Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Snippets from the Archives

How I spend my days:

I’d always thought that the irresistible attraction of Britain’s Prince Philip’s foot to his mouth (or perhaps more accurately, its basically permanent inhabitancy of the back reaches of his throat) was a product of age...a curmudgeonly sort of thing.  But as far back as 1962 the Duke of Edinburgh (how does he ever keep these various titles straight?) was putting his foot in it.  In his capacity as a World Wildlife Fund figurehead (I can just picture him eying the Panda: “Mmmm, wonder how that goes with pheasant?  If I had one on my estate I could find out...  Have to see if the missus will get me one...”) the Duke inveighed against poaching, and targeted African “get rich quick” poachers who were selling rhino horn to the Chinese, who “for some inexplicable reason...think it acts as a love potion ... I should have thought that the population statistics alone would have convinced anyone that those things were obviously unnecessary”.*

*KW20/11.  Overseas press Comment.  1962 to 1963.  Box 46, Shelf 5487.


It was tough work being the Speaker of the Legislative Council in Colonial Kenya, but there were some perks.  One of these was the right to label language as ‘unparliamentary’. 

Speaker Sir Ferdinand Cavendish-Bentinck chided parliamentarians as follows on 19 June 1957 after a display of spectacular disrespect exploded on the floor during a gripping debate of the Committee of Supply on the vote to the Agricultural Department for the year. 

 “I think it is unparliamentary”, Sir Ferdinand fumed, “to impute the possession of phoney commercial ideas or a phoney commercial brain to another Member.  Also, if I may say so, I think that it isunparliamentary to call another Member a flamingo. 

“I also must add that although the wearing of a hat is permissible and, indeed, on occasions mandatory in the House of Commons, paper hats have invariably been ruled out of order”.

* Kenya Legislative Council Debates, 19 June 1957.  For the record, I have no idea who was wearing a paper hat, or why.  Nor, alas, was I able to discover the reason for some poor sod having been tarred with the ‘flamingo’ slur...


People from many parts of the world will be familiar with the concept of an annual address by some executive authority, even a rather doddery and toothless one (and I suspect the greater the pageantry, the more doddery and toothless...).  In the U.S. we have the State of the Union.  In Britain they have the Queen’s address at the State Opening of Parliament.  In Canada, I believe they call the indignity of pretending to be a sovereign nation while grovelling in front of the Governor General the Speech from the Throne or something similarly amusing. 

In the U.S. the response to the SOTU takes a ritualistic form.  In the Obama Presidency, the lucky Republican chosen to deliver this response calls the President a satanic, fascist dictator, bent on forcing his secular, Islamist, socialist values on the country.  Somewhere in there they refer to him as a radical environmentalist and allude to his mysterious national origins.

Well it was apparently traditional for the Tanganyika Governor’s annual address to be met with a similar response.  When His Excellency pronounced on the state of the territory in September of 1957, the Assistant Minister for Lands, D P K Makwaia, was chosen to deliver the response.  It came as follows:

“Sir, I feel honoured and privileged to have been asked to move the Address in Reply to the speech delivered by His Excellency the Governor during the opening ceremony of the present Session of this Honourable Council.  I believe that Honourable Members on both sides of the House will agree with me that His Excellency’s speech, as an exposition of the affairs of the country, was a comprehensive, clear and constructive masterpiece.  Indeed, whatever differences there may be on matters of detail there can be no doubt that the broad path of Tanganyika’s future development depends on a satisfactory equilibrium between political, social and economic development...”*

I bet Obama wishes he could find a Republican as congenial as Makwaia!

* Tanganyika Legislative Council Debates.  18 September 1957.


  1. i'm not sure that the takeaway from this should be that i will now moderate FB discussions by calling people "unparliamentary," but that's what's going to happen.

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