A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘united kingdom

[LINK] “The poisoned diplomacy between Russia and the United Kingdom”

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Leah McLaren in MacLean’s notes how the recent British inquest into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, which revealed Russian state involvement, has worsened bilateral relations.

“You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world, Mr. Putin, will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life.” These words, spoken by the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko on his deathbed at University College Hospital in London nearly a decade ago, seem as prescient today as they were ominous then.

The story of Litvinenko’s dramatically foreshortened life is the stuff of spy novels. The subsequent public inquiry into his death by the British government, which concluded last week, does nothing to dispel the myth. Last week the retired High Court judge Sir Robert Owen concluded in a 327-page report that the murder of Litvinenko was, in his view, an act of state-sponsored terrorism by the Russian government and was, almost certainly, approved both by the head of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Vladimir Putin.

Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the plot, calling it an “unacceptable breach of international law.” He said he would consider taking further steps against Russia but went on to concede that the U.K. must maintain “some sort of relationship” with Russia in order to bring an end to the crisis in Syria, a process he described himself approaching with “clear eyes and a cold heart.”

Cameron’s critics have urged him to do more in the wake of the inquiry. Observer columnist Will Hutton condemned Cameron’s reaction as “beneath feeble” and a threat to British law and order. Labour MP Ian Austin told the press, “Putin is an unreconstructed KGB thug and gangster who murders his opponents in Russia and, as we know, on the streets of London—and nothing announced today is going to make the blindest bit of difference.”

Written by Randy McDonald

February 1, 2016 at 1:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “‘Cool’ London is dead, and the rich kids are to blame”

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The Telegraph‘s Alex Proud suggests coolness has been priced out of London. This story, alas, is likely to be repeated throughout the rich world.

I have seen the future – and the future is Paris and Geneva.

The future is a clean, dull city populated by clean, dull rich people and clean, dull old people. The future is joyless Michelin starred restaurants and shops selling £3,000 chandeliers.

In the 1990s, we accidentally stumbled upon the formula for a perfect city. Exactly halfway between East and West, serious history, attractive (but not chocolate-boxy), English-speaking, and a capital for the creative industries and financial services. Better still, years of decline and depopulation had left vast central swathes of the city very affordable. So, the cool kids piled in. And, suddenly, a rather grey, down-at-heel capital, a place that had never quite quite recovered from losing an Empire (and winning a war) began to swing again.

Back then we all lived in central London, because we all could. It was normal to leave university and get a flat with your mates in Marylebone or Maida Vale or Primrose Hill or Notting Hill. Not because we were rich, but because London was cheap. And it felt fantastic. Here was a city whose fortunes were reviving and, as 20-somethings, ready to make our mark on the world, we really were bang in the middle of things.

Two decades on and you can play a nostalgic little game where you remind yourself what groups London’s inner neighbourhoods were known for 20 years ago. Hampstead: intellectuals; Islington: media trendies; Camden: bohemians, goths and punks; Fulham: thick poshos who couldn’t afford Chelsea; Notting Hill: cool kids; Chelsea: rich people. Now, every single one of these is just rich people. If you want to own a house (or often just a flat) in these places, you need a six figure salary or you can forget it. And, for anyone normal, that means working in finance.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 22, 2016 at 3:57 pm

[LINK] “Reform the EU? Changing the U.K. Matters More”

Bloomberg View’s Marc Champion points out that British complaints about the European Union really relate to the failings of Britain proper.

Last week Britain’s David Cameron made a rare visit — for a Western leader — to Hungary’s pariah-like Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Cameron can’t be picky: He needs all the friends he can get to secure agreement for the “fundamental” change to the EU he has promised Britons so they can vote to stay in the bloc in a referendum.

Reaching a deal next month as planned now appears to hinge on Cameron’s demand for a four-year delay before new EU arrivals can claim welfare benefits in the U.K. He has already conceded that he’ll have to compromise: Outright discrimination against EU citizens won’t be accepted by Poland, or even Hungary — no matter how cloyingly helpful Orban sought to appear on Friday. So Cameron will have to reform Britain at the same time he reforms the EU. That’s an idea worth exploring more.

There are many reasons why host nations are disturbed by immigration and, in the U.K., one of these is a sense of unfairness. It seems unfair that foreigners should be able to come to the U.K. to claim benefits without having paid tax there first; unfair that low-skilled British workers should face competition from illegal immigrants willing to work under the table; unfair that schools and hospitals should suddenly be overwhelmed, extending waiting times and class sizes for locals.

I’m with the FT’s Martin Wolf in thinking that the whole renegotiation is a charade. But why not use it as an occasion to fix some of these very real U.K. problems, which aren’t even just about intra-EU migration?

The way Britain’s welfare system is structured is indeed uniquely accommodating for immigrants. It is the only nation in the western EU (to which 98 percent of intra-EU migrants go) that doesn’t require people to pay into social security insurance funds, or simply work, for a given period of time before they can claim unemployment and associated housing benefits. It hands out child benefit in cash. It offers tax credits to top up the incomes of low-paid workers. And none of this is conditioned on prior work.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 12, 2016 at 6:18 pm

[LINK] “A day out in Calais”

Hugh Brody’s essay at Open Democracy describes, from the perspective of an anthropologist, the infamous refugee encampment in Calais.

So many of the worst forces of this moment in history converge on that few acres of ground that is known as The Jungle, a piece of Europe where loss and grief are concentrated. A patch of land that brings shame on every level of British and French governance.

I have worked in some of the worst slums and resettlement sites in India, and in the poorest of southern Africa’s shanty towns, but I had never encountered a place as grim and soul-destroying as the sprawl of tents, shacks, squalor and boredom that defines the Jungle. This is a society outside society; a combination of anarchy and dispossession. There are no regulations, no civil authority, that can be seen. Just the French police waiting for riots to suppress. There is nothing to do for the 5,000 people who are stuck there other than attempt to deal with the squalor and find the bare minimum of things to meet their needs; and there is nowhere to go except the ever more hazardous attempt to break through the fences and find some way of hitching a hidden and dangerous ride across the channel. This is both dire poverty and entrapment. It is achieved by a complex of cruel indifference.

We walked along the Jungle’s streets and tracks, some just passable for a car, many now deep in mud and pools of water. A truck had arrived to pump out the small row of portaloos that serves as the community toilets (no wonder there are human faeces dotted around in the few patches of grass and bushes that remain). The stench was unbearable – even the hardened residents were pulling the edge of a shirt or sweater to cover their faces. There were lines of men at the short rows of stand-pipes where a thin supply of cold water is available for open-air, public washing. There were groups of men standing together, as if waiting for something to do or something to happen. Some women and children were gathering at a small area reserved for them, to meet one another without the problem of men, and to collect things that had been donated. The conditions in which many of the women have to live are grotesque: hidden away even from the diminished freedom of a camp, living in fear, trapped within the trap. When we were there the population was made up of 4,000 men, and just 400 women. No one was sure how many children are there, but we saw a few who ran around chucking pebbles at one another, finding some way to play.

Yet this society outside society has grown, as all human systems will, to meet some of the people’s needs. Made from whatever building materials can be found there are some restaurants, a bar, a church, mosques, a minimal library and even an improvised hamam, a steam-bath. Migrants who have been stuck there long enough to give up hope of getting anywhere else somehow manage to build the starting-point of an economy. Reinforcing the feeling that this is indeed a place where many are stuck.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 4, 2016 at 4:50 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross wonders how technologically advanced a civilization could become without literacy.
  • Crooked Timber notes paleocon Peter Hitchens’ take on the history of England.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on the growth of pebble-accreting planetesimals.
  • Geocurrents maps Tokugawa Japan as a multi-state system, perhaps not unlike the contemporary Holy Roman Empire.
  • Inkfish reports on crows given cameras which track their tool use.
  • Language Hat notes some remarkable Gothic graffiti from Crimea.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the very high levels of public debt in Brazil.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog and Window on Eurasia wonder what will happen if Russia’s future turns out not to be Belarus, but Ukraine.
  • Spacing Toronto notes the time the Stanley Cup got stolen.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russians now perceive Ukrainians as separate, looks at the hostile Russian reaction to pan-Turkic nationalism, and notes that the origins of Russia’s Central Asian migrant workers have been changing.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • blogTO shares photos of the first snowfall of the season.
  • Centauri Dreams considers the OSIRIS-REx asteroid probe.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper looking at the unexpected complexities of the 30 Arietis system.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the new claims that Zhou Enlai was gay.
  • Marginal Revolution talks about ongoing issues of note in 2015.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer considers likely Republican responses to cap-and-trade.
  • Strange Maps links to some cool new maps.
  • Towleroad notes the consideration by Japan of an anti-LGBT discrimination bill this January.
  • Yorkshire Ranter looks at Labour in Lancashire.

[LINK] “Why the floods mean you should support my politics”

Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell explains how the disaster illustrâtes the critical flaws in, among other things, the United Kingdom’s plans for devolution.

As long as I can remember, there has been endless official concern, reports beyond number, constant chin-stroking, but bugger all action. until it rains a bit. Then politicians appear in high-visibility jackets, as do token numbers of soldiers. Eventually the water ebbs away and so does the media interest. Now, surely, we’ve had a teachable moment: Leeds and Manchester flooded on the same day.

I wouldn’t sign any cheques on that, though.

The second illusion is that the devolution offer to West Yorkshire is at all useful. Very simply, it wouldn’t give Yorkshire the budget or the authority to reinstate the planned Leeds flood defence scheme. If you can’t have different policies to those selected by Whitehall, you don’t have devolution in any meaningful way. The only reason to want it is to set different priorities, and you can’t do this without a substantial capital budget. This has so far been a vague and theoretical issue. It is now as concrete as…concrete. Ask what we might have done differently, and there’s your answer.

As I pointed out here, the current proposals offer the devolution of responsibility without the devolution of power. Don’t kid yourself that we wouldn’t now be seeing the prime minister touring the North with George Osborne, blaming the disaster on one-party Labour councils and their crazy overspending. This leads me to the third illusion.

The third illusion is that the devolution offer is right in terms of geography and of politics. The water didn’t come from Leeds and is not going to end up in Leeds, nor did it come from a Leeds City Region.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 30, 2015 at 3:33 pm


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