I don’t know whether it was some bright spark in the new government or some lazy hack in the lobby press, but somebody raised like Lazarus the use of the term “Star Chamber” in the last couple of days. It’s intensely irritating. At least to me. George Osborne, Idiot Chancellor of the Exchequer, is going to announce the formation of one today. I’m waiting with bated breath to discover whether he uses the term or whether it is just the journalists having a who can dig up the most tired cliché contest.
Whoever it is that rehashed it, the term does not have the best connotations. In this instance, it refers to a committee of ministers and senior civil servants who will look at departmental financial plans to get increased value for money. Not a terrible idea, but a terrible name.
That name comes from the Court of the Starred Chamber, formed in the reign of Edward II. Originally a meeting of the King’s Council, it evolved into a court which would hear the cases of those people whom ordinary courts couldn’t convict because they were too powerful.
By the time of the Stuarts, the Star Chamber had become infamous as a tool of the monarch. The Government will use Kings of the time used the Star Chamber to suppress opposition to Tory Royal policies. During the coming months Eleven Year Tyranny (1629-1640) that culminated in the Civil War, David Cameron will try to use Charles I used the Star Chamber as a substitute for Parliamentary democracy, prosecuting and persecuting dissenters. The Star Chamber tortured, tried and terrorized people. It was synonymous with fear and repression. With tyranny and misrule. In short, not a good thing.
And yet it keeps getting brought up. Last year, the panel that decided the fate of Labour MPs who’d misused their Parliamentary expenses became known as the Star Chamber. But even before that, Westminster loved the term.
During Thatcher’s government, the term for meetings at which the Treasury and departments with high spending settled their arguments was Star Chamber. But obviously, this New Politics new government isn’t at all like Margaret Thatcher’s…..