King John's medieval crusade

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The Independent Online
THIS newspaper article intends to tell you the difference between Thatcherism and Majorism, or bust.

Here goes.

Thatcherism harked back to Victorian values, the values of family silver, and workhouses, and little boys being sent up chimneys, and keeping Britain Great even if bankruptcy lay at the end of the road.

Majorism goes back a lot farther in spirit. It goes, in fact, right back to the Middle Ages. Have you noticed that Mr Major is always mounting crusades against things such as red tape? Very medieval, crusades. Have you noticed that he is always issuing charters to protect people? Very medieval, charters, as regular readers of Magna Carta will know. Is Aids the Black Death of our day? Very likely. Is there not something sleekly medieval about the very name of Norman Lamont?

Even the visual image of the two last Tory leaders bears this out. Very like Queen Victoria was the lady Thatcher, full of frustrated energy and imperiousness, a storm waiting to happen at the centre of the known world. Mr Major, on the other hand, has the pale, placid presence of one of those stone medieval knights laid out in effigy to rest in a country church, his face serene, his mind perpetually elsewhere.

What unites them both is their belief in the power of solutions. Thatcher and Major have always ridden out to do battle with problems, convinced that they had the solution to hand. (I wonder if it ever occurred to either of them that they were simply creating more problems? Most probably not.)

Mr Major's solutions, though, are much more medieval than Mrs Thatcher's were. Do you remember the other day that he was promising a crusade against red tape? Now he is promising a scheme whereby people who have no job will have to do some work before they can get their dole money. Quite apart from the fact that this will create more bureaucracy and red tape of the very kind he has promised to abolish, there is also something satisfyingly medieval about the idea of making able- bodied men do a few days' work each week on their lord's estate, is there not?

Another problem facing John Major is the increasing amount of evidence that the British judicial system is corrupt, self-satisfied, inefficient and inadequate. A modern solution would be to make the British judicial and legal system less corrupt, self-satisfied, inefficient and inadequate. This is clearly not medieval enough for the government of John Major (I almost wrote 'King John'), as it has just announced that the best way of dealing with our inadequate legal and judicial system is by making legal aid unavailable to most people, thus keeping them well away from the system at all times.

It is often thought that the medieval charter, the Magna Carta, was designed as the basis of our freedoms. That is not how historians see it. They see it as the result of the barons' bid to safeguard their freedoms against the king. I therefore expect John Major, in a very medieval sort of way, to deal with his barons soon.

Who are his barons? Why, they are his cabinet ministers.

How will he deal with them? Why, in his normal manner - by announcing a Minister's Charter that will guarantee their ancient freedoms, or what he likes to call basic customer rights.

What will this Minister's Charter say? Well, I expect it to:

1. Guarantee the right of any minister to be offered financial compensation for legal expenses.

2. Safeguard the job of any cabinet minister until the minister himself decides to resign.

3. Not to expect any minister to resign merely on the grounds that he is incompetent at his post, or is perceived by the entire country to be incompetent, or both.

4. Expect ministers to resign only on the grounds of sexual misconduct, not on grounds of financial misconduct, it being the solid belief of the Tory party that sexual misconduct makes you a worse politician whereas financial incompetence does not affect your standing.

5. Expect ministers, in return, to support John Major's firm belief that private monopolies are the most effective way of running things, thus making him the last leader in Europe since the fall of Brezhnev to put dogma before experience.

6. Enjoin ministers not to laugh behind their hands when John Major says crime is caused by socialism.