Tag Archives: Parliament

BORIS JOHNSON MAKES BREXIT MORE LIKELY

Boris Johnson

Donald Trump has a new rival, a fellow New Yorker no less.  Like Mr. Trump, the newcomer is causing just as much turmoil in political circles. He can even rival The Donald with his famous hair.

Boris Johnson (born 19 June, 1964, in New York) is a British politician, popular historian and journalist who has served as Mayor of London since 2008 and as Member of Parliament (MP) for Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015.  Mr. Johnson is a popular figure in British politics.

Mr. Johnson attended the same exclusive private school that Prime Minister David Cameron attended.  Later they both attended Oxford University at the same time.  They are two members of Britain’s elite and have been best friends for decades.  That could change now.

While Mr. Cameron is fighting to keep Britain in the European Union (EU), Boris Johnson on Sunday declared himself opposed.  Mr. Johnson will support the “Leave” campaign.  He is in favor of a Brexit, a British exit from the organization.

As the Wall Street Journal put it:  “Mr. Johnson is the most prominent politician to break with the prime minister ahead of the June 23 referendum.”

It should be noted that if the vote goes against Mr. Cameron, he will likely face a “No Confidence” vote in parliament.  If he loses, Mr. Johnson could be his replacement as prime minister.  Unlike Americans, the Brits don’t have laws precluding those born overseas from holding office.  Besides, Mr. Johnson’s parents were both upper middle class English.   Mr. Johnson recently wrote a biography of fellow Conservative Winston Churchill, a predecessor who also had definite American connections.   (His book, “The Churchill Factor” is well worth reading.)

If this sounds awfully like the 1930’s all over again, there are definite similarities, though nobody is threatening violence this time, not right now anyway.

The pro-European faction in parliament is led by Mr. Cameron.  He returned from Brussels late on Friday, promising the equivalent of Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time.”   The prime minister announced that agreement had been reached with EU leaders that will serve Britain well.  Consequently, Mr. Cameron will recommend Britain remain a member of the European club.

It came as a surprise on Sunday when Boris Johnson came out publicly against continued membership.  Like Mr. Churchill in 1938 he is concerned to protect Britain’s sovereignty in light of European developments toward a trans-national super-state.  This time it’s not Berlin that concerns him so much as Brussels, the capital of the EU.   But Berlin is a factor as the European project is dominated by Germany.

The European Union began with the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which pledges member countries to form “an ever closer union.”   This does not mean a United States of Europe along USA lines. This could never happen, as the dynamics are very different.   What is far more likely to emerge is something akin to the Holy Roman Empire, which lasted for a thousand years until it was broken up by Napoleon in 1806.

Dictionary.com defines the Holy Roman Empire as follows:

“a Germanic empire located chiefly in central Europe that began with the coronation of Charlemagne as Roman emperor in AD 800 . . . and ended with the renunciation of the Roman imperial title by Francis II in 1806, and was regarded theoretically as the continuation of the Western Empire and as the temporal form of a universal dominion whose spiritual head was the pope.”

The EU has been working toward something similar since its inception almost six decades ago.   It’s already the world’s biggest single market and trading power.   The common currency called the euro rivals the US dollar as a global currency.     Politically it’s more united than ever and there is some progress toward a European military.

For Britain, all this is bad news.  Not even the pro-EU politicians want the UK to be a part of a European super-state.  They want to keep their independence or, rather, what’s left of it.  They want to stay out of the euro and do not want to go any further toward an “ever closer union” or join a European military force.  Mr. Cameron received assurances from the other 27 members of the EU that Britain can stay out of all three.  He was also given some relief on the financial costs to British tax-payers having to pay benefits to EU migrants from the East, but only for seven years.

But anti-EU politicians and members of the public are still insecure about the future.

It’s not surprising really when you consider Britain’s history.  For centuries Britain looked beyond the seas to its colonies and, later, the Commonwealth and the United States, remaining outside of Europe, only getting involved when threatened by a Napoleon, the Kaiser or Hitler.

In 1962, former US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, observed that: “Britain has lost an empire and not yet found a role.” In the same year, US President John Kennedy expressed his support for Britain joining what was then called the Common Market.  Canada’s Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, was very much against Britain joining, expressing his concern that it could mean the end of the Commonwealth of which Canada was a founding member.

America wanted Britain “in” so as to have a reliable pro-American voice in the European club.  The US also wanted free trade to boost American exports to Europe.

If the United Kingdom votes to leave the EU, there will likely be far greater repercussions than can presently be seen.  These will not just be economic.  44% of Britain’s exports go to other EU nations – a “no” vote could jeopardize these exports as tariffs exist on imports from non-member countries.

Other repercussions could include the following:

  1. The EU could be less co-operative with the USA.
  1. A British exit from the EU could encourage a Scottish exit from the UK, as it seems most Scots want to stay in the EU.
  1. Ireland would be negatively affected, with 40% of its imports coming from the UK and 17% of its exports going to Britain.
  1. Germany will become more dominant.  Only Britain and France are big enough right now to restrain the central European giant.  Take away Britain and it’s down to France.   France’s priority right now is Islamic terrorism. Germany will be able to go full steam ahead toward its dream of a revived European empire, already referred to by some as the Fourth Reich.  The Holy Roman Empire was the first reich (or empire), that lasted a thousand years; the Kaisers were the second reich; Hitler promised his Third Reich would last a thousand years like the first one, but it only lasted twelve.
  1. There will be a lot of bad feeling if Britain leaves.  Other EU members will not be inclined to bend over backwards to help the Brits through a difficult transition period.   Concessions on trade will be unlikely.  It could also end shared security arrangements at a time when there are increased security risks with Islamic militancy.
  1. International companies operating in Britain could move to other countries.  Many companies have based themselves in the UK to gain advantage in selling goods to other EU countries.  Faced with high tariffs to keep out non-EU goods, they are likely to move elsewhere, leaving greater unemployment in their wake.
  1. There is also a possibility that some other EU members may follow Britain out the door.   Whereas countries at the center of Europe have a long history of strong government from the center, those on the northern periphery have not.  Although some may sympathize with the British position, they may decide it’s not economically feasible to leave as trade with Germany and other nations is too great.

Some of the southern members may also opt to leave so that they can print their own money and boost employment.

Bible prophecy shows that a revived European super-state will include ten nations.

“The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.  These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.” (Revelation 17:12-13)

However, this does not rule out the possibility of other countries being closely tied to the ten.  This would be very similar to the Holy Roman Empire where some territories were ruled directly from the center, but others were more loosely attached.

Additionally, dozens of countries around the world are tied to the EU through the Lomé Convention, named after the capital of Togo.  The agreement came into being a couple of years after Britain joined the EU.  It tied British former colonies to the European trading system, along with French, Belgian and Portuguese.  The EU is by far the leading world trading power.

It’s surprising then that there’s little interest in the outcome of the British referendum in the American media.  Any mention of the European Union solicits a big yawn.  But the reality is that Boris Johnson may out-Trump Donald Trump in the upheaval he may cause across the pond!

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TRAGEDY IN KALAMAZOO

Kalamazoo is a big city that’s only an hour’s drive from where we live.  Saturday night it fell victim to the latest American mass shooting, when a 45-year-old Uber driver shot dead six people and seriously injured two others.  In between killing people, he picked up and drove passengers to their destinations.

The lack of motive is disturbing.  So is the following paragraph from the BBC’s website:

“One of the seriously injured, a 14-year-old girl, was believed to have been dead for more than an hour when she squeezed her mother’s hand as doctors were preparing to harvest her organs, police officer Dale Hinz told Michigan Live.”

 

 

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UK ELECTION SET FOR MAY 7th

Signpost, political parties

A turbulent six weeks lies ahead as Britain prepares to vote on May 7th.

Americans are already in the midst of electioneering, for an election that’s still 22 months away.  They can be forgiven a case of envy when they learn that the United Kingdom’s election period will only last 38 days.

Elections used to be fairly routine, with either the Conservative or the Labour party winning.

In 2010, that changed.  Neither party won a majority. David Cameron, the leader of the Conservative Party and Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party agreed to form a Coalition government.   Later, the two had to agree on austerity measures to get Britain out of the international financial crisis.

Today, the country has the fastest growing economy out of all the major western democracies.   Austerity seems to have worked better in Britain than elsewhere in Europe.

This time, there are a number of parties campaigning to win seats in Britain’s “first past the post” system.

The country has 635 constituencies.   Whoever gets the biggest number of votes in each of these, is elected to parliament.   The leader of the majority faction then becomes prime minister.

This time, however, there are more than three parties.

The Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat parties will all be putting up candidates.   In addition, there’s a fairly new party called UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party), which is campaigning for Britain to withdraw from the EU and to do something about immigration, which many see as out of control.

Their leader, Nigel Farage, has already said that if David Cameron, the current prime minister, needs UKIP’s help to form a right-wing coalition government, he will insist on a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU by the end of this year.   Mr. Cameron wants to delay it until 2017 when more Europeans will have moved into Britain, making it more likely that a “yes” vote would be returned.   Anybody from the EU can vote in referenda, though not in general elections. That requires full citizenship.

On the left of the political spectrum, for Labour’s Ed Miliband to form a government, he will likely need support from the SNP (Scottish National Party), Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists) and even the Greens (environmental party).   All of these parties will want government spending to increase, thereby jeopardizing the recovery the present coalition has engineered.

There are also smaller parties representing Northern Ireland, which may be needed to form a coalition.

It’s all suddenly become very complicated, but the old days of two-party politics seem to be over for good.

The next occupant of 10 Downing Street will be the man who can successfully haggle with other party leaders to reach the magic number of 318 – that’s just over 50% of all the seats in parliament, without which governing would be almost impossible.

 

DOWNTON AND THE ARISTOCRACY

Downton AbbeyDownton Abbey is back on PBS.  The fourth season began a couple of weeks ago.

Why is this show so successful?  People are watching it all over the world.

The series began before World War I, took us through that awful war, followed immediately by the flu epidemic; and has now reached 1922.  We are now seeing a reduced aristocracy facing highB taxes resulting in a slow-but-sure decline, the subject of Evelyn Waugh’s classic “Brideshead Revisited,” which depicted the aristocracy between the two world wars.

The aristocracy had started losing its power prior to World War I, with the Liberal Party’s victory in the 1906 election.  The Liberals introduced state controlled pensions, which had to be paid for.  In 1910, the Liberals approved a massive increase in taxation.  The House of Lords, the Upper House, over-ruled the Commons, refusing to approve the budget.  It was a major constitutional crisis, which was resolved by the new king, George V, when he agreed to appoint more liberal aristocrats to the Upper House, who would then approve the proposed budget.  The Lords backed down and agreed to the Commons being able to pass budgetary bills without their consent.  From this point on, the House of Commons was the more powerful chamber.  Aristocratic dominance had ended.  In the last century, their power, influence and wealth have been gradually diminishing.  The country is NOT better off as a result of this.

The aristocracy served England well.  They were not perfect by any means but they cared for the country they governed and did what they thought was best to pass on the nation to the next generation.

In stark contrast to today’s politicians, they believed in sound money and a balanced budget.  They had learned the necessity of this running their own estates.  Over-spend and you will eventually go under!

My wife and I have often visited the stately homes of the aristocracy.  Visiting them has given us a greater understanding of why Britain ruled its Empire so well.  Most colonial governors in the early period of the empire were aristocrats.  Cut off from their home base, they ruled over millions of people in a similar way to Lord Grantham in Downton, who clearly cares for his domestic staff and feels he has a responsibility to look after them.  This may sound patronizing but it worked well until World War I brought the old order crashing down.

In our world of constant upheaval, it’s forgotten that these men gave stability to the nations they governed.  A person could wake up in any part of the British Empire and know that the King was still on the throne and his personal representative, the local Governor, was still in charge and that all was well with the world.  This is decidedly not the case now.  That stability and order owed its origins to the English stately home and the aristocrats raised there.

In World War II, one man with an aristocratic background saved the British people and, indeed, the rest of the world from fascism.  His name was Winston Churchill, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, the second son of the Duke of Marlborough.  Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874.  You can visit his birthplace.  The palace was named after the first Duke of Marlborough’s famous victory over France’s Louis XIV at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704, a victory that preserved British freedom and, by extension, freedom for the colonies.

By some accounts, Churchill himself was offered a dukedom upon retirement.  There are only 19 dukes in the United Kingdom.  The title is hereditary.  Churchill deserved the honor but by the time of his retirement in 1955 it seemed antiquated and he turned it down.  He believed in democracy, describing it as “the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.”

Sixty years later, another quote of his is more apt:  “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

Thomas Jefferson, an aristocrat, supposedly said:  “If the common man ever gets his hands on the public purse, the republic won’t last a generation.”  There is now some doubt that he ever said it but whoever did say it captures very well the reality we face today.  Voters will continue to vote themselves ever-increasing financial benefits until the democratic countries go broke.  And leaders will continue to squander vast amounts of money which is not their own.

We should note the following words from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes:  “Woe to you, O land whose king was a servant and whose princes feast in the morning.  Blessed are you, O land whose king is of noble birth and whose princes eat at a proper time – for strength and not for drunkenness.”  (Eccl. 10:16-17)  Surely this is a warning against the weaknesses inherent in democracy!

Judges 21:25 is another one.  “There was no king in Israel in those days.  Every one did what was right in their own eyes.”  Of course, there is a monarch today or a president.  But I believe the verse has a wider meaning.  There is little or no authority today, so everyone does what he wants to do.  World War One has been described as “The End of Order,” the title of a book by Charles Mee.

The death of the British aristocracy can be similarly described as “the end of order.”  A way of life that had given many countries unprecedented stability is gone.

When you think about it, aristocratic dominance constituted a “qualified franchise,” rather than the “universal franchise” we have now.  The aristocrats had a great deal of power and had the vote.  So did many others, but not everyone.

When we lived in Rhodesia, the country had a qualified franchise – and my wife and I did not qualify for the vote!  There were five requirements – citizenship was one.  You also had to pass a literacy test, own property, pay income tax and, if male, do military service or the equivalent.  Only the most responsible people could vote!

Colonial America had a qualified franchise.  So did the US for a long time.  England had one until 1867.  Even then, only men could vote.  It was to be over fifty more years before the vote was given to women.

Our countries would be in a much better state now if we had a qualified franchise!