By Barbara Amiel - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 0 Comments
Barbara Amiel on a barrier-breaking outsider
On Nov. 22, 1990, three-term prime minister Margaret Thatcher announced her resignation. She had been knifed by a cabal of elites in her own party while attending a meeting in Paris. Finally, the Oxbridge-educated, upper-middle-class males, led by Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe, had got rid of “that bloody woman” and after all their conspiring persuaded her she hadn’t enough support to win the annual leadership vote. Later that day in Parliament, the Labour Party called for a vote of no confidence and Thatcher, who naturally was staying as PM until the party chose a new leader, rose to reply. She wore one of her bright Tory blue suits with the two rows of pearls in place. Nothing in her voice indicated the heartbreak—of which she later spoke. Her speech was vintage Thatcher, calling down the seven plagues on the policies of the Labour Party. At the height of her speech, feisty Labour MP Dennis Skinner’s voice boomed from the Opposition benches with the mad integrity of a genuine working-class chap who couldn’t bear to see what the toffs had done to her: “You could wipe the floor with the lot of them, Margaret.” And the house erupted in applause.
She left politics in 1990 after 11 years as prime minister, and an entire generation has grown up since who probably cannot understand what all the fuss is about or how the rights they now enjoy are due to her. She inherited a country in 1979 that was known as the sick man of Europe suffering from “the British disease.” Strikes every day, streets lined with weeks of garbage and the dead left unburied. Income tax topped out at 98 per cent for unearned income, 86 per cent for top earners. (Do I hear sighs of envy from the NDP?) British tourists lucky enough to go on holidays abroad couldn’t take more than a few hundred dollars with them since the country had currency controls and was on audit by the International Monetary Fund. In all respects—except climate and size—Britain was the 1979 version of 2013’s Greece. Thatcher brought a semi-comatose country back to life by employing free-market economics together with her unshakable belief that people could do better for themselves than the government could do for them. She gave the world a template for economic success, and her daily encomiums on the virtue of liberty and refusal to knuckle in to dictatorships—whether Argentine or Soviet—was a textbook lesson on peace through strength.
By Leah McLaren - Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
Stay-at-home-moms react to a new tax scheme they say is unfair
Nick Clegg, the U.K.’s deputy prime minister, found himself under fire this week in Britain’s version of the so-called mummy wars.
During the Liberal Democrat leader’s regular radio phone-in show, he was attacked by a stay-at-home mother, who expressed her outrage over the government’s new child care tax-voucher scheme, which provides benefits only to families in which both parents work.
“You probably think what I do is a worthless job,” said Laura from south London, a self-described homemaker who declined to give her full name. She then went on to lambaste Clegg’s government for providing “absolutely no provision in the tax system for families like myself.” Her voice is just one in a growing chorus of increasingly desperate housewives who feel the U.K. government’s new child care scheme is unfair to those families in which one parent stays home while the other goes out to work.
It’s an awkward situation for the Tory-led government, since so-called “traditional” families, in which the father is the breadwinner and the mother tends the home fires, have historically formed the backbone of middle-class Tory voter base.
The voucher, which rewards either single parents or co-parents who earn up to $232,400 each, but not those earning under the income tax threshold of $15,500, has also come under heavy criticism for excluding the working poor (who do receive child care benefits, but on a separate scheme).
Controversial as they are, the measures are a response to one of the country’s big problems. They’re meant to help offset the soaring cost of child care in Britain, which, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, amounts to a staggering 43 per cent of average family incomes. Compare that to neighbouring France, Denmark or Germany, where child care costs amount to less than 15 per cent of average household budgets.
According to a recent survey by the U.K.’s Daycare Trust, a spot in a nursery now costs 77 per cent more in England than it did in 2003, while average earnings have remained roughly the same.
The government believes, quite rightly, that the cost of child care has become the single biggest quality-of-life issue for working families today. A document accidentally leaked by the Treasury earlier this month explained that the government is trying focus its resources on parents who are determined to work. “Working families who are struggling with their child care costs, or families where parents want to go to work but can’t afford to, are in greater need of state support for child care than families where one parent chooses to stay home and look after their children full-time.” Or as a spokesperson for the prime minister more bluntly put it, the government is “supporting those who want to work hard and to get on.”
Not surprisingly, the covert message here—that parents who choose to care for their children full-time are choosing not to “work hard”—has gone down, as the odd British saying goes, like a cup of cold sick. The Telegraph accused Cameron of making a “slur upon stay-at-home mothers,” and the Daily Mail declared the beginning of a “backlash from stay-at-home mums.” But not all commentators agree that homemakers deserve public respect or, indeed, tax benefits. In a controversial article, “The mother myth,” published earlier this year in The Spectator, Carol Sarler declared what the Cameron government seems to be passively inferring: that middle-class stay-home mums are, for the most part, privileged and lazy. “There never was such a thing as a full-time mother,” Sarler writes. “She is a recently constructed, absurdly quixotic myth. The full-time mother has never existed for the simple reason that, exempting only the fleeting years of infancy, mothering is not, and has never been, a full-time job.”
Needless to say, this was not the message Clegg conveyed to Laura from south London while defending his government’s new child care scheme. Instead, the deputy PM was agonizingly vague, saying that while he “massively admired” Laura’s choice to look after her own children, the new measures were “all about what we can do in government to give people the greatest choice that they want and need in their own lives.”
Except, as many commentators have pointed out, the government’s earlier decision to cut the U.K.’s child benefit for higher earners (as of this year, only households in which both parents earn less than $93,000 a year and under six figures in total qualify for the $2,000 per-child, per-year benefit) can be seen as a negation of personal choice. In essence, the government is saying to middle-class parents: if you want our support, get a job.
It’s a difficult message to deliver to families in the middle of a triple-dip recession, especially when the new tax provisions don’t even go into effect until 2015 (which, incidentally, just happens to be the next election year). In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of British families will make do without any tax provisions at all. As child care costs continue to rise and incomes continue to flatline, the British middle classes are feeling the pinch—no matter what side of the mummy wars they fall on.
By Alan Parker - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 12:39 PM - 0 Comments
Cards replicate ‘sickly sweet’ grow-op smell
The smell of cultivated marijuana is spreading across England this week, courtesy of Crimestoppers U.K.
The crime-fighting charity is mass mailing scratch-and-sniff cards which replicate the smell of growing cannabis plants to help homeowners identify possible marijuana grow ops in their neighbourhoods. Police will also hand out the cards.
A total of 210,000 scratch-and-sniff cards will be distributed this week in areas of England which Crimestoppers says police have identified as “hot spots” of marijuana cultivation. The cards are more than a publicity gimmick. Crimestoppers U.K. says it hopes citizens will scratch, sniff and possibly call Crimestoppers to pass along an anonymous tip.
By Leah McLaren - Monday, January 21, 2013 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
UK private members clubs and restaurants target a ‘female-friendly’ market
Grace Belgravia, London’s newest private members’ club, is exclusive on many different levels. There’s the posh Knightsbridge address, the $8,500 annual membership fee, the 11,000-sq.-foot building with its splendid atrium and vaulted ceilings, the spa, the hammam steam bath, the beauty salon, the private atelier and the on-staff acupuncturist, psychologist and gynecologist.
Gynecologist? Yes, that’s right. Grace Belgravia is a women-only social and health club, the first full-service one in Europe. And that’s saying something here in London, the world capital of institutionalized social exclusion.
There is, of course, a long history of single-sex members’ clubs in this town—places like Boodle’s, White’s or the Garrick, which crop up in novels by Evelyn Waugh or P.G. Wodehouse. The difference being, of course, that they are for men. Despite their status as historical relics, these gentlemen’s clubs are not cool places. In fact, they are the opposite of cool—the sort of places where old fogeys in ascots sit swilling sherry, playing backgammon and taking bets on which rain droplet will slide down the windowpane first. Snobbish, stifling places, really, despite their Old World charm, which is why most London women couldn’t care less about not being allowed into them.
London men, on the other hand, ought be very annoyed at being barred from Grace Belgravia. Not that they are barred, exactly. “We’re not anti-men, we’re just very pro-women,” says Kate Percival, a former marketing executive and the club’s CEO and co-founder, who explains that men are allowed in on certain nights—provided they accompany a member and behave themselves (and not stand around the bar getting sloshed and looking to pick up). “It’s about creating bonds between women in an inclusive, rather than exclusive, way,” she says.
Grace Belgravia is part of a growing trend toward female-only (and female-friendly) dining, drinking and socializing establishments in the British capital. There is Purple Dragon, a private members’ club in Chelsea for mothers and children as young as newborn (yes, really). And the Sorority, a networking club in Holborn, in central London, whose declared mission is to “shape a visionary future for professional women” by “celebrating style and feminity in business.” They do this, apparently, by hosting Harry Winston diamond events and speakers like fashion designer Donna Karan and “celebrity astrologer” Shelley von Strunckel.
On the more cheap and cheerful end, there is Sofakingcool, the cornily named Soho gay bar (try saying it out loud) that is, later this month, reopening as London’s first all-female restaurant. The proprietor, a Canadian former rugby player called KC Gates, recently told the London Evening Standard that, like the much tonier Grace Belgravia, her aim is not gender segregation, but a new kind of girl power. “We want it to be a place women can come to after work. It’s not about preventing men from coming in, but putting what women want first.”
And in some new coed establishments, there is a trend toward “female-friendly” atmosphere and service. STK, the U.S. steakhouse chain, is trying to lure groups of women and female business travellers (who are often loathe to eat alone) with smaller portions of meat, attentive service, and the tag line “not your Daddy’s steakhouse.”
Not all Londoners are thrilled at these new and improved dens of inequity. The Guardian columnist Zoe Williams called the whole women’s club trend “weird” and “dispiriting” and grumbled of Grace Belgravia’s focus on holistic medicine and health. “Years and years of fighting over equality, contraception, work, pay, smashing the patriarchy, and we are still eating raw food for pleasure and having spa treatments. It makes no sense, but it’s pointless to dwell.”
But Percival breezes over such criticisms by pointing out that most of her membership simply doesn’t want to sit around getting pie-eyed and gossiping, as has long been the tradition in gentlemen’s clubs. “We serve alcohol, of course, but the focus is on overall well-being. We take a holistic approach and focus on all of a woman’s needs—physical, mental, emotional, social and professional. It can all sound a bit austere and Calvinist, but it’s not at all. It’s just very diverse.”
With a growing membership (they have more than 100 members already and expect to have 350 by the end of this year) and a full calendar of events, Grace Belgravia looks poised to break the mould for single-sex socializing. But let’s be clear: this is not a club for all women, only the lucky few who can afford it. “Successful professional women don’t want to get hit on all the time, and they don’t always want to care about how they look while exercising,” says Percival. “They have their own money, and they have an elective choice on how to spend it.”
By The Associated Press - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 5:15 AM - 0 Comments
LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron says he hopes to negotiate fundamental changes…
LONDON – British Prime Minister David Cameron says he hopes to negotiate fundamental changes in his country’s membership of the European Union which can then be put to the country in a referendum.
In a BBC radio interview on Monday, Cameron said he does not favour an immediate in-or-out vote on membership in the EU, saying that is a false choice.
Cameron says he is in favour of staying in the EU and that he is confident of achieving changes which would make membership more comfortable for Britain.
Sharp divisions over Europe have split Cameron’s Conservative Party for decades.
By The Associated Press - Thursday, October 25, 2012 at 6:16 AM - 0 Comments
LONDON – Britain’s economy emerged from its nine-month recession in the July to September quarter, when spending on the Olympics helped it grow by a bigger than expected 1 per cent, according to official figures released Thursday.
LONDON – Britain’s economy emerged from its nine-month recession in the July to September quarter, when spending on the Olympics helped it grow by a bigger than expected 1 per cent, according to official figures released Thursday.
The number published by the Office for National Statistics beat the market consensus forecast of 0.6 per cent growth and will make the Bank of England less likely to approve a further round of economic stimulus in November, analysts say.
The ONS said the result was the strongest quarterly growth in five years, bringing economic output back to the same level of a year ago. It is a first estimate and is subject to revision.
Prime Minister David Cameron, in a message on Twitter, said there was still much to do “but these GDP figures show we are on the right track, and our economy is healing.”
The statistics agency says the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games probably gave the economy a boost but it gave no estimate of the total impact.
It did say that sales of Olympic tickets that occurred in 2011 and earlier in 2012 — the ones it statistically allocated to third-quarter economic output — accounted for 0.2 points of the rise in GDP.
Increased activity by employment agencies, the entertainment sector and accommodation was likely boosted by the Olympics and Paralymics, the ONS said.
“As the Olympic effects unwind, it is still possible that the economy contracts again in the fourth quarter,” said Vicky Redwood, chief UK economist at Capital Economics.
The dominant services sector, which shrank by 0.1 per cent in the second quarter, led the rebound with 1.3 per cent growth. Production industries including manufacturing grew by 1 per cent but construction activity fell 2.5 per cent, the ONS said.
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 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 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 Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 77 Comments
The Liberals have apparently decided that 308 MPs is enough.
“It doesn’t make any sense in these days of financial restraint,” Liberal MP Marc Garneau said Tuesday at a Commons committee studying the legislation that would give 15 extra seats to Ontario, six seats each to B.C. and Alberta, and three seats to Quebec … “Canadians are concerned about the added cost of such an inflationary measure,” Garneau said. “The government’s new proposal sends the wrong message to Canadians: that it wants to increase the number of politicians, while it slashes the public services that are provided.”
We presently have 308 MPs for 34.6 million people (one MP for approximately 112,000 people). For the sake of comparing Westminster systems, the United Kingdom has 650 MPs for 62.2 million people (one MP for approximately 96,000 people), while Australia has 150 MPs for 22.3 million people (one MP for approximately 149,000 people).
But if the concern is “cost,” then perhaps the Liberals should propose reducing the number of MPs. Never mind, how many we need, how few could we get away with? That, if the Liberals want to get into it, makes for an interesting debate about what exactly our MPs do to justify their respective existences.
A young Stephen Harper, for instance, advocated for a ten percent reduction in MPs. That would’ve reduced a 295-member House to a 265-member House. So instead of adding 30 seats, perhaps we could get away with 43 fewer than we already have.
By Leah McLaren - Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM - 8 Comments
The United Kingdom’s libraries are on the chopping block, but incensed Britons are fighting back
Earlier this month, Lauren Smith, 23, graduated with a masters in librarianship from the University of Sheffield. Her timing could not have been worse. “The idea that anyone can free themselves from ignorance through public libraries is an important one for Britain,” she says. “What’s happening now is hacking away at culture for the everyman.”
The “hacking” Smith refers to is the coalition government’s radical spending cuts, which are expected to culminate in unprecedented public library closures across Britain in the coming months.
As local councils reveal their budgets, it is estimated that up to 800 public libraries—18 per cent of the country’s total—could face closure. At present, almost 400 are already on the chopping block. In Doncaster, a down-at-the-heels former industrial centre in south Yorkshire, 14 of 26 public libraries are slated to close. It is especially grim during recessionary times when, according to Smith, research demonstrates that people use public libraries more. “People say, ‘Why do you need libraries now that everyone has the Internet?’ But actually 30 per cent of British homes don’t have home Internet access at all. Many people come to libraries not just to borrow books but to apply for jobs online.”
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 Aaron Wherry - Friday, January 7, 2011 at 5:32 PM - 188 Comments
The Environment Minister observed yesterday (around the 12-minute mark of that interview) that Canada is a supplier of ethical oil—a phrase recently employed by Ezra Levant—because the revenues derived from that oil are not used to “fund terrorism or the destabilization of other governments.” This may or may not beg questions about the origins of our own oil imports.
The latest release of Statistics Canada’s Energy Statistics Handbook lists our sources of crude oil and equivalents going back to 1989. Our noted individual sources in 2010 (through September) were, in order: Algeria, the United Kingdom, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Mexico, Venezuela, Russia and the United States.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 10:00 AM - 184 Comments
Fewer jobs. Lower pay. Higher taxes.
Now the Screwed Generation is starting to push back.
This January, the first baby boomers turn 65. The huge post-Second World War generation—which numbers 76 million in the United States, makes up almost a third of Canada’s population, and according to one estimate, controls 80 per cent of Britain’s wealth—will continue to enter their dotage at the rate of tens of thousands per day for the next 20 years. By 2050, there will be 30 million Americans aged 75 to 85, three in 10 Europeans will be 65-plus, and more than 40 per cent of Japan’s population will be elderly. In Canada, the ratio of workers to retirees—currently five to one—will have been halved by 2036. And despite the odd dissenter, the generation that still oddly finds Paul McCartney relevant has made clear its intention to take everything it feels it has coming. It will be up to all who trail in their wake to pay for their privilege.
Common sense, not to mention decency, wouldn’t call that just. But an outsized, over-entitled, and self-obsessed demographic is awfully hard for politicians to ignore. Take Britain’s example. In last spring’s general election, the most effective ad run by David Cameron’s Conservatives was also one of the simplest: a close-up of a newborn baby, wriggling in a bassinet as a music box tinkled in the background. “Born four weeks ago, eight pounds, three ounces. With his dad’s nose, mum’s eyes, and Gordon Brown’s debt,” intoned a female voice. “Thanks to Labour’s debt crisis, every child in Britain is born owing £17,000. They deserve better.” The point was impossible to miss: the time had come to stop mortgaging the country’s future.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, September 27, 2010 at 1:36 PM - 0 Comments
Neil Reynolds pines for the days when our politicians were (likening female colleagues to prostitutes?) wittier.
We don’t need a better kind of good behaviour in the Commons. We need a better kind of bad behaviour – in the Commons generally and in QP specifically. We especially need a better kind of invective. Canadian MPs have demonstrated occasional brilliance in putting down their honourable opponents. (One classic: Prime minister John Diefenbaker’s reference to MP Flora MacDonald, his colleague, as “the finest woman ever to walk the streets of Kingston” – an excellent example of an insult that offends a person and a place at the same time.)
Whatever your definition of wit, we need to retire the idea that the British Parliament is some great temple to lively and smart repartee which we should strive to emulate. For one, it shouldn’t matter—if we’re not happy with our lot that should be enough to seek change, regardless of how it compares to how it is elsewhere. For another, the Brits have more than enough of their own problems. Indeed, their current Speaker came to his post with an explicit call for reform amid much lamenting about the decline of the institution. There are plenty of reasons why there’s might seem a more interesting debate—not least being the tremendous amount of close coverage that is dedicated to PMQs—but for the most part, I suspect, we here in the colonies are simply fooled by the fact that a British accent makes everything sound wittier.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, June 24, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 2 Comments
The Concorde made its final transatlantic flight
The Concorde, the world’s first supersonic commercial aircraft, made its final transatlantic flight in October 2003. After a 3½-hour flight from New York, the pointy-nosed jet touched down at London’s Heathrow Airport in front of a crowd that had gathered to say goodbye. But now enthusiasts are hoping to get the Concorde off the ground once again at an estimated cost of $22 million—ideally in time for the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London.
By Tom Rachman - Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 11:42 AM - 0 Comments
The U.K. election was less about pomp and more about circumstance
The theatregoers were a mixed bunch: a gentleman in silk cravat, a young woman in torn jeans; some guzzled beer from plastic cups, others drained champagne from flutes.
What united the crowd was poshness—not that they all possessed it, but that they all wished to see it pilloried onstage in Posh, a sold-out play at the Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square denouncing the debauchery and corruption of the British upper classes.
Class is a notorious obsession here, its intricacies understood only by those imprisoned within the system and a farce to those outside. The issue has become even more topical of late, after the May 6 elections that brought to power the Conservative leader, David Cameron, Britain’s poshest prime minister in decades.
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 11:00 AM - 6 Comments
The U.K. Conservatives are back. Is there a lesson for our Grits?
At some point, this may start to sound familiar: a well-established party cruises to office in three straight elections, riding the popularity of a dominant, if sometimes ruthless, leader. Then, entitlement sets in. The party’s policies turn stale. Its senior statesmen grow irksome to the public. Power-drunk members succumb to petty corruption, and a few party operatives even set out to game the political system to personal advantage. Finally—repelled by the steady drip of scandal—voters send the rascals packing.
The post-Margaret Thatcher experience of Britain’s Conservatives can read at times like a roman à clef for Canada’s Liberals after Jean Chrétien—another sometime dynasty that, like the U.K. Tories, once saw itself as its country’s “natural governing party.” In both cases, the succession battle to replace the warlord PM left the party crippled and divided. In both cases, a brief interregnum in office under a new leader merely staved off the inevitable. In Canada, as in Britain, a formerly hapless opponent restyled itself into a credible political alternative, occupying wide tracts of the deposed party’s electoral base and pushing the perennial incumbent further into the wilderness.
By Charlie Gillis - Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
The newly minted PM faces a daunting task: fix the U.K.’s finances
There are no short cuts on the long journey back from fiscal crisis—take it from someone who knows. Paul Martin was a rookie cabinet minister when he assumed the reins of Canada’s Finance Department back in 1994. But as a businessman, he understood a balance sheet, and the politician in him sensed the risk of promising half-measures. “You cannot tell people it’s going to be easy and then think they’re going to accept harsh medicine,” the former prime minister says from his office in Montreal. “And don’t think people are going to stay with you through the tough measures if you don’t hit your targets.”
To many Canadians, Martin’s role in leading the country from the brink of financial ruin is now a fading memory, overshadowed by his anticlimactic turn as prime minister. But in Britain, where five days of fevered negotiation this week produced a minority Conservative government, he is an exemplar to those contemplating the Herculean task that lies in wait: tackling the U.K.’s disastrous finances. “What Paul Martin did has been incredibly influential in Whitehall and academic circles,” says Patrick Dunleavy, a political scientist at the London School of Economics. “It’s seen as a good way to go about budget rebalancing, while limiting the damage that’s done in the process.”
By Aaron Wherry - Tuesday, May 11, 2010 at 3:57 PM - 42 Comments
As Britain embarks on—dear lord, no!—coalition governance, Chris Selley attempts to draw lessons.
In short, what we’re seeing in Britain this week is a wakeup call. Canada has been playing Parliament in “beginner” mode. It’s in everyone’s best interests, I think, to give “intermediate” mode a try. I fail to see how it could make things worse.
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, February 11, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 59 Comments
The grilling the former British PM is getting over invading Iraq suits the enemy just fine
It’s supposed to be Sept. 12—that’s to say, the post-9/11 era. For over seven years the entire Western world was forced to live out a kind of geopolitical Groundhog Day in which Bush, Cheney, Rummy and the rest of the gang woke up each dawn to the same eternal Tuesday morning in September, the same long shadows of the Twin Towers, the same undying certainty of another six decades of hard, cold, martial winter. It wasn’t only the ideologically opposed among the campus left and the Euro-elites: the vast mass of a once supportive citizenry got ground down, too, exhausted by the very lingo of the “war on terror” and anxious to inter it with the Bush presidency. That’s why Barack Obama was cheered from Berkeley to Berlin. He offered liberation. To invert the old line, war may be interested in him, but he wasn’t interested in war. And in those heady days of late 2008 that seemed almost plausible.
Jaw-jaw is better than war-war, as Churchill said, although he might feel differently if he had to sit through an Obama state of the union. But what about law-law? In the United States, the United Kingdom and even Canada, it’s not enough to move on to Sept. 12: the Bush era itself has to be put on trial. In London, something called “the Chilcot inquiry” has been investigating the process by which the country signed on to the Iraq invasion. For weeks, the usual bunch of shifty grandees have killed any potential awkward line of inquiry with the all-purpose brush-off, “You’ll have to ask Mr. Blair about that.” So finally they did, summoning the now reviled prime minister into the witness box to grill him on the “legality” of the Iraq invasion. Outside, protesters denounced “Bliar,” as his name is now universally spelled: “BLIAR LIED! THOUSANDS DIED!” Like a pedophile serial killer, he was smuggled into the building before dawn, lest the mob turn on him: “The People vs. Ex-Generalissimo Bliar”—or, at any rate, as near as his former comrades on the left seem likely to get to hauling him up before a war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, December 2, 2009 at 7:39 PM - 14 Comments
The Scene. There was some general discussion of Afghanistan, U.S. President Barack Obama, the Canadian Forces and the American effort, before Michael Ignatieff, with his third opportunity, narrowed in on a specific concern.
“Mr. Speaker, the government’s approach has neglected the crucial importance of political and diplomatic engagement,” he ventured. “Other countries have created high-level envoys for the whole region. The United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany have done this. Canada has earned the right to be at the table and to participate in those efforts. Can the government explain why, over month after month after month, it has refused to take that step, which will co-ordination to our diplomatic and political efforts in the region?”
Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister allowed to lead the government’s response this day, dismissed this quite quickly.
“Mr. Speaker, I know the leader of the opposition would model himself after other countries,” he said. “We are taking a unique Canadian approach.”
Rising for a fourth time, Mr. Ignatieff turned to the matter that has dominated these last two weeks, reminding the government of last night’s vote and asking if it might now relent to the inquiry requested therein. It was this point, for whatever reason, that John Baird stood. Continue…
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 4:00 PM - 2 Comments
A new biography talks about her unabashed enjoyment of life and surprising friendships
The 20th century is rich with iconic figures, but in many ways no one, at least not in the former British Empire, embodied it better than the child born Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon on Aug. 4, 1900. Queen Elizabeth II’s mother was born on the cusp of the century and turned 14 on the day the Great War began. Thrust unexpectedly into prominence by her brother-in-law’s abdication and widowed for almost half her life, the last empress of India lived through all of Britain’s modern changes, dying at the age of 101 in 2002. As William Shawcross points out in his massive official biography Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother (HarperCollins)—1,096 pages weighing in at two kilograms—the organizers of her 100th birthday celebrations got it just right.
About 450 adults and children—some in dress-up, some the real thing—paraded the 20th century past Elizabeth on her flower-bedecked dais: First World War troops, ballroom dancers from the ’20s, a Blitz-era fire engine, VE Day revellers from 1945, Enid Blyton’s Noddy in his postwar yellow car, James Bond’s 1960s Aston Martin, punk rockers and—more bizarrely—Hells Angels on motorcycles. Spitfires, Hurricanes and Lancasters flew over, while the band played on. Continue…
By Mark Steyn - Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 3:20 PM - 131 Comments
What’s next in surveillance-happy Britain? Cameras in private homes? Actually, yes.
To passing tourists, catching yet another government poster apprising you of electronic surveillance looming in the distance, the initials “CCTV” can be oddly reminiscent of “CCCP,” the Cyrillicized abbreviation for the U.S.S.R. CCTV is the United Kingdom’s ubiquitous acronym. Nobody needs to be told what it stands for. It accompanies you as you make your way to work, whether by car, bus, train, or taxi. And it’s there waiting for you at the end of your shift, as you go to buy your groceries or head to the movies. Last year, when David Davis resigned from the shadow cabinet because of the remarkably bipartisan insouciance about the “erosion of fundamental British freedoms,” he said there was “a CCTV camera for every 14 citizens.” The British, according to another well-retailed line, are apparently the most video-monitored people in the world other than the North Koreans. In an aside in his new novel The Defector, the American author Daniel Silva lays out the background:
“ ‘So how are the British so certain about what happened?’
“ ‘Their little electronic helpers were watching.’ Continue…