There’s often something particularly interesting when different news stories coincide, intersect or collide. General Petraeus fainting at a Senate hearing was one legislative drama this week; BP’s Tony Hayward being grilled by Congresspersons for over seven hours was another. I shall come to the Prince of Wales later.
What might be called General Petraeus’ passing out parade, from which he quickly recovered, occurred under somewhat hostile questioning, demonstrating that even the great ones in a democracy have to endure democratic scrutiny. Mr Hayward’s’ ordeal, interrupted by an ordinary citizen, was far worse. Happily for us, however, it confirmed many of the stereotypes about committee hearings that Hollywood has been pressing on us for years.
A week or so ago after MPs in the UK have voted for Select Committee chairs, is it too much to ask these Committees to adopt, for democracy’s sake, something of the pizzazz shown by their American cousins? We all know what this features: dramatic lighting, a hubbub of noise, a portly chairman fruitlessly banging his gavel for order, legislators shouting “Mr Chairman, Mr Chairman!” whilst continually being interrupted by aides bringing urgent papers to them, platoons of photographers kneeling in front of the witness table, firing off shot after shot; the witness himself whispering to his lawyer beside him whilst putting his hand over the microphone… What’s not to love? I look forward to this ritual being adopted in Westminster.
Now who would be a great first witness to undergo such a carnival? Somebody implicated in a constitutional issue, perhaps, accused by many of interfering in the democratic process of urban planning? That would make a good start. Yes, I’m talking about the Prince of Wales and the Chelsea Barracks and Qatar affair. Some might object to a member of the royal family being subjected to this. But you know what? I don’t care.
I’m with Edward Gibbon on this one. So I leave the last word with him: “The generality of princes, if they were stripped of their purple and cast naked into the world, would immediately sink to the lowest rank of society, without a hope of emerging from their obscurity.” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch 22).
Your Royal Highness, you’d better start preparing for your hearing now.