Tradition’s undoing

Quaint customs and outmoded forms of address have had their day – they’re as passé as Parliamentary sleaze. Kasper de Graaf urges wholesale reform

In 1981, Punch published a cut-out-andkeep ‘Charlesand- Diorama’ by Steven Appleby. With this you could, at a stroke, excise centuries of architectural philistinism by placing a mask around your head that displayed the world as even then we knew our future king would like it. This was useful for the thousands thronging to see the happy couple arrive at St Paul’s Cathedral for their fairytale wedding. Gone were the glass-and-concrete buildings of Paternoster Square. Not a glimpse of the Lloyd’s building. No need to cut out the wobbly bridge – it hadn’t been thought of yet.

We knew from awkward interviews that ‘love’ was a troublesome idea for the young prince. The fairytale that drove him – then as now – was his passion for tradition and enduring values: good (in the eyes of many designers) when it comes to organic food and saving the planet, bad when it comes to rejecting contemporary design in favour of faux-Edwardian constructs.

Tradition scores highly in the British psyche, even among progressives. We’re deeply attached to freedom of speech, religion and trade, trial by jury, the FA Cup and Noel Edmonds at Christmas. But by a process of attrition that’s finally come to a head, tradition has come to threaten the enduring values it supposedly embodies. ‘The Honourable Member’? Hah! ‘The Noble Lord’? Who’s that? When I visited Portcullis House in London last week (to put in my ha’porth on design and procurement, a subject much trickier than saving the nation), change was in the air.

Not in the David Cameron sense – ‘You’ve been in long enough, it’s my turn now’ – no, more a fear that democracy is on the line. Don’t think it’s just expenses reform, only radical redesign will do.

So never mind the acres of broadsheet comment, DW is the place for tips on how to save us from Nick Griffin in Downing Street and Nigel Farrage making Europe drive on the left and drink warm beer.

What’s required is instant destruction of the fairytale by our democratic representatives, with cherished symbols first in line. No more funny clothes for Mr Speaker or Black Rod. No more ermine for their Lordships.

Get rid of the Chiltern Hundreds and all the quaint customs that are totally counterproductive now. Ban the little ways we have of separating people from each other with forms of address. Tell our Sirs and Lords and Ladies that they can sport their possibly well-earned honours with letters after their name, but henceforth they’ll be known as plain Mr and Ms. That goes for press barons too: plain Mr Harmsworth, not even ‘The Hon’. Forget ‘Your Excellency’, ‘M’Lud’ and ‘Your Grace’. Most citizens have no clue about the subtle nuances of these things. They’re part of a fable loved by a near-extinct tribe and its reform is half a century overdue.

Embrace transparency and link MPs’ pay to senior Civil Service grades, rising with age and length of service. Abolish the payroll vote by not paying ministers extra. Set limits for external income and for accommodation in London.

Unelected parliamentarians are no longer an option: set up a second chamber elected by local councils and devolved assemblies with a clear remit.

Then put the whole thing to a referendum, three months before the election. Just another fairytale? Sure, but better that democrats demolish the house of cards than letting popular disgust take its course. Just look at Silvio Berlusconi and think: hell, that could happen to us.


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