In an earlier post on this blog, I came clean about my love of chess and general geekiness. Well, to add to this soaring level of cool, I’m now going to tell you that I hold a degree in both history and politics. I know what you’re thinking. You’d never guess from my photo. But then, you can rarely tell. I have tried not to draw too much attention to my geek-chic on this blog up to now. Needless to say, history nerds tend not to be a major turn on. It’s a lot more Dan Cruikshank than Indiana Jones. Anyway, I’m now going to burst that particular bubble and it’s all HM Treasury’s fault. That probably needs a wee bit of explanation. This afternoon, the treasury released this highly informative (!) press release. I loved it, and many other fellow geeks students of politics will have too. The Chancellor of the Exchequer today appointed Iris Robinson to the delightful sounding post of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Hundreds of Chiltern. Sounds good doesn’t it? Important stuff, assuming you can find the three Hundreds of Chiltern. Or know what a Hundred is. Luckily for you, Dear Reader, I can enlighten you!
First things first, a Hundred was the traditional Saxon administrative unit of a shire and was an area capable of sustaining 100 households. Each Hundred was responsible to a Shire reeve, later sheriff, who was responsible for administration, justice and providing troops for the Shire. Sheriffs often had stewards appointed to look after the Hundred whilst they were off putting down peasants’ revolts and such. All clear so far? Good stuff! So the three Hundreds of Chiltern are in Buckinghamshire in the middle of the Chiltern hills and were a notorious hiding place for robbers and outlaws. In the 13th century, the Crown bought the area and appointed a Crown Steward and Bailiff to restore law and order there. And there’s been one there ever since, even though it was long ago civilised.
The second thing you need to know is that people were often forced to serve as a Member of Parliament against their wills because it stopped them earning money (oh how times change eh?). So the House of Commons passed a resolution in the 1620s making it illegal to resign as an MP and that resolution is still in place today. I can hear pennies dropping now.
According to the Act of Settlement 1701, appointment to an office of profit under The Crown disqualifies the office holder from standing as an MP. So if an MP is appointed to such a post, they have no choice but to resign. Which is what Iris Robinson has done today. She’s among illustrious company though. David Davis held the post for a few hours before resigning it to fight a by-election for his own old seat, Tony Blair held the post previous to that, and Neil Kinnock, Roy Jenkins, and Brian Walden have all held the post too. The good news for Iris is that they all went on to bigger and better things.