Something deeply embarrassing is happening in our country. It is not entirely clear why, but in an act of extreme pettiness, my fellow elite have decided that come hell or high water Big Ben must not Bong.
Let’s be honest; almost no one will notice either way. It has never troubled my mind whether a particular bell will sound at a particular time when we formally leave the EU. What mattered to me was no longer paying vast amounts of money so that a dysfunctional club could compel me to abide by its poorly written laws.
The total sum of ‘no one’, genuinely believes that it would cost the nation £500,000 to have one bell ring. But to add insult to duplicity, we are now told “authorities” say that even if the sum is crowd funded, it can’t be accepted.
The House of Commons Commission has said:
“There has been a suggestion that the cost of striking the bell could be covered by donations made by the public. This would be an unprecedented approach, the house of commons has well established means of voting through the expenditure required to allow it to function and to preserve its constitutional position in relation to government any novel system of funding would need to be consistent with principles of propriety and proper oversight of public expenditure.”
I think it is worth considering this statement in detail.
To begin, being “unprecedented” is not a relevant characteristic. Everything that is now precedented was, first, un-precedented.
The next suggestion is that a donation cannot be accepted as a means of funding a purchase because another means (buying it yourself) is already established. This would seriously disrupt Christmas and Birthdays – each of us would need to hand back our presents, stating coldly that we already had a well established system for buying ourselves things.
The third concept is just fundamentally odd. What constitutional function does Big Ben supposedly fulfil? How does it relate that function (making a loud sound) to government? It’s a bell. Britain has a written constitution, despite what people often state, if only because paper is a handy way of recording things. But I know of no statute or case law which says when Big Ben can or cannot sound. Her Majesty’s corgis have a more active constitutional role.
Next is the idea that the people of this country giving money to pay for things the state does is “novel”. Is it? What is tax exactly? And the account HMRC has whereby I can donate extra money to government if I want to – should we shut that down? Those people who leave money in their wills to our country – must we now refuse it?
Then there is the word “propriety”. These sorts of words often impress non-lawyers. But it is in essence meaningless. Grown adults will be giving money so that a bell can be sounded. A bell they already own. There is nothing approaching “propriety” involved.
The worst comes at the end. There will be no “public expenditure” that is rather the point – so no need for oversight.
My fellow elite have not covered themselves in glory since June 2016. This paragraph of ‘justification’ does not survive a moments interrogation. I never cared about Big Ben being rung until people who I think really ought to know better decided they did. If it offends you then for goodness sake just go to bed. I hope the next morning is beautiful.