Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Parishes of England

It’s an ancient English tradition that every parish look after its own natives. Parishes used to have the right to expel “foreigners” back to their home parishes. Most of those expelled were poor people, since some parishes had more money in the kitty than others. “Foreign” workers brought in to help with the harvests acquired no right of residence no matter how long or frequent their visits. In general, the only foreigners accepted as residents were men who married into one of the parish families. There was no rollover policy as such.

The natives themselves, of any and all parishes, were subject to arbitrary transplantation by decree of the king or the local lords of the manor. In the 1700s, tens of thousands of parishioners from England, Scotland and Ireland were unwillingly “planted” in the British Caribbean and North American colonies as indentured servants, and in the preceding Century King James implemented the mass transfer of villagers from his realm to what is now Northern Ireland.

One can see the link between the old British customs and the practices Britain includes in its current colonial rules. Cayman is an example of a parish’s autonomy; the deportation of the Chagossians in the 1960s illustrates a British monarch’s legal power to override that autonomy. Both examples are consistent with the old customs. If the United States had wanted Cayman Brac handed over to it instead of Chagos, all the Brackers would have been expelled without a moment’s hesitation.

It would pay native Caymanians to study British history in more detail than is done at present. It would pay their MLAs to study and understand the distinction between a nation and a parish-sized territory, too. One day those studies might come in handy.

It’s very tiresome hearing and reading comparisons between Cayman and large nations. “How would Britain like it if two thirds of its population were immigrants?” or “America’s Presidents have to be born in that country, so it’s only right that all our MLAs be born in this country.” Utterly stupid comments, deriving from a deep ignorance of the world around us.

Cayman’s proper comparisons are with British parishes or towns, not Britain itself. Why is that so hard to understand? The FCO did our Islands a great disservice when it re-titled our Leader of Government Business as Premier and our ExCo (Executive Council) as Cabinet, and set up a Protocol Office. How many English parishes have Protocol Offices, for goodness sake? Those titles just gave our local rulers ideas above their extremely modest stations. A place of our size needs Parish Councillors, not Cabinet Ministers.

Dear God, the FCO does get some cockamamie ideas into its woolly head! The junior clerks assigned to watch over the flyspecks of Empire must be laughing themselves sick, watching the ridiculous posturing of our Protocol-obsessed village aldermen. It would be nice if the aldermen would plant their feet back on the ground and bring a sense of perspective to their foolishness. Yes, maybe they don’t see their actions as foolish, but the rest of the world does.