Fur and feathers challenge tarred politics

Simon Barrow
By Simon Barrow
8 Nov 2009

These days it isn’t just anxious looking MPs and peers, lobbyists, civil servants, journalists and security officials you’ll find wandering in or near the Palace of Westminster. Even more exotic characters have recently taken it upon themselves to join the cast list for the rolling parliamentary drama.

Among the unexpected visitors have been Batman, a troupe of clowns, Basil Brush and his foxy friends, a group of zombies and a super-sized duck home, all hoping to get their message across and liven up political proceedings at the same time.

The aforementioned 10-foot-high member of the Anatidae family of birds bravely risked a roasting alongside Guy Fawkes on Bonfire Night in order to ensure that MPs didn’t “duck the challenge of accountability”, following their November plot to overturn Sir Christopher Kelly’s expenses recommendations. The duck is believed to have survived, but a few metaphors were badly mangled.

The enterprising ‘Vote for a Change’ campaign, which is calling for a public referendum on the voting system, even organised a camera boat down the Thames for the media, to make sure no one missed a quack.

Keen observers will have recognised the built-in reference to Tory grandee Sir Peter Viggers’ claim on the public purse for the £1,645 cost of a ‘Stockholm’ floating duck house in the garden pond of his Hampshire home. “A little taste of Scandinavia for the mallard in your life”, claimed protesters wryly.

Mind you, this sort of thing seems small fauna compared to the 4 billion euros that the same week’s El Mundo newspaper estimated as the cost of political corruption over the past decade in Spain, primarily for kickbacks or inflated public contracts. The Euro-dimension is rarely far away from our domestic traumas.

Not long beforehand the zombies had arrived (on Halloween, of course) to condemn the capital’s “Parliament of the Living Dead”, before parading along Whitehall, Downing Street and Trafalgar Square. Those involved were again agitating for political reform. But they were also eyeing the record books for the largest costumed protest ever seen in the precincts of Westminster.

Where will all this lead? Someone in the security line at Portcullis House, recalling an animal rights demonstration, recently speculated that a fur detector might soon be needed alongside all the metal detectors, just to avoid some sort of dangerous costumery-based political conflagration.

Actually, that has already happened. During the 1997 election campaign, now-defunct Live TV’s ‘News Bunny’ was involved in an unseemly punch up with a bunch of other people dressed in animal outfits for reasons everyone has now forgotten – though it seemed fun at the time.

However, anyone tempted to think that all this political fancy dress is new should take a look at some of the outfits on display in the splendid chamber where the sovereign presides at the annual State Opening of Parliament each November. Black Rod and his cohorts can certainly give the demonstrators a run for their (your) money in the sartorial department, in tradition and finery if not in innovation.

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See also: Power2010 - www.power2010.org.uk/

Vote for a Change campaign - http://www.voteforachange.co.uk/page/invite

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(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. This article is from his regular 'Westminster Watch' column in Third Way (http://www.thirdwaymagazine.co.uk/), the monthly magazine of Christian commentary on culture and society.

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