Wednesday, 6 June 2012

United Kingdom v. Republic of Kafka

This short piece was prompted by a discussion going on over at George Szirtes' blog about the value or otherwise of the constitutional monarchy in the United Kingdom.

My first thoughts are that the constitutional monarchy and parliamentary system that exists in the United Kingdom is good and right for the nation.

I feel that there is something of a refreshing openness about the way things are done in the UK.  In particular I like it that Members of Parliament are responsible to their constituencies and return to them at periodic intervals to hold surgeries and to explain to the electorate living there what is going on and why and also to be available to address local issues. I really like this. It's an important and vital service and a safety valve. It's a point of contact which operates both ways; it's like the circulation of blood in the human body which goes from the top down and at the same time from the bottom up if you like a metaphor.

In the imaginary Republic of Kafka the system is very different. Lists of anonymous names are circulated at election times. Parties are voted for. Coalitions are cobbled together after weeks and months of wrangling. The ones who finish third can be the leaders. It happens. The whole business is like a body in continual need of blood transfusions. And this happens; anonymous ministers materialize and disappear with alarming regularity.

When things go wrong in the Republic of Kafka parliamentary investigations take place behind closed doors; there are 3 or 4 such investigations going on or just finishing even as I write these words. The outcomes of these investigations will not be clear  and the good people of the Republic will not even get to see the questions and answer sessions on TV.

The President of the Republic of Kafka is elected by the parliament which as I have explained is an election of party lists. No individual is ever responsible to any constituency and so there is no way-in and no face to face feedback for the average person.

To me as a poet the UK's constitutional monarchy is like a butterfly whilst the imaginary Republic of Kafka  is like a moth. The first flies in the broad light of the day and the other flies in the darkness.


  1. The problem with everything is that we, for some peculiar reason, always imagine that we’re hard done to and that others have it so much better. I’ve never lived anywhere bar the UK. My wife has—she’s an American—and so she is better placed to look objectively at life here. Considering America is the land of the free and all that I’ve watched her over the years become more and more disenchanted with her country of origin. She really has little bad to say about the UK and Scotland in particular. Maybe if I left the UK the same would happen for me; my eyes would be opened. Somehow I think not. Despite all the surveillance cameras I still feel as free as I’d ever want to.

          THE TRUTH

          At home you cry;
          You think you're trapped.

          I'm out here and
          there's nowhere to run to.

          27 June 1985

  2. My feelings really Gwilym. There is a very good article about the monarchy in today's Times. I think Jim has good points too - we do tend to knock what we have and think other things are better but I have English friends married to Americans and who live over there and they really envy us our freedom. I think often you have to lose these things before you realise how important they were.

  3. Thanks for that poem Jim. It's the truth all right!

    It's like sheep who get out of the field and can't find their way back in when the juggernaut comes.

  4. Hi Pat,
    I think my reply to Jim, being on a farm, you'll pick up on. We don't know what we've got till its gone , as the song goes.
    cheer, G.

  5. Pat, I have to add that whenever I come to the UK I am invariably struck and impressed by how kind and caring the people are to each other. There's a kind of gentleness, call it refined good manners; it's something one doesn't generally see in Europe, except in Italy.


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