The British Parliament is composed of two Houses, the Upper House or House of Lords and the Lower House also known as the House of Commons as it houses the Members of Parliament or MPs elected by the common people.
Surprisingly or maybe not as we in the U.K. don’t allow personal use of firearms, only one Prime Minister has ever been assassinated and it was the unfortunate Spencer Percival who was shot in 1812 by an bankrupt business man. Traditionally it was the chance of duelling with swords which was the biggest danger to members of parliament and it is no co-incidence that the two opposing sides sit facing each other across a gap of just over 2 sword lengths. Having said that, any visitor to Parliament including MPs would do very well to smuggle swords through all the metal detectors and security checks!
These days millions watch the political highlight of the week, Prime Ministers Questions every Wednesday at Midday. It is always a rowdy and not always an honourable spectacle to watch with the Prime Minister of the day always doing his best to spend more time asking questions of his opponents rather than answering those put to him, which is the whole point of the entire half hour.
Most of the parliamentarians are linguistically adept having spent years perfecting their vocal talents in the debating schools of Eton and Harrow. Some of this can be useful as there are rules in the Commons which regulate how people should be addressed. No-one is allowed to be called a liar for example and this brings an endless variety of personal put downs and insults that leave some people wondering what was being said at all.
Half of the questions asked by the Prime Minister are from his own side which often go something like “Would the Prime Minister agree with me that the two weeks of sunny weather are solely down to our policies and simply wouldn’t occur if the Opposition were in government” to which the Prime Minister will answer the question followed by a length diatribe as to why history shows it always rains whenever the other party are in government and no-one should risk voting for them again in case it rains again.
We often complain about our MPs, that they aren’t as good as they used to be, lacking in principle with the odd one out of the over 600 claiming rogue expenses or until recent years having vested financial interests in what they were debating. However none of these things come close to some of the bad MPs we have had in the past. Here are 10 of the best or rather the worst as shown in yesterdays Guardian Newspaper.
1. Ralph Crepyn (London, 1283) was wounded in a violent brawl with Laurence Ducket in 1285 over a woman called Alice and had his friends murder Ducket and dress it up as suicide. Alice was burnt alive, the friends were hanged and Crepyn died in the Tower of London.
2. John de Haltby (Ipswich, 1339) was so hated for his brand of political thuggery, having led a violent assault that ousted the equally despised sitting bailiffs in Ipswich in 1321, that when he was murdered in 1344 the town refused to arrest the perpetrators.
3. Giles Mompesson (Great Bedwyn, 1614 and 1621) was fined, expelled from parliament and told to parade up the Strand “with his face in a horse’s anus” for extortionately abusing his royal monopoly for the licensing of inns and manufacture of gold thread in 1621.
4. Sir John Trevor (several seats, 1679-95), the cross-eyed Speaker of the Commons, took to his bed for two days in 1695 when found guilty by the House of corruptly taking 1,000 guineas to help expedite the orphans bill for the City of London Corporation. It did not stop MPs from removing him.
5. When the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720 virtually the whole government was implicated, including the First Lord of the Treasury Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland; the Northern secretary James Stanhope; Chancellor of the Exchequer John Aislabie; the Southern secretary James Craggs, and his father James, the Postmaster General. Stanhope and the two Craggs died before justice caught up with them, but Aislabie and two other MPs were expelled from the Commons for their dodgy dealings. Sunderland, who was equally guilty, got off.
6. George Bubb Dodington (several seats, 1722-61) was described by colleagues as “the most tawdry man in the nation” and “the reprostituted prostitute” because of his compulsive, self-seeking ambition. His sole redeeming feature was his tender speech opposing the execution of Admiral John Byng MP in 1757.
7.Sir William Paxton tried to buy the borough seat of Carmarthen in 1802 with 11,070 breakfasts, 36,901 dinners, 25,275 gallons of ale and 11,068 bottles of spirits. He lost, but was elected the following year for Carmarthenshire.
8.General John Burgoyne (Midhurst 1761-68, Preston 1768-92) helped secure his election in the tempestuous contest in Preston in 1768 by turning up at the hustings with two loaded pistols. He was allowed to keep the seat but was fined £1,000 for incitement to violence. He subsequently surrendered to the American colonists as commander of British forces at Saratoga on 17 October 1777.
9.Beauchamp Bagenal (Enniscorthy 1761-69, Carlow 1768-83), fought countless duels, including one at the age of 60 with a neighbour whose pigs had destroyed his flowerbeds, insisting on this occasion that the challenge be held in the afternoon and that he be allowed to take aim seated on account of his advancing years. The neighbour was badly wounded and Bagenal’s chair was shot to pieces.
10.James Brudenell (several seats 1818-37, then 7th Earl of Cardigan) was, a braggart and a bully who was serially unfaithful to his wives and mistresses, was thrown out of the army in 1834 for “reprehensible conduct”. In 1841 he was acquitted of killing one of his former officers by a jury of his peers, despite clear evidence to the contrary, thereby proving, in the words of the Times, “that there was one law for the rich and another for the poor”. He then led the foolhardy charge of the Light Brigade in 1854.