History of parliament

History of parliament
| Feminism > Activism

Since 1265, an English Parliament of some form or another has sat, with representatives from each of England’s counties and boroughs. Filled entirely with the aristocracy, they would discuss the state of the Nation, and then do exactly what the King asked of them…

Within thirty years, it had evolved into something more recognisable. On 13th November 1295 the Model Parliament sat for the first time. It was composed mainly of clergy and the aristocracy. But, every county had to supply a pair of knights and a burgesses, whereas a city had to provide citizens, picked from the ruling classes. Also picked by the ruling classes, so the average serf in the field didn’t really get a look in.

The main, in fact almost sole, purpose for this parliament’s first meeting was to discuss which taxes to levy, to cover the costs of King Edward I’s war against the French. And the Scottish. And the Welsh were looking a bit uppity too. So, in essence, this was a meeting of the now ruling class to obtain money from the poor, to pay for war. How times have changed…

In the 14th Century, Parliament was split into two houses. The clergy and aristocracy naturally went to sit in the House of Lords, whereas the remaining representatives, the knights and such like, quaintly thought of as commoners, sat in the House of Commons.

And that’s pretty much how it’s remained for the last seven hundred odd years. There’s been tweaks and changes along the way. We can now vote for the commoners we wish to represent us (more on that next week). The Commoners found shared interests and beliefs and formed political parties. However, the House of Lords still remains populated by the un-elected Upper classes, who obtain their positions largely by birth.

The rules for Parliament are pretty simple. The House of Commons is made up of Members of Parliament, the political party who have the most elected MPs form the Government. They then set the agenda for each year’s worth of sittings. Each new law or act they wish to pass has to be agreed upon, (usually by an MP proposing a bill or a motion) by sometimes robust, but mainly dull discussion and then a vote. If the bill is passed, it goes to the ‘Other Place’, as they call it, the House of Lords.

The Lords too has changed, although it still has a core membership of hereditary Lords, the Peers are slowly becoming the majority. However, the government can hand out Life Peerages, based on merit or, as more recently alleged, a large enough donation to the party funds. They then repeat the previous discussions and once more hold a vote. The bill is then either passed, or sent back to the House of Commons to start the process all over again.

This means that the aristocracy still has a great deal to say in what a Mook can or can’t do. A triumph of democracy.

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