November 5th, 2008

true to yourself

remember, remember...

Think back: Queen Elizabeth spent years persecuting the Catholics (rather like her sister, the Queen before her, spent years persecuting the Protestants) and people had hoped that her successor, James I, who had a Catholic mother, would be more tolerant of their religion.  He wasn't.  A number of young men decided that the answer was to blow up the Houses of Parliament, when the King and the Parliament were inside, or so the story goes.  It's debatable exactly who was behind the gunpowder plot - perhaps people trying to raise fear of Catholics or sympathy for the government - and if the plot was even meant to succeed, with some saying the gunpowder was so old as to be useless, but Guy Fawkes was the man caught in the cellar in the early hours of November the fifth.  He was tortured and executed.

There's always someone who asks if Bonfire Night is about commemorating the foiling of the plot or honoring Guy Fawkes entering parliament with the view to making things better.  Either way, what we do is remember.  We remember that one day one man nearly succeeded in destroying the government.  When the monarch enters the parliament, once a year, the cellars are checked, not because anyone expects to find any gunpowder, but because people remember.

We remember that governments are not infallible.

I woke up early this morning to see the results of the US election and I've watched Obama's victory speech twice.  I'm thrilled with the way it all turned out, not just because Obama is the first black president, as the news readers keep harping on about, but because he's a man with ideals that I admire and ideas for change, with a fine way of expressing them.  But what I found to be absolutely fantastic was the huge amount of people that voted, of all ages and races and backgrounds.  Just the sheer number of voters.  Sometimes America is a joke to Britain.  Today it was an inspiration.

I wish people here were half as interested in elections.  We're due one and some say that we are due a change.

There is an historian's saying about British politics that governments are voted out and not in, that people grow tired of the old and wish for a change.  Please, though, think of what we'd be changing to.  Gordon Brown is not a charismatic Obama.  None of our politicians are.  But neither are we as enthusiastic about having a vote as the Americans.  We need to take an interest and actually think about what our politicians stand for.

Governments are not infallible, not the one we have now or the next, and nor will Obama's government be, because that isn't the way the world works.  But we can choose which government we have.  We can choose to make parliament better, and we don't need gunpowder to do it.

Congratulations to the folks across the pond for managing to do that.  Let's see if we can remember that we can do the same.