Daily catch-up: old London, politicians’ surnames and five-year parliaments

The best of ancient, modern and in between culled from around the websphere, as Gordon Brown called it

Click to follow
The Independent Online

1. A view of London c.1757 showing York Buildings Water Gate looking east to St Paul's & Old London Bridge. Another lovely piece of visual history from the Twitter account of "Sir William Davenant".

2. Not paying constant attention to American politics, I hadn't realised that another Bush vs Clinton contest was a serious possibility. I thought Jeb Bush, brother of George W, was out of the running, but apparently he is the favourite for the Republican nomination and his son says he is "more than likely" to do it.

If so, that would mean a resumption of the 20-year rule of presidents with surnames beginning with B and C (1989-2009). It is no coincidence* that the UK has just had a 17-year stretch of prime ministers beginning with B and C. Just as it is no coincidence that I have an article in The Independent on Sunday about ballot-order bias, which favours candidates with surnames near the beginning of the alphabet.

Which led to a debate about how many MPs with names beginning with Z there have been. Nadhim Zahawi is the only current one. Before him there was Konni Zilliacus, but before 1803 it is harder to search. Labour History Group, using the History of Parliament website, says there were at least seven MPs called Zouche in the 14th to 17th centuries (the name is nearly extinct now: 192.com can find only three Zouches in the UK).

Labour History Group points out that if Labour wins Cambridge (a target seat) in 2015 there will be another: Daniel Zeichner.

*Yes, it is; and in the US name order on ballot papers is randomised to eliminate alphabetic bias.

5. Recommended reading: the terrific story of Jim Murphy's first meeting as Secretary of State for Scotland with Alex Salmond from Euan McColm.

And a fine counterblast to metropolitan triumphalism (Janan Ganesh's brilliant denunciation of miserablism, for example) from David Goodhart, which Iain Martin described as the "anti-metropolitan equivalent of Matthew Parris's assault on Clacton" in The Times (pay wall).

4. I have denounced Ed Miliband in The Independent on Sunday for a shabby fix, colluding with the change to five-year fixed-term parliaments as the norm. Labour argued against the coalition law, saying it should be four years rather than five, but has now decided to accept the erosion of our democratic rights.

Fixed-term parliaments are one of the fashionable, er, fixes for imaginary ailments of our democracy. The latest fad is the petition to William Hague for a "citizen-led" Constitutional Convention. As Carl Gardner commented at Left Foot Forward:

"The last thing we need is a Constitutional Convention, whether 'citizen led' or not.

"Yes, we have constitutional anomalies that need to be changed. The House of Lords needs changing in digestible bites, like the big bite taken out of it in 1999, I think it was, when the hereditaries were mainly done away with. The obvious next steps are to abolish the remaining hereditaries, and to stop bishops coming in by right. After that, we could see what the consensus was about what should come next.

"What doesn't work, as Nick Clegg proved, was a 'total vision' for perfect and complete reform aimed at pleasing everyone, and that actually pleased no one. One of the reasons a Convention is a bad idea is that it'd be bound to dream up a similar hopeless scheme ...

"Any Constitutional Convention would be a playground for those who want to sneak things like AV back on the agenda, and who want to ride their own constitutional hobby-horses. It depresses me that Labour is indulging this rubbish."

5. My Top 10 in the Sunday magazine is Fictional Buildings, including the Death Star (well, someone built it, fictionally).




I also have a late addition to an earlier Top 10, Transpositions of Sounds in Words, having just discovered, via the Word A Day email, that gurn is a dialect alteration of grin.

My book of Top 10s, Listellany, is available in some good book shops now (and in e-book form).

6. And finally, thanks to Election Data for this old favourite:

"It's lucky we have Venetian blinds otherwise it'd be curtains for us all."