Today is 3 November 2016. At the time I am writing about it would have been the third day of November in the year of our Lord sixteen hundred and forty six. Yes, it was a long time ago, 370 years, the time of my seventh and eighth great grandparents.
The country was at war. England was at war. Not with Rome, Vikings, Germany or France. Not even the Scots. England was at war with itself. There was one substantial issue: one side believed that King Charles and his cronies should rule the land and use and abuse its people as they pleased; the other thought the country should be ruled by the people through Parliament. It is a simple enough concept, but it took going on for a decade of brutal armed conflict to decide. I guess, like everyone else, my ancestors fought on both sides.
Imagine that for a moment. A group of heavily armed, armoured, muscular, aggressive men on horseback arrive at your door. Some lad in the fields warned of their approach. They were the people who came for the rent, or to dispense “justice”, from the lord of the manor, the man (or just possibly the woman) who owned the land you worked on, your food, your wife, your house, your children, your own body, everything. You had concealed anything you thought might be of value and could be taken in lieu of unpaid rent or on any other trumped-up pretext. The leader, the local squire’s man, then summons the men and “strong boys” of the household and orders them to accompany the horsemen and bring along the weapons they were supposed to have trained with every Sunday after church: long bow, pike, axe and any protective garment they might have. Not next week, not tomorrow, but now, this minute. Resistance is futile and will probably result in agonising death and dreadful consequences for your family. You have heard that there is an issue about the king and the government, but what difference it makes to you is anyone’s guess. It will probably just make things worse either way. Nonetheless, you say an all too cursory goodbye to your wife, daughters and young boys, imploring them to do what you know is their wholly inadequate best to look after mother, and off you go, with your sons, your neighbours, and their sons. And to who knows where. And when. Or for how long. Not knowing whether you or any of your party will find your way home. You know which side you (or at least your master) is on, but not what it really means for the future. And you have no idea if he will change sides if things go badly. Your brother Harry and your wife’s favourite nephew, in the next village, are on the other side.
If you have endured this far, and you live in the UK or the USA, you might wonder how far politics has come in 370 years!
Everyone who was in England in the 1640s was on one side or the other. There was no provision for abstention, pacifism or referendum, so every John, William and Thomas and his neighbour was compelled to sharpen his pike or pitchfork and join the military organisation that his master favoured: King or Parliament, Cavalier or Roundhead.
The Parliamentarians won. (If your local is The Royal Oak you might, as Inspector E Morse would have said, contemplate that though the bottom of a glass.) At first, their version of parliamentary government was not something we would recognise today as democratic, but, eventually, we arrived at a style of governance (and I quote: “The mother of all Parliaments”) that provides what those Parliamentarians wanted: that is government not by the birthright or wealth or military strength of the monarch, or the smarm of his or her toady hangers-on, but by the people through Parliament.
The people, albeit by a small majority, voted in referendum to authorise Parliament to withdraw the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union. Whether or not all or any of those voters knew about Article 50, the unavoidable consequence of that vote is that if Parliament is to comply with the outcome of the referendum it can only do so by invoking Article 50. To my simple, logical mind, therefore, the people authorised Parliament to invoke Article 50. Any other conclusion is pure artifice, it is bound in obscure legal argument and flies in the face of the general principle that this country is governed by the will of its people and not by the weasel words of the “establishment”. This last is, apparently, the very reason why people voted in their droves to “leave”. Judges out of touch? Who would have thought it?
Perhaps we should return absolute sovereignty to Queen Elizabeth (after all we have not endured invasion, pestilence, conflagration or other national catastrophe during her reign). But doesn’t that mean … ?
That is, I think, you know, er yes, but it’s all wrong …