I am not sure if it is me just getting more irritable or if standards in the media are slipping (I appreciate the two are not mutually exclusive), but I get irritated whenever I see a story in which a reporter writes ‘lead’ for led or in which three or four things are listed followed by ‘and the latter’ (latter can only be used when there are two options). However, most irritating is the way in which headlines are constructed. Syntax is clearly a problem for some writers: ‘he opened the door in his pyjamas’. A good example today is the strapline: ‘Secrets of a Police Marksmen, Channel 4: Tony Long recalls his career and the five people he shot in documentary’. Either they meant ‘Tony Long recalls in this documentary his career and the five people he shot’ or it is a documentary that will have the police rushing to make an arrest.
On the BBC Today programme this morning, Baroness Grey-Thompson was interviewed about this year’s Paralympic Games, but she was referred to throughout as Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. This is not the first time a Baroness has been referred to as Dame. It has happened before with Baroness Grey-Thompson and with Baronesses Bakewell and Neville-Jones. They were dames before they were ennobled, and it is always possible that the interviewers are not aware of their elevation to the peerage. (Somewhat odd if that is the case given that it is six years since Tanni Grey-Thompson joined the Lords.) Either that, or some presenters at the BBC simply don’t know the difference between a Dame and a Baroness.
I have never noticed a peer who was previously a knight being referred to as Sir.
In an earlier post on my participation at the Judges’ Summit held at the Vatican on Human Trafficking and Organised Crime, I promised to publish more pictures of the occasion. These are some of the official photographs. The one on the right shows me in contemplative mood. To my right are Baroness Butler-Sloss and District Judge Christopher Prince. To my left is a Japanese judge: if he appears to be young, that is because he is, a product of a career judiciary.
The picture on the left shows me signing the declaration deriving from the Summit. All the British participants signed, but with reservations about two of the articles. The final picture (above right) is one of the official pictures of the participants. It was a well attended summit, attracting judges and lawyers from around the globe. As I mentioned in the earlier post, I was the only political scientist attending. I think I can be easily spotted…
Yesterday, I and my colleague Lord Parekh were installed as Honorary Freemen of the City of Kingston upon Hull. It was a remarkable honour in its own right, made all the more so by the fact that very few people have been accorded the freedom of the city. Those that have been include Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and, earlier last century, Thomas Ferens (the subject of my Founder’s Day Lecture last year). The award recognised the link between university and city and the fact that Lord Parekh and I have between us almost eighty years of service to the university.
My appointment was proposed and seconded by former students of mine and the citation was extremely generous, noting that the freedom was conferred ‘in appreciation of the eminent and valuable service rendered by him to the City in the fields of constitutional affairs and the British constitution, and in recognition of the high esteem in which he is held across the political spectrum as one of the United Kingdom’s foremost constitutional experts, enhancing the prestige of our University in Parliament and encouraging generations of his students in a deep appreciation and understanding of the political arts, to the great advantage of Kingston upon Hull.’
The ceremony itself was impressive occasion.
As to the question I have been most asked, no, I have not acquired the right to herd my sheep through the city.
I spoke in two debates in the Lords this week following the EU referendum on 23 June. One point was common to both speeches. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we had a debate on the outcome of the referendum. I was speaker number 105, out of 115, but I like to think I still had something to add to the debate. I was at least the only speaker to cite Anthony Downs, A. V. Dicey, and the ruling of the Chairman of Ways and Means, Sir Robert Grant-Ferris, on 29 February 1972. In the speech, I developed three themes, on the referendum campaign, the referendum result, and whether primary legislation was necessary to trigger a notification under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.
The point I made about the referendum was that while it may not be binding, in that there is no statutory obligation on government to trigger an Article 50 notification, it is misleading to refer to it as advisory. During the course of the debate, some peers were arguing that as it was advisory, and as only a minority of the total electorate had voted for the UK to leave the EU, we should consider ignoring the result or hold a second referendum. I was keen to knock this idea on the head. We invited electors to vote on whether to remain in or to leave the EU. The majority who voted went for the leave option. That is a result which there is no legal obligation to fulfil, but where there is clearly a political obligation. The distinction is one recognised by Dicey. We cannot apply rules retrospectively. If we wanted a threshold requirement, we needed to stipulate that at the time. I raised the issue of a threshold on second reading of the EU Referendum Bill, but there appeared no appetite to pursue it. We therefore were left in a situation where a simple majority suffices. That may not be desirable, but it is the reality.
I returned to the point the following day, when Baroness King of Bow (Oona King) had a question for short debate, asking the Government whether it had made an assessment of the case for a second referendum on membership of the EU. She said she was making the case for a later referendum once the terms of exit were known, but her argument was based on the outcome of last month’s referendum, in effect arguing that the electors had got it wrong. In my short speech (given the number of speakers, we only had three minutes each), I reprised various of the points I made the previous day, but stressed that rerunning the referendum would convey the impression that the political class was not prepared to accept what the electors had decided. That would undermine trust in the political process when that trust is already fragile.
There may be a case for a referendum later when the terms are known (though there is a debate to be had as to what the question would be, and whether a binary question would suffice), but to challenge the result of last month’s referendum is naïve and dangerously so. We may not like it, but we have the result and we have to stick to the rules as they existed and were understood by the electors.