How others see us, then laugh

Politics adrift is not funny

Canada laughing Canada laughing
Long before Barack Obama became the President of the USA the UK news media was out in force. A full year before the election the BBC had several of their finest on the trail sending back reports from the US. I know many people who would usually admit to an interest in politics were bored by it all. There is a limit to the number of times a reporter can say that the voters of some distant State are “gearing up” for an election. The reader of such reports soon gets the message, nothing is happening yet, but the reporter lacks the courage to say so.

Here in the UK our politicians no doubt like to think that they, when abroad and on behalf of us, 'punch above their weight'. So we see umpteen pictures of our Prime Minister, Mr McEyebags, with his lantern jaw in profile his hands raised doing what he does best; bellowing about something dear to his heart on the assumption Johny Foreigner will be impressed and do as he is told. How could these people be bored watching our man at work? Very easily it seems.

For a whole variety of reasons UK politics, contrary to the thoughts of our PM, are not popular abroad. True it's handy we do it in English, it thus reaches a wider audience, but Nulabour generally, and particularly under our present PM, exudes dullness. Then came the MP expenses scandal. So if Johny Foreigner knew anything about us (we have a Queen and the whole UK population is besotted by football) he now knows that our parliamentarians are as good as any in the world when it comes to a fiddle, better perhaps.

Can anyone in a far flung land say that their elected representatives would think to claim for the trivial stuff our MPs have? I think not. So this needs explaining, the job here is for local journalists to say just why the mother of parliaments need to claim for so much tat to keep the democratic flame burning bright.

Then there are the Colonies.Having conquered the world and got it all nice and doing things just like us, and having persuaded the printers of Atlases to colour the British Empire pink, all that was left was to instill in the locals a sense of integrity and decency. It is fair to say certain sectors of the Empire took a while to get this sort of thing right. However, the Canadians were quick off the mark. In 1867 they had their first Prime Minister, John A Macdonald; yes a Scot, but we all have to start somewhere.

From humble beginnings Canada began easing away from the UK towards full independence; there was a little tension, naturally, at the start and sometimes long after the start, as it became clear that the younger nation could do some things better that us. Then came the UK MP expenses' scandal. Reading James Travers of the Toronto Star as he attempts to explain, and reflect, to his fellow countrymen in a recent article is interesting.

The links between the UK and Canada are such that a larger number of Canadians have visited the US than the UK. We are to them “nice”, but distant, they know we had a rock band called Queen and we know they care nothing for football. Strangely Canadians of all ages will have heard of Monty Python and it was to this now very old comedy that they reached for support, comparing the comedy sketches with Westminster, so said Travers. He also asked them not to roll on the floor laughing and felt obliged to explain about moats and their maintenance, duck houses and the rest.

The reason for his caution was simple. As Travers says, Westminster is “the great parliamentary matriarch”. So he like many others who live in a country that based its own system on ours is looking at the outcomes from Westminster. As well he might, for Travers then, for the benefit of his home readers, lists all the problems with Canadian politics, and there are many. The point made is that the drift towards secrecy and away from openness is gathering pace in Canada. But then so it is world-wide.

Gordon Brown loves to strut the world stage; the problem for him is he cannot do it very well. Here with the MP expenses' scandal was an opportunity for Brown to lead the world in the speed and manner of the conversion of Westminster to openness. Now here was a chance for spin, and presentation! But no, Nulabour with Brown in charge worked hard for the status-quo until the very last minute. They waited until the media was full of the facts, while the official Westminster office churned out no more than sheets of paper with the expenses' detail blanked out; redacted we were told. 'To redact', is to put into literary form and make ready for publication, what we saw was censorship, not at all related to open government. More spin, that's all.

And so to Monty Python and the dead parrot sketch, how our former colonies see us.