The First Estate

The Ancien Regime that ruled in Roman Catholic France before the Revolution of 1789 was divided into three estates: the first estate was the clergy; the second was the nobility; and the third was the common people. Over this whole undemocratic edifice sat the monarchy. The Revolution did away with all but the third estate, and by and large it has remained that way in the French Republic to this day. England’s Revolution came earlier and although it did away with the monarchy, the rest of the ruling classes were allowed to remain – as long as they embraced the new Protestantism. Unfortunately (in my unrepentantly Republican view), the monarchy was soon restored; and later in the nineteenth Century, Roman Catholics were emancipated. And so it remains to this day: the clergy and the nobility retain power via the House of Lords. Of course, it is true that that power is now significantly weakened, both by the supremacy of the House of Commons, and by the creation of life peers from the whole class of clapped out politicians who can’t bear to have their snouts dragged out of the trough. But nevertheless, in the second chamber of our Parliament, significant numbers of people sit whose only qualification is either accident of birth, or their rank in the established Anglican Church. How any of this squares with any modern definition of representative democracy I defy anyone to explain to me. I know there are a raft of pragmatic justifications, but frankly I don’t care. In a previous blog I raised the issue of how to identify the ‘Caesar’ to whom we owe our taxes. Problematical as that may be, I resent massively the fact that my taxes are determined by a bunch of people that includes effete aristocratic inbreds, and others so feeble minded that they believe not just in the supernatural and the mystical power of robe and ritual, but in their divine right to impose their ethical and moral infantilisms on the rest of us.

Some years ago we were promised an end to all this – the House of Lords was to be retained, but was to be reformed in line with democratic principles. And what has happened? Nothing to any purpose except to fiddle at the margins and keep as many snouts still in the trough as can be managed. There are currently no less than 26 Anglican bishops in the House of Lords, out of a total of 760 seats. Current proposals from the Commons Select Committee that is supposed to deal with all this are only to reduce the total number from 760 to 600 – a joke in itself. And in addition, the proposals would  leave the number of bishops untouched at 26, effectively increasing their relative power! Not even the majority of believing Christians think this makes any sense. In a 2010 poll commissioned by the Rowntree Trust, 70% of Christians agreed that it is wrong for Anglican bishops to have automatic seats in the Lords. If even Christians think this, goodness knows what all the British Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs must think. Should we allow all religions, (perhaps including Scientologists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and every other insane cult) equal representation out of some sense of fairness? Or should common sense prevail and we do away with all this nauseating privilege once and for all? One hopes that representations from the Secular Society and others may change the collective minds of the Select Committee, but the whole exercise really does give the game away. The good old British establishment, comprising the first and second estates, have always known how to protect their common self interests and will continue to do so until some politician has the balls to do something about it. Until then, Oink! Oink!