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.