Monday, 6 September 2021

Falling bridges


It is not entirely unreasonable for someone to be making plans for the death of a 95 year old woman, particularly if that woman just happens to be the head of state. And whatever one might think about the way in which the UK’s head of state is chosen, it’s not unreasonable to suppose that the various parliaments within the UK might decide, when the death is announced, that they will suspend their deliberations for a period as a mark of respect. It seems, though, according to the plans leaked last week, that it will not be up to them; it has already been decided by someone in London that that will happen without waiting for those parliaments to decide for themselves. The exquisitely Ruritanian exception, apparently, is that in the event that the UK Parliament finds itself in recess at the time, it will be recalled in order to adjourn itself. It has also already been decided that on the seventh day after the death, the Senedd will pass a motion of condolence and the new king will travel to Cardiff to receive it. Whether any of the elected members have any say on any of this is a question answered only by the fact that no other possibility seems to have been considered. However reasonable the proposed actions might be in themselves, there seems to be a certain detachment from the idea of democracy here.

In order that no-one eavesdropping on any Prime Ministerial conversations understands what has happened in the few minutes before an official newsflash makes the actual public announcement, the PM will be given the message in code, being told merely that “London Bridge is down”. Presumably, now that this particular code has been broadcast to the world, the civil servants will have to come up with a new code phrase instead. How can they choose a suitable phrase allowing the secret to be maintained for a whole ten minutes - and, more relevantly, why on earth does anyone think that it needs to be?

My favourite bit of all, though, came in the Guardian’s report on the same story which tells us that one of the big concerns of those writing the plans is the “potential for public anger if Downing Street cannot lower its flags to half-mast within 10 minutes of the announcement since there is no ‘flag officer’”. Perhaps I’m underestimating the degree to which the reality at the time will match the pre-scripted outpouring of official grief, but I’m struggling to believe that people will take to the streets (or even just write cross letters to the newspapers) protesting at the absence of a designated flag-lowering person in Downing Street if it means that a whole eleven minutes passes between the announcement and the lowering of the flag. Or could it just possibly be that those drawing up the plans have ever-so-slightly lost the plot?


Gav said...

"London Bridge
is broken down,
Dance over my Lady Lee.
London Bridge
is broken down
with a gay Lady."

Nice to see officials with a sense of humour, if a bit macabre. I recall as a very small child singing these words to a 6/8 tune (not Playford's) which I can't put a name to. The 2/4 tune which seems almost universal now has to use slightly different words as these don't fit very well.

Michael Haggett said...

So you think that someone will now have to come up with a new code, John. Not so fast. Downing Street protocol is subject to a certain degree of inertia. There is, apparently, no "phrase change officer", so no-one has yet been given the authority to change it since the last time it was leaked, namely March 2017.

John Dixon said...

No flag-lowering officer, no code phrase changing officer - what's the UK coming to when such vital posts are left unfilled? Perhaps they should be added to the lists of shortage occupations so that EU nationals could be recruited to fill them...

Democritus said...

What's so wrong with the protection officer tapping his ear/watch whilst subtly kicking the PM in the ankle?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you shouldn't put so much faith in the veracity of a story in The Guardian newspaper.

John Dixon said...


Is there any particular element of the story whose veracity you wish to challenge? Whilst your point (that we shouldn't believe all we read in the papers) is a generally good one, it doesn't follow that we should therefore disbelieve everything either. And this story appeared in multiple outlets as well... If you want to dismiss it, you'll need to do a lot better than make unsubstantiated accusations of lying against one newspaper.