Friday 28 November 2008

Honouring Lenthalls Legacy - a challenge to all our Politicians

Nick Robinson has very decently recognised the anger and concern on all sides over the Damian Green story, a great deal of which had been expressed in the reaction to his own blog earlier today.

As others have done, he has called to mind the famous words of speaker Lenthall in 1642, who defended the Sanctity of the House in the face of the King (a precise analogue of the situation today which becomes chilling when you consider it). When challenged to surrender some MP's who had displeased the King the speaker answered

"May it please your Majesty, I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me, whose servant I am here."

Lenthall uttered these words from his knees, simultaneously honoring his King and asserting his wider duty to his Peers and the people they represented.

In a country without a written constitution, his words and his story can never be repeated too often. From boom to bust, at peace or at war, Britain remains a beacon of democracy precisely because it is a fundamentally decent nation in which people show good humored forbearance of almost everything and every one - provided that nobody threatens their individual or collective freedom to do so. That is why Britons (of all races) are so often able to demonstrate the curious paradox of being both loyal and outspoken at the same time.

And that is why the Damian Green story is so shocking, and why the country and Parliament has a right and a duty to demand satisfaction in the matter.

If Nick Robinson and others are correct, that the outrage at these events goes beyond mere politics, then all of those involved have an important and immediate task which goes beyond their party or political loyalties and to the heart of "Britishness" - to borrow a phrase from Gordon Brown.

First, Damian Green himself must consider, as I am sure he has, whether there is any issue or detail in his conduct which - if it were made public - would result in trust in his office being diminished (whether or not such a detail would cause any prosecution to succeed is irrelevant). If there was - and I have no reason to think there is - then of course he must not prejudice himself by revealing it, but the decent thing to do would be to resign his office and conduct his defence in the proper place. In the fullness of time the Public would think all the better of him for it.

But if there is no such detail or issue, as everybody seems to suggest, then for all of those who cherish our democracy, whatever race, creed or political allegiance the time has come to make a stand just as speaker Lenthall did all those years ago. The matter must be brought to the front of the public conscience, in the press and in Parliament (by means of a motion if neccesary). The Police must be forced to disclose fully the decision making that led to this outrage upon the Nation, and the Civil Service and the Ministers they serve must do the same. This process must happen without delay and the disclosure that results must be immediate, comprehensive, and without spin or embellishment.

Above all, no excuse of process or priority should be tolerated. There is no greater priority, for our Government, for our Politicians, for our Police force, for our Journalists, for our bloggers and for our citizens than that the sanctity of our democracy - as expressed in the honour and customs of Parliament - be preserved for our children and grandchildren.

If it were not so, then what is it exactly that we are each, Labour or conservative, fighting for?

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