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The Adventure of Daniel Hannan and the Princes in the Tower Paddy Ashdown: "The House of Commons is a lapdog, not a watchdog"


NewsHubSince Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy…
Daniel Hannan, as I’ve noted in the past, has an awkward habit of deleting his tweets. Often, by a strange coincidence, it’s the more embarrassing proclamations that vanish into the ether – no explanation, no, “Apologies, friends, I buggered that up didn’t I?” The tweet simply vanishes as if it had never been tweeted.
I’ve taken, then, to screenshot-ing some of the best morsels, just in case they’re not there the next time I look. Here’s one now:
Funny thing about that tweet is that Danny Boy has not, at time of writing, deleted it. Despite the fact he was tricked into embarrassing himself by a mean-spirited Remoaner, it’s still sitting there on the internet looking for all the world like its author is not crippled with embarrassment at the fact he could have been such a dunderhead as to write it. Two things are wrong with it, one relatively small, the other so huge as to be all encompassing.
The small one lies in the choice of monarchs. Not all of them are unreasonable: Henry VIII famously broke with the Catholic Church in his search for a divorce, an heir, and a quick bonk with Anne Boleyn. Since that meant an end to the period in which the English crown was answerable to a higher authority in the form of the Pope, we’ve already been treated to umpteen “Britain’s first Brexit” articles, and they’re not soon likely to stop – all this, despite the fact the big man liked to go around telling people he was also the King of France.
Similarly England spent much of the reign of his daughter trying to avoid being swallowed by the Spanish Empire, so it’s probably fair to suggest that Elizabeth I wasn’t a big fan of European integration either. George V, though, was closely related to – indeed, shared a face with – half the other head of states in Europe during his time on the planet, so what he’s doing there is anybody’s guess.
The truly vexing inclusion, though, is Edward V. Is Daniel Hannan really saying that a boy king who reigned for 79 days and was murdered by a wicked uncle at the age of 12 had serious concerns about the European project? Was it the damage that the Combined Agricultural Policy wrought on developing world farmers that Edward was brooding about in his tower? The money wasted on repeatedly moving the European Parliament between Brussels and Strasbourg? What?
@JonnElledge To be fair, if you’d ask the Princes in the Tower if they wanted to leave or remain, I’d bet they’d vote leave.
— Chris Cook (@xtophercook) December 29, 2016
Okay let’s be charitable and assume it’s a typo, presumably for another of Henry’s kids Edward VI. (It certainly wasn’t Edward III who spent much of his reign trying to get into Europe, by kicking off an endless war with France.) But the bigger problem here lies not in the specifics of Daniel’s answer, but in the fact he bothered to answer at all. The entire exercise is entirely ludicrous. It’s like asking for Theresa May’s position on the dissolution of the monasteries, or Jeremy Hunt’s proposals for tackling the Black Death.
The question is an ahistorical nonsense – not just because the European Union was invented in the late 20th century to deal with problems specific to a particular time, but because it misunderstands how England’s role in Europe has evolved over the centuries.
For the first five hundred years or so after the Conquest, the nations of the British Isles were a key part of a western European political system that included France and the Low countries. Until it lost Calais in 1558, indeed, the English Crown generally held territory in France.
The idea that the United Kingdom, as the state became, was with Europe but not of it – that its destiny lay on the high seas, not the continent – is a notion that’s core to Eurosceptic mythology, but one which didn’t emerge until the imperial era. Exactly when I’m not sure (unlike certain Conservative MEPs I’m not afraid to admit my ignorance, which is what makes us better than the animals and egg avatars). However you count it, though, the period between then and 1973 must make up a minority of England’s history as a nation. For most of its history, the idea that the England was somehow not properly “European” would have seemed crazy.
Actually, there was one major European project which a king of both England and Scotland kept us out of, a policy decision confirmed by his successors. That project was a key plank of French foreign policy, grew to encompass more far flung countries like Sweden, and was launched largely to prevent the Germans from getting above themselves. It was the Thirty Years War.
But is James I & VI on Hannan’s list? Is he b*llocks.
If Westminster is, as Andrew Neil termed it, “a tiny, toy-town world beyond the reach of most of us,” then the House of Lords is that rare, discontinued train set, whose eBay bidding chain is made up of collectors with money to burn.
Arriving at the peer’s entrance – of course it has more than one entrance – the tall man in the tailcoat on the front desk asks: “If sir wouldn’t mind waiting in the lobby, please.” His sentence structure is as strange as his use of the third person. Several coat pegs have «reserved» written above them and the ceremony of the place is forthright.
Lord Ashdown, though, appears unfazed.
After a brisk march through a few echoing corridors, during which not one person says hello to him, the former Royal Marines captain gestures towards an enormously long table flanked by just two leather chairs. Ashdown was created a Life Peer in 2001 and has been an outspoken constitutional critic of the second chamber ever since; which begs the question, then, why did he accept the title in the first place?
He prefaces a confident answer with a shrug. “I came into this place to get rid of it. How else can you get rid of something unless you’re in the right place to vote to get rid of it, or at the very least for its reform? I think it is an affront to have an undemocratic second chamber. The principle of democracy is that those who make the laws have the power to do so because they have been conferred through the ballot box.”
While Ashdown might resent what he calls the “creature of the executive”, he isn’t entirely against all of that creature’s comforts. “I suppose if you want to keep it then alright, all this gold-plated stuff isn’t too uncongenial; but far too many of their Lordships get their feet under the table and lose whatever radical principles they had before. They get so seduced by being called Milord every other second that they want to keep the place going.”
So what should the second chamber look like, according to Ashdown? “My view is that it should be elected as it is elsewhere in the world. It should be geographically based, it should be based on regions, and it should be elected on a term different from the House of Commons. It should be elected by proportionate representation and if it was then it would have a wider diversity of people.
“Of course, the Commons has primacy but that doesn’t mean that it should have absolute primacy. This place does some of its job well; it’s a good revising chamber but it’s very bad at holding the government to account.”
The investment manager Gina Miller told the New Statesman last year that in campaigning to block the Conservative government’s move to invoke article 50 without reference to the Commons, she was “doing the Labour party’s job.

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