Category Archives: Politics

Elections Compared 

There’s a general election tomorrow in the UK, and for some reason I haven’t received a poll card. It’s no big deal. It’s not required to vote. However it did make me look up the location of my nearest polling station.

At the same time, I checked the candidates standing for election in my constituency (Brentford and Isleworth). One of the interesting changes from 2010 is the total number of candidates running for office — it’s exactly half. There were 10 candidates five years ago, and only five this time (see the screen shot from Wikipedia).

I’m not certain what this decrease implies about the state of political ambition in the country, but perhaps it’s indicative of the widespread political apathy that gets reported so often in the press.

Screen shot from Wikipedia showing the Brentford and Isleworth candidates for election in 2010 and 2015.
Brentford and Isleworth candidates for election in 2010 and 2015.

By far the most interesting difference between these elections, however, is the absence of anyone standing on behalf of the British National Party (aka BNP). The BNP is a far-right political party that according to Wikipedia advocates “voluntary resettlement whereby immigrants and their descendants are afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin”. As well as anti-immigration policies, the party advocates the reintroduction of capital punishment and opposes same-sex marriage, multiculturalism and what it perceives as the Islamification of the UK. The BNP’s ideology has been described as fascist or neo-fascist by political scientists, and in the years leading up to 2010 it gained a reputation for racist, skinhead violence.

Five years ago, the BNP was perceived as a viable threat to the political status quo and was often compared to France’s Front national, despite never having anywhere near the same degree of popular support. In 2010 it stood 338 candidates for election across the UK. This year there are eight. That’s a decline of more than 97% and, although immigration is still an important election issue for many, the demise of the extremist BNP can only be considered a significant change for the better in an increasingly fragmented “United” Kingdom.

The Moral-Hazard Myth

Malcolm Gladwell has written an interesting article in the New Yorker about the Bush Administration’s innovation to improve health care in America, known as Health Savings Accounts.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

A country that displays an almost ruthless commitment to efficiency and performance in every aspect of its economy — a country that switched to Japanese cars the moment they were more reliable, and to Chinese T-shirts the moment they were five cents cheaper — has loyally stuck with a health-care system that leaves its citizenry pulling out their teeth with pliers.

You can read the rest at The Moral-Hazard Myth.

Anything goes

The BBC is reporting that John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, has topped the US dance chart at the age of 71 with a song supporting gay marriage (see Yoko’s gay wedding song is US hit).

I can’t understand how George W. Bush can argue that he’s in favour of greater freedom for people when he “wants to change the US constitution to specify that marriage can only take place between a man and a woman”.

Thirty-seven years ago while Justice Minister, a famous Canadian communist declared There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation. The left-wing Liberal Pierre Trudeau was in favour of freedoms that the current “leader of the western world” is unwilling to give his own nation.

Whenever I hear the Bush Administration arguing rhetorically about freeing foreign peoples, I can’t help thinking of Cole Porter (an active homosexual, but at least he married a woman!). Porter hit the nail on the head when he wrote Anything Goes:

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today,
And black’s white today,
And day’s night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I’m not a great romancer
I know that I’m bound to answer
When you propose,
Anything goes

It seems to me that the people who talk most about freedom, are really opportunistic control freaks who disguise themselves as liberals (i.e. freedom fighters) whenever it helps their selfish cause. Things are not what they seem, and anything goes!

PS – Is dancing allowed in Texas?

It’s the way that you do it

Yet another example appears in this weekend’s FT to suggest that “it ‘aint what you do, but the way that you do it” that counts. Except this time the context is political (see Tales show a president need not be smart).

Writing about the similarities in three recent books on George W. Bush’s administration, Peter Spiegel wondered:

How is it, then, that senior aides are ignored on their areas of expertise? Much of this dysfunction, it emerges, is due to the old Washington adage “process is policy” – in other words, how decisions are made profoundly effects [sic] which decisions are made. In this administration, the “how” is at the core of the dysfunction.

I wonder if they’re any fans of Jimmie Lunceford at the White House?

Leadership and language

This week BBC 4 broadcast a two-part documentary entitled Holidays in the Axis of Evil. To quote the web site blurb:

The Bush regime claims that North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba are part of an “axis of evil”. In a remarkable two-part travelogue, reporter Ben Anderson, armed with a hidden camera and a tourist map, visits all six rogue states and tries to find the reality of life in some of the most repressive regimes in the world.

Anderson was asked what possessed him to make such a potentially dangerous trip:

“The idea evolved after the second Axis of Evil speech when they added Syria, Libya and Cuba to the list. There’s no evidence so far to link the six countries and not one of them is linked to 11 September. When you say axis it suggests some kind of link and the only thing we found was that you could travel to all six countries on a tourist visa. So that’s what we decided to do. We were looking for links.”

Such a quest struck me as potentially fascinating. It might be possible to learn something interesting and valuable about these rogue nations. Unfortunately, these regimes turned out to be so repressive that Anderson and his female producer had a hard time interviewing many ordinary people and were prevented from filming any politically sensitive sites.

Nevertheless, my response after viewing part one of this programme was an overwhelming sense of the pathetic. It’s pathetic that the leaders of North Korea and Iraq are so insecure that they keep their citizens in ignorance of the rest of the world; it’s pathetic that their citizens are so accepting of their state’s propaganda and its constraints on their freedom; and it’s equally pathetic that, in the case of Iraq at least, the response from the West is regular and frequent bombardment. You would think we could come up with something better than crude brute force by now.

Of course, the phrase “axis of evil” was obviously a crude simplification from the start, and I’ve been haunted by thoughts of it ever since I discovered that it was coined by a Canadian named David Frum.

Frum, who was employed as a speechwriter at the White House, became widely known last year as the author of that phrase, when his wife sent an email to friends boasting of her husband’s accomplishment. Unfortunately for them, the email fell into the wrong hands and was published on the web. A few days later the White House announced Frum’s resignation, although it claimed his departure had been planned a month previously. Once the mainstream press picked up the story it became well-known news around the world (see Proud wife turns ‘axis of evil’ speech into a resignation letter).

The significant point about Frum is that, like most Canadians, I knew his mother. Or at least I thought I did. Barbara Frum was a celebrity in Canada throughout the 1970s and 80s, as a result of hosting at least two ground-breaking news programmes for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). To quote from the CBC’s web site titled The Life and Times of Barbara Frum:

From her CBC Radio days as a national presence on As It Happens from 1971 to 1982, to her highly successful 10 years at the helm of CBC-TV’s flagship show The Journal, Frum had a huge following. She spent 18 impassioned, hectic, pioneering years in Canadian broadcasting. On any given weeknight, 1.3 million Canadians tuned in to watch The Journal, where Frum hosted approximately 2,600 shows. From the great to the ordinary, she maintained the same standard of integrity, honesty and toughness of mind. Her thousands of interviews included people from every walk of life – presidents, prime ministers, world leaders?the unemployed fisherman. Each and every interview was different and revealing.

That description is no exaggeration. Barbara Frum was tough, honest and fair. There was rarely any hint of her own views or beliefs in any of the interviews she conducted. The Middle East was a hot topic then as now, and Frum must have covered the subject countless times, but I listened to As It Happens for years without ever realising she was Jewish. Barbara Frum never let her personal prejudices affect her investigation or communication of the events of her day.

That’s why it’s so difficult to understand the partisan and ill-judged behaviour of her son. How could a child of Barbara Frum coin a phrase as arrogant and simplistic as “axis of evil” and then take pride in it? To be more specific (and fair), David Frum apparently wrote “axis of hatred”, but according to the Los Angeles Times “his boss, chief speechwriter Michael Gerson, changed it to “axis of evil” to match the theological language Bush had adopted after the terrorist attacks”. Nevertheless my point remains, why would anyone admit, let alone publicise, their association with such an arrogant, provocative and misleading phrase?

Well, obviously they would only do so if they didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, and as the LA Times article explains (see ‘Axis of Evil’ Rhetoric Said to Heighten Dangers) Bush’s words were intended to incite only the domestic audience. The effect on the rest of the world was not considered important, or perhaps not considered at all.

Such naivety and arrogance in the use of language is breathtaking, and makes me wonder if the developed world really needs such ham-fisted leaders anymore. Doctors would be more appropriate. At least they would be familiar with Hippocrates’ advice:

“Declare the past, diagnose the present, foretell the future; practice these acts. As to diseases, make a habit of two things: to help, or at least to do no harm.”