[Lead Image: Public Domain via Wikipaedia]
With the Hinckley and Bosworth planning committee due to meet tomorrow, 25 September 2018, to decide if part of the registered battlefield of Bosworth is to be destroyed and replaced with a test track for autonomous vehicles, Andy Brockman takes a slightly left flank look at the Story of the Campaign to protect the battlefield so far.
High end wagon maker Horiba Mira has employed an expensive band of mercenaries led by consultants Barton Willmore in order to win planning consent for a multi million pound test track for autonomous wagons on what the latest archaeology shows is a critically important part of the registered battlefield of Bosworth.
The track would be built within a few hundred meters of the likely place where King Richard III was killed by the forces of Henry Tudor on 22 August 1485, ushering in the modern age and eventually, once the late KIng’s body had been retrieved from a car park in Leicester, also ushering in a multi million pound tourist opportunity for the City of Leicester and the county of Leicestershire. A fact the county council and Historic England marked with a comprehensive conservation plan for the battlefield.
In early 2018 scouts from the Battlefield Trust received early intelligence that an attack on the Bosworth battlefield was being planned from agents in Historic England, but, like the Stanley family at the original battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485, Historic England had also been forced to give up hostages to the Government and was caught between the lines trying to please everybody, with the result that the Battlefields Trust lost contact with the enemy early in the Summer of 2018 and only discovered the time and direction of the Horiba Mira attack just four days before it was due to take place [and three of those days were a Bank Holiday weekend].
Meanwhile Horiba Mira had launched its mercenaries in an all out assault on the local militia of the Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council Planning Committee, deploying a barrage of commissioned reports and volleys of statistic about potential jobs and growth which they claimed the development would bring to the local economy. Accuracy did not matter, the reports were designed to overwhelm any resistance by sheer weight of procedure.
However, when battle was joined in front of the planning committee on 28 August the happy few of the planning committee ignored the orders from their own officers and even those from their commander known as “the Chair”, and, in a remarkable stand against the odds, threw back the Horiba Mira planning application, forcing the mercenaries into a humiliating retreat and delaying any further attack for a month, until the next planning meeting on 25 September.
The opposition forces were also given time to muster with the Battlefield Trust petition to stop the development recruiting almost fifteen thousand fresh volunteers eager for a battle which had also seen an unprecedented battlefield alliance between the Richard the Third Society and the Henry Tudor Society.
However, Horiba Mira too regrouped.
Their allies, the senior commanders and officers of the Hinckley and Bosworth militia tried to reassert their authority over their truculent troops by attempting to defuse the explosive arguments which had halted the advance of the planning application, even though their response, dismissing all the criticism, was issued within twenty four hours of their defeat at the planning meeting meaning that they had no time to consider properly the lessons of their failure or to make any evidence driven changes to their core strategy.
Then on 12 September the action moved to London and battle was joined in Westminster Hall in the precinct of the Palace of Westminster.
At 4.30 pm on 12 September 2018 Conservative MP Philip Hollobone in the chair of the Westminster Hall debate, did not so much “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war” as let the well fed Labradors of Parliament off the leash to play tumble with each other, as he invited his fellow Conservative MP, the “dangerously overqualified” Chris Skidmore, to move his motion that.
“This House has considered the preservation of historic battlefields”
It was a case of “Cometh the hour cometh the man.” even if the man is that most distrusted of species in modern politics, an “Expert”.
In fact Mr Skidmore is a rare thing in the modern Conservative Party in that he is not just a guitar playing, right leaning former “Remainer”. The MP for Kingswood in Bristol holds a First Class Degree in Modern History from Oxford, the membership of three major learned societies, the Royal Society of Arts, the Royal Historical Society and the Society of Antiquaries and he is also a published author with well regarded books about the Battle of Bosworth and the Tudor dynasty to his name.
However, today, faced with the prospect of Horiba Mira continuing their destructive chevauchée raid across the registered battlefield of Bosworth, Mr Skidmore became Sir Skidmore, setting out to emulate the strategy of the great Bertrand Du Guesclin the Eagle of Brittany, whose strategy wore down and ultimately defeated the raids by the English forces of Edward the Black Prince.
Thanking his own happy few, a band of brothers [and sisters] including the Battlefields Trust officer Julian Humphrys, historian Michael Jones, and archaeologist Richard Mackinder, as well as the Richard III Society, for input to his speech, Sir Skidmore proceeded to turn a local battle over a planning application into a major national heritage issue.
“The application threatens to destroy precious historical material that I believe should be preserved.”
Sir Skidmore said. He continued,
“We must recognise the national precedent that the local application risks setting, and ask ourselves how we managed to get into a situation in which a battlefield of historic national importance is threatened in this manner.”
Setting out how the current system of protecting registered battlefields had come about and how it was not actually fit for purpose if you wanted to actually conserve a battlefield rather than just talk about conserving it, Sir Skidmore cried God for England, Bosworth, and them all.
“Bosworth is the battlefield under threat today but, while the current legal framework continues, no doubt there will be others. To build over one part of a battlefield site threatens to set a precedent of permissiveness that could erode our ability to protect our battlefields across the country. We should plant our standard squarely on preserving Bosworth and its heritage, both past and yet to be discovered.”
Fifteen minutes into the action Democratic Unionist MP Jim Shannon marched the forces of Unionism into battle in support of Sir Skidmore, to the sound of the skirling pipes and the gut twisting thump of the lambeg drum playing “The Sash,”.
Oh alright, Mr Shannon only threatened briefly to sing “the Sash”,for the entertainment of honourable members before good humouredly suggesting that maybe “entertainment” wasn’t the right word to use about such a performance. However, tellingly, in suggesting that the role of his home town of Enniskillen in making a stand against the forces of James II in 1689 deserved recognition and a museum of its own, he reminded all present of the importance of battlefields in telling a national or cultural story and of their role in pricking the interest of future generations.
Attracting tourist dollars wasn’t an ignoble aim either.
Then the “Battle of Westminister Hall” descended into the nightmare scenario of all commanders, friendly fire.
In the most deadly and disastrous intervention during a Wars of the Roses conflict since the Marquess of Montagu’s archers mistook the star with rays badge of the Earl of Oxford for Edward IV’s sun in splendour and opened fire on their own side at the Battle of Barnet. Mr Skidmore’s fellow Conservative MP David Tredinnick let loose a volley of accusations that Mr Skidmore was trying to put an archaeological brake on essential progress.
Mr Tredinnick is actually the MP for the Battlefield of Bosworth and he also volunteered the information that thirty five trade guilds and one thousand artisans would be attracted to the new wagon track and, quoting a parish council chair, claimed that “time was of the essence” or the Americans would steal the march when it came to autonomous wagons [once they had been discovered by that Columbus chap who is doing the rounds of the Royal Courts of Europe trying to drum up some investment].
Mr Tredinnick, of Eton, Oxford and the Guards, is known at Westminster as a doughty fighter for his chosen causes, many of them lost.
An advocate of Alternative Medicine, his support for that cause led the Skeptical Voter website to describe him as,
“…perhaps the worst example of scientific illiteracy in government. His questions in parliament have promoted homeopathy, radionics (healing via a kind of psychic remote control) and astrology.”
The same web site also cited examples of where his zeal for so-called alternative and traditional Chinese medicine had led to him being described by fellow MP’s as the,
“Right Hon. Member for Holland and Barrett”.
Of course a Right Hon. member does not survive such vicious campaigns without carrying some scars.
Mr Tredinnick is one of the few remaining Parliamentary survivors of the, so-called, “Cash for Questions Affair”, which saw him suspended from Parliament for twenty sitting days for accepting £1,000 from an undercover Sunday Times reporter in return for asking questions in Parliament relating to a drug which did not actually exist.
He also once voted to exempt MP’s from the Freedom of Information Act. That clause was struck down by the House of Lords.
Meanwhile it is not known if Mr Tredinnick foresaw the embarrassment which befell him during the MP’s expenses scandal when it emerged he had tried to charge to his Parliamentary expenses the cost of computer software (£210.33 inc VAT) and three training sessions (£470 inc VAT) from Astrology company, Crucial Astro Tools.
Today, Mr Treddinnick’s tactic was to name drop furiously.
In rapid succession the Department for International Trade, its Secretary of State [the disgraced former defence minister] Dr Liam Fox, the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, post-Brexit trading arrangements, trade deals with 11 Asian countries. and last if not least, his friend Stan Rooney from the local council, all received a shout out.
Stan had told Mr Treddinnick that,
“A technology ‘war’ is being fought currently to develop the technology and only this week Chrysler Automobiles US have announced they are to build an identical facility costing £23m.”
Mr Treddinnick told his colleagues that her agreed with Stan.
The only way to defeat the Americans was to let Horiba Mira destroy one of the most important areas of an irreplaceable, internationally important heritage site, rather than asking them to put their test track in another less sensitive part of England, like, for example, another part of the 840 acre technology park which they already own.
“Time is of the essence!” He said swirling his Apache dream catcher around his head in the hope of snaring all those high-tech jobs and conservative voters.
As the debate concluded Kevin Brennan, carrying the Lancastrian Red Rose colours of the Labour Party, mounted a final assault of the Government’s PR lines, and in doing so took a major tactical risk by citing every true Ricardian’s favourite author,
“In Shakespeare’s version of the battle, Richard III cried out in anguish:
“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”
He did not cry, “A driverless car, a driverless car, my kingdom for an autonomous vehicle.” Technological progress is important, but not at the expense of our essential heritage.”
The Welsh MP added,
“When the Welshman Henry Tudor landed at Milford Haven and marched through Wales under the standard of the red dragon to seize the English throne from Richard III, he ushered in what others have said is the modern era of our history. I hope that, in considering that application, the local authority will take that longer view. This site of a major turning point in history should not be tarmacked over to create a literal turning point for cars and lorries with no one at the wheel.”
It fell to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Michael Ellis), to mount a rear guard action on behalf of the Government. The minister’s mission, was to talk down the clock to the end of the debate without giving away the Government’s position, or making any commitments which would be useful in defence of Battlefields against planners.
Craned unrealistically onto his ministerial high horse like the French Knights before Agincourt in Olivier’s “Henry the Fifth, the Under-Secretary of State lumbered up the slopes of the argument, heavily armoured in procedure and wielding blunted platitudes.
Indeed, so oily and platitudinous were the Ministers opening remarks that Mr Skidmore felt compelled to launch a final probing attack,
“I would be grateful,” he told the Minister, ” if he would address some of the specific questions I asked of him in terms of being able to look at the expertise, because it is clear from my speech that Historic England does not have that expertise and that we need to restore the battlefield committee.”
But the Minister had already been prepared not to answer that question by his civil service squires.
“I want to reassure the House that Historic England has engaged with local authorities wherever our national heritage is under threat and continues to do so.”
he intoned, concluding,
“I have every faith that our historic battlefields will continue to be conserved in an appropriate and steadfast manner. Where issues arise, I expect local authorities will seek to conserve our treasured national assets and ensure they are protected for future generations to enjoy. I hope we can work together to conserve and advocate for these important, cherished reminders of our national heritage.”
“Except, of course, when a powerful multi-national company, with access to ministers and deep pockets might be inconvenienced by such protection.”
Oh all right, we made that line up, but everyone who listened to Mr Ellis was thinking it.
“I am still absolutely determined that the site of the battle of Bosworth should be protected.” said Sir Skidmore, granted the last word as is the parliamentary convention,
“The issue is about what we value in this country. When it comes to the dichotomy between the future and the past, there is money to be made in heritage. Leicester City Council estimates that £45 million was raised as a result of Richard III’s body being dug out of the tarmac, and I find it bizarre that having dug up a king and generated a huge amount of tourism revenue in the city, we are now about to tarmac over part of the battle of Bosworth, which I would argue against.”
In other words, Mr Skidmore was saying, the Government might know the price of what Horiba Mira claim they will bring to the economy, for a few years at least, but it does not have a Scooby about the timeless value of what is about to be destroyed forever by their plans.
Truth to tell, at one level the Westminster Hall debate was less a vicious chevauchée laying waste to enemy territory than a Gothic revival pageant, with scenery designed by Pugin, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing much except that the MP’s present had considered the motion that,
“This House has considered the preservation of historic battlefields”
and the actual laying waste of territory will be left to Horiba Mira, if they are granted planning consent to build on the registered battlefield.
Of course, as every good medievalist knows, the English strategy of the chevauchée proved hugely costly in terms of the loss of men and material, not to mention propaganda victories handed to the French following reports of the bad behaviour of the English troops. Ultimately the strategy was also shown to be futile as French towns beefed up their defences against English hooligans.
Meanwhile, it is quite possible that Mr Treddinnick is already aware of the result of the 25 September planning meeting.
In July 2014 he told the BBC of his belief in Astrology stating,
“I am absolutely convinced that those who look at the map of the sky for the day that they were born and receive some professional guidance will find out a lot about themselves and it will make their lives easier,” .
However, cynical observers would point out that you do not need to be an astrologer to work out that the rebellious and heroic local militia of the Hinckley and Bosworth planning committee will be coming under immense pressure to make their own lives easier, and prevent a lot of angry phone calls to Whitehall, by giving Horiba Mira, and behind them Dr Liam Fox, the correct answer on the planning application next time around.
To be continued…