Older readers may cast their minds back for a precedent - and find it in the period between 1640 and 1645, when the forces of God and Parliament fought it out with the armies of King and Divine Right. Then too, a stern group of committed Puritans took on an extravagant gaggle of courtiers and aristocrats to decide the fate of our country.
Thus, at Prime Minister's question time (as at Naseby and Marston Moor), the two sides had drawn up in lines: the leaders in the front row, the pikemen behind, and the camp followers and laundresses in the back ranks. Many of the soldiery were absent, called away to the impending fight in the Wirral, or else scouring their counties and towns for support.
Along the opposition front bench I scanned the dour, unsmiling faces of New Model Labour: Barebones Brown, a Covenanting Scot and scourge of the venal judges, greedy generals and spendthrift government clerks; Praisegod Straw - his thin lips pursed - inwardly contemplating the punishments to be inflicted upon the cut-purse, the heretic and the merchant of squeegee; Oliver Blair, enemy of the profane and the wasters of the people's substance, stiff in his pin-stripe cuirass, his sword fingers fidgeting.
And what of the Royalists? Rupert Portillo, the King's wayward and unreliable nephew had ridden in - his locks framing his delicate face - fresh from impressing wenches in the shires with displays of horsemanship; the Earl of Hogg, scion of a long line of Hoggs and Keeper of the King's Cattle (now mostly dead); Major I himself, by God anointed, last in an unbroken line of Conservative prime ministers stretching back into political pre- history, protector of the Union.
Behind him sat the landed and High Church interests, the idolaters, brewers, worshippers of Mammon and fawners before princely vanity. Opposite were the motley assembly of Whigs, Levellers and Diggers, Ranters and Quakers, Radicals and men of Commerce on the opposition side.
"Prithee", asked the first petitioner, Selly Oak Ironside Lynne Jones, "wherefore has an hospital been built within the citie of Birminghame, onlie to be threatened with closure? Doth not this shewe how little truste maye be reposed with ye government?" Such reports were nought but vexatious fictions on the part of scurrilous local pamphleteers, replied Major.
Oliver rose, the light of battle in his eye. Had not, he thundered, the Prime Minister "doubled ye National Debte", since his coronation? The implication was clear, the nation's hard-earned monies had been thrown away on fripperies and courtly pleasures. Major rejoined that there was nary an Empire or Principalitie in Europe that enjoyed the prosperity that he had brought to his Kingdom. "Why cannot he answer Yesse or Noe!" said Blair. Fie, for was not he "and his ragge-bagge ministers spraying around the post-dated cheques like there was no tomorrowe?" But, repeated Major, what about the fat, contented burghers, the healthy trade, the happy subjects?
With that the swords were sheathed, the field vacated, the decisive clash postponed to some day, not far away now. Two things remained: first that if the Blairites take power, there will be little dancing. And second, that when defeat happens, it will be his own side that chops Major's head off.Reuse content