Archive | December, 2014

Punks in Parliament

9 Dec

I don’t know if any honourable members listen to the so called Punk Rock music…they must influence human behaviour for the worse.

So spoke Jocelyn Cadbury, A Conservative MP in a debate on Law and Order in March 1982. Sadly within months Cadbury would be dead, having committed suicide. Many of his colleagues perhaps shared his views though on Punk. There have been several occasions where the British Parliament got Punk’d in its debates. More often than not the tone has been of abuse to other members. Like this from Nigel Lawson in a debate in July 1977 when he refers to the Chancellor ( Dennis Healey) as a Punk Rock version of the Right Honourable Member for Huyton ” ..  who was of course Harold Wilson. Healey waited 3 years to return the compliment. In the Budget debate of 1980 he called the Government ” Punk Monetarists “.

No it doesn’t really mean much to me either…or make much sense. Indeed John Biffen the Chief Secretary quickly retorted ” I felt that the judgement was coming from Johnny Rotten himself ” to which Russel Kerr quickly shouts ” Sid Vicious”.

That exchange is fairly complex. Healey believes there is something Punk about Monetarism , or rather the Governments monetarism as Healey was a fairly Monetarist Chancellor himself, but perhaps of the Prog Rock variety. But Biffen..its just a way to use the word Rotten as an insult isn’t it ? But good on Kerr. Getting the name Sid Vicious into Hansard, it will stay there forever. Not a tribute. Not an insult. Just the name as a way of insulting Healey. But Dennis…its probably a compliment.

3 years later Allan Rayers refered to the Government benches as Public School Punks. As if you couldn’t think of a better way of insulting Public School people than calling them Punk. Normally Wankers will suffice.

Even in 2000, John Redwood , that most astute social commentator and musician..oh yes you know his Welsh is very good. Anyway he called Peter Mandelson a Punk Thatcherite in a debate on Privatisation. Again its an insult that doesn’t really have much meaning. Jane Griffiths perhaps put in the best response , “an insult to Punks and Thatcherites alike“. But what of Punk itself , not as an insult. What of these Punks.

In 1985 there was a bizarre debate on Intoxicating Substances and the Glue sniffers. One MP Harry Greenway talks of shopkeepers wantonly selling glue to Punk Rockers, while he watched. When challenged the shopkeeper displayed his own Punk Thatcherism by telling Greenway that if they want to kill themselves who is he to stop them..( or not profit from it ). In the Lords, as one might expect, there have been less cause for Punk to be brought into debate. However the Earl Atlee ( son of ) made a moving contribution. During a debate on the metropolitan Police , Atlee tells of a friend of his who is a Punk, because he has incorrect hair colouring. This brings him to the polices attention despite him being a lovely chap. Indeed ‘ by their very nature genuine Punks are non-violent.”   You see not everyone is as confused as Jim Callaghan was in 1978. “ I tried to get the news on the radio, but all I could get was Punk Rock Music” which sound like the lyrics to an awful pop song.

Perhaps the most bizarre debate ever to involve Punk in Parliament occurred on the 14th of June 1977.

The debate was on Security at venues. Bruce George started to discuss the phenomenon of Punk Rock which makes security much harder. He goes on “as one who attended a number of concerts by Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent, who could be regarded as fore-runners of Punk Rock , perhaps I should not throw too many stones….there may be a danger to exaggeration but I have been to a couple of Punk Rock concerts…a Punk Rock record by the Sex Pistols has shot to the top of the hit parade..” George is interrupted by David Mudd. Mudd takes the debate into a strange corner. He believes The Kirchin Band ( no me neither) were Punks real fore-runner, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Now I haven’t heard of the Kirchin Band but apparently they were experimental but not sure they were Punk. But here we have two MPs debating the fore-runners of Punk in the HOuse in 1977. How weird is that ? It didn’t last , Kenneth Marks a Junior Minister came back for a snide. ..”the whole idea is against the establishment and the adult population..groups such as the Clash refer to urban decay..Mick Jones once claimed that he never lived below the 17th floor though his fellow guitarist Mr Joe Strummer went to public school..”

Where to start..notice Strummer gets a Mr, against the whole adult population ? Remember 1977 …Urban Decay was everywhere..

Oh well back to normality.

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Thorpe and the lost weekend…

5 Dec

British politics has attracted some odd people over the years. None perhaps odder than Jeremy Thorpe. Remember this , as some MPs are currently trying to avoid the real issue ( as he did as well ) , as Menzies-Campbell is talking of his “ enforced resignation..” as Clegg is reminiscing, even as more scandal and tales may come out, remember Thorpe is one of the most scandalous and devious leaders there ever was.

I predict many will try and sidestep the issue that Thorpe was in trouble because of his sexuality. He wasn’t then and isn’t now. There’s more to it than that. There had been a rather Father Ted-esq incident of electoral expenses resting in his account, a directorship of a failed bank , the potential cover up of Smith, the sexual relationships …and then the conspiracy to murder charge. Thorpe in his awful memoirs concentrates on the legal performance, never really addresses the charge and it reads like a dull law report. The rest of the book reads like a dull memoir.

Thorpe played a role in one of the oddest episodes of 70s politics though. British politics lost weekend in March 74. Heath in Number 10, hoping to cobble a majority together with the Liberals, while Wilson (whose Labour party had the most seats) sat outside. Patiently telling anyone that he wouldn’t form a coalition with anyone else and leaving Heath to “swing in the wind”.

What went on between Thorpe and Heath however is unclear. Thorpe claims to never have asked for coalition and never raised offices. Heath heard something different. That gossip of old, Clark writes of an offer of the Home office. He also believes the special branch dossier would have been clear about Thorpe’s personal life. What is clear is that Thorpe asked for PR but had no real strategy for achieving it. Steele, who was his chief whip ( and was more guarded in his own memoirs on Thorpe’s personal issues), knew nothing of Thorpe’s visit to Number 10 until he heard it on the radio …and also that he was going too.

A more rounded view of the negotiations, and it is clear they were, comes from the Armstrong memorandum. Robert Armstrong head of the private office and key contact with the Palace. Armstrong gives a tale of broken telephones, lunches at the giulietta romeo in Soho, more lunches, the wonderful “it was not a happy occasion “comment about a leaving drink. However the real thing is that the Liberals were completely underprepared in how to negotiate or what to negotiate for, had no strength or proposals and the Conservatives understood the stark reality that without the numbers you’re doing something other than “swinging” in the wind.

Heath was clearly advised by Armstrong to offer a cabinet post to Thorpe and maybe one other this was offered and Thorpe discussed the favourite 70s parrot of a grand coalition.

Thorpe backtracks after the meeting and puts electoral reform above the economy and wants Heaths head as the price of coalition. Heath doesn’t give much ground in the next meeting but offers the wet lettuce of a speaker’s conference on electoral reform.  And there it ends…Thorpe had no blueprint and no mandate from his party. How different 2010 seems in comparison.

References

Alan Clark The Tories

Jeremy Thorpe In My Own Time

Davis Steele Against Goliath

Robert Armstrong’s Events Leading to the resignation of Mr Heaths Administration March 1974 from the National Archives.

Peter Hennessy Muddling Through.