Blogging a dead horse

Is a barrel of naked monkeys more fun than a barrel of hairy ones?


Lawrence Gray takes a look at Hansard and goes all gooey eyed about Parliamentary Democracy.


I've just come across Hansard on Line, the archives of the British Parliament. And as I have always learnt more from dusty archives than Twitter, I licked my lips and opened up the box to see what evil fluttered out.

I liked history at school. I find it odd that so many people find it dull. It does depend on what history of course. There is nothing duller than studying the passing of the UK’s 1867 Adulteration of Food Act, at least for a young lad wishing that British politics was still concerned with the activities of Erik Bloodaxe. I believe I got a B for an A-Level essay on the whole sorry history of how we persuaded bakers that padding out bread with sawdust was bad for people.


But frankly if you are a vegan, vegetarian, animal rightser, save the planetter, tree hugger, whole fooder, intermittent faster whose body is their temple, one really should delve into the annals of history to put it all in perspective and see the ebb and flow of the debates surrounding such choices. It might undermine your prejudices, or confirm them, but it will certainly make you aware of means and strategies for fighting your corner.

By the way, I’m all for animal rights, whole food, and as for saving the planet, it strikes me that if one does not, every thing else is something of a moot point. But as for Vegan! Restaurants should put up a sign saying, “Vegans Not Admitted.” It would save a lot of wasted time and eye rolling.


The point is though, knowing the evolution of ideas, institutions, habits, customs and ideologies, not to mention conflicts, really does make the world a much less threatening place, and makes one realise that one is in some great game of paper, scissors, rock and for the Proud-and-Out-Nerd, Spock.


The winning hand, can be the losing hand, especially if one persists in throwing the same play. And that’s something one learns from history, repeating it can some times win, some times lose, for timing, anticipation and the idiocy of one’s opponent all factor into the rich tapestry of existence. Ignorance of history is to be forever embittered and victimised and unable to move forward.

A bit of browsing of the debates on slavery over the years lets one see how important a bit of spin is for satisfying morality and venality in order to achieve a clear and moral goal. Where one cannot countenance the compensation of Slave holders for the loss of their Slaves, one might condone “relief” for those adversely effected by the destruction of the economy, many of whom did not own slaves but merely lived and worked within that community. And of course, the ex-slaves themselves would benefit from this “economic relief”. The reality was that slave owners were being paid for the demise of their plantations in the West Indies, but labelling it as “relief” somehow made it acceptable. Without such spin, slavery would have lasted much longer even if there was a certain amount of twitching moustaches.


What will surprise you, as you look through the records of British Parliamentary debate is that British parliamentarians were pretty good at discussing all manner of things, sometimes in witty and often in fine anecdotal detail. And they have been doing this since Alfred the Great was burning a few cakes.

If one starts checking out discussions on Privacy and Data Protection one can find oneself delving into discussions of the 1361 Justice of the Peace laws, laws that curiously enough still get used and abused. Peeping Toms and Eaves Droppers have been a worry forever it seems.


Debates on archaic legislation might not sound terribly exciting but they do add spice to the life of debates in the House of Lords, and give a real sense of a society consulting its accumulated wisdom instead of just throwing together rules and regulations to appease a momentary fashion.

Every so often people grow impatient of these delvings into the right means of moving history forward, and they throw away all this verbiage in favour of strong men of simple words and forceful action. The result is rarely long lasting and often horribly destructive. It often takes a lot of words to piece together a creative and dynamic society where many can participate and thrive. Rule by whim, whimsy, shallow narrow interests, rarely create a range of sensible and conformable laws and one only has to look at societies where debate is miserable, dangerous, or neglected, to find at best a dull mundanity and at worse, an unhappy fear.


So head off to:
https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard and delve around in there for subjects that you thought were modern obsessions. You will be surprised by what you can find.