The Dominion, Friday, July 3, 1925. p. 10.
Peeps at Parliament: An afternoon on the "Address" — The Humours of Opposition
"Rain, rain, go away,
Come again another day."
Don't you remember repeating that little formula, with your noses flattened against the window pane, in the days when you were very young and trusting? A little of my old touching faith in formulas still clings to me, for yesterday afternoon, going up to the House, I found myself repeating it over and over under my breath. And sure enough, didn't the sun come out, and smile the timid but confident smile of a girl who has kept her fiance waiting for hours, and is so sorry, but she quite forgot her appointment? Halfway along the path that leads through the level green lawns in Parliamentary grounds, I met a chirpy little gentleman in a speckled waistcoat. He put his head on one side, looked at me with beady bright eyes, and cheeped "Well, it is a fine day, isn't it?"
"Passable," I retorted, and made to pass on to my true and lawful destination. But he stood on one leg, waggled his wings, and hopped along beside me.
"Whither away?" he inquired.
"In there," I said, indicating the Buildings with a lordly wave of my hand. "England expects that every man this day shall do his duty."54
"Oh, I see," he replied, with a twinkle in his eye. "Digging for worms, eh? Families are the deuce, aren't they?"
"It's not that at all," I responded indignantly. But he flew off, and sat waving his wing at me from the nearest telegraph wire. So I collected my thoughts and other belongings and proceeded into the House.
The consequence is that now, about five hours later, I have a headache and a jaundiced sort of outlook on the world. As interpreted by Labour members, life is mostly froth and bubble. They seem to believe that one-half of society spends its time getting money without working, and the other half in working without getting money—almost.55
There's the silence of a theatre, when the curtain drops and the lights go out, and the players vanish away into the shadowy world behind the scenes; the silence of an old house from which all the life and laughter has flown away; but nothing in the world quite so silent as the House before the members come in. It's a silence that makes itself felt by means of little cold prickles along one's spine. If you half shut your eyes, you can see the courtly ghosts of dead and gone members—statesmen of the gay-old-dog days—lolling back in those empty benches, and whispering rapier-keen asides compared to which the sharpest interjection of to-day is mere spade-work. For once I welcomed the tinkle of that execrable little bell.
There are two phases of the pomp and ceremony that glorify Parliamentary procedure which always impress with a sense of the picturesque. One is the military smartness with which the Sergeant-at Arms clicks his heels when depositing the Mace in its place, and the other is the Speaker's wig. Yes, you're perfectly correct. I simply can't get that wig out of my mind. My idea is this: why shouldn't all members be presented with similar toupees? Then, in days to come, when the shingle has set its devastating seal on all womankind, we would be able to adjourn to the House, and, with tears in our eyes, gaze upon the splendour that once was our own. In time we would probably originate some such saying as "A member's crowning glory is his wig," and pass an Act prohibiting bobbing. We might have becoming chestnut transformations for Reform members, white for the Liberals—if there are any Liberals—to indicate their political character, and, of course, bright red for the Labour Party. Honestly, don't you think that's something in the nature of an idea? Besides … some of them could do with it.
But to come to such business as was—and wasn't—transacted. During the earlier part of the day, an earnest young Labour member, with one of those high-minded-looking switchbacks, arose and gave the House to understand that at his earliest opportunity he intended to question the Government concerning the number of titles and honours awarded during its reign, as compared with those donated under the auspices of the previous Government.56
"That's me," murmured a lady in the gallery, with melancholy interest.
"Eh?" I remarked, startled.
"Yes," she replied. "They gave me a decoration. But after all," brightening a little, "it was just an M.B.E., so I'm only a moderately bad egg. Do you think they'll send me to the guillotine?" I wanted to reassure her, but my conscience wouldn't let me.
But the worst was still to come. Mr Armstrong, of the Labour wing, made a speech—nearly all blood, with a little thunder thrown in for good measure—denouncing everyone and everything within sight.57 M.P.'s are funny things, you know—sometimes. First of all, they congratulate a member on his maiden speech: then they bludgeon him with statistics, vivisect his ideas, pour contumely upon his neatest things, and leave him for dead on his bench. One rather interesting incident took place during Mr. Armstrong's speech. He publicly and deliberately cut Bolshevism dead—deader than a sausage.58 Just occasionally Labour members can say the most amusing things, and still keep straight faces. "Reactionaries," proclaimed Mr. Armstrong (he meant us, you know), "are fast becoming desperate."59 I glanced over the edge of the Gallery into the very small section of the Government benches which can be seen therefrom, expecting to see white-faced Ministers and shaken followers. Directly below me, curled up on his bench, a Reform member lay with his eyes shut—probably thinking over Mr. Armstrong's words. Ever and anon there proceeded from his lips a sound too deep to be a sigh, too gentle to be a groan. For a desperate and driven man he looked strangely at peace with the world. I leaned back again, a little reassured.
All things must come to an end sooner or later—comforting thought, isn't it? Naming no names, and meaning no offence to nobody, I really think that at their age certain members ought to have learned that abusing other parties60 isn't excusing their own.
At this stage of the proceedings, Mr. Rhodes,61 of the Reform Party, rose to the rescue of his cause, and, incidentally, of the tired members of the Ladies' Gallery. He started out by flatly contradicting everything that Mr. Armstrong had said, and finished by asserting that the world was getting along quite nicely, thank you, and would probably recover from its after-war sickness without the assistance of the good old Bolshevik remedy—a little blood-letting. Perhaps the frequent "Order! Order!62" during the first part of the afternoon saved him from interjection. Anyhow, he reminded me of the little schoolboy's account of Daniel in the lions' den.63 "There was lions in front of him, lions behind him, and a whacking big lion forninst him. An' there was wee Dannie in the middle of 'em, not caring a d— for any of 'em!" For the Speaker had stopped the lions' mouths.
"Once upon a time," whispered the lady next to me, with something of a regretful sigh, "the Labour Party used to get up and hold caucuses on the floor. But not under this Speaker!"
"Not really!" I whispered back, much impressed. I don't quite know just what a caucus is—some kind of tangi or war-dance, isn't it? —but I do wish I'd seen one.
A Liberal member was the next speaker.64 It's a little amusing—and more than a little pathetic—to listen to the extremely mild and inoffensive speeches contributed by Liberals just now. But from the member in question came the soundest piece of political common-sense that I've heard—so far, at all events. "It is the time," he stated, "for measures, not for men."65 If only everyone thought that way—why, we'd have the country and world spring-cleaned in a year, wouldn't we?
Tinkle, tinkle! That exasperating little bell interrupted Sir John Luke in the exact middle of his speech, and me in the middle of a delicious rosy day-dream, wherein I rescued Mr. Sidey from the onslaught of a justly incensed motor-bus, in return for which, as a trifling recompense for my services, he was just beginning to tell me all the facts about Fusion.
"Here, you!" said the orderly. "Tea time!" I sighed, took up my goods and chattels, and departed.
England expects that every man will do his duty. (Oxford Dictionary of Quotations).
55 See Armstrong's speech in particular (Hansard 206: 140-46).
56 Although it is not recorded in Hansard, Lee did comment on the Honours system. See “House and Lobby,” New Zealand Times, 3 July 1925, p. 6.
57 See Hansard 206: 104-48.
58 "The Minister [of Labour] has been reading quite a lot of I.W.W. and Bolshevik literature recently. He had quite a stock of it to amuse the House with last evening. When he quoted demands that were made by certain organizations in Australia and other parts of the world the Minister knew perfectly well that he was quoting articles produced by organizations that are not connected in any shape or form with this or any other political Labour party in Australasia or the British Empire" (Hansard 206: 140).
59 Cf Armstrong: "…in Australia to-day there is only one State that is not under a Labour Government, and there they will have a Labour Government on the very first occasion that the people vote upon it. The same thing will happen in the near future in this country; that is the reason why the Tories are becoming as desperate as they are and resorting to the tactics that they do" (Hansard 206: 141).
60 Dominion: partiees.
62 Dominion: Orders.
63 Cf. Daniel 6 v. 16ff.
Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.
64 De la Perrelle.
65 Cf. de la Perrelle: "There is an old saying, 'Measures, not men,' and that ought to be our object as members of the House" (Hansard 205: 157).