Foreign Affairs

Ships and Trains of State

On Tuesday November 6th, Queen Elizabeth earned her pay packet. She appeared at the Opening of Parliament in the morning and cut the metaphorical ribbon for the fabulously-refurbished Saint  Pancras  train station  in the evening.

The first of these two events is required by British tradition. When  Parliament  reconvenes, the Queen  (or King)  must appear, in full royal regalia, to read an address written by the government in power.   It is a de facto set of campaign promises.    Elizabeth II has done this  for all 10 prime ministers before Gordon Brown  and  now she’s reading his political script.   It did not go without notice by the British press   that this  time her Majesty read  through the statement very quickly, as if she  wanted to be done in record time or  had an imminent  hair dressing appointment.

There were 28  items put forth in the Brown  program which the Prime Minster characterized as an agenda designed to respond to  the rising aspirations of the British people.  Rising  ways of collecting taxes is more like it. There’s the  “throw as you go”   trash collection fee plan and new road pricing  – toll and congestion charging –  schemes.  The cost to British taxpayers for these grand plans has yet to be calculated.  The cost of the makeover of  Saint Pancras station was 800 million quid ($1.68 billion)   when it was done and dusted.  One caller to a  Radio Five talk show  said that the new Saint Pancras station was of bloody little use to him as it took him four hours to get into London by domestic train and he didn’t want to go to Paris or Brussels anyway and he would have preferred that his taxes were put to more practical use. Who can blame him for being a touch grouchy?

While a quick trip to Paris or Brussels on the 186 mile per hour Eurostar,  20 minutes of it underwater,  is being touted as a benchmark of   modern civilization, Britain has otherwise been sucked into a societal bog with unfathomable depths.  The Brown legislative proposals,  so hastily read by her Madge,   are a litany of what   the Labour government under Blair and Brown  had already  promised and never fulfilled after a decade in power.  

Here are a few more items on Gordon Brown’s wish list.

There are requests for new monies to be thrown after bad in the areas of  education, housing, and the health service.   One Brown initiative wants to deliver more than  three million new homes by 2020.  There are also proposals to fast-track  new  nuclear installations, motorways, and airports.  The protestors are, of course,  already slapping paint on  the signs to lobby against all of these environmental transgressions. The “not in my backyard”   fervor runs high among the eccentric people of  this island nation.

And here is a bit of oxymoronic imagining.  Brown’s government wants to build dozens of   “zero carbon eco-towns,”  (trademark pending) each with between  5,000 and 20,000 affordable homes,  but  with all the supermarkets  sited on the town perimeters where you’d have to drive to get your food. Hello?  And where would these eco town residents work? Hardly in the countryside where cattle are continually culled because of disease and the trains into London are not dependable. Another Radio Five caller described train schedules as the most widely read category of fiction in Britain.  There is a noticeable absence of entrepreneurial incentives in any of these Brown (or is that green) visions, but one expects little more from a socialist.

Now to school.  There are  an estimated 450,000 children in British primary schools  who do not speak  English as their first language.  Drop out rates are high across the educational spectrum including 40 percent at the university level. Thus, Mr. Brown has pledged to raise the age when it is legal to leave the educational system. You must now be 18 to drop out, not to be confused with when you can drink or have sex. How will this be policed? No word. Furthermore, local authorities will be expected to “help” all unmarried  teenager mothers  go back to school as soon as possible  after having their babies.  Is this to be accomplished via a  vast  government  babysitting plan?  Who knows?   In a related move, Brown wants all employees to be free to request   flexible working hours to look after their children.  You’ve spotted the organizational nightmare, yes?

Another  proposed bill would give  MPs a greater say in sending troops overseas and would transfer  the Intelligence and Security Committee out of Downing Street’s control.   One supposes this will prevent   any future Prime Ministers from being blamed for bad intelligence – like Tony Blair has been over proferring  “sexed up”   reports about WMD’s.   Terrorists, especially suicide bombers, are no doubt seriously considering the implications of Brown’s  desire  to extend the current 28 day  limit on detaining  terror suspects  without charging them.  Or their remaining body  parts.

The Queen’s speech also contained Brown’s  assurance  that  the  NHS (national health service)  would, in future, be organized around the needs of the patient and that legislation would be passed  to ensure  “clean and safe services and high-quality care.”   This would be funny if so many people weren’t dead or dying from the current system’s ministrations.  Brits are so desperately unhappy with their collapsing socialist heath care system that they are reportedly pulling their own teeth rather than wait forever to get a dental appointment.  NHS hospitals are breeding grounds for superbugs.  One is more likely to die from unwashed hands than any disease.

 And so it goes.

After the Queen’s speech, the members of Parliament met to debate.  To the surprise of many, Tory leader David Cameron pulled no punches. He excoriated Gordon Brown and insulted him by saying that at least Tony Blair was consistent.   Ouch.  The opinion polls indicate that Cameron is gathering support by attacking Brown with such ferocity. With the financial sector becoming increasingly jumpy, the Tories have Labour on the defensive.  

Brown is  clinging to the hope that his wish list of legislative ideas will help revive his poll numbers.   As if.  According to a reliable poll,  the number of people who believe Brown will prove a  good  Prime Minister has, in a single month, dropped five points to 49 per cent.  This is ten points below his midsummer peak  approval rating.  Perhaps more wounding to the crusty Scot, the number of those who believe  he is  even “likeable”  has dropped to 44 percent, a nine point decline since late July.   

There is no figure on the number of Brits who are thoroughly ticked off over Brown’s refusal to allow them to vote  the EU  “Reform Treaty”  off the Island.  When reality TV offers more electoral options than your Prime Minister does, things are out of kilter. That’s a Scottish joke.  

A recent episode of the UK  comedy current events program, “Have I Got News For You,”  showed a  rodent running past the front door of Number 10 Downing Street.  The gag line was:  “evidence of the first rat ever to jump on a sinking ship.”  Clever that.


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