Tuesday 4 May 2010

The Drunken, Addled, Insane Parliament of Bats and Dunces

History had better names. Richard the Lionheart, Charles The Fat and Louis The Sluggard were far more memorable monarchs than the modern, numbered variety. Wars, which used to be named after roses or Captain Jenkins’ stray body-parts, are now dully geographical: Afghan, Iraq, Falklands. However strongly we may now feel on the subject, can you imagine a schoolchild of the future getting excited over the Second Iraq War?

It is almost indisputable that the voter apathy that afflicts modern politics is down to the fact that we don’t give our parliaments memorable names any more.

We used to. There was the Rump Parliament, which was all that was left after Cromwell had forced out those MPs who didn’t want the king violently shortened. There was the Parliament of Dunces in 1404 from which lawyers were banned (presently the legal profession makes up about 10% of MPs). There was the Addled Parliament of 1614, which was dissolved without doing anything at all. And there was the Parliament of Bats in 1426 where the members were banned from carrying swords and so carried clubs instead.

Many of the names are a trifle misleading. The Pacific Parliament was not oceanic but peace-making. The Barebones Parliament (pulled from the Rump) was in fact convened by a puritan called Praise-God Barebone*. The Insane Parliament of 1258 is probably just a misreading of Insigne. But the Drunken Parliament of 1661 did exactly what it said on the tin.

And our current legislature? It is the 54th Parliament and by that name history will forget it, unless we move fast.

Tony Wright, the Labour MP, suggested last May that they might be remembered as the Moat or Manure Parliament and there was a sterling effort, mainly by The Times, to make the Manure stick, yet by June it was pretty much forgotten. The Pay-Per-View-Porn Parliament is alliterative but far too long. The Duckhouse Parliament has a good ring to it and conjures an amusing image. Or perhaps the Parliament of Cabbies. That would really confuse posterity.

We have until Friday to baptise.

The Warm Parliament of 1834

*His full name may have been Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone, which beats David, Gordon and Nick hands down.


  1. Most excellent. I've posted this on Facebook, and the link's been picked up by a few other people I vaguely know - that's the rule of FB; don't make 'friends' with anyone close as one doesn't want them to know what one's up to.

    Anyway, someone wants to know if you went to school on the Isle of Wight as the lower forms were called Inkies.

  2. Keep your friends close and your enemies on facebook.
    I was never at school on the Isle of Wight, indeed I'm not sure that I've ever been there and consider the place to be a unit of measurement, like Wales "An iceberg the size of Greater London/Wales/The Isle of Wight". I was at school with Thomas Browne, William Empson and Anthony Trollope.
    The moniker Inky Fool is in reference to Mrs Malaprop's appearance after handling a fountain pen.

  3. My vote's for 'The Duckhouse Parliament'.