s disgusting” as they do so. No, this time, she wants the property of people being arrested on suspicion of dealing drugs to be seized at the point of arrest, before they’ve even been charged, much less tried. Here is the moment at which Thickie Smith reveals her mastery of the primacy of law and exposes the whole Labour agenda (once again) as the dangerous mumsy juggernaut it is.

Edward Stourton: You mention assets. Is it really true that you’re going to sieze the assets of people before they’ve been charged of any crime? Isn’t that contrary to a basic principle of British law?

Jacqui Smith: Well yes, so we’d get the law changed so that it’s possible.

And, er, if they’re innocent after all?

Oh, well, then they get them back of course! But people must see that drug crime doesn’t pay!

Hm, no, I see. Obviously doesn’t pay to be an innocent civilian either.

Can she be for real? Some day soon will we turn on C4 on a Monday night and encounter the following portentous voiceover:

Despite the new system of checks on cabinet members, our reporter was able to pose as a front bench minister for months on end and implement a series of attacks on the most basic liberties of the British public. As the bank accounts of the entire population of the UK are frozen by the government on pain of proof that no-one has been naughty in the last ninety days, we’re waiting, we can wait all decade if necessaryit’s so sad when one child spoils it for all the rest, Dispatches asks – how was this allowed to happen?

Or maybe I’m dignifying this woman too much. Perhaps instead at some point when she’s making a speech in what is apparently the House of Commons the camera will pull back to reveal a glitzy studio, screaming audience and various key figures from the light-entertainment industry.

“Tonight, Cat, I will be . . . the Home Secretary!”

Jacqui “Wimp-ass” Smith recently revealed a further segment of her not-so-secret agenda to turn the entire nation into wet-eyed clones of herself by clamping down on underage drinkers in the streets. Presumably her ultimate aim is to secure a society where she feels safe to go out at night because there are no other people in the world anywhere doing anything she doesn’t much like the look of.

As ever, with NuLabour, this is about aesthetics and prejudice, not about an assessment of the actual harm being done, and as ever, clamping down means giving the police extra powers to, er, do pretty much what they’re already empowered to do, that is arrest people engaging in anti-social behaviour and trace shops selling alcohol to underage drinkers but with more moral disapproval than before. They also get the power to take underage drinkers’ alcohol away from them. I’m sure they’ll just love that. Nothing the police like better than being asked to take on the role of parent-stroke-social worker.

This tendency to see public youth drunkenness as a problem in and of itself is dangerous. It has even hooked in the chair of London LDYS. It causes us to lose sight of the most basic liberal principle of all – who is harmed? I have nothing but scorn for the idea that young people drinking in public is innately any more dangerous, repellant or worthy of punishment than old people drinking in private – and that goes for underage drinkers as well (does anyone want to put their hand up to not having been an underage drinker?) If you stop underage drinkers from drinking, it has to be because you are convinced they are harming themselves and do not believe they are competent to decide to do so. I don’t care if you don’t like the appearance of it. I don’t care if you feel slightly threatened by it. Sorry, but I really don’t give a toss. Have the grace to admit that you’re afraid of Young People, Jacqui, Young People probably from the lower end of the social scale, and that’s all there is to it.

I have a jolly good mind to go and hang around outside the library swigging from a bottle of Merlot and shouting environmentally-aware abuse at 4×4 drivers (hell, it wouldn’t be the first time) and see what NuLabour does about it. For a start, do I still count as a young person? This will be the acid test.

This is simply staggering. Apparently Caroline “veins of” Flint is due to make an announcement which was probably intended, among other aims, to ratchet her Overall Fluffiness Rating back up to “barbed-wire spitting psychopathic ice witch”.

She will soon be announcing a shortlist of UK locations, some of which will be newly developed as “eco-towns”. The idea of these developments – involving the building of tens of thousands of carbon-neutral homes and the creation from scratch of whole new communities and infrastructures – apparently wasn’t news (it was news to the People’s Republic of Mortimer, but that’s because we have never bothered ourselves much about planning laws; everything is perfect here already, you see.) The “news” bit is the publication of (a) the full shortlist, including greenfield and protected sites and (b) if the Observer’s coverage is to be believed, some of the actual developers’ plans which have already been submitted to the government without local consultation.

Assuming, as I must, that this is actually legal, I really do find it hard to credit how anyone could have been so stupid as to believe this approach would work. The country’s first nationwide urban greening scheme - which is to include 40% social housing among its projected build - is now in the absurd position of facing down protest and petition from the likes of local retired headteachers, wildlife funds and other touchy-feely worthies from environmentally-concerned demographics (all right, and the inevitable CPRE) – exactly the sort of people who are supposed to be in favour of This Sort of Thing. The idea of an eco-town is visionary, exciting, a glimpse of a hoped-for future. Who in the name of arse was responsible for steering a course which would render it a looming statist monster-truck crushing local circumstances and opinion in its path?

This breaks my heart. It really does. It could have been a contender. Individual communities are capable of putting themselves to enormous trouble to pursue environmental goals with no state assistance. Yes, nimbyism is always a factor to contend with, but entrusting the grand aims of the project to public care would have worked to disable the kind of sulky powerlessness that is so often the hallmark of the obstreperous nimby. We might even have seen, eventually, the development of regional variation in eco-town planning that would have laid the foundations of healthy experimentation and competition in the future. As it stands, one of the excitement high spots of the story is a nasty whiff of conflict of interest involving a developer and the ubiquitous Blair (is he being cloned somewhere? because he is now associated with many more pies than a normal man has fingers). When statism fails even to promote a cause like this effectively, you wonder how anyone can be so purblind as to not see that it fails altogether.

The Department for Education, Skills and What-Have-You today announces the launch of a public consultation into the ethical issues surrounding use of the police DNA database, which contains 4.5 million profiles of both convicted criminals and innocent people.

I merely flag this up because the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it consultation will only last six weeks, by which time objecting liberals will just about have agreed (by poll conducted on Skype) on names, manifestos and constitutions for the protest leagues into which they will have voluntarily co-opted themselves in order to make a systematic impact on the consultation. Damn, they know us well. Up the Judaean People’s Front.

The Association of Chief Police Officers is clearly in no doubt that the purpose of the consultation is to establish a mandate for how the police use the  database:

The citizen’s inquiry will add to public understanding and will hopefully help develop broad agreement for the forensic use of DNA in the future

As ever this kind of statement is a double-edged sword: yes, a consultation is taking place, but will it ever be analysed for fairness, much less repeated, or will its results be used for ever after as a quasi-democratic justification for abuse of a database which contains (this is apparently absolutely true) 40% of the UK’s black male population’s DNA?

Expect to see a stepping up in security announcements and fearmongering over the period of consultation.

A happily conterminous sidelight on this story: yesterday it was confirmed that the one-offender-one-record database project supposed to track offenders through the system is being scrapped amid spiralling costs – this originally from August. Jack Straw’s comments to MPs afterwards (from an uncorrected oral evidence transcript, as I am required to make clear on pain of pain) are highly revealing of the classic statist blindness to the problems that inevitably occur with such over-arching projects:

Nonetheless, it is very frustrating that so many people, including the private sector, are taken in by snake oil salesmen from IT contractor who are not necessarily very competent and make a lot of money out of these things. I am pretty intolerant of this . . .

I think we all face problems . . . whereby unless we are total IT experts there is a danger of being taken in by snake oil salesmen.

Damn all this snake oil sloshing about everywhere, leaking all over NuLabour’s ten year plan to store everyone on a memory stick. People are so messy, aren’t they.

In other news, a totally unprecedented event has occurred. My epolitix morning bulletin carries a Liberal Democrat news story at the top of its list. And it is indeed the news that Clegg enters the PMQ lists today. I am almost as nervous as if I was actually going to stand up and do it myself, rather than be huddled up on the sofa with a cheese and pickle sandwich which is what I shall be doing.

Gordon Brown’s statement yesterday on the David Abrahams scandal has made everything perfectly clear. I’m afraid I don’t have it verbatim as I heard it on the news several hours ago:

It was completely unacceptable and cannot be justified by anyone, not even Chris Paul.

Something like that, anyway.

Top marks for this insight:

Later, Mr Miliband also warned that Mr Brown could lose the next general election unless the Government was seen to be effective and competent.


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