When I accompanied the Bishop of Lincoln earlier this week to his introduction into the House of Lords, Anthony Trollope’s words in Phineas Flynn about the British Constitution came to mind, “It is liberty to growl about the iron fleet, or the ballot, or the taxes, or the peers, or the bishops, or anything else, except the House of Commons. That’s the British Constitution”.
There is something amazingly civilised about enabling an unrepresentative, wholly undemocratic but amazingly experienced group of people to make comment on and contribute to the governance of our nation. As I gazed down upon the proceedings I recognised so many faces from the political establishment of the past 25 years, joined by other slightly less familiar faces, but leading lights in so many facets of our society. The gender balance was far more evident than when I last visited the House of Lords, as was the diversity ……. and then of course there were bishops.
I am among those who find it difficult to mount a really coherent argument as to why we have this institution in a modern, democratic and egalitarian society, save that it is wonderful to have a place in the structures of our legislature where people have the ‘liberty to growl’. The House of Lords brings together so much experience and wisdom to growl at the government. To growl, not because of the expedience of democratic process, but because they have the liberty and the place to express opinion, concern and disapproval. To all of this, we hope and pray that the Bishops will bring the harmony of Kingdom of God to the sounds coming from that place.
How the people of Zimbabwe would relish having a place where the ‘liberty to growl’ is enshrined.