Thursday, May 13, 2010

Change, Democracy, Pomp And Police

Over here in the UK we've now had our change of Prime Minister and government and, for the first time in my life, I've watched the events and proceedings with a certain sense of optimism and hope about the state of British politics.

I drove home from work on Tuesday night and listened to the radio. The friendly but slightly arrogant presenter told us that the negotiations between the conservatives and the liberals looked to be almost at their conclusion, that there would possibly be an announcement that night on a coalition government. At worst the feeling was that things would be sorted by Wednesday morning, even the barrage of "experts" being interviewed every few minutes agreed with this.

I got home, did a poo, as a man does, then did some sit ups and relaxed. Then I turned on the TV and, lo and behold, my expected trip to Albert Square, E20, to watch Eastenders was rudely interrupted by all sorts of fascinating shenanigans representing many of the good things about Britishness and not a few of the (m)/(b)ad.

Gordon Brown was just leaving Downing Street and heading off to Buckingham Palace to tell the Queen that he was resigning. His timing could have been better. One can only hope the Queen doesn't watch Eastenders or she would have been as pissed off as the rest of us. As I listened to the commentary it became apparent that he'd decided to do this before the conservatives and the lib dems had formally agreed on anything, an interesting twist, maybe his last attempt at some sort of a powerplay.

His car was swanked by a couple of Police bikes and a few cars and they stopped the traffic with the ease and seamlessness that most people who've lived in London will have witnessed many times. It's a highly effective sort of relay in which one to three of the Police bikes go ahead, stop traffic at the next couple of junctions, then let the VIP through and overtake his car and repeat the whole process.

I've heard stories that in some countries, even when it's not so much a VIP but more a distant relative of a slightly VIP (cerno would call them a DROASVIP), the whole area is closed down for a period of several hours to let the person through and this happens many times a day because so many people want to be seen as important. Well we have none of that over here, where British understatement and head down behaviour is all the rage, not that we have rages.

It was funny to watch. The pomp and circumstance that is part of our monarchy, the way in which Gordon had to officially go and see the Queen to tender his resignation. The helicopter camera followed his five minute journey and then other cameras showed him entering the Palace. After that we waited and the TV anchormen, desperately seeking things to say while we all waited, speculated on what exactly the Queen would say to him and how long things would take.

The level of detail that the presenters talked about was astounding, yet I couldn't help find myself being caught up in it and being interested in things that, on balance, probably weren't relevant to the running of a country.

My mind, and you won't be surprised about this, went on a wild extrapolating spree. I wondered if the Queen would have made some sandwiches for Gordon, if he might have asked to use the toilet before he left. Would she, at the end of the meeting, ask if he wanted to stay for some pot luck? And, seeing as he did work for her really, would she accept his resignation and, if so, what sort of reference would she give him?

Some time later he left, clearly not being asked to stay for dinner, he'd probably stop off at an Indian and get a takeaway on the way home, not that he had a home anymore. I thought this was a bit thoughtless of the Queen to be honest, but then she's not Sri Lankan and she might have been keen to see Eastenders, which was on hold until things had finished. She may have let him use the phone at the Palace to ring the Indian and order his food, that would have been the decent thing to do.

As his car pulled out of Buckingham Palace the commentators remarked on two things that were so British and insignificant yet strangely important. The first was the fact that the guards at the Palace saluted Mr Brown when his car entered the gates but then, when he left, they also saluted him, which they shouldn't have done.

Our esteemed commentators told us that it was correct protocol to salute the Prime Minister but he left as a common man and therefore didn't warrant a salute. Perhaps they had decided to throw protocol to the wind and act a bit madly. In royal circles giving a chap a salute he's not entitled to is like dancing the baila with your sarong folded up at the back to reveal your bum to everyone; a little bit crazy and mad but something we've all done.

The second thing was along the same lines. He arrived with the aforementioned Police escort and outriders but leaving as a civilian meant that he wasn't entitled to all of that. So he exited the grounds of Buckingham Palace being driven in his car with no privileges whatsoever. The helicopter footage showed his car on its own with no entourage, getting stuck in traffic and queuing with the rest of the plebs, most of whom were travelling home blissfully unaware of who was sitting in the back of the car next to them.

After that was all done it was the turn of David Cameron, the leader of the conservatives and now our new Prime Minister, to do the same thing, but in reverse. He turned up at the Queen's house in his solo car, battling through the London traffic like any civilian, to "be invited" by Her Maj to form a government.

I reckon this "be invited" terminology was an interview of sorts. She probably asked him about his previous jobs, why he left them, what his strengths and weaknesses are, that kind of thing. Of course whether he lives locally and if he's ever run a country before would have been taken into consideration very seriously and they might have haggled over the salary a bit, maybe Cameron held out for a slightly higher specification car or a longer lunch break.

Finally, before offering him the job, she would have asked him about his personal interests, what level of badminton he actually plays, just to establish if he'd bullshitted on his CV, standard stuff.

Whatever happened it was enough for the Queen to give him the job and the new Prime Minister left, with Police escort. I can't recall if the guards saluted him, but he headed to Downing Street where he gave a quick speech and went in, presumably to meet his new staff. His wife was with him. I guess she wanted to have a look, see where the hoover's kept and what redecorating she wants to do, that kind of thing.

Why am I optimistic?

Well I'm not a fan of the conservatives per se. But most people I've encountered have expressed exasperation with Gordon Brown and the labour party. It hasn't helped that Brown isn't a charismatic looking leader, if he went out on the pull with Bill Clinton and Tony Blair it's a safe bet that he'd be the one going home alone at the end of the night.

On the other hand, while it seems so many were disillusioned with labour and Brown, there weren't many who strongly backed one of the alternatives. I was one of these types; a fundamentally labour person who had doubts if labour under Brown was the right choice but didn't want the conservatives in and didn't think the Lib dems would get in anyhow.

What we've got, with a little bit of wind in the right direction, could just be a government with hints of everything good. At the very least, in my world that is, it's a government that seems to reflect what the public wanted, except those people who wanted labour.

As the bloke who fixed my watch said; time will tell.

And it all dragged on for so long that they postponed Eastenders.


PseudoRandom said...

Your cautious optimism is shared by many! I'm quite excited, even though Tory Immigration policy (when they finalise it) might make it much more difficult for people like me to get a job in the UK.

As for Gordon Brown's timing, I think his resignation was trigged by the phone call from Nick Clegg, saying that their deal with the Tories was definitely going through. So if anyone's to blame for the Queen missing Eastenders, it'd be Cleggy.

But here's a thought: maybe she Sky+'d it? One must keep up with the latest technology, you see.

Charlene said...

A little of the euphoria I felt election night in 2008. The feeling that we had gotten rid of GW and he winner was not a Republican, was wonderful.

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

Charlene - I think it's much closer to the cautious optimism, as PR says in the above comment, than euphoria. We're not kken on euphoria over here in Britain, unless it's football related!