By Katie Engelhart - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 - 0 Comments
Britain is talking about a girl. She is 16-year-old Lauren Marbe, who scored 161…
Britain is talking about a girl. She is 16-year-old Lauren Marbe, who scored 161 on a school IQ test—one point higher than Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates and even Albert Einstein and enough to qualify her (by a very safe margin) for membership in Mensa: the global “high IQ society” whose members have an IQ score in the top two per cent.
British media outlets, however, have reported the story with something less than editorial grace—the Daily Mail declared she’s both “ditzy” and “officially smarter than Einstein!” and most of the headlines drew attention to the fact that Marbe is an “Essex girl.” Essex is the southeast British region from whence Marbe hails. It is also something of a pejorative: a stereotype used to describe British women who are vulgar, promiscuous and somewhat dim-witted.
Even Marbe embraces the traits commonly associated with the Essex region: “I am blond, I do wear makeup and I do go out. I love my fake tan and fake nails as well so I guess I am a bit of an Essex girl,” she told British reporters. “[My teachers] had always thought I was blond and a bit ditzy.”
Marbe—who aspires to study architecture at Cambridge University, or perhaps become a West End stage actress—hopes her Mensa membership will persuade critics that great minds can reside in the blondest of heads. One imagines a boy with comparable mental agility would not be asked to account for the colour of his locks.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 8:54 PM - 0 Comments
Here is the official news release on today’s meeting between John Baird and William Hague.
Below, apropos of today’s debate, is the full text of the “Memorandum of Understanding for Enhancing Mutual Support at Missions Abroad.” (I’ve copy-and-pasted from a Word document that was provided.) Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 24, 2012 at 5:08 PM - 0 Comments
The Scene. After two general questions about the economy, Thomas Mulcair narrowed in on one particular side effect of the global recession: the trend of adult children compelled by financial concerns to live with their parents.
“Mr. Speaker, this weekend, British government sources leaked the details of a new agreement to create shared British-Canadian embassies in countries around the world. In these countries, Canada would now be represented by a desk at the British embassy instead of an independent Canadian diplomatic mission,” Mr. Mulcair reported for the House’s benefit. “Why did Canadians have to learn about this through the British press? If the Conservatives will not stand up for Canada in the world, why do they expect that the British will do it for us?”
The New Democrats stood to cheer their man’s indignation.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird stood and kindly asked that everyone move along as there was apparently nothing to see here.
“Mr. Speaker, Canada has a strong and independent foreign policy,” Mr. Baird explained. “What we will be announcing in an hour’s time is that we will be moving forward with a small number of administrative arrangements where we can co-locate.”
Mr. Mulcair was unpersuaded. “Under this agreement, Britain would be the de facto face of Canada in the world,” he charged.
There was grumbling from the Conservatives. Continue…
By Charlie Gillis - Monday, August 6, 2012 at 1:15 PM - 0 Comments
Gold frenzy has the U.K. loving athletics as it did the Beatles. Alas, 1964 is long gone
You have to go back some years to find a time when Britons got this excited about “athletics”—the connoisseur’s term for track and field. At least to 1988, when Linford Christie was doubling up on silvers thanks to He Who Must Not Be Named testing positive, and probably farther, to 1964, when Beatlemania was in full swing and the Union flag rose seven times for British track and field winners in Tokyo.
The country went home that summer with a whopping 14 T&F medals, a haul they won’t come close to matching this time.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, July 13, 2012 at 1:51 PM - 0 Comments
If 100 Tory MPs get their way, a referendum will leave it to the public to decide.
Britain’s heart has never really been in its marriage to the European Union. Public buildings in small towns don’t fly the European Union flag alongside the Union Jack. Prime Minister David Cameron doesn’t often flank himself with the banner at press conferences. And of those Britons who could rouse themselves to vote in the last European Parliament election—and most didn’t—more than 20 per cent chose parties that want Britain out of the union.
This isn’t to say Britons despise the Continent. Tens of thousands work and study there. Others have vacation homes in France and Spain, or go often enough not to bother converting their euros back to pounds when they get home. They know they’ll be back. But in no other country in the union does the expression “going to Europe” mean quite the same thing. Britons visit Europe; Germans are already there.
So when it comes to the EU, even the most enthusiastically Europhilic Britons must make arguments for its merits soberly and pragmatically. Passionate appeals to European solidarity don’t wash. But with large chunks of the eurozone—made up of those countries sharing a common currency—in financial disarray, the merits of continued membership are not so obvious. In the U.K., public opinion is “hostile” to the union, says Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, a pro-EU think tank in London. Its leaders, he says, “appear to be incompetent people who aren’t capable of solving its problems.”
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, July 11, 2012 at 9:48 AM - 0 Comments
In Britain, the coalition government’s House of Lords reform bill appears doomed after 91 Conservative MPs defied the party whip to vote against it. The presence of the dissenting Tories also forced David Cameron to withdraw a motion that would have set a limit on debate of the bill.
The coalition is now entering one of its most difficult phases as Tory MPs question the prime minister’s authority. A central tactic by Downing Street – to delay a ministerial reshuffle to persuade aspiring MPs to support the government – backfired as loyalists joined the rebels who numbered close to 100. “There was strength in numbers,” one senior MP said. “But they were brave.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, July 6, 2012 at 5:26 PM - 0 Comments
Among its concerns, identified from databases of official statistics and public surveys, were that Britain’s constitutional arrangements are “increasingly unstable” owing to changes such as devolution; public faith in democratic institutions “decaying”; a widening gap in the participation rates of different social classes of voters; and an “unprecedented” growth in corporate power, which the study’s authors warn “threatens to undermine some of the most basic principles of democratic decision-making”. In an interview with the Guardian, Stuart Wilks-Heeg, the report’s lead author, warned that Britons could soon have to ask themselves “whether it’s really representative democracy any more?”
“The reality is that representative democracy, at the core, has to be about people voting, has to be about people engaging in political parties, has to be about people having contact with elected representatives, and having faith and trust in elected representatives, as well as those representatives demonstrating they can exercise political power effectively and make decisions that tend to be approved of,” said Wilks-Heeg. ”All of that is pretty catastrophically in decline. How low would turnout have to be before we question whether it’s really representative democracy at all?” The UK’s democratic institutions were strong enough to keep operating with low public input, but the longer people avoided voting and remained disillusioned, the worse the problem would get, said Wilks-Heeg.
Some of the data involved is explained here and comparisons to the Canadian situation do not particularly flatter our democracy. The average turnout for British parliamentary elections in the 2000s is 60%. In Canada, the average is 61.3%. Twenty-two percent of MPs in Britain are women. Here it’s 25%. In 2011, Canada and the United Kingdom both ranked 26th in press freedom according to the Freedom House Index (in the latest rankings we’ve moved up to 25th and the UK has fallen back to 31st). Only on the corruption perceptions index does Canada fair markedly better: sixth compared to 20th for the UK in 2010.
As noted earlier today, the Canadian Election Study’s survey results on politics and government in Canada are here. The CES also asked respondents about their political involvement and activities. Continue…
By Gustavo Vieira - Monday, June 11, 2012 at 9:36 AM - 0 Comments
David Cameron may have one million things to think about, busy as he is…
David Cameron may have one million things to think about, busy as he is being the British Prime Minister. Keeping track of his kids shouldn’t be too far down on his list, but sometimes it gets overlooked.
Cameron arrived to the prime minister’s country home known as Chequers in Buckinghamshire, England, from a lunch with friends at a local pub only to realize his eight-year-old daughter, Nancy, had been left behind. A British PMO spokesperson confirmed the case saying Cameron quickly called the pub and returned to pick her up after she had been left there for about 15 minutes. Nancy stayed behind, according to The Sun, because Cameron left the pub in one car with his bodyguards and his wife, Samantha, left in a different car with the couple’s other children, both thinking Nancy was in the other car.
“It’s not like you can look up David Cameron in the phone book and then ring to say, ‘You’ve left your daughter behind,’ said a staff at the nearby Plough Inn quoted in The Sun.
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, April 26, 2012 at 11:24 AM - 0 Comments
On April 2, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney stepped in front of a business crowd in Waterloo, Ont. to speak about the state of Canada’s foreign trade. His message, more or less, was this: we need to break our national reliance on exports to the U.S.–the country is a wounded behemoth, and we would do better to focus on trade with economic up-and-comers. By that the governor probably meant the likes of China and India. But by looking at our trade numbers, one would think Canadian exporters are taking it to mean the U.K. as well.
Over the past decade, the value of Canadian exports to the centre-piece of the Commonwealth have skyrocketed. In 2011, they hit a record high of $18.8 billion, up more than 324 per cent since 2002. The U.K. is now Canada’s second biggest export partner–while China is only third.
By Leah McLaren - Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
London’s eccentric mayor may yet challenge Cameron for the Tory leadership
Earlier this month, when British Prime Minister David Cameron used his veto against changing the European Union’s legal framework treaty to help ailing eurozone nations, the hardline Eurosceptic contingent of his party rejoiced. But it was the reaction of Boris Johnson, mayor of London and one of the most vocal Tory critics of European integration, that garnered the most national attention.
In a BBC radio interview, Johnson approvingly declared the prime minister had “played a blinder”—skilfully performed a move—in refusing to join the treaty. Secretly, however, one can’t help but suspect that Johnson, who is also a popular columnist with the Telegraph and the former MP for Henley, was ever so slightly put out. It’s not that the mayor privately disagrees with Cameron’s stubborn isolationist stance (far from it). But by using Britain’s veto, the PM has effectively pushed Johnson’s own much-speculated-on leadership ambitions to the back burner, where they will be forced to languish for the next little while (but not, it is safe to assume, forever).
The notion that a shambolic city politician with a long history of infidelities and verbal gaffes could represent the biggest threat to Cameron’s leadership might seem laughable to the outside world—but here in Britain it’s accepted fact. The two men have known each other since their school days—first as boarding students at Eton, where Johnson was a King’s Scholar and Cameron a fee-paying boy from an upper-class family, and later at Oxford, where both became members of the legendarily exclusive (and champagne-soaked) Bullingdon Club. And while in the past Johnson strenuously insisted he has no interest in ascending to the prime minister’s office, his denials are not given much credence at home.
By Leah McLaren - Wednesday, December 7, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 8 Comments
Will David Cameron’s new mortgage plan get British renters on the property ladder?
There was a time, not long ago, when middle-class Britons could expect that, with the help of an education and a decent job, they would one day own their own home. Kathleen Taylor, a 37-year-old civil servant, bought her first London property back in 1997, a two-bedroom apartment that cost her just $180,000. Even then, as with many young, first-time buyers, her mother had to underwrite the mortgage and provide part of the down payment (a loan she later paid back). Since then, Taylor has moved house several times, enjoying the security of being on what the British call “the property ladder”—a metaphorical climbing structure long regarded as the path to financial security.
Turns out she was one of the lucky ones. Today, even with low interest rates and moribund house prices, many Britons Taylor’s age and younger have begun to give up hope of ever “getting on the ladder.” An example of how quickly things have changed: Taylor’s 33-year-old younger brother, a freelance sound designer, has, she says, “been completely priced out of the London market,” despite having cobbled together a decent deposit from savings and a recent inheritance. “And that’s assuming he could even get the mortgage.”
On the last point, Britain’s Tory-led government has introduced a program they hope will change things for Britain’s burgeoning “generation rent.” On Nov. 21, Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled a government-backed mortgage scheme that will allow first-time buyers to purchase homes with only five per cent down. (At present, banks insist on minimum deposits of 20 per cent from first-time buyers, which is no small demand. Though house prices have sunk back to 2006 levels, they are still overvalued by at least 25 per cent, according to The Economist.)
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 59 Comments
After explaining to the House that opposition MPs were no longer relevant and dissenting opinions would no longer be tolerated, Peter Kent stepped into the foyer yesterday and described the visit of two NDP MPs to Washington as follows.
As you have seen this week, one of the opposition parties has taken the treacherous course of leaving the domestic debate and heading abroad to attack a legitimate Canadian resource which is being responsibly developed and regulated.
Treachery is synonymous with treason. During World War II, the British parliament enacted the Treachery Act to prosecute enemy conspirators. Sixteen people were subsequently executed for violations under the act.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at 11:05 AM - 1 Comment
Book by Jonathan Vance
At first glance, it seems a familiar story: Canada, as a loyal child of the British Empire, punches above its weight in two world conflicts while chafing under imperial condescension, develops a sense of nationalism and disengages from the motherland. Yes, but . . . as Vance compellingly argues, Canada’s wartime loyalty was due more to common allegiance to ideals (democracy, the rule of law) that the British Empire was held to represent than to unthinking obedience. And moreover, this nation brought its own influence to the Old Country: close to a million Canadians arrived there during the wars, the founders of our own maple leaf empire.
In the First World War, Canadian barracks—our first “colonies”—sprouted around Britain, although not to the extent they would in the next war when Allied troops were shut out of Northern Europe for four years. Nor were the colonists all men—by 1917 there were 30,000 soldiers’ wives, sisters and mothers present, an influx that merited its own special London club and provided support staff for 40 Canadian hospitals.
Mutual—if at times, wary—regard between hosts and guests usually prevailed, Vance notes, but it wasn’t all, as the British would have said then, beer and skittles. There were riots over postwar delays in getting home, a fair share of crime (one soldier went on a shooting spree, killing two British policemen), and bad blood between Canadians and shopkeepers suspected—often rightly—of price-gouging. On the British side, many a war bride was often justifiably less than enamoured with her new home—one didn’t learn until she arrived in Saskatchewan that the “ancestral home” in the photo her husband showed her was actually the Moose Jaw public library.
Throughout, Canadian nationalism grew in tandem with the Canadian army, from nebulous idea to formidable fighting machine, without impacting the nation’s regard for its British connection. The prevailing metaphor—Mother England and her far-flung children—evolved to a concept of a union of siblings, an evolution reflected in Canadians’ abiding regard for the Commonwealth.
By Peter Nowak - Friday, October 14, 2011 at 8:06 AM - 12 Comments
British Prime Minister David Cameron has embarked on a rather humourous endeavour to try and save the United Kingdom from porn. Earlier this week, it was reported that, at Cameron’s behest, the four largest Internet service providers in the UK would begin an opt-in program where they would automatically block porn websites unless customers explicitly said they wanted them.
No sooner did the ink (real or virtual) dry on that story than those same ISPs—BT, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin—started talking about how the system would have no effect. The opt-in process, it turns out, will apply only to brand new customers, which means very little because only about 5 per cent of people change service providers in a given quarter.
That’s not exactly the best way to say it will have no effect—after all, at that rate it will only take 10 quarters or two-and-a-half years to block the majority of the country from porn. Still, the ISPs’ chafing at the idea is what makes Cameron’s effort humourous because it’s doomed to fail for a host of reasons.
First, there are the freedom of speech issues. The Australian government’s effort to enact a similar ban has hit all kinds of snags, from coalition partners refusing to support it to several big ISPs refusing to play ball, even with something as universally deplorable as child porn. Things have gotten downright silly Down Under, with the banning efforts extending to erotica that features small-breasted women, which supposedly encourages pedophilia. The resulting joke, of course, is that Australians want their porn stars to have big boobs.
Then there are the logistical problems. How, exactly, does something qualify for the banned list?
Banning porn on the Internet is ultimately a fool’s errand. It’s here to stay and, while laws and technology can try to help, in the end its parents’ responsibility to ensure their kids aren’t getting to where they shouldn’t be.
If a country were to successfully ban online porn, however, it’s a safe bet its Internet traffic would nosedive. While accurate numbers are tough to come by, there are some hints that suggest pornography still makes up a good chunk of traffic. Five of the 100 most-visited websites (that are in English) are porn-related, according to Alexa rankings, while Ogi Ogas – author of A Billion Wicked Thoughts – says about 13% of web searches are for erotic content.
Applying this chain of logic to Canada, if Internet providers here really were worried about congestion on their networks, they wouldn’t be enacting usage-based billing to try and slow consumption with the likes of Netflix. They’d be trying to get porn banned.
By Leah McLaren - Thursday, September 15, 2011 at 11:15 AM - 1 Comment
High prices mean that many younger Brits will flat-share well into their adult lives
After arriving in London in 1896, the German architect Hermann Muthesius observed in a letter home, “There is nothing as unique in English architecture as the development of the house. No nation is more committed to its development, because no nation has identified itself more with the house.”
Judging by the number of home improvement programs clogging the TV dial in contemporary Britain (picture an endless parade of middle-aged couples expending their savings and sanity renovating medieval thatched cottages in Wiltshire), his words hold true today. From the enclosure riots of the 16th century to Margaret Thatcher’s “right to buy” scheme, which in the 1980s and ’90s encouraged tenants of government-subsidized housing to buy their council homes at a discounted rate, the issue of property—who owns it, who doesn’t, and who gets to lord it over whom—has become a national obsession, and in times of economic uncertainty, a class-based sore point.
Today it’s both. As beleaguered Britain wrestles with a shortage of affordable housing (1.5 million are on social housing waiting lists in England), many young urbanites are losing hope they will ever achieve the middle-class dream of owning—in some cases even renting—their own private space. The rise of what the media here has now dubbed “Generation Rent” is highlighting a whole new class divide: the one that exists between the land-rich older generation and their priced-out offspring.
By Leah McLaren - Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 10:45 AM - 3 Comments
The British PM is promising to fix his country’s ‘broken society’—and Britons are listening
Last week, at a youth centre in the village of Witney, Oxfordshire, British Prime Minister David Cameron stood in front of a wall of messy graffiti and pledged to put his country’s “broken society” back to the top of his political agenda. It must have been a vindicating moment for a leader who has been roundly mocked, at times excoriated, for his long-held insistence that British youth are suffering from a moral malaise that would best be cured, not by increased social spending, but a bracing dose of good old-fashioned community involvement. Picking up litter in a local park, perhaps, followed by a vigorous round of neighbourhood pickup soccer.
In fact, in the wake of the recent riots that have shocked Britain, these were just some of the solutions Cameron was laying out in Oxfordshire that Monday, to an anxiously receptive public. It is all part of his planned “national citizen service,” a kind of voluntary-sector answer to Britain’s formerly mandatory military service—which, in the aftermath of the violence, there was some outlandish talk of reinstating. Paired with his carefully scripted tough talk of social and security “fight-back” and a major crackdown on gang crime, Cameron’s obsession with civic engagement, which seemed hopelessly quaint just weeks ago, is starting to look altogether more prescient. Indeed, his much-scoffed-at idea of a Big Society—the Tories’ flagship platform that, among other things, emphasizes smaller government, a bigger voluntary sector and devolution of power from Whitehall to councils—has never seemed more relevant.
After several days of making conciliatory noises, opposition Labour Leader Ed Miliband was back on the attack last week, trying to take hold of the crisis for himself. He mocked the Prime Minister in front of an audience at his alma mater, a public high school in north London, not far from where the riots began. Dismissing as “gimmicks” Cameron’s threats to harass gang leaders in their homes and adopt an American-style “zero tolerance” approach to policing, Miliband tried to paint the new “tough on crime” Cameron as a hypocrite. “A Prime Minister who used to say we ought to ‘hug a hoodie’ now says we ought to reform health and safety laws!” Miliband groused, referring to Cameron’s famous 2006 speech in which he urged an audience, “when you see a child walking down the road, hoodie up, head down, moody, swaggering, dominating the pavement—think what has brought that child to that moment.”
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, August 17, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Many of those struggling to get by in the British capital are former immigrants from Eastern Europe
When the European Union expanded its borders eastward in 2004, more than half a million Poles took advantage of the newly opened border to pack up and move to Britain. They were joined by thousands more Czechs and Slovenians, and after the EU expanded again in 2007, migrants from Bulgaria and Romania.
Many thrived. Suddenly traditional English pubs were staffed by servers with Eastern European accents. The new arrivals were so ubiquitous in the trades that “Polish plumber” became a catchphrase.
Inevitably, however, thousands have also floundered. Estimates vary, but a disproportionate percentage of homeless in London are from Eastern Europe, most of them Poles. And when they do stumble, they fall harder than the locals. Migrants who have not worked full-time for more than a year do not qualify for many social assistance programs, such as housing benefits. Last year, a charity worker found homeless Poles roasting rats. Continue…
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 11:50 AM - 0 Comments
Users thumbing away during meals is troubling, says a new study
A new study from British telecom regulator Ofcom is warning of “a nation addicted to smartphones.” Thirty-seven per cent of adult smartphone users and 60 per cent of teenage users surveyed admitted to having succumbed to the ostensibly enslaving effects of being able to check emails and tweet one’s every thought from just about anywhere, the report said. Worrisome behaviour includes reaching for handsets first thing upon waking up, breaking up relationships via text message, and talking on the phone or thumbing away during meals. Nearly half of teenage users even admitted to using the devices while on the toilet—a confession that echoes another study’s finding that some users would be ready to fish their beloved device out of a public toilet. Yet, addictive or not, one thing is clear: smartphones are only getting more popular. In the U.K., over a quarter of adults and nearly half of teens own at least one.
By Andrew Coyne - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 13 Comments
Andrew Coyne on how the culture of corruption did not just infect Rupert Murdoch’s empire, but much of the British establishment
Scandals used to be so simple. Power corrupts, we were taught, and scandals were the business of those few who held power. Teapot Dome, which before Watergate was what you thought of when you saw the words “American political scandal,” involved the payment of kickbacks to a single cabinet secretary. The Pacific Scandal was essentially a matter between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Hugh Allan.
In this democratic age, however, the locus of corruption has shifted. Now, scandals belong to everybody. The corruption more typical of our times—perhaps Watergate marked the transition—infects an organization generally, an “everybody does it” mentality in which large numbers of people who never thought of themselves as criminals become ensnared. Think of the huge numbers of people who participated in or at least knew about the various exchanges that went into the sponsorship scandal. The phrase popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, social epidemic, seems apt. The culture of corruption spreads from person to person, encouraging each to adopt a standard of behaviour that, as individuals, they might otherwise find repulsive.
And so we come to the phone-hacking scandal—the second epidemic of corruption to strike the United Kingdom in recent years, after the parliamentary expenses scandal that led to charges being laid against more than half a dozen MPs and ended the careers of dozens more. It is by now well established that the hacking of personal phone messages by journalists at the News of the World was not, as was maintained for several years, a matter of a rogue reporter and his private investigator accomplice. Nor was it confined to the peccadillos of celebrities or royals.
It extended, as we now know, to literally thousands of people, including the widows of dead soldiers, the victims of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and, most infamously, a missing 13-year-old girl, later found murdered, whose voice messages were not only intercepted but, when her mailbox became full, deleted, thus leading her family to believe she was still alive.
The invasions of privacy went beyond voice mail to include personnel records, bank accounts, and medical files—lawful in certain circumstances, but only where a public interest can be shown, as in cases of corruption. That would not appear to cover, for example, the news that the infant son of Gordon Brown, then the chancellor of the exchequer, had cystic fibrosis, discovered and splashed across the front page within days of the Browns learning it themselves.
This behaviour involved not only reporters at the News of the World, but at least in the Brown example, also the Sun and Sunday Times, sister papers in Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire. (The Sun denies it used Brown’s son’s medical records for its story.) In the fullness of time we shall learn whether it extended to other news organizations, though it is already established that some have hired the same private investigators.
If that were all, it would be shocking enough: the famously slipshod ethics of the British tabloid press spilling over into outright criminality. But it is the intersection with other pillars of British society that takes this story to the outer limits. Much of the confidential material sought by Murdoch’s spooks was supplied to them by police officers, often on the payment of bribes. Other police officers turned a blind eye to the News of the World’s phone-hacking activities, including those explicitly assigned the task of investigating how widespread the practice was, after the first cases came to light—in part, it seems, because their own phones had been hacked, and the evidence of professional and personal misconduct thus obtained. Even after it was revealed that News International had paid huge sums of money to other victims to settle their claims out of court, Scotland Yard somehow concluded there was no story here.
And overseeing all this, the political class of Britain: all of it, it seems, or nearly so. Since the days of Margaret Thatcher, leaders of both major parties have courted Murdoch with lickspittle zeal, in hopes of his papers’ endorsement. The current prime minister, David Cameron, employed one former editor of the News of the World as his communications director, and is close friends with another.
It wasn’t only political or personal connections that moved so many politicians to play nice with Murdoch. It was, as we are now learning, fear. Politicians who crossed him or his minions were openly threatened with the publication of embarrassing personal information. Only now that he is on the run, so to speak, are many daring to speak up. This was not so much a news organization as a bribery and blackmail racket.
The culture of corruption, then, did not just infect the Murdoch empire, but much of the British establishment. To be sure, it had its roots in power, as of old: the kind that comes with owning four national newspapers with a combined 40 per cent of total circulation. The reporters who stole people’s private information could not have done so without the approval of their editors, who in turn would have taken their cues from those higher up. All of them must have come to believe they could get away with anything. Who would dare stand in their way?
But it required also the acquiescence of hundreds of others, outside the News International ranks. Yes, they may have been acting, or failing to act, out of fear, or at least a sense of helplessness. But that is debauching in its own way. Power may corrupt, but so, it seems, does impotence.
By Jenn Cutts - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:40 AM - 8 Comments
The Archbishop of Canterbury is at odds with PM David Cameron’s vision for Britain
Touching off a decidedly old-school debate, the head of the Church of England took Britain’s coalition government to task last week, accusing it of imposing “radical policies for which no one voted” on its electorate. In an article titled “The government needs to know how afraid people are” in last week’s issue of the New Statesman, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, criticized reforms to health, education and welfare being implemented by the government led by Prime Minister David Cameron. The PM shot back in a news conference: “The Archbishop of Canterbury is entirely free to express political views,” but “I profoundly disagree with many of the views that he has expressed.”
Williams was particularly critical of Cameron’s “Big Society” policy—a plan to have volunteer and charity groups play a crucial role in delivering social services—insisting that key questions about how it would work remain unanswered and calling the slogan itself “painfully stale.” Cameron was unmoved: “I’m absolutely convinced that our policies are about actually giving people greater responsibility and greater chances in their life, and I will defend those very vigorously.”
By Leah McLaren - Friday, June 17, 2011 at 11:35 AM - 9 Comments
The British government is trying to tackle the issue of kids’ sexualization
Culturally speaking, Britain is not a country known for its flagrant attitude toward sex, but today’s youth are bucking the trend. Teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection rates are shockingly high. But Prime Minister David Cameron seems bent on trying to deal with the problem in a roundabout sort of way. His government recently welcomed a plan to crack down on the sexualization of childhood by placing restrictions on advertisers, media outlets and manufacturers when it comes to sexual imagery or products directed at (or at risk of coming into contact with) children.
The government-commissioned Bailey report, led by Reg Bailey, the head of the Mothers’ Union, a Christian group for family welfare, was published earlier this month. It recommends, among other things, keeping sexualized imagery on the front of newspapers out of sight of children, restricting sexualized imagery in outdoor advertising near schools, nurseries and playgrounds, and enacting restrictions to ensure retailers offer more age-appropriate clothes.
While there’s been much media outrage over T-shirts that say “Future WAG” (shopping-obsessed, super-thin “wives and girlfriends” of sports stars), junior “vajazzling” (applying rhinestone decorations to waxed nether regions), and padded bras for eight-year-olds, not everyone is certain the recommendations, when and if they become legislation, will even be effective in Cameron’s mission to “let children be children.” Some commentators worry that the report is pure politics on the part of the government, and will not result in lasting social change. As Guardian columnist Jackie Ashley recently put it, “It isn’t the problem that’s in doubt, it’s the way it’s been framed and answered.” (She goes on to compare the campaign to grandstanding against childhood obesity and dangerous dogs.)
By Jen Cutts - Thursday, June 16, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
The U.K. is handing out parking tickets at record levels
There’s nothing like a parking ticket to ruin an otherwise pleasant day, and in the U.K., they’re being ruined at record levels. The 4.2 million tickets issued by town halls in England and Wales (excluding London) from April 2009 to March 2010 was nearly twice the number in 2002-03, according to figures from the country’s Traffic Penalty Tribunal. The increase has led to accusations that councils are using the resulting funds to fill out their budgets, which were shrunk by deep spending cuts announced by the British government last October. “We can only suspect they do want to increase revenue,” says Paul Watters, a spokesman for the Automobile Association, commenting on the rise in tickets, as well as plans by some councils to step up fine amounts.
The tribunal, however, insists the increase is simply a result of more communities opting to take over parking enforcement from police, which has been an option since 1992. The U.K.’s Traffic Management Act states councils aren’t allowed to generate revenue through fines and must reinvest in improving transportation. But “local authority finances are complex,” says Watters. “It is hard to prove any sleight of hand.”
By Leah McLaren - Friday, May 27, 2011 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
British private schools are turning to collection agencies to go after parents who are defaulting on tuition
Monday morning, 8 a.m., and the drop-off area outside St. James Senior Girls’ School in west London is a bustling picture of urban affluence. Rosy-cheeked students in kilts and matching knee socks hoist overloaded backpacks out of Porsche Cayennes and Lexus SUVs. Many wear matching straw boater hats decorated with ribbons in the academy’s official colours. Parents and nannies chat amicably on the sidewalk, clutching take-away lattes, before hopping back in their double-parked vehicles and zooming off to work. It’s the sort of idyllic scene that takes place every school day in prosperous cities around the world. But here in Britain, it’s one that conceals the darker economic reality facing private schools today.
Since the recession hit a couple of years ago, many families have found themselves struggling to keep their children in the private school system—and with average tuition fees of $21,000 per child per year, it’s no wonder. As a result, an increased number of schools are now turning to debt collection agencies to recover the outstanding fees owed to them by parents who have either defaulted or found themselves in arrears. According to Michael Lower, head of the Independent Schools’ Bursars Association, this method of fee collection is less costly and time-consuming than the other option: taking parents to court. “While the parents struggle, it also means a bigger shortfall for schools who have overhead and staffing costs to think about. In the end they are left with two choices: remove the child—which is usually a last resort for obvious reasons—or take action.”
The collection agency Daniels Silverman recently said it expects to collect almost $14.4 million in outstanding fees from parents this year. That figure is up by around $5 million from last year. Agencies are also reporting a sharp increase in the number of private schools that have retained their services: Daniels Silverman is acting for 74 schools, up from 48 last year, while a competing collection agency, Sinclair Goldberg Price, is reporting a 70 per cent increase in the number of private schools it now works for. According to Daniels Silverman, its average private-school client is owed around $190,000 in fees. Not a huge number when it comes to the educational institutions of the global elite—but enough to push many smaller private schools to the brink of closure.
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, March 31, 2011 at 3:36 PM - 35 Comments
Barring coalitions, things can only get worse from here on in
Which is more annoying?
(1) Politicians in a democracy moaning about the inconvenience of having to audition for their jobs (that is, run for election); or
(2) The innumerate mantra, “four elections in seven years.”
Since No. 1 is merely par for the course among our grumbling political class, perhaps we should strive to erase the second from polite discourse. When Barack Obama runs for re-election next year, not a single American will complain, “two presidential elections in four years, that’s too many; as for two Congressional campaigns in two years… well!”
Yet that’s exactly the way the 4-in-7ers calculate, counting only elections and not the periods in between them. This is actually Canada’s fourth election in 11 years, since the campaign of 2000. That’s one vote every 2.75 years, not too far off the historical average of one every 3.6 years.
As for other parliamentary democracies, Continue…
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, February 23, 2011 at 11:42 AM - 0 Comments
Rich, white, and virulently anti-democratic—they still suffer from an image problem
Rich, white, virulently anti-democratic, and more British than the British. The United Empire Loyalists, those colonials who stuck by the British Crown during the American Revolution and who afterwards fled to what would become Canada, still suffer from a certain image problem. And that’s here, where as English Canada’s founding fathers, they have been long celebrated by nationalistic historians, made into bulwarks of the classic Canadian whatever-we-are-we-are-not-Americans mindset. Everywhere else the Loyalists went in the British Empire—the Caribbean, Africa, India, Britain itself—they were largely forgotten. But nowhere was that more true than in the land of their birth. When the revolution ended in 1783, 60,000 Loyalists and their 15,000 slaves crammed on to Royal Navy vessels and sailed out of New York, Savannah and Charleston. And sailed out, too, from American historical consciousness, which has never liked to dwell on the civil war aspect of the War of Independence.
A new understanding of the Loyalists has started to emerge lately, though, especially through the works of American historians taking a fresh look at their country’s origins. Such books as Alan Taylor’s provocatively titled The Civil War of 1812 (2010) and Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff’s just-released Liberty’s Exiles, the first global study of the revolution’s losing side, offer Canadians an arrestingly foreign portrait of our founders. And of their widely varied backgrounds.
Among the extraordinary individuals featured in Jasanoff’s work are two ex-slaves, David George and George Liele. “I continue to be struck,” Jasanoff says in an interview, “how little the non-white component of the Loyalists is known in the U.S.” Those 15,000 slaves were, naturally, of African descent, but the 60,000 free exiles—two-thirds of whom came to Canada—included more than 2,000 Mohawk allies, and 8,000 free blacks. The latter were survivors of the 20,000 slaves, including some owned by George Washington, who had fled patriot owners for the British promise of emancipation for those who took up arms for the king.