Farewell, Public Order (a song from 1986)

(after Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here”. Composed during Standing Committee of the Public Order Bill 1986. The Bill provided for new definitions of riot and other serious public disturbances. It introduced a fuzzy and wide-ranging new offence of “disorderly conduct”: anything at all which might unsettle a person “of reasonable firmness.” The Bill introduced new controls on marches and demonstrations. It provided for football hooligans to be photographed, to prepare the way for identity cards for all football fans. Not mentioned in the song below, the Bill also introduced new offences of racial hatred. Marshalled by Gerald Kaufman, then Shadow Home Secretary, Labour’s team in Standing Committee moved 365 amendments to the Bill and secured important concessions from the government.)

Good times and bad times,
I’ve sat through them all, and my dear,
I’m still here.
Been through the sparring,
Waiting for someone to cheer,
But I’m here.
Fifty amendments
To each clause:
Moved them with passion,
Bust my jaws!
Did any of them get accepted? Not this year,
So I may be a bit out of order, but I’m here.

I’ve been through a riot,
Practically ruined my day,
But I’m here.
Violent disorder, almost a deadly affray,
But I’m here.
I’ve seen twelve persons
Clench their fist,
Ten with mens rea,
Two just pissed.
But did they have common purpose? Case dismissed, so my dear,
I may be a bit out of order, but I’m here.

I’m not a hero,
But try to stay reason’bly firm,
So I’m here.
I’ve seen certain gestures
Which forced even strong men to squirm,
But I’m here.
Once someone left me
Less than charmed,
Harassed and distressed me, made me
Quite alarmed.
Then a copper told him “You’ve been warned, now off, clear!”
So I may be a bit out of order, but I’m here.

I’ve watched the Solicitor-General [Peter Fraser MP, Scottish Solicitor General: although largely silent his eyebrows were eloquent]
Sit without speaking a word.
I’ve waited in vain for the Home Sec:
He’s never seen but he’s Hurd. [Douglas Hurd, the Home Secretary who introduced the Bill, did not attend the Standing Committee]

I’ve been on processions,
Marching for love or for peace,
But I’m here.
Once I got busted
When nobody warned the police
But I’m here.
I’ve been assembled
In the open air:
Looked for two others –
No one there.
You can’t riot solo, anywhere, that’s made clear,
So I may be a bit out of order, but I’m here.

I’ve been to football
Sick as a parrot with nerves,
But I’m here.
Watched Tottenham Hotspur
Losing to Hartlepool Reserves
But I’m here.
They tried to exclude me
From the crowd:
They took my picture,
Made me proud.
But I grew a beard from my ear, to my ear,
And then walked right in through the turnstile:
Now I’m here.

The Minister of State is so genial,
But knows when to lay down the law.
With notes from officials and minders,
He only speaks when he’s Shaw. [Giles Shaw MP was the Minister of State who piloted the Bill through the Committee]

Good clause and bad clause,
I’ve seen them all, and my dear,
I’m still here.
Brilliant amendments
I’ve watched them fall, with a tear,
But I’m here.
AM and PM
On our feet
Two thousand speeches
No repeat.
We’ve run more than fifty times longer than King Lear.
Mr Leadbitter, bring down the curtain…
It’s time we’re not here. [Ted Leadbitter, Labour MP for Hartlepool, chaired the Standing Committee]

25. June 2013 by rkh
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