Letter published in Daily Mail July 18 2019
The Mail’s Investigations Unit did a public service by showcasing the lax rules on leave of absence from the House of Lords.
Formally, peers are summoned to the House by the Queen. In beautiful 16th-century prose she calls on them to advise her on “certain arduous and urgent” affairs of state and to drop any other business.
But present-day peers are allowed to desert the Queen to make money for themselves from anyone they like, even foreign governments. Then, when they have made enough money or been sacked by their paymasters, they can come back to the Lords with no questions asked.
For too long the rules of the House have been made by peers for peers. If we are to continue with unelected legislators, most chosen by patronage, then we, the people, should set their terms and conditions.
Summer journeys down to Brighton
And to other places simply
Heighten our cares:
We’ll save our fares.
In a London maisonette
We two could find a raison d’etre,
So let’s settle down
Right here in town.
We’ll build in Mayfair
And just to play fair,
Park Lane too
A place where we can be
We’ll buy up Harrods,
Aspreys and Garrads,
Just for show.
With precious bibelots
And jewels we’ll overflow –
Quite de trop!
Our other shopping
We’ll do in Wapping
In a boat
Then watch the seagulls swoop
This great big city’s a Hamley’s toy
Just made for a girl and boy
And we’ll turn London
We’ll both go silly
We’ll stroll up Burlington
And if our luck fails
We’ll go for cocktails
At the Ritz,
Amid the glam and glitz
We’ll sip white wine and spritz
And test our wits.
We’ll look at Eros
And hope he’ll steer us
And then in Berkeley Square
The city’s magic can soon employ
The hearts of a girl and boy
And we’ll turn London
The grim old Tower
In the spring.
In football stadiums
If we feel wealthy
We’ll vithit Chelthea
On a thpree:
We’ll thpend our L-S-D
On fashions wild and free
Thee and me.
Then down in Soho
We’’ll find a Boho
In Ronnie Scott’s we’ll hear
The city’s simply a wondrous pearl
For one boy to give one girl,
So let’s give London
A mad abundant
We’ll check the night clubs,
Find all the right pubs,
Drink real ale:
Then sleep it off on Network Rail.
In Oxford Circus
We’ll watch the lurkers
At Lord’s we’ll throw a bat.
At Lock’s we’ll buy a hat
Just like that.
We won’t look shabby
Inside the Abbey.
At St Paul’s
Upstairs we’ll whisper sweet
The city’s charms cannot ever cloy
For this footloose girl and boy
And we’ll make London
My tribute to Rex Stout, creator of Nero Wolfe, in current edition of Wooster Sauce, journal of the PG Wodehouse Society
“His narrative and dialogue could not be improved, and he passes the supreme test of being re-readable. I don’t know how many times I have read the stories, but plenty. I know exactly what is coming and how it is all going to end, but it doesn’t matter. That’s writing.”
That could come from any number of readers of P G Wodehouse. But it was actually written by Wodehouse himself, about his friend and favourite detective story writer, Rex Stout. It is part of his introduction to Stout’s official biography, and echoes the compliments the two paid each other in a long mutually-admiring correspondence. Rex Stout is one of the few real writers, living or dead, to get a favourable mention in Wodehouse’s fiction. Bertie and Aunt Dahlia actually struggle over a copy of the latest Stout in The Code Of The Woosters.
It is easy to understand why Wodehouse relished Stout. His full name, Rex Todhunter Stout, is one Wodehouse might have given to a struggling author posing as an expert on pigs – or even to a detective.
Rex Stout had a varied life, with some echoes of Wodehouse’s. He was born in Indiana in 1886, one of nine children of Quaker parents who encouraged him to read omnivorously. As a young child he read the Bible twice over and would have edged Bertie Wooster in a prize contest for Scripture Knowledge. At 13 he became the Kansas state spelling champion. After a variety of short-term jobs, including warrant officer on Teddy Roosevelt’s Presidential yacht, he became a published writer at the age of 24 and served a long apprenticeship, like Wodehouse, in magazines. Unlike Wodehouse, he gave himself a financial cushion against failure as a writer, by patenting a successful school banking system. Ironically, he lost most of his money from this in the Great Depression and was forced to become a full-time author.
He wrote some serious psychological novels and a political thriller The President Vanishes. Astutely, he published this anonymously and encouraged speculation that it had been written by a major politician. Then in 1934 he turned exclusively to detective fiction, with the publication of his first Nero Wolfe story, Fer-de-Lance. Another 72 would follow, the last, Death Times Three, posthumously after his death in 1975.
In most photographs, he is wearing a beard which even Gally Threepwood would regard as too extravagant for use as a disguise.
Like Wodehouse, Stout became famous for wartime broadcasts, although for the right reasons, combatting Axis propaganda in America as presenter of a long-running radio series called “Speaking Of Liberty”. Unlike Wodehouse, Stout was politically active. He was a co-founder of the left-wing Vanguard Press and a strong campaigner for civil liberties and authors’ rights. He was badgered by the FBI and took his revenge on them in a late Wolfe novel The Doorbell Rang. But he also detested Communism, and unleashed Wolfe against it in The Second Confession.
Stout created a few other detectives, including a pioneering woman PI, Dol Bonner. But his greatest creations were Nero Wolfe and his live-in assistant Archie Goodwin.
Wolfe must be the bulkiest detective, real or fictional, in history. Archie, his narrator, regularly puts his weight at one-seventh of a ton (American not Imperial) which makes him nearly 290 pounds. He solves all his cases by deep thought in the chair specially built for him, in the intervals between reading, cultivating orchids, drinking beer and consuming gourmet meals cooked by his resident chef Fritz (a loyal and much calmer version of Anatole.) Wolfe almost never leaves his house, a brownstone mansion on West 35th Street, Manhattan. Clients and witnesses are delivered to him (usually with a curt instruction to Archie to “Bring them”) and Wolfe exposes the murderer in his crowded office in the presence of his ally and occasional adversary Inspector Cramer of Manhattan Homicide.
For all Wolfe’s genius the murderer usually strikes two or three times before the exposure (as with his fictional rivals Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple). Despite Wodehouse’s tribute, plots were never the strongest element in a Wolfe mystery. All too often, Wolfe’s solution depends on the discovery of a surprising fact by Archie or Wolfe’s brilliant sub-contracted private detective, Saul Panzer. The addictive properties in the series are the dialogue, the characters and the setting.
A Nero Wolfe mystery is a journey into a magic private world, in many ways similar to that of Jeeves and Bertie.
In both worlds, intricate problems are solved by a cerebral figure for a baffled narrator. Archie Goodwin is considerably smarter than Bertie (although his narration is much less “literary” than Bertie’s). He is far more active as a participant in the stories than Bertie, doing all of Wolfe’s leg work, supervising the sub-contracted operatives, and often needing to use his fists or his Marley automatic gun. He regularly has to needle Wolfe into accepting a job. But he shares Bertie’s unabashed admiration for the problem-solving genius of a superior mind.
Like Jeeves, Wolfe likes to spend time with an improving book. Like Jeeves, Wolfe is nervous in the presence of women (although there are hints of a romantic past and he supports a distant grown-up daughter). Wolfe relies heavily on Archie’s ability to charm women (these passages have not kept pace with modern times: Archie’s chat-up routines would now earn a slap or even a jail sentence), but like Jeeves with Bertie, Wolfe frets when any woman gets too close to Archie.
The two pairs cannot live without each other. There are intermittent rifts between Wolfe and Archie to match Bertie’s and Jeeves’ battles over clothes and the banjolele, and Archie periodically threatens to leave the brownstone and work independently. But the crisis is always resolved. Eventually, Archie achieves a long-term extra-mural relationship with the wealthy Lily Rowan, which allows him to remain with Wolfe.
Both Jeeves and Wolfe have distinctive dialogue, but Wolfe’s is so stately and ornate as to make Jeeves seem almost vernacular. He dismisses nonsense as “flummery”, and his highest word of praise is “satisfactory.” He reserves his best phrases to describe himself. In the first Wolfe mystery Fer-de-Lance he announces that “I understand the technique of eccentricity; it would be futile for a man to labor at establishing a reputation for oddity if he were ready at the slightest provocation to revert to normal action.” He puts this point a little more concisely in Murder By The Book when he refuses to abandon his set hours with his orchids: “No. A schedule broken at will becomes a mere procession of vagaries.” However, he also proclaims in Too Many Cooks that “a guest is a jewel on the cushion of hospitality.” Stout gives Archie a brash, hard-boiled, wisecracking style of narration which perfectly sets off Wolfe’s rolling periods.
Above all, the world of Wolfe and Archie is timeless in its essentials, like that of Jeeves and Bertie. The reader is more aware in Wolfe stories of outside events, such as the war, civil rights and women’s liberation, Communism, Red-baiting and the FBI, and ultimately Watergate. But the characters do not age and their behaviours are delightfully consistent. Among the regular supporting characters, Inspector Cramer can be relied upon to bluster, to threaten Wolfe with imprisonment for obstruction of justice, and to chomp a cigar between his lips without lighting it before throwing it away in disgust. But he will re-join Wolfe’s admirers in the end while arresting the villain. In spite of the numerous murderers he nails with Wolfe’s help he is never promoted beyond Inspector. In a similar way, the supporting operatives stay in character: Fred Durkin ponderous but reliable, Orrie Cather self-satisfied and ambitious, Saul Panzer anonymously brilliant.
When forced by exceptional circumstances to leave the brownstone, Wolfe will invariably exhibit extreme anxiety in any moving vehicle, even the sturdy Heron Sedan he buys for Archie to drive. In the later novels, Wolfe acquires a television only to glare briefly at programs before returning to his latest book. In Please Pass The Guilt he announces: “I turn on the television rarely, only to confirm my opinion of it.”
Wolfe would have glared at most of the attempts to render him on television, largely because the adapters generally lacked the confidence in the original material which was shown by the best adapters of Jeeves and Bertie. He deserves a first acquaintance in his beloved medium of books. My own personal favourite – read and re-read many times, is And Be A Villain which the British publishers incomprehensibly re-titled More Deaths Than One.
The plot is, as Wolfe would say, satisfactory, particularly in the introduction of Wolfe’s Moriarty, the arch-villain Arnold Zeck. It allows Wolfe to rail agreeably at radio advertising. And his vocabulary includes the words “temerarious”, “chambrer,” and “dysgenic.”
Oh! could I mount on the Maeonian wing,
Your arms, your actions, your repose to sing!
What seas you traversed, and what fields you fought!
Your country’s peace, how oft, how dearly bought!
How barb’rous rage subsided at your word,
And nations wondered while they dropped the sword!
How, when you nodded, o’er the land and deep,
Peace stole her wing, and wrapped the world in sleep;
Till earth’s extremes your mediation own,
And Asia’s tyrants tremble at your throne.
From Alexander Pope Epistle to Augustus 1737
I am certain that as an experienced politician you are aware of the widespread collapse of faith in our political system and our governing class in general. If you achieve your ambition to become Prime Minister you will need to reverse this urgently. Whatever this country’s future relationship with the EU, it faces a host of pressing problems at home and abroad. To overcome them, you will need to ask the British people to accept major changes to their present way of life. This will not happen when so many have so little trust in any of their rulers.
One of the biggest contributors to this mood is the perception that people in authority never accept responsibility for error and failure, even when these cause suffering and loss. This sentiment has been expressed regularly in relation to the banking collapse and the Iraq war. I am certain that as a Member of Parliament you have had to fight mightily for thousands of constituents simply to secure an apology from someone in authority for wrongs they have suffered. You must also have encountered constituents’ indignation when dimwits in office glide effortlessly and without penalty along a pathway of honours and other well-paid jobs.
I am therefore writing to all the candidates for leadership of your Party to ask whether you have any proposals to restore and enforce a sense of responsibility in government and public life in general. I invite you to make a personal contribution to this by sharing the episode in your political career of which you are now most ashamed, and your reasons why. This could be anything you have said or done, or anything you failed to say or do when given the opportunity. Your response – or non-response – will tell voters a great deal about you and give a strong guide to your personal and moral qualifications to run our country.
After your Party’s leadership is settled I shall be putting a similar question to the leaders of other political parties.
published in PUNCH 23 January 2002
Politicians right across the political spectrum are fretting themselves silly over the latest drug menace. It is far more dangerous than Ecstasy, although its effects are totally different.
Where Ecstasy gives artificial exhilaration and energy at any party, Apathy induces complete passivity and indifference to any party. It has become widespread among all age groups and social classes: in the June 2001 election there were over 18 million registered Apathetics known to the authorities and countless more too apathetic even to register.
The initial effects of Apathy are pleasurable: by blanking out politics Apathy leaves the user more relaxed and less irritated and with a heightened consciousness of other more enjoyable experiences. Habitual users have no sense of shame and stop pretending to be normal voters; instead they take pride in their Apathy and urge others to join them. Hardened cases lose all contact with political reality: some Apathetics are actually unaware of the existence of Stephen Byers or Michael Howard.
Apathy can be fatal – to politicians. That is why they want to ban it.
Gareth R Thomas, backbench Labour MP for Harrow West, has introduced a righteous little bill to make voting compulsory. As in Australia and Belgium, people would be fined for not voting. Personally I would pay a heavy fine to avoid voting for any current Australian or Belgian politician, but over there the fines have stamped on apathy. Both countries have election turnouts of over 90 per cent.
In fairness to goodie-goodie Mr Thomas, his bill would allow voters to abstain in person by ticking a special box in the ballot paper. It is a good move, but it does not meet the central challenge of Apathy.
As with all drugs in wide use, Apathy should be legalized and Apathetics should be encouraged to play a full part in society. For this, we need a political system to Make Apathy Count.
Besides personal abstention, voters should be given a chance to vote negatively and cast their vote AGAINST one candidate of their choice.
At the polling station electors would ask for the FOR ballot paper, or the ABSTENTION form or the AGAINST ballot paper. Postal voters would be offered the same choice by the returning officer. To help counting, the papers would be coloured differently. Electors would put a mark against one candidate, to count as a plus or a minus vote, while the abstention would count as zero. (In another democratic reform each ballot paper would have space for comments of up to six words, such as “Hooray for endogenous neo-classical growth” or “Anyone but that smarmy, lying toerag”: instead of declaring them spoilt the returning officer would publish them.)
On election night each candidate’s votes would be sorted into two piles, FOR and AGAINST, and the abstentions counted separately. The returning officer would declare the winner on “goal difference”: FOR minus AGAINST.
Some people will object that this system could lead to joke candidates being elected. Indeed it might, but perhaps the electors would prefer to have Raving Loonies in the House of Commons instead of the present crop of Raving Toadies. But if joke candidates were really considered a problem, the system could provide a safeguard: no one gets elected without a minimum number of votes FOR. This would also be a defence against candidates from organized cults or nice-but-dim candidates who inspire no negative feelings.
Quite possibly no candidate at all might get a positive goal difference (or the required quota of votes FOR). In that case there would be a by-election, where the parties could offer better candidates and a better campaign.
If the by-election failed to produce a candidate with a positive majority (or the necessary quota) the seat would be declared vacant for the remainder of that Parliament. The salary and expenses which would have gone to an MP would be put to alternative use in the constituency, such as a new cycle track or saving an interesting tree.
Even after a stack of by-elections it is conceivable that no MPs would get elected at all, or that there would not be enough to occupy a majority of the available seats.
In those circumstances no party would have the right to form a government, either on its own or in combination with others. Instead, a caretaker administration of civil servants would run the country for the next four years. Those MPs who were elected could take up grievances, ask questions, scrutinize the administration and volunteer ideas and advice. So too could the House of Lords (one with real “people’s peers”, chosen by lottery from volunteers, not a quango full of cronies and placepersons).
Under the caretaker government, there would be no new laws or regulations, no new taxes or handouts, no new treaties, no new alliances, no new wars, no new “initiatives”, or “task forces”, no new Departments or quangos, no spin doctors.
If the British people enjoyed those four years of non-government they could use negative voting to get them repeated. If they pined for politicians and parties they could vote positively to restore them.
Critics of negative voting will argue that it gives too much power to apathetics and cynics. Quite the contrary. A negative franchise would improve the entire character of British politics. It would end the squalid phenomenon of tactical voting, where people vote for a party they do not believe in to keep out one which they despise. Since no one would get elected without a “positive majority” it would force all parties and all candidates to think of good reasons for voting for them instead of demonising their opponents. Indeed, it would force them to show the electors that it was worth having a Parliament and an active government for the next four or five years.
Unlike Mr Thomas’s Bill, negative voting would allow disenchanted voters to do more than simply abdicate from the political system. It would let them send a powerful message that they want something better than what is on offer at election time. Negative voting could turn Apathy into Ecstasy.
published in the Yorkshire Post (slightly edited) November 7, 2018
In the world Donald Trump has created for himself, all events are an endless parade with himself taking the salute. Predictably he greeted his reverses in the midterm elections by Tweeting a gushing tribute from a political cheerleader: “Mr Trump has magic about him. This guy has magic coming out of his ears. The Republicans are unbelievably lucky to have him.”
But the magic has gone. Even he knows that he has just been beaten badly in elections which were largely a referendum on himself. Exit polls suggested that passing judgement on his performance was the biggest factor for two thirds of voters. That is not unusual: most mid-term elections are a referendum on the incumbent administration (like British by-elections). But Trump’s defeat in the elections for the House of Representatives is in many ways unique.
Congressional districts are frequently gerrymandered (the term was invented in the early United States) and recently Republicans have had more opportunity to achieve this than Democrats. The new Democratic majority therefore understates the party’s success in the popular vote. At the time of writing, some counts are incomplete but it appears that they won this, nationwide, by over 8 per cent.
The conventional wisdom is that American electors are swayed by the economy. Trump’s Presidency has seen the longest economic expansion in American – but he has derived no political benefit. Two years into his Presidency he is less popular with American unemployment at 3.7 per cent than Obama at the same point in 2010 when unemployment was 9.8 per cent.
Trump has failed completely to realign American politics, in the way that F D Roosevelt achieved when he built the Democratic party into a mighty coalition of interests, and Richard Nixon achieved (before Watergate) when he recruited his “silent majority” of white working-class voters and also took over the Southern states. Quite the opposite: Trump has united key groups of voters against him.
In 2016 Trump held a slight lead among white women voters (despite the exposure of his offensive sexist remarks). Recent election polls suggest that his party now trails among all women voters by a thumping 19 per cent: such a shift could happen only with a massive defection of white women voters. They also suggest that the Republicans are clinging to a thin lead in voters over 50 – but trail among younger voters, and the younger voters are the worse they perform. Demographically, Trump is taking his party to oblivion.
Worse still for Trump and his party, their opponents got involved in the political process on an unprecedented scale.
Voter turnout will be a modern record for a midterm Congressional elections: it could reach 50 per cent, compared to 37 per cent in 2014. Young anti-Trump voters were especially eager to take part: their turnout increased in at least 12 states and doubled in Texas, New Jersey and Georgia, all key battlegrounds for 2020.
The Democrats also benefited from a massive rise in individual donations to their Congressional candidates – from $227 million in 2014 to $496 million. By contrast, the Republican tally was barely changed, from $255 million to $260 million. (In total, Congressional candidates raised over $1.2 billion, a measure of the uncontrolled cost of American politics. By contrast, our political parties spent £39 million fighting last year’s General Election – around $50 million at the then exchange rate.)
Women took part as candidates on an unprecedented scale: 234 of the final 898 contenders for Congress were women – 182 of them Democrats. It now appears that 96 were elected – a record – and the new House will have its first female Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The elections also produced gains for African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, LGBT people – and, for all Trump’s vicious rhetoric, American Muslims.
There are a few consolations for Trump. He has hailed his Party’s gains in the Senate, but these were always likely. The Senate races this year were generally in unpromising Democratic states, where the party was defending results gained in the tide of Obama’s second election victory in 2012. Better news for Trump was that his party clung to the governorships of Florida, Georgia and Ohio, and with it control of voter registration.
Importantly, the elections produced no Democrat winner who looks like a serious Presidential contender. But the charismatic populist Beto O’Rourke, who almost seized Texas from the powerful Republican Ted Cruz, could find it easier to build a national profile outside the Senate than as a minority freshman inside it.
The new House Democrats were elected to thwart Trump, and they have no reason to take a bipartisan approach even if Trump, most improbably, tries to conciliate them. They will probably investigate him on a raft of sensitive matters, including his hidden tax returns, Russian links, and (less familiar to British readers) the award of contracts for disaster relief. Trump’s White House may have to respond to new charges day after day. The House just might find grounds to impeach him. Although the Senate would reprieve him, it would paralyse his Presidency and virtually eliminate him as a candidate for 2020.
The new House can of course stymie any intended legislation by Trump which looks remotely popular. That would make him turn to the areas where he can act without it: packing the Federal judges’ bench, more belligerent gestures in defence, foreign policy and trade. There is some potential good news for Theresa May: Trump may be more eager for a post-Brexit trade deal. The bad news is that it would have to be a total victory for Trump.
Impeachment apart, it would be wrong to rule out Trump’s re-election in 2020. He may, like several predecessors, notably Harry Truman, be able to mobilize public opinion against an obstructive, “do-nothing” Congress.
But the midterm results suggest strongly that he cannot win by his usual formula of trying to make voters act on hatred. The American people have asked for a new and better President.
David Wolfe Esq QC
Press Recognition Panel 17 October 2018
Dear Mr Wolfe,
I would be grateful if you could confirm, clarify or deny the report in Private Eye that the Panel intends to carry out “a high-level assessment” of that publication as part of consideration “of how far the public is currently protected from potential harm.” I could find no mention of this assessment on the Panel’s website.
Private Eye quoted the Panel as saying “we are often asked to give a view” on the subject, although it is not clear what subject is referred to. How many requests has it has received for an inquiry into Private Eye, and if there are any at all, has the Panel made any check into their origin? Were they from disinterested members of the public, or did they emanate from any of the powerful people and businesses which have sought to suppress Private Eye over the years?
As you should well know, Private Eye has never carried out any of the practices against members of the general public which prompted the Leveson Inquiry and the ensuing creation of the Panel. On the contrary, it has regularly championed “ordinary people” who have been victimized by incompetents or wrongdoers in high places. The latter will be the only beneficiaries of any inquiry into Private Eye, and this is therefore likely to bring the Panel into contempt.
If the Panel wants a worthwhile subject to investigate, it might turn to the media which have sold themselves to Saudi Arabia, or indeed other interests which have used their power over their content.
For clarity: I occasionally submit proposals to Private Eye but have never been paid by them.
Published in the Cricket Society Journal October 2018
For ten summers from 2007 to 2016 the Observer newspaper carried a popular illustrated feature called “You Are The Umpire.” Its creator was the English and international umpire John Holder.
He highlighted unusual situations which he had encountered in a distinguished career. One I particularly remember: a batsman is hit on the helmet by a fast delivery. He is dazed and confused. He wanders into his stumps. The fielding side appeal for “hit wicket.” Umpire Holder’s verdict: not out. Any umpire should call “Dead Ball” the moment he knows the player is injured (he is lucky not to have to call “Dead Batsman”).
Holder’s advice was instructive and beautifully illustrated by a distinguished sports artist, Paul Trevillion. But playing in the lower depths of cricket as I did throughout my career I encountered some situations which would have been beyond Holder’s experience. So over to the Society. What is your verdict on these four events, all of which actually happened? My answers below relate the outcome, right or wrong. In each case the decision was made by a member of the batting side, filling in as umpire.
One: In one match in my later career, when fielders started wearing helmets, the wicketkeeper and the short leg decided to doff their helmets at the end of an over and after much deliberation placed them side by side behind the wicketkeeper. The batsman played one delivery of the over slowly to fine leg. At our level, this often earned two runs. To avoid this humiliation fine leg charged in, gathered the ball and produced an instant but rather wild throw. It struck one helmet and ricocheted immediately onto the other one. The batsman asked for ten bonus runs: the fielders held out for five on the grounds that the two helmets were conjoined as one. How many bonus runs would you award?
Two. Batsmen’s runners always caused chaos at my level. As one match moved to a tight finish, two injured batsmen were at the crease. Each requested a runner. Astutely, the fielding captain agreed: he knew that it would end in tears. Injured batsman A, an indifferent performer, took guard. His runner went towards square leg, level with the popping crease. The runner for injured batsman B (a better performer, with a high opinion of himself) went to the non-striker’s end. There was some doubt where batsman B should stand, but he resolved this himself without reference to the umpires by walking over to the leg side at the non-striker’s end, parallel to runner A.
Batsman A squirted the next delivery just past second slip. Batsman B, seeing the chance to get the strike, wrongly called for a short single. Equally wrongly (but as so often happens) he forgot his injury and started running himself. His runner, who should have called, loyally obeyed his master and set off himself. Batsman A stepped back a couple of paces and wrongly called “Wait!” His runner loyally obeyed his master. In consequence, by the time second slip retrieved the ball four men with bats and pads were at the striker’s end. Predictably, both wicketkeeper and bowler called loudly for a throw. Second slip calmly took the right option and threw to the vacant non-striker’s end. The stumps were broken with a loud appeal. Which batsman would you have given out?
Three: the side batting second in pursuit of a substantial total opened their batting with a shy, nervous boy of about 13. He grew in confidence and as wickets fell around him he took charge of the innings. He passed fifty, found a reliable partner, and brought his team comfortably ahead of the required run rate. He passed quickly through the 80s but in the 90s, on the brink of his very first century, his nerves returned and he could scarcely buy a run. His partner (and extras) took over the scoring and the boy began to lose the opportunity to complete a century. Finally, the scores were level, wickets in hand, but just two balls left. The boy was facing on 96. He attempted a big hit, miscued and sliced the ball. It trickled towards third man. His partner called him for a run and he did his duty for his team and ran to the other end. Backward point was a kindly soul who had been following the scoreboard closely. He chased down the ball, which had stopped, and when he saw the batsmen running he kicked it over the boundary to give the boy his hundred. Did he succeed with this generous act?
Four: one of my teams had a regular opener who was incredibly stodgy. He was very hard to dismiss but even harder to accelerate. He used to announce grandly that his role was to “lay a platform”. In his case, the platform was made of slow-drying concrete. In one match, he had been in for over an hour and gathered ten runs. Like so many greater batsmen, he was “in the zone” where the outside world did not matter. I do not think he even heard our team’s pleas to get on with it. I went out to umpire at square leg. He blocked three more innocuous deliveries. The next was a long-hop. Even he could not resist. He took a big swing. It was mistimed and looped in the air towards square leg. Unfortunately, square leg was missing. I caught the ball myself as umpire, summoned mid-wicket and gave the ball to him. Was the batsman out?
Now what happened next. One: the umpire awarded the batsman five bonus runs only, not because he treated the helmets as one but because he ruled the ball dead as soon as it struck the first of them. I think this was right.
Two: Batsman B was ruled out. The umpires took no account of the movements of the batsmen, only the two runners. Runner A never abandoned the striker’s end and was still in his ground. Runner B had abandoned his ground and was run out when the non-striker’s stumps were broken. I think that this was right under the Laws but I know that both umpires personally disliked batsman B.
Three: the boy was not awarded his hundred. The senior umpire (joined by the scorer) decided that the game was over when the winning single was completed. I think that this was right, but here too there may have been personal factors. The senior umpire was the boy’s father, a dour Yorkshireman and a stickler for “proper cricket.” He told the kindly backward point that a century had to be earned, not gifted. The scorer was the boy’s jealous younger brother.
Four: I persuaded my colleague that the dismissal stood because the ball is still in play when it hits an umpire. The batsman objected that there had been no appeal. I told him that I had heard multiple appeals from the batsmen waiting to go in. This situation is not envisaged in the present Laws.
At my level, visiting umpires were rare but I used to encounter two unusual specimens fairly regularly. One was very modest about his abilities, as shown by this piece of circular logic on any lbw appeal. “I always give the batsman the benefit of the doubt, because I am such a bad umpire there must be doubt about any decision I give.”
The other gave decisions largely on the basis of artistic impression, like an ice skating or gymnastics judge. He would often give batsmen lbw if they were attempting an ugly cross-batted heave, but not if they tried to flick the ball beautifully off the pads. Similarly he would often refuse appeals by boring workaday seamers but grant them to tweakers and mystery bowlers.
I owe him a lot of my early victims.
Richard Heller is the author (with Peter Oborne) of White On Green celebrating the drama of Pakistan cricket, which was shortlisted for the Cricket Society/MCC Book of the Year in 2017. He is the author (alone) of two cricket novels A Tale Of Ten Wickets and The Network. He is in the twilight of a long cricket career which never really had a dawn.
Proposals submitted to the House of Lords Sub-committee on Members Conduct
It would be helpful to the general public, and perhaps also to members of the House, to consolidate the Code and the Guide into a single document.
Paragraph 1, add at end: “Membership of the House is, above all, a summons by the sovereign to the service of the state. Members are unelected and once appointed may sit in the House for life, a provision which is almost unique in the world’s legislatures. The public are entitled to expect that members should adopt the highest standards of personal conduct, both inside and outside the House.”
Paragraph 2: omit final sentence, which adds nothing to the Code and which is not necessarily true. Some members of the House have had long membership of the other place and may have little relevant experience outside Parliament.
Paragraph 3a: omit all after “them” in line 2 and replace with “ the Code does not extend to conduct outside the House except as provided in paragraphs 8, 9, 16 and 17.”
Paragraph 3b: omit all after “in” in line 2 and replace with “the House.”
New text 3. The purpose of this Code of Conduct is:
(a) to provide guidance for members of the House of Lords on the standards of conduct expected of them; The Code does not extend to conduct outside the House except as provided in paragraphs 8, 9, 16 and 17.
(b) to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the House.
Paragraph 8b: replace with “should act always in accordance with the Principles of Public Life, as currently defined by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.”
Paragraph 8c: omit “any financial inducement” since incentives and rewards may be non-financial.
Paragraph 8d: It might be simpler and clearer to prohibit members from taking any action within the House as the agent of any outside party, whether paid or not.
New text: 8. Members of the House:
(a) must comply with the Code of Conduct;
(b) should act always in accordance with the Principles of Public Life, as currently defined by the Committee on Standards in Public Life;
(c) must never accept or agree to accept any financial inducement as any incentive or reward for exercising parliamentary influence;
I think that it would be an excellent idea to add a new sub-paragraph to paragraph 8 as follows:
(x) must never attempt to use their status to secure any kind of personal advantage or treatment by means which would not be available to a member of the general public. The House will view with particular severity any attempt by members to use any such means in the pursuit of a complaint or a grievance.
In adopting this the House would set an excellent example to other people in public life, especially those who use the sentences “Do you know who I am?” or “I know your editor.”
Paragraph 9: Make the Principles directly enforceable on members and omit reference to personal honour. Omit all after “Public Life” in line 2 and replace with: “Members may face investigation of allegations of conduct inside or outside the House which might be thought by a reasonable person to be in breach of the Principles, and may be sanctioned if the allegations are upheld. These Principles will also be taken into consideration when any allegation of breaches of the provisions in other sections of the Code [or the Guide to the Code] is under consideration.”
Paragraph 16: what happens to peers sentenced to over one year’s imprisonment?
Paragraph 17: add references to disqualification as company director, and disqualification or suspension from the exercise of any profession, trade or vocation. Why should people who cannot run a company be allowed to run the country? Peers are expected to represent the highest standards of their professions – those who fall short should face the possibility of sanctions.
Paragraph 23: insert after “Conduct” in line 2 “or any officer or servant of the House” At end insert: “”No member should approach any complainant directly or attempt to exercise influence over any complainant.”
New text: 23. No member shall lobby a member of the Committee for Privileges and Conduct or the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Conduct or any officer or servant of the House in a manner calculated or intended to influence their consideration of a complaint of a breach of this Code. No member should approach any complainant directly or attempt to exercise influence over any complainant.
Paragraph 25: add after “regard” in line 3 “provided that he or she has given complete and accurate relevant information about the matter to the Registrar.”
New text: 25. A member who acts on the advice of the Registrar in determining what is a relevant interest satisfies fully the requirements of the Code of Conduct in that regard, provided that he or she has given complete and accurate relevant information about the matter to the Registrar. However, the final responsibility for deciding whether or not to participate in proceedings to which that interest is relevant rests with the member concerned.
It may be thought highly unlikely that any peer would try to nobble an Officer of the House, or threaten a complainant, but it is as well to deter such conduct by a reference in the Code, and it would bolster public confidence in the House.
For similar reasons, I would suggest that the Code introduce an in terrorem provision against members who wilfully mislead any Officer or servant of the House on any issue.
The Guide to the Code of Conduct
Some of the changes recommended above will have consequences for related provisions in the Guide. I have not attempted to track all of these.
In Paragraph 3 or elsewhere I think that it would be good to declare that the House has a bias towards disclosure, and that the Registrar will always recommend registration or declaration of a potential interest unless the member can offer convincing reasons for believing that a reasonable person would not expect it to influence his or her conduct in the House.
Omit Paragraphs 6 to 9 on personal honour: they would become otiose if the Principles of Public Life (which are much more explicit) were incorporated into the Code.
Amend or omit paragraphs 10 and 11 if the Principles became directly enforceable.
Omit Paragraphs 17 and 18: they are superrogatory and paragraph 17 almost invites members to argue that there is no distinction between the public interest and any private interest they choose to represent. “The Shropshire Pig Breeders Association has the right to be heard in the House.”
I think that paragraphs 19 to 28 need a great deal of clarification. I am not certain how to achieve this, but it might be enough to reform Paragraph 8 of the Code, as recommended above, ie a simple prohibition on peers from undertaking any action in the House at the direction of any outside body. It might also be helpful to have a general ban on lobbying by peers, with a definition of “lobbying” thus: to attempt to secure any decision on any matter by any government or regulator or public agency or international organization or any individual acting on its behalf.
On registration of interests:
I find incomprehensible the reference in paragraphs 49 and 52 to declaring “the precise source of each individual payment… confidentiality.” Simple inspection of the Register suggests that most peers also find it incomprehensible. It appears to mean that directors and employees should register all the clients of their companies or employers. But that would render paragraph 60 (my bugbear) otiose. If the House decides to retain the references to an established duty of confidentiality I think that the Guide should spell out the professions concerned. Personally, I think that this should refer only to medical, mental and spiritual professions and only in relation to actual human beings as clients, not to companies and other non-natural persons. As will be seen below, I believe that governments and Politically Exposed Persons have no right to privacy as clients.
Paragraph 60: see separate note. This serves no public interest, and allows a small group of peers the right to ignore the standards of disclosure required of the best public affairs consultants.
In any revision, the Guide should define public affairs and services. Here is an attempt based on definitions commonly in use in the industry, including its professional body, the Association of Professional Political Consultants.
“Although members may not engage in lobbying, as defined in paragraph x above, they are not prohibited from providing or assisting the provision of other public affairs advice and services. For purposes of this paragraph, this means any advice or services aimed at improving a client’s relationship with and potential influence over any government or minister or public official or regulator in any country; any international organization; any person or body seeking to influence voters in any country; or any section of the media, or general public opinion, in any country. It includes any training or education aimed at assisting any of these objectives.”
Then provide as follows: “Any member who is a director or partner in any organization providing public affairs advice and services should list all of its clients in the Register, indicating with an asterisk any clients for whom they provide any personal advice or service and any clients whom they have introduced to the organization. Any member who is an employee of such an organization should list in the Register all the clients for whom they provide any personal advice or service and any clients whom they have introduced to it.”
Category 7 I think there is a risk in asking peers to declare only visits “substantially arising out of membership of the House.” Most peers, if not all, have done something else in life, and they can always claim that they were invited in that capacity. This allows peers to withhold potentially embarrassing visits from the Register. For example, if Lord Emsworth wanted to hide his luxurious hospitality from the government of Repressia he could claim to have been invited as President of the Shropshire Pig Breeders association.
I think that peers should declare all overseas visits – or subsidies for an overseas visit – worth £500 or more if paid by the host or any third party other than his or her employer.
There is a curious anomaly that if Lord Emsworth made a speech in Repressia he would have to disclose this, and his subsidized visit, in Category 2. I see no reason for the House to favour shy, silent peers.
An identical argument applies to gifts, benefits and hospitality under Category 8 “which relates substantially to membership of the House.”
New provisions on registration of interests
I think that a new category should be established for members to declare any payment or benefit they receive from any overseas government or public agency or any Politically Exposed Person (as defined in statute) in any overseas country. The public deserve this information. Most but not all of it can be obtained laboriously from the present Register. It would be a great convenience to the public to bring this together in one place, and to allow the public quickly to discover all the peers who have a beneficial relationship with any particular overseas country.
In view of the beautiful language of the writ of summons, there is a case for arguing that peers should not have any such relationship. If they do, they should certainly disclose it.
A draft of this new category of registration follows in the Appendix.
I believe also that peers who are directors or partners in non-British businesses should declare the nationality of the business concerned. There is scope for argument over this in any case, but to me it means the country where the ultimate head office of the company is located (and/or where it is domiciled for taxation purposes.) The public should be able to discover quickly which peers work for say, Russian companies or those registered in tax havens.
For the convenience of the public, members might be asked to declare simultaneously on the Register any donations they are obliged to declare to the Electoral Commission.
Paragraph 110 omit last sentence and matching provision in Paragraph 114. If they have any effect, they may deter complaints from whistleblowers who are within the power of an offending peer. In the case of any reasonably serious allegation, I can see no reason why a peer should know the identity of a complainant. Even if the complainant is malicious or vindictive, the allegations he makes may be true, and if the Commissioner decides to ask questions about them, the peer should be ready to answer them.
Paragraph 121 I think there should be an obligation on peers to inform the Commissioner if they are investigated for any reason by the police or any regulatory agency in any country or by their relevant professional body. Peers should keep the Commission informed of the progress of the investigation. The Commissioner would then decide whether to initiate an inquiry herself. Regardless of her decision, I believe that the House should give itself power to act against any peer who has been sanctioned by the Electoral Commission. If a peer cannot comply with the basic rules of British democracy, he or she should lose the right to influence the law or public policy.
Draft new category of Registration of Lords Interests
Category X: Foreign Governments and Politically Exposed Persons
Members should list under this category any financial or other valuable benefit worth £500 or more which they (or their spouses or civil partners) have received from any overseas government or a Politically Exposed Person (or his or her close family members or known close associates) in any overseas country. They should list the value of each benefit so received, its nature if non-financial (for example free or subsidized hospitality) and the source. They are not obliged to declare the reason for which the benefit was given, unless it is in connexion with public affairs advice or services (as defined in paragraph y).
Members who are directors or partners in any business which has supplied goods or services of any kind to the value of £1000 or more to an overseas government or Politically Exposed Person (or his or her close family members or known close associates) should list under this category the businesses and the customers concerned. Room for argument as to value
Members who have a personal working relationship as employees of any business with any customer who is an overseas government, or a Politically Exposed Person (or his or her close family members or known close associates) should list under this category the business and customers concerned. For sake of completeness
An overseas government includes any official or public agency appointed by national government, but not a local authority, and bodies appointed by or accountable to local authorities.
An overseas government does not include any international organization but members may be liable to declare any financial or other valuable benefit received from a senior officer of such an organization acting in a personal capacity, if he or she is a Politically Exposed Person.
A Politically Exposed Person and his or her close family members or known close associates mean anyone within the definitions used in any current legislation or regulations. A PEP would generally include any head of state or head of government, minister, senior government or ruling party official, member of a national parliament or assembly, high-ranking military officer, ambassador, or justice of the highest court in any overseas country. It would also generally include any senior official of an international organization. Doubtful cases should be referred to the Registrar. Close family members include parents, spouses and civil partners, children and their spouses or civil partners.
Definition of Politically Exposed Person
Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017
12) In this regulation— (a) S.I. 2007/2157. 42 (a) “politically exposed person” or “PEP” means an individual who is entrusted with prominent public functions, other than as a middle-ranking or more junior official; (b) “family member” of a politically exposed person includes— (i) a spouse or civil partner of the PEP; (ii) children of the PEP and the spouses or civil partners of the PEP’s children; (iii) parents of the PEP; (c) “known close associate” of a PEP means— (i) an individual known to have joint beneficial ownership of a legal entity or a legal arrangement or any other close business relations with a PEP; (ii) an individual who has sole beneficial ownership of a legal entity or a legal arrangement which is known to have been set up for the benefit of a PEP.
(13) For the purposes of paragraph (5), a reference to a business relationship with an individual includes a reference to a business relationship with a person of which the individual is a beneficial owner.
(14) For the purposes of paragraphs (9), (11) and (12)(a), individuals entrusted with prominent public functions include— (a) heads of state, heads of government, ministers and deputy or assistant ministers; (b) members of parliament or of similar legislative bodies; (c) members of the governing bodies of political parties; (d) members of supreme courts, of constitutional courts or of any judicial body the decisions of which are not subject to further appeal except in exceptional circumstances; (e) members of courts of auditors or of the boards of central banks; (f) ambassadors, charges d’affaires and high-ranking officers in the armed forces; (g) members of the administrative, management or supervisory bodies of State-owned enterprises; (h) directors, deputy directors and members of the board or equivalent function of an international organisation.
Richard Heller September 2018