Royal prerogative – a lesson from the swinging 60s

Back in 1964 the BBC ended up in the Court of Appeal over a spat with the Inland Revenue, in which Auntie decided that it qualified to be treated in pretty much the same way as the rest of the establishment by using the Royal Prerogative (RP) to trump a tax claim. Now, the RP has a bit of a chequered history, mainly due to the activities of one Charles Stewart, or Charles I if you prefer (the only monarch to end their reign approx 10 inches shorter than at the start). The Beebs legal argument came to naught, largely thanks to the memorably pithy putdown from Lord Diplock, who said: it was “350 years and a civil war too late” to allow for a broadening of the RP. Strangely enough, the Daily Heil didn’t come out against the noble Lord as an “enemy of the people” on that occasion (probably because he was putting the Beeb in its place?). But today we’re faced with Paul Dacre and his band of scribblers busily casting themselves as the enemies of the Rule of Law, which is a far more dangerous place to be – and one that not even Art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Oh, irony of ironies: how wonderful if he ends up having to hide behind that to defend himself!) will stretch far enough to cover his twisting of fact and inflated, yet baseless, opinions.

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Now let us praise the President-Elect…

As politicians – mainly on the right (or very-far-right) – line up to congratulate JD Trump, here’s a reminder from Auden where adulation for the abhorrent ends.

WH Auden Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after, And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

The prophetic voice from January 1939.

Royal Prerogative is a funny way of delivering democracy, isn’t it Mrs May?

Welcome news that the government can’t trigger Art 50 behind closed doors by claiming to use the pre-civil war powers of the sovereign. Back at my law school, we learned about the power of the courts in preventing the widening of prerogative powers, in the telling phrase of Lord Diplock in BBC v Johns that it is

350 years and a civil war too late for the Queen’s courts to broaden the royal prerogative

. A short, sharp reminder of the limits of the profoundly undemocratic power that the executive craves, but which judges can reign in as a defence against the untrammelled exercise of political power. The deluded Brexiters who rejoice that we’ve ‘taken back’ the country, now need to learn another lesson – that Parliament is the supreme law-maker and has the right to control the work of government ministers, particularly when they think it better to do shabby deals in closed rooms that will have a profound effect on our lives and the economy for years to come. An appeal would be most unwise, and a waste of public money.

55 – an age of wondrous new invitations…

Reaching 55 has led to an array of interesting offers and invitations: from hearing aid tests to pension drawdowns (Mr Osborne’s special gift to the middle-aged); not to mention Michael Parkinson and his free pen and ‘no questions’ life insurance policy. But of far more pressing need today is the invitation to attend my local NHS hospital for bowel scope screening.

Now, don’t get me wrong, colo-rectal cancer is a serious disease that affects a higher proportion of those 55 and older, but one particular aspect of it, as announced in the invitation, caused me to have a brief smile at a long-ago Viz cartoon strip.

The invitation, loving crafted on a standard NHS letterheading, came with a leaflet that explained the procedure before going on to tell me that I could watch the procedure on a monitor, if I so desired. And this is where Roger Mellie raised his head. In the late 80s cartoon, he was pitching an idea for a new TV programme – one that now seems oddly prescient. It was called <i>Up the Celebrity Arsehole</i>. Although he’s since reprised the concept for the X-Factor judges, in the original, Mellie’s idea is at first rejected as his producer tells him no celebrity would agree to be placed behind a curtain and given a stage-based colonoscopy that members of the public are then shown with the winner being first to guess the celeb’s identity. Mellie persists, however, and the final frame shows a man crouched on a table while Mellie urges ‘Mr Slattery’ to bend over further so they can get the camera in (reference to the ubiquitous TV personality Tony Slattery, although now TOWIE would probably provide a whole host of far keener ‘celebs’ willing to bend and pose.

So, this afternoon, I’m going to struggle to keep a straight face when asked if I want to see my ‘performance’ on screen: the revolution might not be televised, but the endoscopy very well might be – over to you Roger.

Tricky treats

Visited my local Specsavers branch this morning to collect my new specs. I was served by a dispensing optician dressed as a witch while her boss was swanning around in full Dracula-mode. Why has the daftness of trick or treat now started to infect the grown-ups at work?

Time in the Lakes

Got back last night from a couple of days in the Lakes. We stayed in Windermere, which I never used to like very much, mainly because of the traffic, but the hotel was clean and bright, with friendly staff.
Managed a couple of walks; on the first day the Coffin trail from Ambleside to Grasmere (where we had the obligatory afternoon tea – or coffee in my case).

Then yesterday, we took an Ullswater Steamer from Pooley Bridge to Howtown and walked back on the low level, mainly lake shore path.
From Pooley Bridge we went over to Penrith, not a town we’d visited before. A new shopping complex, the New Squares, was largely devoid of life, but home to a fair number of estate agents’ signs. For a town with a fair few rather imposing squares already, the new addition seemed rather bland – cream walls in place of the traditional stone; still, with a large Sainsbury as the obvious ‘anchor tenant’ the local worthies obviously expect great things of the development.
After the events of the past few weeks, the break was much needed and allowed me to recharge my batteries, and I also received an email from a prospective new client, which perked me up still further. Still, it’s a shame so much has been ‘monetised’ – 20p for a slash, with railway-style entry barriers standing sentinel at the entry to all public loos, and parking at £8.00 for anything over 4 hours, means spending time in the Lakes equates with spending a lot of money doing things that used to be free.

Typesetting – a dying art?

When I started work in the printing industry in 1977, type was still set using the ‘hot metal‘ process, and the job of compositor was key to the way words appeared on the page – in much the same way as they had for the previous 400-years.

Within a few years, however, type was set onto film or photographic paper (called ‘photo-setting‘). This proved to be short-lived, due to the arrival of computers and typesetting software, which allowed text to be made ready for printing in a fraction of the time taken by even the most skilled compositor.

Domination of the art by computer-based typesetting also met a swift decline with the advent of SGML, XML and HTML mark-up languages. The advantage here being that text ‘captured’ within the tags used for each of these processes can be used in print or online without having to be re-typed.

But, and it’s a big ‘but’, there is still a role for the hard-pressed typesetting compositor of yore. XML capture requires words in bulk, but some texts are destined for print that do not warrant the creation or in-depth application of XML etc tagging. There is, thankfully, work for the typesetter yet. Wonder how many apprentices are being trained in this essential work?

A private walk through public school grounds

Those dog-days of August can weigh heavy in some years. So it was, with a new academic year soon to start, I decided to play pre-term truant for a day this week and go for a walk around the Cumbrian town of Sedbergh. I’d vaguely heard of a public school of the same name, but didn’t know – until I arrived there – that the school pretty much is the town.

Sedbergh School, Sedbergh, Cumbria
Sedbergh School

It has been there since its foundation in 1525, so I suppose it has earned the right to flex its muscles a bit. After all, if the locals can’t afford to send their own kids there (and at £10,500 a year for boarders – after paying the £750.00 registration fee, buying the uniform and sundry other expenses – such as Combined Cadet Force annual camp fee – of which more later, the fees are on the steep side), a fair few earn their living from the place. The school is so intertwined with the town that the signposts mingle as well: one minute you’re looking at a sign for the Tourist Information Centre and the parish church, the next you’re being directed to the Bursary and Headteacher’s Office. There is also a fair degree of latitude when it comes to public footpaths, and I wandered along the edge of playing fields as the current crop of ruby-playing Sedberghians were learning how to beat next term’s opponents into a bloody pulp, and along the banks of the rivers Dee and Rawthey that mark the furthest extent of the school grounds. The ethos of the place proved to be fascinating too. Founded before the Reformation by Roger Lupton, a local man who became Provost of Eton and endowed the school with scholarships to St John’s College, Cambridge University, the school boasts strong links to the Church of England, with a chapel that is larger than many English parish churches. The prospectus throws up a few anomalies here, however. While all pupils have to attend chapel, and are encouraged to both sing hymns in a way that’s ‘strong and heartfelt‘ and allow themselves to be prepared for confirmation into the Anglican Church, they are also expected to sign up wholesale to either the Navy, Army or Air Force sections of the Combined Cadet Force as soon as they start Year 9 (13-14). In addition, those who play percussion or wind instruments are automatically enrolled into the school’s Corps of Drums. Exception from this Eton Rifles form of junior conscription is at the Head’s discretion and must be sought in writing by parents. All have to attend annual military camp – the bill being added to the last invoice sent to parents/guardians for the current school year. All in all, this struck me as a rather 1950s anachronistic playing out of the old cries of ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition‘ or ‘We come in peace, shoot to kill’.

Briggflats Quaker Meeting House
Briggflats Quaker Meeting House

A more peaceful alternative so such ‘robust’ (or even rather confused Christian theology) can be found nearby: the hamlet of Briggflats is home to England’s third oldest Quaker Meeting House, where peace is very firmly on the agenda, and lusty hymn singing most certainly not – the silence reigns supreme.

Howgill Fells above Sedbergh, Cumbria
Howgill Fells above Sedbergh, Cumbria

Sedbergh

Took the day off yesterday and went up to Sedbergh on the N Yorks-Cumbria border to explore ‘England’s book town and its Quaker past.I hadn’t been before, so the town nestling in a fold of the Howgill Fells, with its public school dating from 1525, which lies at the heart of the place, came as a surprise. Will be going back for more!
Sedbergh School, Sedbergh, Cumbria
Sedbergh School
Howgill Fells above Sedbergh, Cumbria
Howgill Fells above Sedbergh, Cumbria
Briggflats Quaker Meeting House
Briggflats Quaker Meeting House