Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss Liz Truss resigning as British Prime Minister after only 45 days, a cheating scandal and lawsuit in the chess world and why people might want to avoid the Lakeshore General Hospital.
The UK’s Iraq war inquiry just came to a damning conclusion: Ex-PM Tony Blair led the country into an ill-prepared war under false pretenses. The decision to blindly follow the United-States into Iraq in 2003 “went badly wrong, with consequences to this day,” said the long-awaited Chilcot Report, published Wednesday.
The war in Iraq killed 179 British soldiers, 4500 American ones and at least 150 000 Iraqis. It left the country without a proper army or government and riddled with rising terrorist militias. And according to Chilcot’s findings, it might be now considered an illegitimate act of aggression under the UN charter.
The independent inquiry was ordered by Blair’s successor Gordon Brown (Labour Party) in 2009 and was supposed to last two years. Half a decade late and £10 million later, Chairman Sir John Chilcot published a 2.5 million word document eviscerating the launching and the planning of the UK’s military involvement from 2003 to 2009.
The report found that Blair overstated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein in order to gather support for a military intervention in Iraq. The claims that Hussein posed an imminent threat and that all peaceful options had been exhausted were found patently untrue. Although the report heavily blamed the government for playing up what was actually very shaky intelligence about a possible nuclear threat from Iraq, it did not accuse them of knowingly lying.
Chilcot heavily critiqued the entire military operation. The risks were “neither properly identified nor fully exposed to ministers,” he wrote. He was especially critical of the “wholly inadequate” planning for post-conflict Iraq. British troops failed to reach the objectives laid out in 2003 and ended up making “humiliating” deals with local militias to avoid attacks.
In a bewildering two-hour-long press conference, Blair expressed “more sorrow, regret and apology than you may ever know or can believe,” for his decisions, all while resolutely denying their horrible impact in the middle-east and declaring he would do it again.
He insisted that it was “better to remove Saddam Hussein” and does not “believe this is the cause of the terrorism we see today whether in the Middle East or elsewhere in the world.”
He added “If I was back in the same place with the same information, I would take the same decision because obviously that was the decision I believe was right.”
Tony Blair Facing Trial?
Relatives of soldiers killed in action renewed their calls to prosecute Tony Blair.
“We want to see him in court,” one father assured.
“There is one terrorist the world needs to be aware of and his name is Tony Blair; the world’s worst terrorist,” said Sarah O’Connor, whose brother died in the war. She was speaking at a press conference called by bereaved families after the report’s release.
The report stopped short of commenting the legality of Tony Blair’s action, but it might have opened the door to prosecution. It stated that Blair called for an invasion of Iraq at a time when Saddam Hussein was not an imminent threat, and that peaceful options to contain him had not yet been exhausted.
This makes the action an illegitimate aggression, according to the UN charter. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Tony Blair will face repercussions. The UN Security Council could apply sanctions, but since the UK and US both have permanent seats on the Council, this is a very unlikely scenario.
The international court, which deals with war crimes, does not have jurisdiction over “acts of aggression.” Bringing politicians or military leaders to court would require proving that
- a) The army breached laws of war in Iraq and that
- b) The leaders in question knew about it and did nothing to stop it
No western leaders have ever been indicted by the international court.
Lawyers representing the families of veterans are looking into bringing Blair to civil court on charges of “misconduct in public office.” This law, unused since the 19th century, was recently criticized for its vagueness.
Canada Should Take Note
The Chilcot report must singularly vindicate Jean Chrétien, Canada’s PM at the time. The question of whether or not Canada would join the US-led coalition had generated heated debates in the House of Commons and the population alike.
He and Blair both said that this was the hardest decision of their respective mandates. Chrétien made the right one. The Canadian population can claim partial credit for that. Anti-war protests had taken place across the country, uniting 1000 people in Montreal, 2000 in Toronto and 3000 in Vancouver.
To kill any temptation to feel smug about it, Canadians should remember how close we came to being an integral part of the disaster. You can watch Stephen Harper’s fervent plea for the invasion of Iraq, if you need a reminder. This was in 2003, only a couple of years before he took Chrétien’s place (and stayed there for almost a decade).
As it is, we should face the fact that while Canada avoided the international backlash, it did not do so with a clean conscience. Unofficially, it provided significant practical support to the war. Canadian troops escorted the US navy through the Persian Gulf. They also provided significant military expertise and training for our southern neighbours, as well as airspace and fuel.
Paul Cellucci, then US ambassador to Canada, admitted that “… ironically, Canadian naval vessels, aircraft and personnel… will supply more support to this war in Iraq indirectly… than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting our efforts there.”
Did you hear what’s happening in UK politics right now? It’s intense. No, I’m not talking about the so-called Brexit vote, that’s a whole other can of worms. I’m talking about something a bunch of Labour Party MPs would very much like you to see as a by-product of that vote: their attempted coup against leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The thing is it’s not about the UK voting to leave the EU at all. Corbyn campaigned against it as did soon-to-be-former Prime Minister David Cameron. Unlike Cameron, though, Corbyn didn’t call for the vote in the first place to appease right wing elements in his own party, in fact he refused the right-wing bait of appeasing racist anti-immigrant voters. Also unlike Cameron, Corbyn isn’t planning on resigning anytime soon.
While Corbyn became the leader with the votes of over 60% of Labour Party members, his supporters have always been a minority among current Members of Parliament, the people he had to choose from for his shadow cabinet appointments. Many of his elected opponents can be called Blairites, loyal to former Labour leader Tony Blair and those that followed in his footsteps.
Blair is also a man Corbyn isn’t opposed to charging with war crimes if he becomes Prime Minister. For that and other reasons, chief among them Corbyn’s opposition to war, support of mass immigration, intent to nationalize rail transport and other industries and support for Palestine, a good number of Labour MPs have been trying to oust their leader for months.
In the past few days, those same anti-Corbyn forces have cloaked themselves in the lost Brexit vote and stepped up their attacks. First, there were a slew of high-profile resignations and the high-profile firing (or sacking) of Hilary Benn after Corbyn realized what was happening. Then, yesterday, 172 Labour MPs voted for a motion of no confidence in their leader with 40 voting against.
Only the party members can forcibly remove their leader, and they show no sign of wanting to do that. In fact, they are publicly rallying for him in large numbers. So this vote was effectively meaningless, unless, of course, Corbyn felt the pressure and resigned.
He didn’t. Instead, he called their bluff and his supporters are responding that if Labour MPs want him to go, they should ask the party members to remove him with a leadership challenge.
Now, today, anti-Corbyn forces are talking about jumping ship and forming a new party, possibly calling it Save Labour. Save it from what, I wonder? The will of its own members? A chance to actually be a progressive party and not a neo-liberal alternative to neo-conservatism? Stop it from winning (as a Corbyn-led Labour very well might)?
I wonder what would happen if the situation was reversed and Corbyn had been ousted and his supporters started calling for the formation of a new party. They would undoubtedly be labelled traitors and accused of helping the Tories, or worse, UKIP, getting elected. It would be similar to the way Bernie Sanders supporters (similar to Sanders, Corbyn wants to do away with college tuition, btw) in the US who argue that the Green Party or a new party are the only ways forward are being treated by many in the mainstream press.
Speaking of the press, just look at the coverage this story is getting on this side of the Atlantic. While British press can’t simply play this off as Brexit fallout (their readers know better), sites like Politico in the US are doing just that on social media and getting away with it.
Some of the mainstream UK media I’ve seen, meanwhile, has been treating Corbyn’s departure as a done deal, playing up his opponents’ attacks and downplaying public support. Sound familiar?
It’s becoming clear that the biggest obstacles to progress, be it in the UK, the US or here in Canada aren’t the forces of the right, but rather the establishment of political parties supposedly on the left and their allies in the media.
If they succeed in removing truly progressive politicians from leadership roles in political parties or denying them that role in the first place, they shouldn’t be surprised if people wanting real, good, progressive change lose all faith in achieving their goals through the political process and take to the streets instead.
* Featured image: Democracy Now
It’s happening. Right now, across the ocean, citizens of the United Kingdom are running to the polls to answer the big question: Should the UK remain a member of the European Union or leave it (or, as they say, Brexit)?
“It’s a once in a life-time opportunity to get back the independency and self-governance of this nation,” believes Nigel Farage, leader of the pro-Brexit United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
“Leaving would be the gamble of the century,” warns Prime Minister David Cameron “and it would be our children’s future on the table if we were to roll the dice.”
Saying that the issue is polarizing would be quite an understatement. So would be saying that the race is tight. By tonight, just about half of the UK will be exhaling in relief as the rest sinks into deeper anguish and anxiety. Which is will be which and why does it matter so much?
If you have waited until the very last moment to learn about the stakes of what’s happening today, here is what you should know.
What is the Brexit and Why is it Happening Now?
You probably heard that part and if so, you can skip right on to the next point. If not: Hi, welcome to the world! I promise it’s much better than the rock you’ve been living under.
Brexit is the very catchy abbreviation for the British exiting the European Union (EU).
The European Union is an economic union between 28 countries. Its first iteration was formed in the 50s in the wake of the Second World War. The big idea was that giving common institutions and economic interests to European countries would prevent them from tearing each other apart again.
The UK has been a member of the EU since 1973 and has had increasingly mixed feelings about it for just as long.
The last few years have been especially troublesome for the European Union. The addition of a number of smaller countries with struggling economies to the ranks, the plummeting of the Euro and the refugee crisis all nourished growing frustration across the continent and particularly in Britain.
While conservative Prime Minister David Cameron wants the United Kingdom to remain in the Union, both the opposition and his own party kept pressing him to address the issue. In 2015, Cameron promised that he would put it to a vote in a referendum if he won the general election.
Who Wants to Leave, Who Wants to Stay
The United Kingdom’s population is split 50/50 on the issue, but polls show a pretty clear demographic divide between pro-EU and pro-Brexit supporters.
The first group is young and college-educated and they live either in London, Scotland or Ireland. They mostly support the Green Party or the Labour Party.
The people in the second camp are typically over 60 years old, with the equivalent of a high-school diploma and a career in manual labour. They overwhelmingly support UKIP or the Conservative Party.
The most vocal advocate for leaving the Union is UKIP. Much like the Front National in France and Donald Trump in the US, UKIP is keen on blaming all of the population’s problems on immigrants. To them, the EU’s open-circulation policies are a threat to the stability of the British economy and its national security.
This viewpoint is also popular amongst the conservatives, whereas the Green party and Labour are convinced that the UK is better off within the Union. So is Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.
The vast majority of the International community is also hoping that the UK decides to stay.
The Case for Leaving
A really significant argument for the Brexit is the questionable democracy of the EU.
Many feel that too many decisions depend on unelected officials in Brussels. As Conservative Boris Johnson, then mayor of London, put it: “the more the EU does, the less room there is for national decision-making.”
Local representatives are often up against cumbersome economic regulations for their smallest initiatives, as well as hand-tied by EU policies for bigger decisions.
While the right wing campaign for Brexit tends to present the EU as a meddlesome left-oriented power, some people at the other end of the political spectrum view it first and foremost as a protector of corporate interests and power imbalance.
British journalist Paul Mason bluntly accused the EU of providing “the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organized crime.”
Those arguments, as sensible as they may be, didn’t get much attention. The Brexit movement preferred attacking the EU’s bureaucracy and, especially, its handling of immigration.
The financial contribution the UK makes to the EU was also often mentioned as a source of resentment. It is notably Boris Johnson’s favourite talking point. It is even written “We send the EU £350 million a week” on the side of his campaign bus.
The number is disputed by many, though. According to Fullfact, an independent fact-checking charity, the net contribution the EU received from the UK in 2015 amounts to £8,4 billion (around £161 million per week).
However, it is not certain that leaving the EU would allow the United Kingdom to regain control over its immigration policies and economic regulations. Not if London wants to negotiate access to the EU market.
There are countries outside the Union which were granted privileged access to it, but only because they agreed to respect the EU regulations. Norway, for example, is applying 75% of them. The same would probably be asked of the UK.
The European Union might not be particularly agreeable in the negotiations with a parting country, analysts have noted. It would be foolish to expect many concessions.
Being part of Europe’s single market exposes local businesses to a sometimes brutal competition. But the UK has done pretty well for itself. As it is not part of the Euro zone, it escaped the 2008 financial crisis with remarkably few damages. The unemployment rate and public debt are still low comparatively to other countries within the Union.
A lot of corporations choose to establish their headquarters in London because it allows them to conduct their business everywhere in Europe. But this only works as long as Britain is part of the EU. Banks and businesses will probably flee if they no longer have access to the trading advantages of the Union.
Furthermore, it is estimated that around three million jobs around the country are linked to the EU and could quite simply disappear in the event of a Brexit.
There are many more predicted upsides and downsides for the economy, but one thing seems to be certain: the initial shock will be brutal. The most catastrophic estimates warn that the Country’s economy could shrink 7% in the next year, but even the most optimistic ones remain worrying.
Another source of concern is the clear geographical cleavage of the public opinion. Northern Ireland and Scotland are overwhelmingly against leaving the Union. Their already complicated relations with London might not endure the additional tension.
It was only two years ago, after all, that 44% of Scots voted in favour of independence from the UK. If the United Kingdom elects to leave de EU, it might not stay united for very long.
Why Does the Rest of the World Care So Much?
Whatever the potential long-term benefits, economists agree that a British exit from the EU will hugely disrupt the global economy. Finance magnate and influential progressive intellectual George Soros even predicted that the sterling will take a “black Friday” plunge if the referendum’s results favour the Brexit.
Britain is the world’s fifth largest economy. It would be the first country to effectively leave the EU, but it’s certainly not the only one thinking about it.
Eurosceptic movements are gaining momentum across the continent. Lead by left-wing politicians tired of submitting to the austerity conditions imposed for bailout in poorer economies, and by extreme right parties tired of bailing out everyone else in richer countries.
The fear of a domino effect is very real. Close economic allies of the UK, like Finland, Netherlands and Denmark, would have significantly less incentive to remain in the Union. Others are also inspired by the idea of setting their own immigration quotas.
Back in February, the Czech PM warned that if the UK decides to part ways, “a debate about Czech Republic’s withdrawal is to be expected in the following years.” Official opposition in Austria also promised to organize a referendum of their own if they were elected.
Polls close at 10pm tonight (Thursday) UK time, so roughly around the time this article is being published, but results should only be known around 7am Friday in Britain, or 2am Eastern.
* Featured image: Al Jazeera Creative Commons
When sections of a website are labelled “Entitlement Princess of the Month” and “13 reasons women lie about being raped”, it’s usually easy to tell the website belongs to an angry internet troll – someone who never leaves their house and whose opinion no one gives much thought to. Unfortunately Mike Buchanan is no anonymous troll.
Buchanan is, in fact, a UK writer and conservative politician, who previously worked as a consultant for the Tory government. Not surprisingly Buchanan quit in 2009, when British Prime Minister David Cameron announced support for an all-female parliamentary candidate shortlist. Since then Buchanan has devoted himself to being a men’s rights advocate, founding the political party “Justice for Men and Boys (And the women who love them)” in 2013.
Researching Buchanan quickly becomes infuriating. Not because he claims to fight for the rights of men and boys. It’s infuriating because Buchanan is a hypocrite. Buchanan continuously argues online and in the media that feminism is nothing more than a hate-filled ideology. But Buchanan then uses his Justice for Men and Boys website as a personal arena to attack and belittle women.
A quick scan of the J4mb website shows that Buchanan posts emails from the type of fans that compare feminists to dogs. Buchanan argues in his party’s election manifesto that more women in the workplace have collectively ruined pretty much every industry in the UK including medicine, education and policing. He even declares that female genital mutilation has less impact on women then circumcision does on men.
“The law in the UK forbids all forms of female genital mutilation – FGM – including those which have less impact on females, than male genital mutilation – MGM – has on males. FGM is justifiably regarded as a human rights issue, and the law makes no accommodation for religious or cultural considerations.”
Statements like these (and much, much more) are just on the J4mb website. Buchanan has also written three books on anti-feminism including The Glass Ceiling Delusion: The Real Reason Women don’t Reach Senior Positions (spoiler alert: it’s all a conspiracy orchestrated by militant feminists). But the twice-divorced Buchanan insists he’s not a misogynist. “Insinuations of misogyny invariably come in the wake of my presentations of reasoned arguments,” Buchanan writes on his website.
Buchanan’s idea of proving he’s not a misogynist includes praising the website “Women against Feminism.” He congratulates these women on their “independent minds” as oppose to “miserable whine merchant” feminists. His comments begs the question has Buchanan actually read the website WAF?
Because as I pointed out in my last post, while many WAF posters don’t want the stigma of being called a feminist, they do in fact support many of the same issues feminists do. Could it be that Buchanan is grasping at straws to make his points that he’ll simply praise anything that claims to be against feminism?
Buchanan’s ideals are especially troubling in regards to his political ambitions. The Justice for Men and Boys party is currently running for three seats in the May 2015 general election in Nottingham, England. Effective political leaders need to work towards the good of everyone in their community, not a narrow-minded view of what the right kind of people are. While it’s hopefully doubtful anyone in the J4mb will be elected, it’s important for Nottingham voters to be reminded on some of issues Buchanan will be running on the following topics.
Rape: The manifesto declares that the allowed time for abortions should be cut down from 24 to 13 weeks. It makes compensations for abortions when the woman’s physical health is at risk, but not mental health. So who cares if you were raped or the victim of incest, have an unwanted child already.
“Women should be held morally accountable for the children they conceive… There’s no evidence to support the thesis that abortion reduces the risk to mental health of women with an unwanted pregnancy, and clinical trials to investigate the matter would, of course, be highly unethical.”
Education: Gender stereotypes on the types of careers men and women should have need to be enforced, and how dare the British government try and encourage otherwise!
“We also take issue with governments continuing to spend large amounts of taxpayers’ money ‘encouraging’girls and young women into STEMM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) subjects and careers. These subjects were historically the routes to careers for many young men, yet the government is spending £30 million ‘encouraging’ women into engineering careers, although women have for decades expressed little interest in engineering as a career choice.”
Family: The entire notion of family has been ruined by feminism. Feminists are destroying fatherhood, and women are solely to blame for society’s high divorce rate. All these feminists family-destroyers really want to do is use our sperm and become lesbians.
“In only forty years or so, the entire institution of the family, underpinned by a lifelong commitment to marriage, has been overturned. This was driven by feminist politicians such as Harriet Harman and Patricia Hewitt […] Divorce is at an all-time high, having increased by 800% since 19603 and almost half of all children now see their parents break up by the time they are 15 […] Furthermore, women are the principal agents in ending their marriages – at more than three times the rate men are. Fatherhood is deemed unnecessary by the state, so taxpayers are subsidizing sperm banks for single women and lesbians.”
All this being said, Buchanan does bring up certain points that I agree with. Raising awareness and helping prevent male suicide, supporting male victims of domestic and sexual abuse, creating more balanced custody arrangements after divorce, and ending stigma around homelessness are all issues of Buchanan’s that I support. But where he loses my respect is when he twists each of his arguments around to demonstrate how things were just fine under a patriarchal society, and feminism has subsequently managed to ruin it.
That’s when Buchanan becomes less of an activist, and more of a man who’s upset about more women becoming doctors, women who have abortions after the mental trauma of being raped, or single women deciding to have a child without a father. Instead of Buchanan, let’s praise real activists and politicians in the UK who fight for HUMAN rights. And for god’s sake don’t vote Buchanan into office.
I have no problem with media covering and even celebrating the new royal baby. Why shouldn’t people cheer for a young couple making a family.
Yeah, it’s a tabloid story, nothing more than celebrity gossip and a distraction to important things that are happening. But I’ve come to accept that certain manufactured celebrity pablum gets reported as real news, so why shouldn’t this story.
There are people who truly eat this stuff up, just as there people who follow other celebrities with passion. For those who don’t care, there’s even a Chrome plugin to block royal baby coverage. It’s entertainment pure and simple, as long as we treat it as such, no problem.
I do have a problem when entertainment becomes law, or remains law because of veneration for a tradition that has itself morphed into a new mass-media celebrity animal. Sadly, in Canada, that is the case.
New arrivals have to swear allegiance to Kate’s son’s great grandma if they want to become citizens. Fortunately, some potential Canadians are challenging this in court.
This has prompted the expected right wing backlash. Their argument breaks down to the idea that those who don’t want to follow “our” ways and pledge themselves to England (and one of the world)’s biggest land owner should go somewhere else.
Well, I’m already a Canadian citizen due to where I was born and I’ve never sworn my alliegance to the British monarchy. I don’t have to and don’t think others should to get the same privileges I enjoy.
I’d also be against having to swear an oath to a particular prime minister as well, because allegiance should be to a country not a leader. That doesn’t change the fact that the “leader” new Canadians have to devote themselves too currently is a particularly stupid choice.
The British crown has changed over the centuries from an actual government to feudal entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong, I love feudal entertainment, I just don’t think I should have to devote my life to it.
I love Game of Thrones, but you won’t catch me declaring my fealty to house Lannister to renew my passport. If anything, I’d go with house Stark or Targarian, the North will never forget that Danerys is damn hot.
All joking aside, an oath to a foreign monarch whose family went reality TV years ago as a citizenship requirement is just as dumb. Will, Kate and their baby already have enough willing devotees, why force anyone else to become their fans.
* This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author
The Iron Lady passed away at the age of 87 on Monday. If you watched any North American media coverage of her passing you would think Margaret Thatcher was a divisive Prime Minister that saved Britain from collapse and obscurity.
For progressives like myself, Margaret Thatcher along with Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan were part of an unholy trinity of English speaking conservative leaders I had the misfortune of growing up with.
Thatcher, who led Britain for a dozen years, had humble beginnings as the daughter of a grocer. While climbing the ladder of the snobbish hierarchy in England, she imagined a classless society that rewarded hard work and determination.
What Britain got instead was the starting point in the rise of wealth inequality. Thatcher, not unlike Reagan, is the prime reason the 80s saw the wealth gap start to increase after decades of progress toward a more balanced society. Today, the UK and the US lead the developed world in the inequality of wealth.
Thatcher’s tax polices heavily favoured the rich, especially the “poll tax” that led to protests, riots and her eventual downfall in the early nineties. However, Thatcher will be remembered domestically as the Prime Minister who waged war on labour unions, privatized government state utilities and deregulated the financial industry.
She privatized gas, water and electricity which were effectively turned into corporate monopolies with very little increase in competition. When she tried to lay off 20,000 coal miners, two thirds of them decided to put down their pick axes. Her stand against the coal miner’s strike devastated entire communities. By the time Thatcher left office, close to a hundred coal mines had been closed.
The number of trade union employees fell by 3.5 million during Thatcher’s reign. It was said that Thatcher “managed to destroy the power of the trade unions for almost a generation.” In a speech she addressed striking coalmen saying “we always have to be aware of the enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more dangerous to liberty.”
IRA prisoners in Northern Ireland started a hunger strike to regain the status of political prisoners and to receive better living conditions in the prison. Thatcher refused to budge an inch and told them “crime is crime is crime; it is not political.” After Bobby Sands, who was elected as a Member of Parliament during the strike, died of starvation along with nine others, she gave in a little.
On the foreign policy side, Thatcher was just as iron fisted and cold hearted as she was at home. She is best known for her command and re-conquer of the Falkland Islands that were invaded by Argentina in 1982. Argentina has claimed ownership of the islands since the creation of the United Nations.
I’m still amazed that some conservatives consider this war that took the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentine soldiers a revival of the British Empire. The population of the Falkland Islands is less than 3000 people.
Maggie opposed sanctions against the Apartheid Regime in South Africa. Britain was the only Commonwealth country to do so, but she took it a bit further when she called Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress “a typical terrorist organisation.” She went further still when she invited President Botha to the UK despite demonstrations against his regime. Thatcher also supported the Khmer Rouge keeping their seat in the UN after they were ousted from power in Cambodia and was tea buddies with Chilean Dictator Augusto Pinochet.
I understand that not everything Thatcher did was vehemently evil. I applaud the fact that she was the first female leader in not just Britain, but most of the western world. The thing is, a woman who ascends to great power by adopting the worst traits of men does not impress me much.
She might have been called the Iron Lady, but she had balls of steal and she seemed to think with them constantly. She was as uncaring and unapologetic as any male politician I’ve seen.
The truth is, most of the problems that now plague the British Isle can be attributed to Thatcher’s reign as Prime Minister. The banking crisis, the huge increase in wealth inequality, even unemployment has never returned to pre-Thatcher levels 34 years later.
So whether you’re a liberal or conservative, man or woman, no one can deny the impact Margaret Thatcher had on Great Britain and conservative politics in general. But before you go and tout her as the saviour of the British Empire, you might want to check out what her legacy has left behind.
“She created today’s housing crisis. She created the banking crisis. And she created the benefit crisis. It was her government that started putting people on incapacity benefit rather than register them as unemployed because the Britain she inherited was broadly full employment. She decided when she wrote off our manufacturing industry that she could live with two or three million unemployed, and the benefits bill, the legacy of that, we are struggling with today. In actual fact, every real problem we face today is the legacy of the fact that she was fundamentally wrong”
– former mayor of London Ken Livingstone
If anyone is trying to understand the recent events in England, may I suggest watching Alfonso Cuaron’s cult masterpiece Children of Men. You would be hard pressed to find a more prescient work of art than this gritty post apocalyptic fable of a country gone mad with an Orwellian nanny state, a segregated immigrant population and a general population afflicted by profound malaise.
Okay, the film also deals with a fictional plague which means that all of humanity is facing extinction owing to a mysterious inability to have babies, but the similarities with the current anarchy in the UK (I know the reference is cliché, but I love that album) sweeping through the country, remain startling. However, we should also keep this carnage in perspective. So far only 5 deaths has been linked to the rioters and in terms of arrests, the approximately 1500 in custody are a walk in the park compared to the whopping 12,000 arrested and 53 deaths in the wake of the Rodney King riots that turned South Central LA into a dystopian Disneyland back in â€˜92.
I’ll leave the sociological analysis to the sociologists. Instead I would like to give you a highly personal (read biased) firsthand account of my time spent living on the other side of the pond in dear old Blighty, in a little city called Cardiff in a wee county named Wales ( instead of provinces, they call them counties in the UK) . I can tell you, from having lived there and travelled all over the UK, the only surprise in this sorry business is that it doesn’t happen more often.
Why? For starters, the binge drinking culture in most British towns is something that I will never remember, because I drank myself silly while I was over there almost every single weekend. But as bad as I was, most of the nans ( British slang for grandmas) in the UK could have schooled me in the art of imbibing. Of course, with all this excessive drinking, you get all those other charming side effects: property damage, horrific violence, public urination, etc. The social pressure to join your peers, colleagues, or family in these epic drinking marathons is immense. I would have felt like some sort of leper if I didn’t at least polish of a few pints after dinner.
Another, factor in the decline and fall of English civilization, is the terrible state school system (note “public” schools in the UK are actually private institutions. I guess they invented the language so they can do whatever the fuck they like with it). One of the highest drop-out rates in Western Europe, combined with skyrocketing teenage pregnancy and appalling academic standards create a potent recipe for disaster. Go to any major city “high street” (i.e. main street) in the UK and you’ll find loads of teenage single moms hanging out in gangs outside the local fast food restaurants.
Anecdotally, I met countless Britons while living and studying over there who envied the hell out of me for being Canadian and dreamed of setting sail for our shores or, brainwashed by the hugely popular Aussie soap Neighbours, escaping to Australia. Either way, there seemed to a general feeling among my friends that their future would inevitably lead them abroad, whether it was for jobs or other opportunities that they found lacking in their own country.
Whatever the reasons for the riot, whether socio-economic or sheer boredom, the fact is that Britain is a country that I don’t recommend for the faint at heart. Though visiting London in the aftermath might well prove interesting to those with a morbid sense of fun. For example, I found Vancouver uncannily clean the day after the recent rioting there and was struck by how incidents like this can, paradoxically, lead to a resurgence in a city’s sense of community. Let’s hope that this is one of the consequences of the ugly events in the UK.