Friday 29 June 2007

Handing Over

As I watched the handover from Tony Blair to Gordon Brown the other day, I couldn't help marvelling at how dignified and orderly the process is. The Blair familiy bade their goodbye to number 10, and Tony and Cherrie boarded pegasus - the prime ministerial car - and were driven off to Buckingham Palace where Blair tendered his resignation to Her Majesty. Soon after, Gordon Brown was phoned at number 11 and requested to come to the Palace. He and Sarah arrived in his ministerial car, entered the Palace where he had a private audience with the Queen. He was asked to form a government and received his seal of office. Gordon and Sarah emerged from the palace, where pegasus was waiting. And off they headed, driving across to whitehall and to number 10.

Not a huge amount of pomp and circumstance by British standards, but full to the brim with tradition nevertheless. The transition was perfectly formal and exercised with precision. Not glamourous, but stately and deferring to what is a magnificent tradition.

The whole thing was dignified and though exciting, there was a touch of the sombre. Nowadays, when democracy is taken for granted, this kind of event is important. For just one day, every few years, people are reminded that they live in a democracy. Whatever its flaws, people know that Churchill was right to say that democracy is the worst form of government...apart from all the others. In far too many countries, people learn of a change of government when they see the tanks rolling down the street, or when their tv broadcast is interrupted by a fat, thuggish general who announces he is the new leader.

So the British ought to be very proud of and very thankful for their tradition of evolution and orderly transition. And for their institutions which go back hundreds and hundreds of years. Such institutions, and conventions, are the very roots of democracy, even if in the strict sense they preceded modern democracy itself. This extraordinary heritage confers a solidness and stability on the entire British political system. It is precious indeed and where it needs to be tweaked, tweak by all means, but never tear it down. So long live Pegasus, long live number 10, and dare I say it, long live the Queen.

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