Different perspectives

I was recently returning to the House of Lords when I bumped into a Hull politics graduate outside the Palace of Westminster.  We stood chatting for some time.  The pavement was rather crowded and, as we talked, I saw among the crowd a member of the Cabinet trying to hail a taxi.  I could not help reflecting how typically British this was.

It reminded me of the occasion a few years ago when I was showing two Americans round the Palace of Westminster.  We were at the top of Westminster Hall when a (then) Law Lord walked past.  As it was a Law Lord I knew well, he stopped to chat.  As he left, I thought I should explain to my visitors who he was.  I pointed out that he was the equivalent of a member of the US Supreme Court.  Instead of looking impressed, they looked horrified.  ‘But where’s his security?’ they asked.   I explained that he didn’t have any and that he was probably on the way to the tube or to catch a taxi.  They were aghast.

Good job they weren’t with me some weeks ago when I was leaving the Lords late one night.   I bumped into Sir George Young, Leader of the House of Commons, stood at the bus stop in Millbank.  ‘Is this the result of the Government’s austerity measures?’ I asked.  ‘Oh no’, he said. ‘My bicycle has a puncture.’

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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15 Responses to Different perspectives

  1. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,
    First, it is notable, true and exceptional (not unique) this trait you mention. However, it is an economic trade-off sort of thing and must be set against the State Openings, Coronations and extremely restrictive gunlaws that are part of the larger picture. To have a context one needs to see a bit of the whole. I believe people should steer and tend their ships of state and so people correct a bit one way and then the other and it is a heathy thing.
    I would not want to embarass my mother with two sets of flawed memories at a long remove in time, but as I recall my mother and I were walking to our very modest home in London when I was a very small lad for whom the British Royal family were people in formal get I saw when we went to many Changings of the Guard or other events and they happened to come in public view. My mother was out with me and we were involved in some ordinary task and just beside a door in the an inner public place where people were a bit formal in front of it than usual but where there was an ordinary bit business going on . I watched and my mother chatted with a bystander briefly as we paid for some good or service and as we left my mother told me Princess Anne was the center of the very muted attention behind the door. I don’t remember either the details or the event clearly enought to make much of a story nor to verify it. But I left feeling that this side and the other formal one were together a sign of a House that was fairly secure. This was in 1969 or thereabouts when nothing seemed secure in culture at least as many reported events. Flexibility and adaptability are signs of vitailty.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank W. Summers III: The Royal Family, and the Queen in particular, have managed to adapt. It is notable that the institutions of the State that are generally trusted or are seen to be doing a good job are generally unelected bodies such as the monarchy, the army and the House of Lords.

  2. Jonathan says:

    Of course, Sir George Young was known as The Bicycling Baronet. He has a rather splendid photo of himself cycling through Hyde Park in the ’70s on his website:
    http://www.sirgeorgeyoung.org.uk/pages/biog3.htm

    I’m sure our Supreme Court justices are perfectly safe because, unlike in the US, few people know who they are! Inside the Palace of Westminster should be secure anyway, as anyone inside must already have undergone security checks. The worst that could have happened to your Law Lord is to receive a face full of foam!

  3. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,
    On thr matter of the Supreme Court’s recognizability I believe it has been a function of factors which have changed a great deal over time. In the scheme of things I would say far more than when I was a child.On the other hand even without television most Americans would have recognized Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Percentages would not be enormous today but theywould probably be above that for all but a relatively small number of Americans. When I was a small child I doubt that could even really have been said.

    Americans have lots of cars and alarm systems. We have security for the President and first family and mostly just for the governors themselves we are not very much provided with governemnt security for public officials with some exceptions. In terms of the President they serve for a maximum of eight years and not for life (with FDR being the exception). Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy were shot and died. Ronald Reagan was seriously wounded. While having five shot and four killed out of 44 or (45 depending on how one counts these things) is pretty awful at about 8.5 percent killed and about eleven percent shot one has to remeber that prior to Lincoln no attempt ever drew blood. Therefore if we subtract fifteen presidents then four of the last thirty or less have been killed and five serious shot.That means more than fifteen percent have been shot and killed. They are our Federal Heads of State and security is very bad compared to the Queen’s despite the mytholgy.This means that to be a modern US president is about the same violent casualty rate as the SAS, Spetnarz, SEALS and other units accept when operating in advanced positions in a combat zone. Arguable the American executive is the world’s most exlcusive and sustained shooting gallery…

    We combine this abysmal record with none of the benefits of the warrior head of state. We never have them in the actual field commanding troops. Perhaps because combat is safer and we don’t want them becoming spoiled….

    • Lord Norton says:

      Frank W. Summers III: It would be difficult to miss William Howard Taft! In terms of his recognition as Chief Justice, one can presumably ascribe that to his previous incarnation as President. He admitted he was far happier as Chief Justice than he ever was as President.

      In the UK, there has only been one British Prime Minister who has been assassinated: Spencer Perceval in 1812, who was shot by a deranged man in the lobby of the House of Commons. (That is roughly where the souvenir kiosk now is in Stephen’s Hall.)

      • Frank W. Summers III says:

        Lord Norton,

        I also think it is relevant to add that while British Kings were assasinated fairly frequently when they were elected before the Conqueror the rate was not higher than ours and the terms of service (I realize this term is no longer truly acceptable protocol even for Lords in the UK but all were constitutionally Servants of God for centuries) were longer and could only end in death. In the first centuries after English Conquest in both kingdoms a few assasinations occurred. Death in Battle and execution are quite different in this discussion of security and national confidence.

        Now allowing for my own dark and suspicious perspective let us allow that one or two Monarchs have been skillfully killed off that we did not detect for history — by the same token so may one President have been. In the world as I write this Qaddaffi is kept alive, the Duvaliers were kept alive while in office as were the following: Ferdinand Marcos, Boris Yeltsin, De Klerk, Mandela, Mao, Chang Kai Shek, Sun Yat Sen, Vaslav Havel, Tito and many others. I believe presidential protection is in fact something for which Americans should be deeply ashamed and yet it is a thing most are proud of as fanned by our Ministries of Truth.
        I also think this affects our politics as many Americans would really prefer not to be shot and killed.This is something they find entirely off-putting…

  4. tory boy says:

    I have seen Baroness Boothroyd outside Portcullis House getting onto a bus! She takes great pride in it stating how un-lordly she is!

  5. Rich says:

    At least as regards the Supreme Courts, I don’t think there is much of a difference. I remember a story from a couple of years ago about Justice Souter (now retired) being mugged while out jogging alone. Justice Breyer was injured in a bicycle accident at some point earlier, presumably also alone. For all the attention the US Supreme Court gets, the individual justices are able to toil in relative obscurity. Few Americans can name more than one justice (if that), and fewer still would recognize one.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Rich: Indeed, I think that could make for a good quiz question. How many members of the US Supreme Court can you name, and how many members of the UK Supreme Court can you name? It would be interesting to see how many people could name many or any without checking on Google or the respective court’s website!

      • Rich says:

        I was able to name all nine US and five UK justices (six if you count the one who hasn’t joined yet) off the top of my head. It would have taken a good deal of time to come up with the other five, but I think I could do it if I sat down and tried.

      • Jonathan says:

        Like Rich, I can name at least half of the UK Supreme Court justices, and probably more with a little thought. However, in my case I can’t name a single American judge!

      • Lord Norton says:

        Rich and Jonathan: This rather reminds me of the question posed in a quiz along the lines of ”Do you know who is…’ to which the answer that was given was ‘yes’.

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