I am working my way through Quigley’s tome, Tragedy and Hope, as we travel and in our spare time. I’m on page 504, about 700 to go. It’s a pleasurable reading experience, hardly a beach book but written in such a readable style that it flows smoothly.
Part of what I picked up, and this was quite a few pages back (in a book written in 1965), is the notion Americans have that our political system is similar to Britain’s. Nothing could be further from the truth, says Quigley.
For one thing, very little is codified in Britain – there is no constitution, but rather a tangle of conventions and power centers. “Conventions” are not laws that can be enforced or interpreted. The centers of power ebb and flow. At times, corporations that invested overseas during the zenith of empire have run the show, while at other times, such as now, London banks have an upper hand. The monarchy has power, but has to stay within its bounds, as they can just as easily be dispensed with. However, the other centers can resort to the monarchy to achieve some goals, perhaps just as political cover. That’s not clear to me – I don’t know if her majesty is really any more than a pretty nice girl.
The most stable governing force is the aristocracy, a few hundred families. The most important of these send their children to Eton or Harrow, while others settle for Cambridge or Oxford. Those credentials are necessary to enter the church, legal profession, judiciary, House of Lords of course, but even the House of Commons. Very few enter the lower house without credentials.
The “education” they received is not at all as we perceive it – it is not vocational, a training of intelligence nor a pursuit of truth. It merely reinforces a moral outlook, class structure, leadership, and the British idea of sportsmanship.
I was looking for similarities in our system, and have always assumed the our Senate was derived from the House of Lords. Not so. The House of Lords has veto power over everything, and can interpret anything to its own liking. They are not subject to ballots. This is far more similar to our Supreme Court than a legislative branch.
The most powerful legislative force is the Cabinet, always comprised of the aristocrats. It is there that laws are written. The House of Commons is a rubber stamp. The cabinet can override anything it wants. However, certain matters are referred to the lower house for public discussion to gauge public reaction. So the recent vote to not attack Syria was not binding. However, the Commons determined that the public mood would not tolerate another war, and so were allowed to vote against it. They really cannot make their own decisions. That’s all for show. That vote had no legal power.
It appears that there is no “legal” authority there. Technically anyone can access the courts for redress. In reality, everyone knows better. Technically the members of the House of Commons appoint the cabinet. In reality, that is predetermined by the leaders of the parties in power, and there is no ballots cast for leadership. There is no free press or speech, no Bill of Rights. It’s a system that relies on tradition for its sustainability, as there are no formal public contracts.
Quite a mess, but it seems to work. As we dispense with our own constitution and Bill of rights, people often invoke fascism or Hitler. More likely we are drifting back to the ways of our mother country.