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Sunday, 9 November 2008


Maybe by accident rather than design, I feel as if I have had a patriotic and possible celebratory couple of days. The Lord Mayor’s Show yesterday and now Remembrance Sunday have made this a fairly untypical couple of days.

Of course we should remember those who gave their lives in both World Wars and all the other conflicts where men and women have been sent to fight. There is no question about this, and it is a tribute to our armed services, veterans’ organisations and everyone else involved both nationally and locally that we have the level and seriousness of remembrance we have experienced today.

Yet I always feel uncomfortable watching the spectacle at the Cenotaph, especially now when Britain is involved in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq and has troops stationed in other parts of the world. Our country is still sending young men all over the globe to be slaughtered in some foreign field.

Only this morning the Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup, made the case for the war in Afghanistan on the Andrew Marr programme. It boiled down to this: since there is a vacuum is a dangerous part of the world, someone needs to make sure things do not get out of hand.

While I would not disagree with this, I would have thought Stirrups’s argument is grounds for full international co-operation. Even I, a Labour MEP with a history of anti-war activity, would concede that it is sometimes necessary to send troops to troubled parts of the world, especially when such action would help reduce terrorism and curtail the drugs trade. However, I do think the pain and suffering should be equally shared by all the countries who stand to gain.

Notwithstanding the fact that the City of London is not at all integrated into the rest of London government, the Lord Mayor’s Show is a great spectacle. I was fortunate to be invited to watch it by the Stationers and Papermakers Livery Company.

There has been a Lord Mayor of London since 1189, though it wasn't until 1215, when King John granted a Charter allowing the City's citizens to elect their own mayor, that the Lord Mayor's Show actually came into being. The Charter stipulated that the new Mayor must be presented to the Sovereign for approval and to swear fealty to the Crown, so each year the newly elected Mayor had to travel from the City to Westminster to pledge allegiance.

The Lord Mayor has been making that yearly journey for 784 years. The modern Lord Mayor's procession is a direct descendant of that first journey to Westminster.

On a weekend when war in Europe is on our minds it was interesting to reflect on the unbroken nature of British history and tradition. Never really having suffered invasion and revolution like most EU countries, events such as the Lord Mayor’s Show have survived more or less in their original form. The same applies to many of our organs of state and institutions of government. This can sometimes be a weakness rather than a strength.

While the current financial crisis is not the time to introduce constitutional reform, I would urge the Prime Minister to return to this sooner rather than later. While I would always wish to maintain the helpful parts of history and tradition, Gordon Brown would do us all good by dragging those elements in Britain which require it into the twentieth century.

1 comment:

Martin Meenagh said...

Mary, this is just embarassing. We've had eleven years of relentless reforms. We've had devolution. We've had the botched reform of the house of Lords which has nevertheless delivered a House more representative than the European Parliament and one that can hold itself up to the lobby fodder in the commons. We've had the system of appointing people like yourself to the European Parliament. We've had minimal freedom of information, crazy-mad terrorism legislation, and now we face ID card legislation even more illiberal than the restrictions on internet privacy Charles Clarke ordered you to vote for a few years ago.

Now, you've gone and seen a gold play-carriage and you've decided that something needs to be reformed and dragged into the twentieth century? Funny as letting you believe that we still are in the 1900s--as in that episode of the American Office where Jim convinces Dwight it's Friday, not Thursday--I just can't resist commenting.

The government here is planning to burn five billion pounds of money on ID enrolment centres housed under the wing of big monopolistic supermarket corporations whilst courts issue an order allowing people to die or allowing doctors to kill every other month.

For goodness' sake, use your position to draw attention to all this before everyone with any sense and any money left leaves the country.