William Cobbett on the House of Commons.

“The “gentlemen opposite” are opposite only as to mere local position. They sit on the opposite side of the house: that’s all. In every other respect they are like parson and clerk; or perhaps more like the rooks and jackdaws; one caw and the other chatter; but both have the same object in view; both are in pursuit of the same sort of diet. One set is, to be sure, IN place and the other OUT; but, though the rooks keep the jackdaws on the inferior branches, these latter would be as clamourous as the rooks themselves against FELLING THE TREE; and just as clamorous would “the gentlemen opposite” be should we propose to pull down the system itself. And yet, unless you do that. things must go in the present way, and FELONS must be better fed than honest labourers; and starvation and theiving and robbing and gaol-building and transporting and hanging and penal laws must go on increasing, as they have gone on since the establishment of the deficit to the present hour” William Cobbett Rural Rides edited Ian Dyck pg.218

It is astonishing just how relevant Cobbett’s writings have become recently. A national defecit caused by the Napoleonic wars and highly imflammatory attempts by Pitt to lay the bill at the feet of the least able to contribute, leading to riots and the burning of fields and the wrecking of industrial machinery as more and more people found themselves deprived of a means of making a living and thrown back into a world of (thanks to Robert Malthus’ disciples cutting the then welfare arrangements back to nothing on the grounds that it only encouraged the poor to breed and that the unemployed were surplus to economic requirements and should only be starved off) absolute financial destitution.

Cobbett is here arguing the case for reforming the houses of parliament, but I think this passage has a curious resonance in today’s world of almost universal neo-Liberalism.

Some time ago a senior Labour party member close to Tony Blair (Dame Sally Morgan I think) was caught off guard saying that having the opposition involved in one’s business was a sign of a healthy pluralism: “We all have the same end in mind, you know, greater involvement of the private sector in all things.”

History is a very underated pastime.


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