Tag Archives: Parliament

ROYAL WEDDING EUPHORIA HIDES GRIM REALITY

Prince Harry’s wedding to actress Meghan Markle, was a great success, watched by approximately one billion people around the world.   Everything to do with the wedding went smoothly, as we have come to expect from royal events in Britain.

Various estimates were given as to the cost of the wedding. Fox News said it was $34 million.   A British source said 32 million pounds (one pound = $1.34).   The cost was higher than seven years ago, when Prince William got married.   According to Fox, security alone was more than $30 million, considerably higher than at William’s.   Harry had a greater need for security, a sign of the times, together with terrorist threats made against him for his military role in Afghanistan.

The Queen paid for the wedding; the tax-payer covers security.   When President Trump visits London in a few weeks, security will also be expensive.     At least with the royal wedding, the financial outlay will be more than covered by increased tourism, television rights, sales of merchandise made for the occasion, and all those celebratory drinks and meals.

The cost of the monarchy is covered by entrance fees to the royal palaces.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Economist’s first editor, Walter Bagehot (pronounced “Badge It”), wrote a classic book on the English Constitution, in which he explained the function of the two branches of government.   The monarchy, he said, represented the “dignified” branch of government; while parliament was the “efficient” branch.

The Economist has a weekly column on British politics, called “Bagehot,” in memory of its founder, who edited the publication from 1860-77.    “A royal wedding is as good a time as any to conduct an audit of the British constitution,” is the opening line of this week’s offering.

In the past, the weekly newsmagazine has called for the abolition of the monarchy.   “An Idea whose time has gone,” was one such cover story about twenty years ago.

But this week’s publication points out that the monarchy and parliament have changed roles – “The efficient branch is in its worst state since the 1970s.   The two main parties have been captured by their extremes.   The prime minister lacks authority.   Westminster has been rocked by scandals about sexual harassment and bullying. The Home Office is in turmoil.   The government is preparing for Brexit, its most complicated task since the second world war, without a majority in the Commons or a consensus in its own ranks.” (“Something old, something new”, Economist, 5/19).

Most Members of Parliament do not support Brexit, but the people did in a referendum two years ago.   “The efficient branch now has an agonizing choice: implement a policy that it believes to be foolish, or frustrate the “will of the people.”

“The dignified branch (the Crown), by contrast, is thriving.   The Queen represents stability in an unstable world, as well as unity in a polarized one.   She has spent 66 of her 92 years on the throne and has survived twelve prime ministers and innumerable political crises.”   Last week’s wedding has boosted the popularity of the monarchy around the world; Prince Charles was chosen last month as the new Head of the 53-nation Commonwealth, to succeed his mother; Prince Harry was appointed as an Ambassador to Commonwealth youth; Zimbabwe has asked to return to the organization after leaving fifteen years ago over human rights abuses and failure to uphold the rule of law and democratic norms.

It remains the case, however, that twenty years ago, the monarchy wasn’t doing so well; a reality that could return at any time.

This is the age of populism and no politician is more popular than Queen Elizabeth II, whose approval rating in Britain is always above 70%, more than double the highest rated politician.   Even in her overseas dominions, her popularity surpasses the politicians, so much so that many of them would like to say goodbye to her and the institution of constitutional monarchy. It is the ordinary people who feel differently and from whom she gets her greatest support.

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GERMANY TO REPLACE US AS HONEST BROKER IN MIDEAST Handelsblatt Global, 18 May 2018

“Iran, Gaza, Jerusalem: If ever the time was right for EU countries to unite in their foreign policy as in their trade policy, it is now . . .    May 2018 could one day enter history books as the moment when the EU countries including Germany at last embarked on a common foreign policy.   The catalyst, as long expected, will have been an external power.   Not, however, a common foe, but an ostensible ally: America’s Donald Trump.

“. . . the US and Europe can no longer pretend to be aligned.   The US has forfeited its role of honest broker [in the Middle East] . . .   If there is today an honest broker, it may ironically be Germany…

“Angela Merkel and her EU peers have certainly grasped the urgency of the moment . . .   For Germany to play a diplomatic role . . .   it would need to boost military spending far beyond its paltry 1.2% of GDP…”

(Handelsblatt is an influential German business paper; the German equivalent of the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.)

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EUROPEAN NEWS

Macron to Silicon Valley: Embrace Europe’s Regulations:   French President Emmanuel Macron ratcheted up tensions with U.S. tech giants Thursday calling on them to embrace Europe’s regulation of topics ranging from taxation to privacy to artificial intelligence, because Washington is failing to do so.

Europe Seeks Russia’s Help on Saving Iran Deal, Despite Chill:  U.S. President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran has added fresh impetus to a European outreach to Russia—although European officials say existing tensions make it far from a thaw.

Britain Takes Stab at Wrangling Dirty Money:   The publication this week of a U.K. parliamentary report calling for tougher action to stop the flow of dirty Russian money into Britain is a landmark moment for the City of London, writes Simon Nixon.

ECB Warns Against Trade Spats, Urges Patience in Easing:   European Central Bank officials warned at their April rate-setting meeting that international trade conflicts could hurt the eurozone economy and called for patience in phasing out the bank’s easy-money policies.                                                                                                        (Brexit and Beyond, WSJ, 5/23

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IN FACE OF A GLOBAL TRADE WAR

The EU announced its first defensive measures against US plans to penalize European companies’ business engagements with Iran, by reactivating the 1996 “Blocking Statute.” That law prohibits companies from terminating their business engagements with Iran, to avoid severe penalties in the United States.   Some companies from Germany and other EU countries have already announced that they will cancel their contracts with Tehran to avoid endangering their business ventures in the US. German companies, involved in profitable ventures with Russia, could be facing a similar situation.   Washington threatens to demand that businesses from Germany and the EU comply also with the April 6 sanctions announced by US President Donald Trump, against some Russian oligarchs and their companies.   According to government advisors, German Russia-oriented businesses are “virtually panicking” because of the escalation of a global trade war.
(https://www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/news/detail/7612/)

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Newsletter – How to Become a World Power

Berlin is seeking to use Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal to increase its pressure on Tehran. In their joint statement published Wednesday, the governments of Germany, France and the United Kingdom declared their continued commitment to the agreement, while demanding that the Iranian government limit its ballistic missile program and its efforts to obtain influence in the region.   The reintroduction of US sanctions offers Berlin a chance to disguise its continued pressure on Tehran as a war preventive measure.   At the same time, US sanctions against Iran continue to fuel the power struggle between the EU and the USA.   The Airbus Company alone could lose €16 billion in commercial deals due to the sanctions imposed by the US government.   Commentators recommend resistance:   “You don’t become a world power in a conference room.”   At the same time, Israel is exacerbating the escalating tensions with its aggressions against Syria.

more…
(https://www.german-foreign-policy.com/en/news/detail/7606/)

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Der Spiegel comment on EU / US relations

“With his decision to blow up the Iran deal, U.S. President Donald Trump has thrown Europe into uncertainty and anxiety — and raised the specter of a new war in the Middle East. One thing is certain: the
trans-Atlantic relationship has been seriously damaged.”

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Zimbabwe Formally Applies to Re-Join Commonwealth

To re-join, Zimbabwe must demonstrate that it complies with the fundamental values set out in the Commonwealth Charter, including democracy and rule of law plus protection of human rights such as freedom of expression.   The membership process requires an informal assessment to be undertaken by representatives of the Secretary-General, followed by consultations with other Commonwealth countries.   Zimbabwe has also invited the Commonwealth to observe its forthcoming elections in July.

Zimbabwe was suspended in 2002 for breaching the Harare Declaration.  In 2003, when the Commonwealth refused to lift the suspension, Zimbabwe withdrew from the Commonwealth.   Since then, the Commonwealth has played a major part in trying to end the political impasse and return Zimbabwe to a state of normality.(http://allafrica.com/stories/201805210678.html)

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ISLAM INCOMPATIBLE WITH HUMAN RIGHTS

  • The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) itself has become a prime motivator and enforcer of the rejection of human rights.
  • The other charters of human rights are to be found exclusively in the Muslim world.   Anything that falls within Islamic shari’a law is a human right; anything that does not fall within shari’a is not a human right.
  • “For us the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is nothing but a collection of mumbo-jumbo by disciples of Satan”. — ‘Ali Khamene’i, Iran’s current Supreme Leader.
  • “The underlying thesis in all the Islamic human rights schemes is that the rights afforded in international law are too generous and only become acceptable when they are subjected to Islamic restrictions.” — Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights: Tradition and Politics.
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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.”

 

 

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!