Antidisestablishmentarianism, the law and the Tories

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The Independent Online
CHAIRMAN: Welcome to Give us a Ring, where we are discussing whether the British government should be disestablished or not. To put it bluntly, should we go on accepting government by a Tory party that has not been elected by a majority of voters and is disliked by almost everyone you meet?

It is believed that the Prince of Wales will argue along these lines in his long-awaited profile of Jonathan Dimbleby, the heir-apparent to Question Time, when it goes out tonight. It is believed he will say something like: 'I really do not think we can go on indefinitely believing in the constitutional position of the Tory party as the defender of democracy. For one thing, it's a minority party. For another thing, it is bankrupt. Also, I personally find it a drag having to be polite to the people who run it these days. I believe the Tory government should no longer have an official position of any kind. More herb tea, Jonathan?'

To discuss the issues, I am glad to have in the studio today the constitutional expert Lord St Norman of Fawlty. Now, Lord St Norman, I believe you know Jonathan Dimbleby personally, and are privy to his confidential views on these matters?

Lord St Norman: I am, yes.

Chairman: And they are?

Lord St Norman: They are confidential, so I cannot tell you what they are.

Chairman: That is absolutely fair comment. So let's have our first caller, who is a Mr Sir Edward Heath from Salisbury.

Caller: Hello. May I say, from my point of view as a confirmed believer in Europe, that Mr Major's attempts to hijack . . .

Chairman: Thank you. Well, while Mr Sir Edward Heath is working his way round to his question, I'll put a question to Lord Sir Norman of Fawlty: what basis does the Tory government have in law, and how could it be disestablished?

Lord St Norman: The answer may surprise you, but the Tory party has no basis in law, and there is no such thing as a Prime Minister. The law allows for the election of Members of Parliament, but it does not allow for the formation of political parties. All we have in Parliament is members representing their own constituencies. This is quite distinct from the position in the US, where the constitution goes on about the President the whole time.

Chairman: And God.

Lord St Norman: I beg your pardon?

Chairman: I think I am right in saying that the American constitution mentions God, but He is not mentioned in our statutes.

Lord St Norman: There is a good historical reason for that. Historically, the Royal Family - whom I know well enough to talk to, and vice versa, too, I may say - has always viewed God as being somewhat inferior socially and has preferred not to mention Him. They don't mind if the servants talk about God - in fact they have quite encouraged it.

Chairman: Of course, it is the archbishops and bishops who have done all the talking about God on behalf of the monarchy.

Lord St Norman: That is whom I meant by the servants.

Caller: . . . therefore, in a European framework - and when I say European, I do not mean necessarily federalist . . .

Lord St Norman: And you have to remember, too, that our population is ageing rapidly. That means that by the year 2001 we will have over 30 per cent of the population who have already been Prime Minister, or friends of the Royal Family, or a member of the Dimbleby family. Many of these will have lost their marbles under the strain, and the question will then be: who should look after these poor unfortunates? If the Tory government were disestablished, the state would bear no responsibility for their upkeep. That would save millions of pounds a year.

Caller: . . . in the days when I was the elected head of government, the country was faced with a clear choice . . .

Lord St Norman: You see? The poor man clearly thinks he was elected as Prime Minister. But we never elect a Prime Minister] We only elect MPs. They elect the Prime Minister.

Chairman: Would it be fair to say that if, as you say, the Tory government has no basis in law, it cannot be disestablished?

Lord St Norman: Crumbs. I never thought of that . . .

In a moment the weather forecast, followed by a charity appeal on behalf of John Patten.

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