Thursday, 29 April 2010

Nu-Labour Make History

Another of Labour’s celebrity supporters has given us the benefit of his wisdom. This time Eddie Izzard has been encouraging young people to vote Labour, under the guise of encouraging young people to vote. Underlining the importance of the ‘right to vote’, Eddie enthused about the Levellers and Suffragettes and the idea of universal suffrage.

Ah, history as seen through fantasy-tinted spectacles. Not quite in the same league as Jim Murphy’s historical revision concerning the closure of the Ravenscraig steelworks, Eddie is at least trying it on with events outwith the living memories of most of us. The problem for Eddie though, is that young people have not been out of school as long as he has. And unlike Eddie, they might not as yet, have forgotten what they were taught.

The Levellers did not advocate universal suffrage, for, despite the important role played by many women in the Leveller cause they only demanded the vote for all men over the age of 21 - with servants, beggars and Royalists being exempt. No doubt Eddie as enlightened as he is, would be willing to give servants the vote.
As for the Suffragettes? “More power to their bustles”, I would have said.
But you have to wonder what sort of legislation the excellent comedian’s present-day heroes, Gordon Britain and Alan Johnson, would come up with if faced with a group that promoted vandalism, arson, fire-bombing and attacks on politicians as a means to achieving their demands.

On the point of universal suffrage it should be remembered, or in this case – pointed out - that until the Representation of the People Act 1948, ‘plural voting’ meant that it was possible for people affiliated with a university to vote in both a university constituency (universities were represented in Parliament) and their home constituency, while property owners could vote both in the constituency where their property lay and that in which they lived, if the two were different. University-educated property owners could vote in three different constituencies. To vote in a university seat the elector had to have graduated from that university.
You might wonder what sort of argument could be made against ‘one person – one vote’.

Sir Alfred Beit, Conservative MP for St. Pancras, South-East, could. He argued that people would vote in the constituency where they lived and not where they had a business or at the university where they had graduated. This would reduce the electorate of the City of London to charladies and office cleaners who would then, one suspects, elect MPs of a working class persuasion. And if the electorate at universities was reduced it would mean MPs being returned on a poll of a few hundreds.
In the end, the char ladies and office cleaners did not topple the City of London. That was left to the avarice of the bankers much admired by Beit and his ilk. The vast majority of businessmen who lived above the shop noticed no difference.

As for universities, the idea that they should be represented in parliament at all is strange to say the least. This originated in Scotland, where the representatives of the ancient universities of Scotland sat in the unicameral Estates of Parliament. When James VI inherited the English throne in 1603, the system was adopted by the Parliament of England.
The idea that the chinless wonders, brain-dead yahoos and Soviet spies of post-war Britain, that some of these seats of learning accommodated with  third-rate degrees, should have more say than the rest of the population is even stranger.
The old ‘socialist’ Labour Party got rid of this nonsense, thereby denying the likes Brown, Cameron and Clegg more than one vote.

But then, whereas ‘Old Labour’ made history – Nu-Labour are happy to make it up.