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Tag Archives: United Kingdom

Boris Johnson Against Parliament

A pretty odd thing, this. The prime minister of Britain, supposedly of the conservative creed, making an almost violent dash against both parliament and the courts of law. While his presence is barely a patch on Margaret Thatcher, there is something about the Boris Johnson rabble that reeks of demagogic aspiration. Thatcher, for one, was not a conservative but a neoliberal, a demolisher of institutions rather than their preserver. Society was the enemy; there were only individuals with ambitions, talents and desires.

Boris Johnson has increasingly found his country’s institutions, namely Parliament and the Courts, irritating, intrusive and even inconvenient. During the course of September, Johnson was using the language of belligerence and conflict, suggesting, according to James Butler, that he was “dangling his toes in the linguistic swamp of the alt-right.” The prime minister had attacked legislation preventing a no-deal Brexit as “the surrender act”. Opposition MPs were accused of being saboteurs. Jess Phillips MP, a backbench Labour MP, had her constituency office in Birmingham Yardley attacked and her phone line jammed “with people shouting traitor and cunt to my staff.” (Phillips had accused Johnson for using language “entirely designed to inflame hatred or division.”)

It was a strategy that drew criticism from former justice secretary, David Gauke. Gauke, amongst others, had been accused for meeting with the enemy – the European Union – in drafting the Benn Act, which obligates the prime minister under certain conditions to seek an extension to the Brexit withdrawal date.

This conspiratorial thesis of treason was dismissed by Gauke on Sky, “but even if it were true the use of language of that sort is completely disproportionate, completely over the top, and feeds into this narrative that anyone who doesn’t agree with No 10’s position is somehow unpatriotic or betraying the country, or an enemy, or wanting the country to surrender.”

To delegates of the 2019 Conservative Party conference in Manchester, Johnson was all shallowness and thunder. He had “seen so many things that give cause for hope, hospitals that are finally getting the investment to match the devotion of staff, schools where the standards of reading are rising through the use of synthetic phonics.” (A warning about Johnson: whenever he mentions anything touching on technology, decline and decay are poking around the corner.)

Not so Parliament, a body that had refused to get onto his bus of optimism in exiting the EU. “If parliament were a laptop, then the screen would be showing the pizza wheel of doom,” he sniped. “If parliament were a school, Ofsted would be shutting it down,” he lamented. “If parliament were a reality TV show the whole lot of us would have been voted out of the jungle by now.” And, for good measure, Johnson had only contempt for one of Parliament’s most revered stations: the speaker of the house: “at least we could have watched the speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle.”

It was Parliament that had held up Brexit, embraced vacillation instead of action, and refused to go to an election, leaving everyone to “chew the supermasticated subject of Brexit.” This was a Parliament that had frustrated what “people” and “the whole world” wants.

In this narrow view, such institutions as Parliament are not supreme voices of the people but beneath them. Indeed, Johnson has made “the people” a spectral and all-too-holy entity, the voters he hopes will deliver him the crushing numbers that will enable him to make Brexit possible. They are his get out of gaol card, and he hopes to play it with aggression.

In his short and unsuccessful spell in office, the prime minister has attempted to exercise powers in defiance of Parliament, but failed. Both the highest courts in Scotland and England found against him, suggesting that he had sought the suspension of parliament for improper purposes. Spitefully and very much in the fashion of Johnson, he decided to shoot off a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk seeking an extension, as per the Benn Act, but preferred to leave it unsigned.

This gesture of scoffing was accompanied by two other letters: an explanatory note from the UK’s ambassador to the EU, and one specific to the prime minister himself explaining why he was not actually seeking an extension. His personal note warned that “a further extension would damage the interests of the UK and our EU partners, and the relationship between us.” In it, a solid blow was reserved for Parliament which had “missed the opportunity to inject momentum into the ratification process.”

In Britain, it is now clear that the country will head to another election in December. The Financial Times has dubbed it a “people versus parliament” election. This will be a vote, not merely on British sovereignty vis-à-vis the European Union, but a deliberation on who holds the reins of power within the United Kingdom. For Johnson, it is a horrendous gamble, one based on the hope that he will clean the decks and cleanse the stables of obstructionist MPs. His yearning is that of the authoritarian who can take charge. As his predecessor Theresa May found to her horror in 2017, these elections are unpredictable things, able to either return thumping majorities, as she had hoped, or whittle them down.

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Celebrity Protesters and Extinction Rebellion

Benedict Cumberbatch. Olivia Colman. Fine actors. They believe in Extinction Rebellion, or perhaps, rebelling against the prospect of extinction. The environment thing, humanity as a damnably scandalous, ecologically damaging species. But they also believe in taking sponsorship from the very same entities who are doing their best (or worst) to engage in matters of existential oblivion. So the circle of contradiction, even hypocrisy, is complete.

The matter has come to the fore over overt expressions of support for XR’s two-week effort of disruption in London by the entertainment set. Severable notable sites have received the attention of the climate change protest group. The Treasury building has been sprayed with fake blood. The London Underground train system has been disrupted. Protestors have glued themselves to trains, to floors and even mounted trains. Roads to Westminster were blocked, sit-ins staged at City Airport. Over 1,700 arrests have been made.

Phil Kingston was one such figure, not exactly a rabble rouser or hardened rioter. The 83-year-old glued his hand to the side of a carriage at Shadwell and was concerned for his grandchildren. “I’m also very concerned about what’s happening in the poorer parts of the world who are being hit hardest by climate breakdown.” Being Christian, he expressed concern about “God’s creation being wrecked across the world.” Kingston was also jointed by a rather eclectic sampling: a vicar, an ex-Buddhist instructor, and a former GP.

The incident, which involved aggressive scuffling between commuters and the protesters, was acknowledged in a statement from the movement as something divisive. “In light of today’s events, Extinction Rebellion will be looking at ways to bring people together rather than create an unnecessary division.” Others were keen to pick holes in the rationale of the protest: Why, for instance, get at an electric train? Within XR, things are far from uniform.

Such protestors were a rather humble lot, but it did not take long for the bigger fish to join the shoal. Cumberbatch added his voice of support, his grin flashing as it was snapped by cameras in front of the Extinction Rebellion hearse blocking traffic to Trafalgar Square. Behind him were the conspicuous words hovering with spectral, foreboding promise: “Our future.”

The criticism of this was not far behind. Cumberbatch is the very conspicuous “brand ambassador” for MG in India. (Previously, Jaguar counted him among their celebrity proponents). The MG GS sports a particularly thirsty engine, and the actor is featured in an advertisement doing rounds in one on, of all places, Trafalgar Square. MG India’s Hector SUV has also boasted Cumberbatch’s smooth persona.

Academy award winner Colman has also found herself at odd between protest and brand. Having openly expressed her support for the movement, questions were asked by some of the more barbed wings of the British press whether there might be a clash between being on a British Airways inflight video, and disrupting flights.

Over the summer, Oscar winning actress Dame Emma Thompson was also ribbed for flying from Los Angeles to London to participate in an Extinction Rebellion protest. Her explanation to BBC Radio 4 was that the objects of her job, and being a protester, might not always converge. “It’s very difficult to do my job without occasionally flying, although I do fly a lot less than I did.”

Those bastions of supposed establishment wisdom, such as The Spectator, were chortling and derisive. Toby Young was keen to highlight how purchasing vegan baguettes at Pret a Manger was inconsistent with anti-capitalist protest. He also expressed, at least initially, concern at how law enforcement authorities had, generally speaking, been models of restraint before XR enthusiasts. Had there been “a group of Catholic nuns protesting about changes to the Gender Recognition Act, the riot squad would have been straight with the tear gas.” For Young, it was good to laugh at these modern millenarians infused with the spirit of apocalyptic terror.

The issue of celebrity encrustation, however, was bound to come by and find voice. And the engine room of entertainment turns the moral message, however hypocritical, into entertainment. Bite the hand that feeds you and call it a show. Having anticipated the rage, the celebrity big wigs have turned vice into a virtue. An open letter with a hundred names or so, from Sir Bob Geldof to Sienna Miller, took to the barricades and distribution channels with an open letter of affected contrition.  “Dear journalists who have called us hypocrites. You’re right. We live high carbon lives and the industries that we are part of have huge carbon footprints.”

What matters is the broad church of hypocrisy. “Like you – and everyone else – we are stuck in this fossil-fuel economy and without systemic change, our lifestyles will keep on causing climate and ecological harm.”

Those behind the letter stressed the speed of change as their concern. “Climate change is happening faster and more furiously than was predicted. Millions of people are suffering, leaving their homes and arriving on our border as refugees.” Children, through the voice of Greta Thunberg, had also called upon “the people with power and influence, to stand up and fight for their already devasted future.” (Rather cocksure are these celebrities, they, who wield such, as yet unmeasured influence).

Unlike those critical journalists, the signatories cannot help but be just a touch smug. There was “a more urgent story that our profiles and platforms can draw attention to. Life on earth is dying. We are living in the midst of the 6th mass extinction.”

Much, and in some cases too much, can be made about the celebrity activist who undercuts the argument. “None of us,” explained Sarah Lunnon of Extinction Rebellion, “is perfect.” The argument is still worth making, and publicity still worth having. Unfortunately for the likes of Cumberbatch, the gravity of such messages can be obscured by the person as label. In revolution, becoming a label is not only counterproductive but deadly. Protestors like Kingston can just hold their head that much higher.

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The Évian Conference

By Dr George Venturini  

The Évian Conference

In 1930, with the Great Depression severely affecting Australia’s workforce, the Scullin Government (1929 – 1932) tightened up entry requirements for ‘aliens’, demanding that only those immigrants who had £500 landing money, or who were dependent relatives of aliens already living in Australia, would be permitted to enter the country.

Following the election of Adolf Hitler in Germany, a group of concerned Jewish spokesmen, led by Rabbis F. L. Cohen and Israel Brodie, travelled to Canberra and personally lobbied the Minister for the Interior to admit a limited number of skilled German-Jewish refugees. But it was to no avail. Two years later, and following Hitler’s promulgation of the notorious Nuremberg Laws (German: Nürnberger Gesetze) which were purposely anti-semitic and racial laws, and had been enacted by a submitted Reichstag on 15 September 1935, prominent Sydney leader Sir Samuel Cohen presided over the formation of the German Jewish Relief Fund, which tried to emulate similar initiatives in Britain by raising funds to assist young German Jews to escape to Palestine or other ‘safe havens’.

Simultaneously, Cohen, Brodie and Brigadier Harold Cohen, among others, continued to press Government members for an easing of immigration restrictions. The successor Lyons Government (1932-1939) compromised by reducing landing money to £50 for those migrants guaranteed by family or friends. It also encouraged the formation of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, A.J.W.S. to coordinate migration processes. Australia House in London reportedly received 120 inquiries a day from would-be immigrants in March 1938, while the A.J.W.S. received 1200 pleas for assistance in the week following the German invasion of Austria, the so-called Anschluss Österreichs, on 12 March 1938.

The A.J.W.S. was sensitive to Government and public sentiment and concerned that its actions could have been affected by the presumption that any marked increase in migrant numbers would merely jeopardise existing, and already tenuous, concessions. As a result it could accept only a fraction of the 70,000 applications for help it had received.

In July 1938 Australia followed Britain’s lead by agreeing to send representatives to Évian-les-Bains, France where a world summit was to seek solutions to the refugee problem. Named officially the ‘Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees’, the conference – originally the initiative of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and held on 6 to 15 July – brought together delegates from 32 nations.

The results of the conference were disappointing; it was clear from the outset that none of the participating countries was willing to modify its existing migration restrictions.

The Australian delegation was headed by Lieut. Col. T. W. White, Federal Minister for Trade and Customs. He bluntly informed the participants that Australia was committed to its policy of British migration, and declared that ‘as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration.’

Clearly White had not heard of the ‘Day of Mourning’, a protest held by Indigenous People on 26 January 1938, the 150th anniversary of British invasion of Australia. It was declared to be a protest of 150 years of the seizure of the land and of criminal treatment of the original population. It purposefully coincided with the Australia Day celebrations held by the non-Indigenous population on the same day. The protest became a tradition, and annual ‘Days of Mourning’ have been held ever since.

White was voicing a widespread national sentiment. According to a public survey conducted at this time, only 17 per cent of the Australian population was in favour of large-scale immigration of Jews. There was intense disquiet about the reluctance of Jews ‘to integrate’ – whatever that may ever mean – or the possibility that refugees would ‘swamp’ some professions or take away jobs from ‘Australians’. Already rigid quotas had been imposed on the number of refugee practitioners able to enter the medical profession in Australia.

At the Évian conference, the United States itself – represented not by Roosevelt or even an elected official but by a friend of the President called Myron C. Taylor – refused to increase the annual admission quota of 27,370 from Germany and Austria even before the meeting began. Edward Turnour, 6th Earl Winterton, Lord Winterton, the leader of the British delegation, clearly outlined his country’s position: “The United Kingdom is not a country of immigration.”

By 1938 more than half a million refugees would be on the move across Europe, fleeing the Nazis, who had rendered first 900,000 German Jews stateless under the Nuremberg Laws, then 200,000 Austrian Jews following the invasion in 1938.

After Kristallnacht  (literally “Crystal night”) or ‘The night of broken glass’, between 9 and 10 November 1938, which was an anti-Jewish pogrom in Nazi Germany – then including Austria and Sudetenland – and in slow response to increasingly urgent calls to increase its refugee intake, the Australian Government announced that it would accept 15,000 refugees – 12,000 of them Jews – over the subsequent three years.

This apparent ‘liberalisation’ of policy was, in fact, nothing of the kind. Australia was effectively already accepting 5,100 refugees per annum – before December 1938 – and the new quota actually reduced the proposed intake. The trick was intended to advertise the Government as compassionate, liberal and ‘humanitarian’; in reality, the new policy cynically used the opportunity to curtail whatever trend there had previously been towards a growth in refugee admissions. As it was, a mere fraction of the first annual quota had reached Australia before the second world war broke out. In fact, only some 7,000 Jews settled in Australia between 1933 and 1939. (IRIN | ‘Look back and learn: The Evian Conference, 1938’; see also: Evian Conference – ThoughtCo; The Evian Conference | The Holocaust Encyclopedia).

Once war against Germany by Britain and its allies had been declared in September 1939, immigration effectively ceased, although a small number of refugees did manage to reach Australia through the Orient in the early years of conflict. As former citizens of enemy states, quite a number of them were promptly – albeit temporarily – interned as ‘enemy aliens’.

Continued Wednesday – The Kimberley Plan

Previous instalment – Adjunct imperialist clowns (part 2)

Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.venturini@bigpond.com.au.

 

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Boris’s blonde ambitions

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
A Tale of Two Cities. Charles Dickens.

As the 77th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, will Boris Johnson modify the Anglophone world as Australians and citizens of the United Kingdom, presently know it?

The answer of course depends upon whether Prime Minister Johnson can achieve  Britain’s Exit — BREXIT — from the European Union.

Three years short of a half century ago, on December 2 1972 Gough Whitlam is elected Australian Prime Minister. Then on January 1 1973, Conservative Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath leads the United Kingdom into the European Economic Community.

Denmark and the Republic of Ireland also join.

Now 47 years later, with an ambitious blonde in residence at 10 Downing Street, it is fair to ask: is a multitude of profound changes to the political, social and economic destinies of so many peoples and nation’s, about to occur?

Judging by the blathering’s of a coterie of incompetent blonde-headed rulers elected by a largely disengaged global electorate, the world seems set to regress to a pre-GATT era.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade – GATT – is an accord between most nations to promote international trade. It achieves its aims by reducing or eliminating trade barriers such as tariffs or quotas.

Twenty three nations signed the first GATT in Geneva on 30 October 1947. The new world order began on 1 January the following year.

When GATT begat the World Trade Organisation, the partial redistribution of global wealth resulted in the world we recognise today.

Back in the day Ted Heath and Gough Whitlam understood the significance of GATT and its subsequent iterations. However the current crop of blond himbos, strutting the world stage, clearly does not.

And Australia’s God-Botherer-in-Chief residing at Yarralumla, does not appear to care either.

With Johnson now in Number 10 the world’s conservative leaders can set about destroying the institutions created in the post GATT era, and its greatest achievement, the European Union.

Once BREXIT is finally ratified, the theory goes the United Kingdom reconstitutes the British Commonwealth of Nations, and recommences free trade with Australia and other British ‘colonial’ nations.

Gone are those pesky Continental rules and regulations.

Problem is post BREXIT the United Kingdom might find itself short a key constituent – Scotland

If the Scots vote to leave the Union, what remains of a disunited kingdom might at best, slip into a full blown recession, at worst sectarian war.

A frightening economic prediction comes from the Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney.

The irony of a Johnsonian post BREXIT era is the uncomfortable fact Europe initially blocked the United Kingdom from the European Economic Community.

The principal reason for keeping the UK out of Europe cited by President Charles De Gaulle in the early 1960s was its cosy relationship with its former colonies.

Chief among these is Australia.

De Gaulle was a great hater. He loathed the United States of America and conjured a special place in a Gallic hell for the United Kingdom.

There are too many reasons to go into De Gaulle’s animus, but author Thomas de La Marnierre of the University of Québec, Montréal Canada, posits trade and tariffs as central to De Gaulle’s rationale for exclusion.

In an online essay published in June 2019, de La Marnierre quotes De Gaulle, including incorrect spelling and grammar thus.

“How can we do to make England, as she lives, as she produces, as she trades, be incorporated to the Common market as it was designed and as it works? For example, the means from which eats the people of Great Britain and that are actually the importation of food supplies bought cheaply in the two Americas or in the old dominions, meanwhile giving, granting considerable subsidies to the English farmers. This mean is obviously uncompatible with the system that the Six designed naturally for themselves. The system of the Six, it consists to make everything with the agricultural product from all the Community. To rigorously set their price. To forbid they be subsidised. To organize their consumption between all the participants, and to impose to each of these participants to give to the Community every saving they would make by importing food from outside instead of eating those the Common Market would offer”.

The full text of de La Marnierre essay is here.

The notion of offending Commonwealth nations rankled both Conservative and Labour ranks from the time De Gaulle stymied the UK’s Common Market entry.

And though much has changed, much remains the same.

“How can we do to make England, as she lives, as she produces, as she trades, be incorporated to the Common market as it was designed and as it works? Charles De Gaulle.

Once BREXIT occurs in what ever form, the United Kingdom will never be readmitted to the EU again. Instead its place will be filled by eager nations such as Turkey, or Ukraine or Albania or perhaps Moldova.

And so to the current Australian Government with its non-existent political agenda.

The inheritors of the legacy of Australia’s champion of tariff’s Black Jack McEwen are firmly in control.

Government subsidised coal-fired power stations, and the old agrarian chestnut of nuclear energy, are up for serious consideration. And prepare for an influx of hard done-by white South African farmers.

As for La Belle France I would not be at all surprised if another blonde, Marine Le Pen, takes up residence in the Elysse Palace.

The United Kingdom is Europe’s great pacifier, but deserting the EU at the urging of a band of chronic liars, might mean the end of its illustrious tradition as one of the world’s great civilisations.

Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here

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Abbott To Be Next High Commissioner To The United Kingdom?

Image from smh.com.au

Image from smh.com.au

OK, early last year when I told you that Malcolm Turnbull would be Prime Minister and lead the Liberals to the next election, I doubt that anybody believed me.

So when I tell you that Tony Abbott will be the next High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, I suspect that many of you will find it difficult to believe.

“Tony?” you’ll be saying. “Our Tony giving up all that volunteer work with the fire brigade when he’s wanted to play fireman since he was a little boy? And leaving Australia for Britain where he’ll have precious few chances to wear his speedos? Impossible.”

“Besides,” you say. “He’s planning to come back. He’s probably gathering his storm troopers, putting on his Darth Vader mask and re-watching ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, all the while thinking that he can rid Australia once and for all of that troublesome republican if he can just master the Jedi mindtrick of making us all forget anything he’s ever said, like no cuts to health or education.”

“And,” you add, “what about poor Andrew Bolt. If he was heartbroken when Tony was dumped as PM, how will he cope if Mr Abbott leaves the country. His column will lose its edge and he’ll just become a blubbering, pathetic crybaby who won’t have the strength to continue his difficult juggling act of supporting Aussie values like a fair go for everyone and free speech, while arguing that anyone who disagrees with him shouldn’t be heard at all and that they’ve forfeited any rights by their refusal to join Team Australia.”

Yes, I understand. All true.

But just wait. The good wishes extended to Joe have mellowed our Tony. Even though he wasn’t there to see his old buddy’s farewell speech. Yep. Mr Abbott’s moving on to the next stage of grief – acceptance. He’s thinking how pleasant it is not to have your every move criticised. Time to lead a more sedate life as a High Commissioner.

Of course, how this will affect Margie’s business operations is a minor problem. Perhaps she can stay in Australia and he can stay in some police barracks in London. Or perhaps, Sir Philip of Edinburgh can put him up in one of the spare palaces … Whatever … Not important.

The important thing is that Abbott is going back to the mother country. As he said about his time over there in ‘Battlelines’, it’s like a homecoming.

Yes, just like with Mr Turnbull, I’m making it up.

And when it happens, it was just coincidence.

 

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