By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, November 27, 2012 - 0 Comments
The Scene. Libby Davies rose to list a series of complaints about the Harper government’s general and to take note of a new proposal for child care services. “Now that even the big banks are challenging Conservatives’ priorities, when will the Prime Minister rethink his shortsighted budget choices?” she wondered.
The Prime Minister was obliged here to stand and offer the official assurances. “Mr. Speaker, the policy of this government has been to gradually balance the budget over the medium-term while not raising taxes as the NDP would like us to do and while preserving our payments for vital programs like health care, education and, of course, pensions for our senior citizens,” he reported.
And, in light of yesterday’s news, there was apparently another reason to brag.
“With that approach, Canada has record leading job creation among major developed countries and policies that are highly emulated around the world,” Mr. Harper continued, “one of the reasons I think that somebody like Mr. Carney can be recruited to serve in another country. Canada has a lot to be proud of.”
So apparently Mr. Carney has Mr. Harper to thank, at least in part, for his new job. Perhaps David Cameron might’ve saved himself the expense of hiring a new bank governor and simply renamed his budgets as “economic action plans” and started yelling about how the opposition’s plans to introduce a carbon tax imperil the monarchy. (Oh, the British government has proposed putting a price on carbon? Well, I suppose Mr. Carney’s cause is hopeless then.)
For whatever reason, Ms. Davies thought she saw an opening to turn this around. Continue…
By macleans.ca - Thursday, September 6, 2012 at 12:26 PM - 0 Comments
In conversation with Mike Doherty
Martin Amis moved from London to New York City last year, and his new novel, Lionel Asbo, has widely been viewed as a parting shot at his native U.K. But Amis himself sees it more as a goodbye hug, even though it’s a satire about a lout who wins a lottery and becomes a ridiculous public figure. Over the phone from a lodge in British Columbia, the author of Money and London Fields spoke with Maclean’s about America, England, new beginnings, and what he’d like to leave behind.
Q: Are you on holiday now?
A: Yeah, sort of. My wife [writer Isabel Fonseca] is doing a travel piece, and I just tagged along. It’s all hiking and kayaking and whale-watching, and I’m an indoorsy type. It’s great, ’cause I don’t have to be taking notes or involving myself in anything. I can just get on with my stuff.
Q: You’re now based in Brooklyn, I take it, for family reasons?
A: Just over two years ago, my mother died, and within a week, the prognosis for Christopher Hitchens was available. That got us thinking about mortality and my wife’s mother and stepfather. We thought, “They’re not going to be around forever.” At this point, it looked as though Christopher might well have lived for five or 10 years more, and those two considerations were enough. It was expressing no disaffection for England.
Q: That said, over the years you have mused about moving to the U.S., because Britain is “not exciting.”
A: The truth is, I’ve never been interested in British politics—or interested only to the extent that it relates to American politics. There’s undoubtedly a kind of gravitational attraction exerted by the centre of the world. Things that happen in Washington matter all over the world, and that has long ceased to be the case for London.
Q: You covered the Iowan Republican primary for Newsweek, and you’ve described Mitt Romney as looking “crazed with power.” What do you make of his running mate, Paul Ryan?
A: It seems to me quite an aggressive choice, making no bones about the fact that this is a plutocratic-leaning party, that money has entered politics in the last couple of years much more obtrusively than ever before. It seems that the Republican party’s just burning itself out and I think will lose the election and will then have to go back to the drawing board. Q: The Tea Party continues to splinter the GOP. A: Only a heavy defeat would get rid of them entirely, but I think the social issues that keep bobbing to the surface, like gay marriage and abortion, are losing their grip on the populace at quite a rate.
Q: What did you make of all the brouhaha in the press about your move to Brooklyn?
A: So far I’ve had a very nice welcome. I had a very weird exit from England. In America, there isn’t the suspicion of writers that there is now in Britain, because everyone understood that writers would play a part in defining a new country. Britain would be so very resentful of any attempt to define it, because its culture is so much more deeply embedded.
Q: Does that also explain some of the spleen that’s been directed at the subtitle of your new book: “State of England”?
A: Yeah. That was all a sinister coincidence, really, because I was halfway through the book when we had this fairly sudden decision to move. And it does look like my verdict in leaving was that novel, but that’s erroneous. It was more my affectionate evocation of Britain.
Q: Some reviewers have critiqued Lionel Asbo as being derogatory toward the working class; they focus on Lionel, who’s a criminal, rather than his hard-working nephew, Des, the book’s other main character.
A: He’s a celebration of the working class. It was much more of a challenge to create Desmond because of the inherent difficulties of making goodness interesting on the page. Something that Dickens, who was my great god when I was writing this novel, in fact failed to do: his goodies are famously insipid and dull. We don’t read Dickens for Little Nell and Esther Summerson; we read him for Quilp and Carker—all the villains and the wags and the eccentrics. That’s where Dickens’s energy goes. To channel energy into a good character is very difficult, and not very many writers have made goodness, happiness, the positive, work on the page.
Q: Your last novel, The Pregnant Widow, has an epigraph by 19th-century Russian socialist Alexander Herzen. Lionel Asbo’s sections start with variations on the chorus of the Baha Men song Who Let the Dogs Out. How did it work its way into the book?
A: It was the initiating idea. Ideas for novels often come from an overheard conversation, or something you see in a newspaper—Lolita began life that way. I was reading about someone who, as an act of revenge, unleashed his pit bulls on the infant of his enemy; that was the first thought I had when the novel was taking shape in my unconscious. I wanted that kind of chant, that incantation, because the lines are very resonant for me.
Q: When Lionel’s pit bulls are treated well, they become loving, and when they aren’t, they’re violent. Is this a metaphor for the English?
A: Well, a universal metaphor. One other surprising thing about the novel snuck up on me as I was writing—it’s to do with intelligence. Desmond idealistically cultivates his own intelligence and worships it and values it, whereas Lionel hates it; Desmond [observes] that Lionel gives being stupid a lot of very intelligent thought. And I realized that all my life I’ve hung out with people a bit like Lionel and Desmond; even the most law-breaking of them is in fact amazingly vivid and articulate and expressive. I feel that down there, in the underclass, there is a great deal of thwarted, trapped intelligence. It becomes self-destructive, and then out of that comes a sort of delight in stupidity, which nearly always includes a delight in violence. There was an old [Tony Blair-era] Labour slogan that just said, “Education, education, education,” and I found myself very strongly agreeing with that, and feeling that that is in fact the core political question. I see the job description of the novelist [as] playing some sort of role in the education business.
Q: You’ve said recently that the novelist has to love his characters as well as his readers. Is this different from your oft-quoted sentiment that “the author is not free of sadistic impulses”?
A: Ah, [laughs]. Well, I think they don’t completely rule each other out, but it’s become clearer and clearer to me that the world is there to be celebrated by writers, and in fact this is what all the good ones do, and that the great fashion for gloom and grimness was in fact a false path that certain writers took, I think in response to the horrors of the first half of the 20th century. Theodor Adorno’s line, “No poetry after Auschwitz,” is in fact contradicted by Paul Celan, who was writing poetry in a Romanian labour camp.
Q: Is it harder to get across the idea of celebration when writing about the Holocaust, as with the novel you’re working on now?
A: Yes, it is slightly more difficult, but interesting. And [I’m writing about] an absolutely hateful character, but Nabokov, who was always a very good guide in these things, was convinced that the way you dealt with extreme villainy in fiction was not to punish it. Your villain is not to be tritely converted, as Dickens tended to do, but the novelist’s job is bitter mockery, and that’s part of how I’m going at it.
Q: I understand that when Christopher Hitchens passed away, you felt that he left you some of his joie de vivre.
A: Yeah. It was surprising, because the death is a disaster, but what surprises you in the ensuing months is that—and wouldn’t it be nice if it were universally true—it’s as if you have the duty to feel that love of life. His was very strong—stronger than mine, I always felt. Wouldn’t it be nice if they do bequeath you that? It warms you, but it also warms your memory of them.
Q: You called the publication of last year’s biography of you by Richard Bradford, for which you were interviewed, a “regrettable episode.” Do you hope that one day a better book will be written about you?
A: Yeah, eventually. But I haven’t thought about it. It was vanity that got me into that first one, but vanity is, I suppose, part of the job. It would be nice, but it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is being read after I’m gone. I think every writer thinks about that. It’s nicely complicated, and it keeps you honest, because you won’t be around for that.
Q: Much has been written about you and your father, Kingsley, as two generations of uncommonly successful writers. Your son Louis writes non-fiction, and when she was 10, your daughter Fernanda published fan fiction in The Guardian about Harry Potter. Should we be on the lookout for a third generation of Amises on the literary scene?
A: [laughs] As my first wife said, “Yet another nightmare writer is going to appear on the horizon.” I don’t know. I don’t even speculate about it; I think even if I do, that creates a bit of unwelcome pressure for [my children]. I certainly would never encourage them to write. Not that I don’t think it’s a wonderful way to spend your life.
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 Leah McLaren - Monday, February 20, 2012 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
A football-obsessed nation waits to see who will lead the nation’s squad
Apart from the country’s highest elected ofﬁce, there may be no British job so heavily scrutinized and culturally signiﬁcant as that of manager of England’s football team. Britain, like the rest of Europe, is obsessed by football. And while its domestic leagues attract the best international players, making it one of the richest and most powerful sports franchises on earth, its national team has failed to win a major championship since 1966. To say fans here are a tad bummed out about this is like saying Charlie Sheen has a bit of an ego problem. Indeed, when it comes to football, Britain is as much a nation deﬁned by bitter disappointment and nostalgia for past victories as it is by an enduring love for its national game.
This swell of collective emotion is why, when Fabio Capello abruptly quit his position as team manager last week, England responded with a heavily qualiﬁed hip-hip-hurrah! Qualiﬁed, because the surprise resignation plunges the team even deeper into an ongoing leadership crisis just months before the next European championship in June. Hurrah, however, because Capello had long been criticized by fans and commentators alike on two counts: 1) he failed to take the team further than the second round at the last World Cup, and 2) after four years of earning $9.5 million per annum for coaching just a dozen or so games a year, his command of the English language showed little, if any, improvement.
To his credit, Capello resigned on principle. His dispute with the Football Association, over whether team captain John Terry should be stripped of his arm band pending a trial set for July over allegations of racist remarks, was a matter of professional integrity (though it didn’t make British fans any sorrier to see him go). Earlier this month, Capello gave a candid interview on Italian state television in which he declared he “absolutely” disagreed with his bosses’ decision to strip Terry of his captaincy pending his trial for racial abuse of another player, the Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand. “I have spoken to the [FA] chairman and I have said that in my opinion one cannot be punished until it is ofﬁcial and the court—a non-sport court, a civil court—had made a decision to decide if John Terry has done what he is accused of.”
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 23, 2012 at 3:18 PM - 0 Comments
The prepared text of John Baird’s speech to an audience in London, England today.
Good evening, I am pleased to be with you tonight and it’s a real pleasure to be back in London – one of the world’s truly great cities and one of my personal favourites. I would like to begin by thanking Canada’s High Commissioner here in London – Gordon Campbell – and his team, for making this visit possible.
One of the reasons I – like so many Canadians who come here to vacation, study or work – so enjoy being here is because, in a very real sense, it feels like coming to a familiar and welcoming place. That sense of the familiar is all the more welcome, given that so much of the world is undergoing a fundamental transformation.
Power is rebalancing and, with it, opportunities are changing, for Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as for our allies and friends. This presents for Canada and Canadians both challenge and opportunity: to shape the relationships and institutions for a new century; to promote free societies and open markets; and to engage with new and sometimes, unfamiliar power brokers.
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 8:00 AM - 3 Comments
Local officials in England have discovered 26 munitions, such as an anti-submarine depth charge, on a naturist beach
Nudists should watch where they sunbathe on the Isle of Sheppey, off the south coast of England. After local officials discovered 26 munitions, such as an anti-submarine depth charge, on the naturist beach, bomb disposal experts of the Royal Navy were called in to sweep the area in October for other hidden explosives. In two days they pulled another 61 bombs, including high-explosive mortar shells, from the beach, which certainly lived up to its nickname of Shellness.
The area near the beach was a bombing range until 1937, and then an aircraft gunnery range during the Second World War, reports the local Sheppey Gazette. While the size of the haul caught officials off guard, bombs wash onto British beaches with regularity. Centuries of naval battles and ship sinkings have left the nation’s coastal waters so littered with unexploded munitions that Royal Navy disposal teams are on duty 365 days of the year. They’re likely to be back to the Isle of Sheppey. Though none of the recent haul of bombs is believed to come from the SS Richard Montgomery, which sank nearby during the Second World War, the wreck is still a threat. The munitions ship was carrying 1,400 tonnes of explosives.
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 Richard Warnica - Tuesday, September 27, 2011 at 8:55 AM - 0 Comments
The Rugby World Cup is bringing plenty of men behaving badly to New Zealand
The English national rugby team kicked off its World Cup campaign in unconvincing fashion last month, limping to a win over underdogs Argentina in Dunedin, N.Z. The Englishmen struggled for points and played from behind for much of the match. But outside the stadium, where tens of thousands of travelling English fans gathered, scoring was not expected to be a problem.
Prostitution is legal in New Zealand, and brothels there reportedly doubled their condom orders ahead of the six-week Rugby World Cup. “Whenever I hear an English accent,” madame Mary Brennan told Agence France-Presse, “I know there’ll be some good business there.” The English are not the only fans in town. Brennan says she’s had bookings from South Africa, Ireland and even Canada.
As for the players themselves, the English, at least, aren’t averse to a little bad behaviour. Members of the team were photographed at a dwarf-themed pub night ahead of a pool match with Georgia. Management assured the public that, contrary to reports, no midgets were thrown. Captain Mike Tindall, meanwhile, who recently married the Queen’s granddaughter Zara Phillips, was said to be “just friends” with a mystery blond he was spotted with at the bar.
By Leah McLaren and Patricia Treble - Sunday, August 14, 2011 at 6:30 PM - 4 Comments
What role did social media play in the violence?
What began as a peaceful public vigil outside a north London police station last Saturday rapidly morphed into several days of rampaging protests—a frightening flashpoint in a season of increasing unrest in the British capital. By midday Monday, more than 200 protesters had been arrested in skirmishes that left scores of officers injured and several down-at-heel neighbourhoods severely damaged by fire and theft. And there was no end in sight. By Monday evening, riot police were busy in Oxford Circus, and BBC commentators were advising Londoners to stay indoors—meanwhile, violence had erupted in Birmingham, Liverpool and other large cities.
How did it all start? The initial protest in Tottenham, a socio-economically depressed and ethnically mixed district in the city’s north end, was organized in response to the shooting earlier last week of Mark Duggan. The local man lived in a nearby housing project and was, depending on which sources you believe, either a peace-loving family man or an active gang member. There are reports that he was carrying a weapon, allegedly a starter’s pistol converted to fire live ammunition; Duggan’s death came after a minicab he was in was stopped during a pre-planned police operation.
What’s inarguable is that police were involved in the shooting, though it’s still not known who actually killed Duggan. Why the protest turned violent is similarly murky: at least one witness claimed it all began when a 16-year-old girl was viciously attacked after throwing a champagne bottle at officers, yet others blamed unsubstantiated rumours circulated on Twitter and BlackBerry Messenger claiming that Duggan was murdered in an unprovoked, execution-style shooting.
By macleans.ca - Friday, May 13, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
The RCMP officers involved in Robert Dziekanski’s death face perjury charges, while scientists prove Einstein was right
Some justice at last
It’s been over three years since Robert Dziekanski died at the Vancouver airport after RCMP used Tasers to subdue him. Now B.C.’s attorney general has laid perjury charges against the four officers involved for allegedly giving misleading testimony during the exhaustive Braidwood inquiry. While some, including Dziekanski’s mother, Zofia Cisowski, are disappointed the charges don’t relate to the tasering itself, Cisowski still applauded the move. The wheels of the law may be slow, but they do keep moving, and in this sad case the charges offer at least some measure of justice.
Harnessing hot air
Energy sources such as wind and solar could provide 80 per cent of the world’s power supply within four decades if governments provide the cash and policies to make it happen. That is the landmark conclusion of a UN panel that says it’s not too late to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a “safe” level. In the meantime, farmers are enjoying the heat. According to separate research, Canadian crops have been largely spared from the scourge of climate change—and our historically hard-luck farmers are profiting from increased demand.
When the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded this year’s Peace Prize to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, it was a blow to China’s human rights record. But the big winner may be Scottish fish farmers. In a fit of pique, China has stopped buying salmon from Norway—its biggest supplier—and signed a deal with Scotland. Perhaps that contributed to the unprecedented majority won by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party in the May 5 elections. Good news for nationalist politicians, not so much for fish.
It’s all relative
A NASA study has confirmed two of the “most profound predictions” about Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: that space and time are both warped and pulled by Earth’s gravity. Astrophysicists say the results, based on data measured by an orbiting space probe, will have implications “beyond our planet.” In other physics news: engineers have developed a golf ball that won’t slice. Now there’s a breakthrough we can relate to.
In the post-Mubarak era, Egypt is transitioning, but to what? Christians and Muslims clashed in Cairo, leaving 12 dead and two churches in smoldering ruins, amid signs Islamist hard-liners are asserting their power. At the same time, Syria continued its crackdown against anti-government protesters, killing scores of people and injuring hundreds, while in Libya, forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi hammered rebels. Clearly the fight is far from over for the pro-democracy movement across the Middle East.
Tens of thousands more baby boomers will face retirement without a company pension plan, Statistics Canada reported this week. Since the recession, membership in private sector plans has fallen below that of the public sector for the first time ever. Which is why Canadians should be cheering the Canada Pension Plan’s tripling of its 2009 investment in Internet-calling-company Skype, recently purchased by Microsoft for US$8.5 billion. Unless you work for the civil service or at a university, the CPP may be all the help you will get.
Lord Triesman, the chair of England’s failed bid for the 2018 World Cup of soccer, is alleging at least four FIFA members demanded bribes for their votes, including a knighthood for Paraguay’s representative. Trinidad’s football head wanted $2.5 million cash for an “educational centre.” London’s Sunday Times reports two West African delegates were paid $1.5 million to support Qatar’s winning bid. And in France, the national team is embroiled in scandal after it emerged officials considered quotas to limit the number of African and Arab-born players on their development squads. The ugly side to the beautiful game.
A good marriage isn’t necessarily built on love or even physical attraction, suggests new research in the Journal of Politics. Among the strongest shared traits between U.S. spouses is their political attitudes, the study found. The political bond forms early in marriages, but it’s not always enough to keep them together. Just ask political power-couple Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, who separated this week.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, March 18, 2011 at 9:15 PM - 149 Comments
In a missive this evening, apparently in response to this video, the Conservative party takes issue with Mr. Ignatieff’s family heritage and apparently seeks to debate who can rightfully claim to be an immigrant.
While the Ignatieffs have made the most of their coming to Canada in their respective fields, they have never ceased to enjoy great privilege, as a function of the financial and educational resources and social status they brought with them, and which are theirs to this day. The Ignatieff immigrant experience is one of significant wealth, first-rate educations and privilege. Very few Canadian families can claim this “immigrant experience.”
Mr. Ignatieff’s father, George, served for nearly 50 years in the Canadian civil service. The website for Citizenship and Immigration Canada describes his life story here. For whatever it is worth—assuming one wishes to engage in a debate over the exact socioeconomic status of a politician’s late father and the worthiness of such—that biography includes the observation that, upon arriving in Canada, his family had “barely enough money for basic necessities.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 39 Comments
In his chat with Mr. Mansbridge, the Prime Minister again asserts a rule for coalition government.
Of course, and David Cameron’s an interesting example because they had that debate there, and what I think the public concluded was undemocratic and not really legitimate was the coalition of parties that lost an election. Mr. Cameron won the election. And then was able to form a coalition.
It’s unclear if Mr. Harper intends this judgment of legitimacy to be applied to the governments of Israel, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, not to mention the Liberal government that oversaw the province of Ontario between 1985 and 1987.
By Leah McLaren - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 3:20 PM - 7 Comments
Public sex appears to be on the rise in England, and buttoned-down country folk want it to stop
Sir Beville Stanier, nephew of the Queen’s late crown equerry and owner of an 800-hectare estate in Oxfordshire, was not the first one to notice the public orgies taking place on his property. “My tenants stumbled on the scene after dark and called to let me know,” he explained in an interview. “I’ve been down there myself in the daytime and the ground is littered with used condoms and tissues. It really is quite unpleasant.”
The orgy in question was not a random occurrence, but part of an established British activity known as “dogging,” in which participants meet to have—and observe—sex in parked cars and wooded lots. The phenomenon is hardly new. The BBC reported instances of the dogging “sex craze” back in 2003, with the news that “the Internet and text messaging are fuelling a practice which involves unprotected sex with strangers in public parks.”
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, December 7, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 7 Comments
He has partnered with the left, but Cameron has a radical, conservative, vision for England
If insanity can be defined as doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and the Conservative Party that made him its leader, aren’t all that innovative—merely lucid. And yet, for most of a decade before Cameron was elected party leader in 2005, Conservative Party members pinned their hopes on a succession of men who campaigned on issues, such as crime and suspicion of the European Union, that resonated with the party’s base but failed to expand its reach. In 2002, party chair Theresa May said the Conservatives were perceived as the “nasty party.” The term stuck, probably because she was right. “We were in danger of becoming an elderly debating society,” one Tory city councillor told Maclean’s.
David Cameron knew Conservatives had to change to win. He convinced the rest of the party with a speech at the Tory leadership convention, promising to fight for a “modern, compassionate conservatism,” and beating out the presumed favourite, veteran MP David Davis. Cameron then set about trying to decontaminate the Conservative Party brand nationwide by focusing on issues like the environment and letting old Tory obsessions such as fox hunting fall away. Riding his bike to work—albeit trailing a limousine carrying his briefcase—was transparent and hokey, but didn’t hurt.
The Conservatives entered the May 2010 general election with 140 fewer seats than the governing Labour Party. They made significant gains, but still fell 20 seats short of the 326 needed for an overall majority. David Cameron was therefore forced to form a coalition government with the third-place, and left-leaning, Liberal Democrats.
He no doubt would have preferred to be governing with a majority, but Cameron has used his ostensibly weak position of forced co-operation to his advantage. The Liberal Democrats provide Cameron’s Conservatives with ideological cover. “It gives that sense that it’s a national government,” says Charlie Beckett, director of Polis, a think tank at the London School of Economics. The Tories need only point to their supposedly left-wing partners to demonstrate their own moderation.
The deal hasn’t worked out so well for the Liberal Democrats, and for Nick Clegg, the party’s leader and Britain’s deputy prime minister. Many who voted for the Liberal Democrats see its partnership with the Tories as a betrayal and are abandoning it. Support has plummeted since the election. “That’s kind of good news for Cameron,” says Beckett, “because it means Nick Clegg won’t cause too much trouble.”
He certainly hasn’t so far. Cameron has made a few compromises, such as agreeing to a referendum to change Britain’s voting system, but Cameron is clearly the dominant partner. He’s using that position to its fullest by making deep and broad cuts to government spending on everything from defence to welfare. Britain is in debt and its economy is wobbly. Cameron is therefore driven in part by a simple desire for fiscal restraint. But there’s more to it than that. Cameron believes in decentralizing power and wants citizens to take responsibility for jobs normally handled by the state—a goal he’s accomplishing by giving citizens greater influence over local schools and police, for example.
It’s part of what Cameron describes as a “Big Society,” in which power is shifted from “elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the streets.” “The Big Society,” he said, describing the idea in a speech in Liverpool this summer, “is about a huge culture change where people in their everyday lives, in their homes, their neighbourhoods, and their workplace don’t always turn to officials, local authorities or central government for answers to the problems they face, but instead will feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities.”
He can be persuasive. But critics who say Cameron is simply dressing up the knife he’s using to eviscerate Britain’s public sector have a point. Regardless of how they’re sold, the cuts will hurt. Cameron likes to say that he admires former Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher but isn’t like her. He’s right in the sense that Thatcher was more openly partisan. Cameron, however, is pursuing an equally radical agenda.
What’s working in Cameron’s interest, at least for now, is the belief that the cuts are necessary. “He’s taking some bold steps that have to be made,” said Margaret Barnes, a bookstore owner in Cameron’s home riding of Witney. “We need someone to grab hold of the problems and get them sorted.”
Not everyone agrees, of course. Tens of thousands of students recently demonstrated in London to protest government plans to cut funding to universities, and to allow universities to almost triple tuition fees, from $5,400 to $14,750 a year. Some stormed a downtown building housing the Conservative Party headquarters, smashing its windows.
Still, many Britons are willing to give Cameron a chance and take the lumps that are coming in the hopes they might be worth it. Most polls show the Conservatives up slightly since the election—though also even with Labour, which has benefited from the Liberal Democrats’ collapse.
“We’ll go through, probably in the next two or three years, some tough times,” Mary Macleod, a newly elected Conservative MP told Maclean’s. “And then we’ll pull out of that. So it will be a rocky road and a difficult journey along the way. I think the change we deliver at the end of it will be as large as there’s ever been.”
By Leah McLaren - Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 11:40 AM - 1 Comment
Brits are using credit like never before. Whatever happened to frugality?
Gayle MacKay knows what it’s like to live beyond her means. The 32-year-old public relations professional has spent most of the last decade scraping by on a salary of under $30,000 a year while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world: London, England. Like millions of other Britons, MacKay has lived either at home with her parents or in shared accommodation, and despite steady employment, found herself barely able to make ends meet. She’s recently relocated to Barcelona, where, she jokes, “it’s the done thing to be impoverished,” but in London the pressure to spend money she didn’t have was relentless. “Every month by the time payday rolled around I would literally be right down to my last penny—and when I say last penny I mean I was up to my big overdraft limit. It was scary.”
MacKay is part of a new generation of Britons who, despite the high cost of living and low wages, have eschewed frugality—once a time-honoured tradition in a nation that finally ended food rationing in 1954.
By Jane Switzer - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
The British withdrawal may have a huge impact on local economies
The British are leaving Germany. British Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced his intention to remove the last British troops, after 65 years on German soil, by 2020—15 years earlier than expected. The decision comes amidst the U.K. government’s struggle to tackle its budget deficit and restructure its army, which has maintained a presence in Germany since the Second World War. An estimated 20,000 soldiers and 23,000 dependants and British civilians currently work at 12 bases in North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony, many of them living as part of the local communities, and married to Germans.
The early withdrawal could be a blow to the German economy, which draws in an estimated $1.8 billion from the British presence each year. The town of Bergen is preparing for what Mayor Rainer Prokop calls a devastating situation. Prokop estimated the population of 16,000 would drop by a third once the British troops left, and between 20 and 40 per cent of local business could go under. “This is the most severe upheaval for us since the Second World War,” Prokop told the German news website The Local.
By Stephanie Findlay - Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 8:00 AM - 1 Comment
“Valuable forest being sold to private developers, will be an unforgiveable act of environmental vandalism”
In an attempt to raise billions in funds for Britain’s “Big Society,” David Cameron’s government is allegedly planning to sell half of Britain’s government-owned forests–including the stomping grounds of Robin Hood and Maid Marian: Sherwood Forest. The land will be sold to private companies that will build holiday villages, golf courses, and begin commercial logging operations: legislation that governs protection of the forests, some of which dates back to the Magna Carta of 1215, will likely be changed to grant private firms the right to log.
The Telegraph reports that a third of the land would be transferred to private ownership between 2011 and 2015, and the rest would be sold by 2020. The revenue from the forest sales will be directed toward government departments that were worst hit by Britain’s new austerity program, under which government spending is to be cut by 19 per cent. Opposition to a forest sell-off is mounting: “If this means vast swathes of valuable forest being sold to private developers, it will be an unforgiveable act of environmental vandalism,” said Green MP Caroline Lucas.
By Philippe Gohier - Wednesday, November 10, 2010 at 4:00 PM - 0 Comments
‘They said, “Dumaine, you have a visitor.” She was so beautiful.’
Click play to hear Paul Dumaine’s complete audio story
Between getting engaged and his marriage in July 1945, Paul Dumaine, an infantryman with the Fusiliers Mont-Royal, survived serious wounds on the beach in Dieppe, and three years as a prisoner of war.
I met a young woman, Joan, who I became engaged to. We didn’t want to get married because the war was going strong and I could have been hurt or killed. So we said that we would wait. On Aug. 19, 1942, I arrived in Dieppe. My fiancée had no idea where I was. The battle was poorly organized. We landed in broad daylight. We got there and the beach was ablaze. The battle was full-on. Everyone was getting killed and falling down all over the place. It was terrible.
I collapsed after an hour. My head was injured. I couldn’t walk. It was like I was paralyzed. I was bleeding. I wanted to go wash myself off in the ocean. My legs were paralyzed from the shock. I had to drag myself on my elbows to the ocean. I washed my head. There was a great big boat called a tank landing craft; a boat that carried tanks. The doors opened and the tanks came out. One of them had foundered on the beach. We used it as a shelter to hide from the Germans.
After three years as a prisoner of war, I was released. I was ill. When I got to England, I stayed in hospital for a month. Joan was still in the army. The colonel called her to his office and said, “Joan, I have some good news.” She thought it was news from her parents. “Your fiancé is in England, at Aldershot. I know that you would like to see him.” She said, “Yes, yes, yes.” “I am giving you a pass. Get dressed in civilian clothes and go see him.” I was lying in my bed. They said to me, “Dumaine, you have a visitor.” She was there. It had been three years. When I saw her, she was so beautiful. I took her in my arms.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, October 29, 2010 at 10:28 PM - 0 Comments
In the aftermath of an international terror scare that is presently topping the news in the United States and Britain, one that necessitated the scrambling of Canadian fighter jets, the Prime Minister’s Office identifies the most important takeaway.
The Prime Minister’s Office pointed to the incident to support their decision to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets. “Whether it is the CF-18s or the F-35s, Canada’s air force needs the right equipment to protect Canadian airspace,” said Harper spokesman Dimitri Soudas. “Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals and their coalition partners would cancel the deal to buy the F-35s. They would rather use kites to defend Canada than fighter jets.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, October 19, 2010 at 11:05 AM - 0 Comments
Deborah Coyne looks abroad.
We need to rethink how government should work with the social sector to overcome the inertia of a bureaucratic, rule-bound public sector. We should open up public services to new providers like charities, social enterprises, and private companies with the goal of increased social innovation, diversity, and responsiveness to public need.
One model of this kind of forward thinking is Barack Obama’s Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Through the Social Innovation Fund, this department is creating new partnerships among government, private capital, social entrepreneurs, and the public.
Another model, the British “Social Impact Bond,” facilitates considerable up-front funding to non-profit organizations to create successful models for helping the young or the elderly. This Dragon’s Den approach secures long-term funds for promising ideas, with public investment tied to positive social, environmental, or economic benefits.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, October 7, 2010 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
A 79-year-old Englishman whose bees resist Varroa mites is part of a wave of hope for global food security
Every morning at about nine, Ron Hoskins slips into his white beekeepers outfit, pulls trays out from beneath 17 of his 50 buzzing apiaries in a conservation park in Swindon, England, and painstakingly sorts through the contents with a magnifying glass. He goes home at five, and he’s often up until 2 a.m. examining his finds under a microscope. “It keeps me going,” says the 79-year-old retired heating engineer. Hoskins, who has a “beekeepers do it better” sign in his office, took up apiculture during the Second World War when he was evacuated to a country school. He’s done it ever since. His current research started when worldwide bee populations began to collapse in the mid-’90s; since then numbers have fallen by up to 60 per cent in some countries. With a full third of our diet derived from insect-pollinated plants, the decline in bee populations could be devastating to global food security. But, after more than a decade of careful breeding, Hoskins thinks he’s got the answer.
He’s hopeful because of what’s lying in the bottom of his trays: dead varroa mites, tiny parasites that latch onto the necks of bees, feeding on their blood and transmitting diseases in the process. The mites usually destroy any hive they infect and, since they started to spread from Asia in the 1960s, have arguably become the biggest threat to bee populations around the globe. “It’s quite scary,” says Chris Deaves, an executive with the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA). But Hoskins has managed to naturally make 17 of his 50 colonies mite-resistant, an achievement scientists such as Leonard Foster, a biologist at the University of British Columbia, are calling a major breakthrough. “If the bees are able to deal with varroa mites to a level where they need no human intervention,” Foster says, “they have the potential to reverse the decline in numbers.”
By Andrew Potter - Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 8:40 AM - 1 Comment
Soccer is billed as ‘the beautiful game,’ but like any sport it is a partisan affair—and the better for it
The World Cup had an early case of life imitating advertising on Saturday, when England goalkeeper Robert Green let a slow shot from American striker Clint Dempsey skip off his hands and into the net. The goal salvaged a tie for the U.S.A., and the deep meaning of it all could be discerned from the comparative reaction of the two countries’ tabloids.
“Hand of Clod!” screamed at least two London dailies, a reference to Diego Maradona’s infamous handball goal that put England out of the 1986 finals. Across the pond, the New York Post captured the spirit of things with its gloating front page: “USA Wins 1-1”.