The pollsters, the pundits and the commentators all got it wrong!
The British election was not a close call.
All the experts predicted the need for a coalition government, that neither the Conservatives nor Labour would get enough seats in parliament to form a government without the help of at least one other party. There were warnings of a “hung parliament” and a “constitutional crisis.” Even the Queen left town, advised that her services would not be needed for a few days, that nobody would be ready to accept her appointment as prime minister.
But the Conservatives easily won.
Consequently, three rival party leaders all resigned within the same hour, an historic first.
While David Cameron is pleased with the result, Nicola Sturgeon is likely more pleased. Her Scottish National Party won 56 of Scotland’s 59 seats. Independence for Scotland is back on the table. 56 out of 59 does not mean that the majority of Scots want independence. What it means is that the SNP candidate in each constituency got more votes than anybody else. This will not, however, deter the SNP from taking the opportunity to bolt as soon as it presents itself.
Labour was the big loser, losing big in Scotland, where it previously held most seats. Ed Miliband, Labour leader, said his party faced “a surge of nationalism.”
One newspaper described it as “an electoral tsunami” (Independent). Of note, Mhairi Black defeated a Labour heavyweight and became, at age 20, the youngest Member of Parliament since 1667.
In fact, the single most significant development in the election was Scottish nationalism.
English nationalism was also evident. Although the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) only won one seat in the new parliament, they received 13% of the popular vote. That means that more than one in eight voters wants the UK to leave the European Union. That’s not all – the Conservatives are promising a referendum on the issue. Many of their supporters also want to exit the Union.
Nick Clegg, outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, summed up this rising tide of nationalism by saying, “Fear and grievance have won.”
The Stock Market soared at the news that the Conservatives are back in power and, this time, without the need of support from the Liberal Democrats. The Conservative – Lib Dem Coalition of the last five years took a near bankrupt economy, turned it around and made it the fastest growing major western economy. The surge in support for David Cameron’s Conservative Party likely came from voters who didn’t want to risk a return to the economic disaster of the post-2008 crash.
Growing up, I always knew exactly when World War 2 ended. It ended on my mother’s birthday, the 8th May. On that day in 1945, she turned 19. She was 13 when the war in Europe began. Her teenage years were lost to war!
If she had not said anything, I would still have a rough idea of when the war was fought and when it ended. During my childhood, I played with friends on bomb- sites. It took England some years to rebuild.
World War 2 wasn’t the only conflict I heard about. My grandfather (my father’s stepfather) had been wounded in World War I and would show us the bullet wounds in his lower arm and wrist.
At least we knew that England had won both wars and that we were now safe from the threat of German conquest.
Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. It ended with Germany’s surrender.
Seventy years later, Britain’s relationship with Europe is once again center stage in the UK General Election taking place today, May 7th.
There is more choice in this election than there has ever been. There is also more uncertainty – nobody is willing to stick their neck out and predict the outcome.
What is clear is that there will have to be another coalition government, as neither of the two main parties will have enough seats in parliament to form a government. The two main party leaders will spend Friday and maybe a few more days (or even weeks) haggling, while trying to put together a majority to form the next government. (British politicians take note – it’s just taken seven weeks for Benyamin Netanyahu to put together a coalition government!)
The uncertainty of a hung parliament is one problem with this election. There are two others that have graver implications.
One is that the unity of the kingdom is at stake. Although the majority of Scots rejected independence in a referendum just a few months ago, the pro-independence Scottish National Party may hold the balance of power in a coalition government, thereby boosting their cause.
The other monumental matter is a possible referendum on leaving the European Union. The Conservatives have promised this for 2017, but UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) wants it sooner. If they enter a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives, the price they will demand will be a referendum by the end of the year. This will make a “No” vote more likely as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Eastern Europe keep arriving and every one of them can vote. By 2017 their votes would likely result in “yes.”
If England votes to leave the EU and the majority of Scots don’t, there will be a major constitutional crisis. It’s likely such a scenario will cause the United Kingdom to fall apart. The end result would be an independent England surrounded by not-so-friendly powers, all a part of a German dominated European superpower. How ironic just seventy years after Great Britain and its allies defeated the Third Reich!
So, it’s an above average interest election this year, with repercussions beyond the UK’s borders.
My brother Nigel in England asked me to write this article to accompany a portrait of King George I that is being sold by his art and antique business. I find George I interesting, so here is the story. (My brother’s official website is http://www.nigelrhodesfineart.com/.)
The first Hanoverian king did not get the dynasty off to a good start.
So desperate were the English to guarantee the Protestant succession after Queen Anne’s death in 1714, that they turned to a distant relative who lived in Germany and asked him to become King. More than fifty closer relatives were passed over because of their Roman Catholicism. It had taken almost two centuries to secure England’s freedom from Rome – there was clearly no turning back.
George I was King of Great Britain and Ireland from August 1st, 1714, to his death in 1727. At the same time, he retained his German titles that he had held since 1698. He was also ruler of the Duchy of Brunswick-Luneberg and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. His two successors, George II and George III would also hold the same titles, until the dismantling of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806.
George I was never comfortable speaking English. If someone did not speak his native German, he would converse in French.
Although the people were thankful to have a protestant monarch, George was never popular. He had a bad reputation even before he arrived on England’s shores. After his wife had committed adultery with a Swedish guardsman, he had the man murdered and then imprisoned her and would not let her see their two children, one of whom was the future George II. While Prince of Wales, the future George II, was anxious for the death of his father, not so much to be king himself, but to be able to see his mother again. However, she died shortly before her husband.
“He was by nature neither warm nor congenial (“the Elector is so cold that he freezes everything into ice,” his cousin remarked), and those who had to deal with him soon discovered that beneath his shy, benign reserve their lurked a deeply suspicious, even vindictive nature. Accustomed to unquestioning obedience, George was selfish and easily offended. And once offence was given, the wrong could never be made right.” (Royal Panoply, George I, by Carolly Erickson, 2003.)
When George became king, he journeyed to England to ascend the throne, but had intended to return to Hanover as soon as possible. His acceptance of his new responsibility owed more to his conviction that it would be good for Hanover, than to any desire to serve the British people.
The year after his ascension, he faced rebellion at home. Jacobites, loyal to the Catholic Stuarts, wanted to place the son of James II on the throne of England, Scotland and Ireland. When the Pretender landed in Scotland and raised his standard against the king, many Scottish towns declared themselves for James. But George was resolute – he had faced the Turks and the French and was not about to be defeated by the Stuart usurper. James soon returned to France, discouraged by the lack of support he received from the people.
Immediately after this victory, George returned to Hanover, one of five visits he made to his old home during his reign. At the time, Hanover was at war with Sweden. George had allied his electorate with Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, in hopes of acquiring territory from the Swedes after their defeat. But George was soon faced with a crisis in his new home and had to return to London, where the government had degenerated into squabbles.
Without realizing it, after 1720, George contributed to the modern democracy that has given the United Kingdom three centuries of stability. Robert Walpole was his first prime minister. Indeed, he was also the first prime minister of the country, one of the most competent prime ministers in a long line of, arguably, questionable heads of government. Walpole blended the power of the Crown with the growing power of parliament, in a balance that remains with us to this day.
Although the king shunned public appearances, on warm summer nights, he would board his open barge at Whitehall with a small party of friends, travelling upriver to Chelsea. Other barges would soon join the royal barge, one of which had a full orchestra of fifty musicians on board. The music they played filled the air and was very popular with Londoners. George had brought with him his favorite musician George Frederick Handel, who composed much of the music played on these royal evenings, music that is still popular today.
George will also be remembered for the South Sea Bubble, one of the greatest financial catastrophes in history. Its collapse ruined thousands of people.
The company was set up to refinance thirty thousand pounds of government debt, a vast sum in those days. The debts were converted into shares of the company’s stock. As investors rushed in to make a killing, the value of the shares kept rising, shares in other companies rising along with them. Inevitably, the bubble burst and the shares became worthless. As the king was the Governor of the company, he got the blame, inspiring the Jacobites to plan another insurrection, which also failed.
While George I may not be anybody’s favorite monarch, his legacy lives on to this day in his descendant Queen Elizabeth II. George I founded a dynasty, which has lasted more than three centuries and given the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth Realms unrivalled political stability. For this we should all be thankful. Thanks also to the first Hanoverian who had a small part in this achievement.
I first saw BBC World in Uganda back in 1993. I remember then expressing the hope that we would soon have it in Michigan. I did not expect it to take 22 years, but we do finally have it, thanks to AT&T. However, I’m not sure it’s worth over $100 per month. This includes a zillion other channels I have no desire to watch. CNN International is also good and comes with the package.
However, thanks to BBC World I’ve been able to keep up on the British election, which takes place on May 7th.
The first live televised debate was between seven leaders of seven political parties, including Prime Minister David Cameron and his coalition partner, Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats. The debate was very interesting.
It was followed by a second debate last week, this time without the prime minister and his coalition ally.
Again, I found it very interesting but, at the same time, quite disturbing.
Each party leader was making promises. The four left-of-center party leaders were all promising more and more, competing with each other on how they would improve this or that service, spending more millions (or was it billions?) on this, that or the other. Only the leader of UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party) seemed to have any sense of the need to balance the nation’s accounts.
The Coalition has been trying to do that since austerity measures were introduced almost five years ago. Their policies stabilized the country while some continental nations were in a rapid downward spiral. Now, the other leaders feel it’s time to ditch austerity and throw a big, no-expense-spared party!
Two members of my family in England sent me a rather long article in the London Review of Books about the election in my hometown of Grimsby, on the east coast of England. Once the world’s premiere fishing port, the town fell on hard times after the country joined the European Common Market (now the EU). It’s revived somewhat, but is still way behind when it comes to economic development. It has been a Labour Party stronghold since 1945. There is a connection! No matter who wins, the next representative for Grimsby will be the first woman, as both leading candidates are women.
The Conservatives never stood a chance of winning the seat for parliament. David Cameron’s posh accent did him in! But a new party may actually take the electoral cup from Labour. That party is UKIP.
Resentment against the EU is so great that working class voters seem just as inclined to vote UKIP as they are to vote Labour.
It’s not just the EU, which is the problem. Immigration is another concern – and the perception that, in an area of 10% unemployment, jobs are being lost to immigrants, both legal and illegal. UKIP is promising to pull Britain out of the EU and to do something about immigration.
Unlike the other left-of-center parties, UKIP does not look upon the English tax-payer as a cash cow, or a bottomless pit, whichever metaphor you prefer. I think you get the picture.
The leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, makes Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, seem positively restrained, in her enthusiasm for spending other peoples’ money. In her case, although she would never use the terms, all the money she is demanding for Scotland and Scottish development would come from the English taxpayer. None of the others participating in the debate commented on this, perhaps because they all (except for UKIP) were looking to get more from the English taxpayer themselves.
The British (read, the English) are upset because they subsidize much of Europe through the EU. How long is it going to be before there is a tax-payers revolt against all the subsidies to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, none of which pay their own way?
Ms. Sturgeon is also enthusiastic in her desire to see Britain scrap its nuclear weapons in order to partially pay for all this largesse.
Of greater concern is her insistence that, if David Cameron’s Conservative coalition is returned to power, and the promised referendum on EU membership is held, Scotland must have the right to remain in the EU, if England votes to depart. This would automatically give Scotland independence, even though voters rejected independence in a referendum last September. Independence is what she and her party are committed to.
But how would they pay for it? Scotland depends for roughly 10% of its expenditure on the English taxpayer. This will only increase if the SNP joins the Labour Party in a left-wing coalition.
If Scotland remains within the EU and England withdraws, Scotland will need all the help it can get . . . from Germany, Europe’s other cash cow!
PS: I thought you would all appreciate the following letter which appeared in the conservative Daily Telegraph of London. It’s a very astute observation on the British election campaign:
“Auf Wiedersehen, Britain” ran the headline in one of London’s newspapers earlier this week. The paper showed a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel waving.
Faced with the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and a possible set-back at the polls next year, British Prime Minister David Cameron has been quite vocal in criticizing the EU (European Union). A demand that Britain pay even more money to finance the profligate organization resulted in a public display of Cameron’s anger and frustration.
He has also requested changes to the EU’s open border policy, which allows citizens of newer, poorer member countries to move to the UK to work, or not to work. They can receive welfare, which is more generous in Britain than back home. Their children can also receive a free education and, of course, all are entitled to free medical. All of this is upsetting Brits who have had to tighten their belts through a prolonged period of austerity. UKIP is capitalizing on these concerns. Mrs. Merkel has made it clear she wants no change to the migrant policy and would rather see Britain exit the EU.
Cameron has promised a referendum on continued membership of the EU if his party wins the general election next year.
Complicating things is that Nicola Sturgeon, the new leader of the Scottish Independence Party, sees an opportunity here. She wants a clear majority in both Scotland and England (as well as Wales and Northern Ireland) when the referendum is held. In other words, if England votes “no” to continued membership but Scotland votes “yes,” the two would have to go their separate ways. It’s a sneaky way of gaining independence but politics has never been clean!
The EU has been going through a rough economic period throughout the recession. What London should be hoping for is a total collapse of the organization. The alternative is a German dominated superpower right on England’s doorstep. This seems likely anyway, whatever happens to the EU. Germany will be even more dominant without England as a member. At the same time, a divided British Isles will further weaken the island in its relations with the continental superpower.
It should also be noted that German plans for European domination are not limited to finance and trade. German-Foreign-Policy.com reported November 5th that: “German politicians, military officials and the media consider the subordination of combat units of other European nations to German Bundeswehr command to be a role model for a future EU army.”
More than 800 police conducted raids on suspected terrorists early Thursday morning in both Sydney and Brisbane, Australia. The raids followed a plot to randomly kidnap people and then videotape their execution by beheading. Clearly, it was intended to terrorize Australians. Australia a few days ago committed 600 troops to fighting ISIS.
I can still remember when Australia had a “white Australia” policy. This was prior to the Whitlam administration coming to power in 1972. Only Europeans were allowed into Australia.
If they had kept that policy, they wouldn’t be facing domestic terrorism now! (See next two paragraphs).
“Fresh terror busts in Australia expose a common Achilles’ heel of the West: Indiscriminate refugee policies turn free countries into breeding grounds for jihad. It’s the same game in America. Soldiers of Islam have weaponized our blind generosity against us.
“In Sydney this week, authorities detained a half-dozen Muslim plotters and arrested a top collaborator in an alleged conspiracy to kidnap and behead a random Australian citizen. The accused mastermind? Afghan refugee turned Aussie Islamic State recruiter Mohammad Ali Baryalei. He and his aristocratic family were welcomed Down Under decades ago. Baryalei returned the favor by taking to the streets of Sydney to recruit and radicalize dozens of fellow Muslim immigrants or their children.”
(“Letting in the wrong refugees,” by Michelle Malkin, Townhall, September 19th.)
The Scots have voted “no” to independence, preferring to remain in the United Kingdom.
That does not mean things will go back to the way they were.
David Cameron promised the Scots greater devolution if they stay in the UK. These devolved powers will also apply to Wales and Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom will be further weakened by these changes.
At the same time, other ethnic groups across Europe are now demanding their own referendum. The Catalans and Basques in Spain, the people of Flanders in Belgium, the Venetians and others are all lining up.
And I haven’t mentioned the Russian-speaking minorities in Ukraine and the Baltic republics.
One problem highlighted by the Scottish referendum is the feeling that so many have that government is far away and really doesn’t care about them. That’s true in Great Britain but is also the case in the United States.
This is dangerous and needs to be addressed.
Last week’s Economist magazine featured a small boxed item in the US section titled “Money and Power” (page 38, 9/13/14). The article begins with the following words:
“In some countries, the best way to get rich is to go into politics. In America it is the other way round: the best way to break into politics is to be rich.”
Of greater concern is the fact that “entrepreneurs are not very common in Congress . . . Lawyers dominate” (no surprise there!) “. . . most senators and a third of House members listed that as their occupation.”
The final paragraph is the most telling and helps us understand why Washington is increasingly alienated from the people. “The most troubling thing about the list is how narrow a range of experience lawmakers draw on. Many have spent their whole lives in politics. Only one, John Delaney of Maryland, has been the boss of a publicly traded company.”
Is there any wonder they don’t understand the rest of us?
“In fact, Putin has a number of things now in his favor. He knows, that Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko knows that Russia can do more harm to Ukraine than the West can do to help it, since Ukraine — largely because of geography — matters more to Russia than it matters to the West. Putin knows that while Europe has implemented sanctions against Russia, those sanctions are limited by Europe’s own requirement for Russian natural gas and the degree to which Europe and Russia are enmeshed in each other’s economies. This fact is further exacerbated by Europe’s financial crisis, which further inhibits Europe from enacting truly oppressive sanctions: for sanctions, remember, are a two-way street that, once implemented, can hurt Europe as well.”
“The Long game in Eastern Europe”, Stratfor, 9/17/14, by Robert D Kaplan.
“Based on current trends China’s economy will overtake America’s in purchasing power terms within the next few years . . . The US is now no longer the world’s sole economic superpower and indeed its share of world output . . . has slipped below the 20% level which we have seen was a useful sign historically of a single dominant economic superpower.” (“America is very close to losing its place in the world as #1.” Deutsche Bank’s Jim Reid is quoted.)
Rapidly gaining on the US is China. “Reid offered this prescient quote from Napoleon Bonaparte: ‘Let China sleep, for when she awakes, she will shake the world.’”
Turkey is key to dealing with ISIS.
This Middle Eastern nation is the second biggest military power in NATO and is a long-term US ally. But its new president, former prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is not the secularist his predecessors have been. Rather, he’s a more religious Sunni Muslim. As ISIS is Sunni, Erdogan’s loyalty to the US is now in doubt. This is serious for the United States – American nuclear missiles are based in the country.
Turkey was also a long time friend of Israel. Erdogan is now comparing Israel to Hitler.
CBS’s security expert, Michael Morrell, said Monday that there are four Islamic terrorist groups that seriously threaten the West. He said that ISIS is not the greatest threat. That accolade goes to ‘Al-Qaeda in the Yemen.’
Scotland votes tomorrow on breaking away from the United Kingdom. According to opinion polls, the two sides are running neck and neck. If the “Yes” vote wins, there will likely be a financial upheaval. Already, the Royal Bank of Scotland, once the world’s biggest bank, is saying it will move its HQ from Scotland to London. Other big companies have also said they will head south.
Scotland depends on London for roughly 10% of its spending, money that will no longer be forthcoming. Additionally, breaking away from the UK will leave Scotland with no currency – it will have to join the eurozone, giving Germany effective control over government spending.
Assuming a “yes” vote, there will be eighteen months of discussions aimed at a manageable divorce, before the new country receives its independence.
The Obama Administration is sending 3,000 US troops to West Africa, mainly Liberia.
The same administration reluctantly agreed to send 500 military advisers to Iraq to train Iraqis to fight ISIS.
Which poses the greatest threat to the United States, ISIS or Ebola?
"Once in a while you will stumble upon the truth but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and hurry along as if nothing had happened." — Sir Winston Churchill