Colonial rule: Why Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians are running Britain

Men from the Commonwealth – and they are men – are taking over the British establishment’s positions of power

20 July 2013

9:00 AM

20 July 2013

9:00 AM

Last month, David Cameron convened a meeting of his most important advisers at Chequers. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Conservative party chairman were all present, but there was little doubt who was in charge. The Australian strategist Lynton Crosby was dominant, doling out orders and drawing up ‘action points’. One of those in the room recalls: ‘Lynton was fantastic. He made sure there was an agenda, that everyone stuck to it.’

It might seem odd for an Aussie to be telling the British PM what to do, especially in this most English of settings, but it’s mainly because of his nationality that the ‘Wizard of Oz’ gets to call the shots. His reputation as a toughie from the outback gives him the authority to speak plainly and issue orders.

But Crosby is only part of a wider takeover of our public life by English-speaking ‘tough guys’ from the ‘dominions’. A South African, Ryan Coetzee, directs the political strategy of the Liberal Democrats. A Canadian, Mark Carney, has now become governor of the Bank of England, and with so many powers at his disposal that he can be seen as the single most important figure in our economy. These three, Crosby, Coetzee and Carney, will be critical in determining the state of the country, and the national mood, come the next election.

Professionals from the colonies are everywhere once you start looking. The England cricket team may have shredded our nerves at the weekend but its win in the first Ashes Test has boosted our spirits. Much of the credit for this victory rests with the side’s Zimbabwean coach, Andy Flower. And the successful British Lions tour of Australia was masterminded by the New Zealander Warren Gatland, who is also the Welsh head coach.

From Westminster to Lords, from Threadneedle Street to the try line, a theme is emerging. The Dominions are rapidly gaining dominion —  over us.

You need to go back to wartime Britain, 1940, to find an era where there was such an influential group of the Monarch’s overseas subjects. Then, the Australian prime minister Robert Menzies and the South African Jan Smuts were attending Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet, while the Canadian Lord Beaverbook was in charge of ensuring that enough planes were in the air to win the Battle of Britain. The work of the new colonials is obviously not as important as war work, but their rise to prominence does tell us something about this country, its flaws and its place in the world.

These new colonials are filling an intellectual gap in British public life created by the return of the old (and not much improved) ruling elite. They bring with them a sense of the frontier spirit, something which has been largely lost from Britain since the end of empire. Indeed, in many ways, they represent the discipline, ingenuity and confidence that were once this nation’s hallmarks.

An ability to transcend class is particularly useful in the modern Conservative party. Every time an Old Etonian or Notting Hill friend of Dave is recruited into Downing Street, backbenchers cry foul. So the fact that Crosby is Australian is vital. It also makes him a perfect go-between. Tory backbenchers who have strained relations with Cameron’s gilded circle talk to Crosby when they want to get a message to the PM.

Tellingly, Cameron and Osborne now use Crosby to make the case for the leadership’s political strategy to their MPs. As one of the Prime Minister’s inner circle puts it: ‘If David Cameron or George Osborne present their strategy for dealing with Ukip, then the backbenches may be inherently suspicious. But they’ll be far more receptive if it comes from Crosby.’ The fact that Crosby is a professional campaigner also helps: he’s the man who took John Howard to four successive Australian poll victories, twice got Boris Johnson elected Mayor in Labour London, and prevented the Tories from melting down in 2005.

Crosby’s hard-scrabble Antipodean background gives him an aura of toughness that others are prepared to defer to. His injunction to ‘get the barnacles off the boat’ is treated as if it had come down from Sinai, not Sydney.

Even the current row over whether or not Crosby played any part in the government’s decision to drop plans for plain packaging for cigarettes hasn’t damaged his standing in the Tory party. It also hasn’t bothered his Aussie compatriots. Crosby had a table at a recent dinner at Lord’s to honour the memory of Sir Donald Bradman, and his Australian friends who were present wouldn’t let the packaging business drop. To the amusement of his British guests, they kept asking him, ‘Do you want a cigarette, mate?’

Crosby’s Liberal Democrat counterpart, Ryan Coetzee, is nowhere near as controversial a figure, but he does represent a break with Liberal Democrat orthodoxy. He is a broad-shouldered man who looks like he’d be useful in a rugby scrum — the opposite of the caricature of a weedy, yoghurt-eating Lib Dem.

Coeztee’s job is to whip the Liberal Democrats into a disciplined, professional political party. It is no easy task. His predecessor, the British liberal intellectual Richard Reeves, found the party infuriatingly resistant to this change. He joked to friends that if the party had been irritated by him, they were going to be driven mad by this strict Saffer. Coetzee had, after all, cut his political teeth campaigning against the ANC.

But the Liberal Democrats have proved remarkably open to Coetzee’s instruction. The curmudgeonly Lib Dem peer Tom Greaves has been left complaining that the party is treating Coetzee as ‘the new risen saviour’. Meanwhile, Coetzee has been busy explaining in his distinct Cape twang precisely how the Liberal Democrats appeal to the one-in-four voters who his research shows are open to supporting them at the next election.

Crosby and Coetzee both exercise their power behind the scenes. But Carney is very much a front-of-house man: the first foreigner to run the Bank of England, with film-star looks and a high society (English) wife to boot. While Sir Mervyn King was easily identified as an owlish academic, Carney (whose background is in investment banking) is seen as a man of action. But that’s part of the magic: all colonials are seen in Britain as men — and women — of action.

When David Cameron considered hiring an American, the former New York and Los Angeles police chief Bill Bratton, to run the Metropolitan Police, there was a slew of objections. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, eventually persuaded Downing Street that it would be inappropriate to have a foreigner commanding London’s police force. But when George Osborne indicated that he was attracted to the idea of recruiting Carney, no one complained about the prospect of a Canuck setting our interest rates or deciding whether or not Britain should indulge in another round of quantitative easing.

Given that the Governor of the Bank of England wields much more power than the head of London’s police, the lack of controversy over his appointment is striking. But much of this can be explained by the fact that Brits don’t quite see Canadians as foreigners —  more as cousins with some funny habits. They have the same head of state, after all. Indeed, a former editor of The Spectator, John Buchan, went on to be Canada’s governor-general. Had Cameron wanted to give a Mountie the top job at Scotland Yard, one doubts that there would have been such a fuss as there was over Bratton.

The popularity of the new colonials reflects a certain uncertainty in British masculinity; it is no coincidence that the most prominent among them are male. Once, Westminster was full of young Britons who had proved themselves in the far corners of the Empire. But now it is full of those who have glided from quad to quad, and are only too aware that they grew up on a gap year and not the North-West Frontier.

This is even more pronounced in sport. When England fell to the bottom of the Test Match pile, it was a Zimbabwean they turned to. Duncan Fletcher was hired having made his views known on the softness of the English county system. When he was given the England job, his remit was to make the team a hard, competitive outfit. It was a task considered beyond any Englishman.

Fletcher led England to the first Ashes win in 15 years. But eventually the passage of time and the disenchantment of various players did for him. The England Cricket Board thought it was safe to turn back to an Englishman and gave the job to the Sussex coach Peter Moores. The result: disaster. Moores was gone within two years, with a dressing-room revolt and a series of defeats under his belt.

In this crisis, whom did England turn to? Another Zimbabwean, Andy Flower. The tough-as-teak Flower turned England around again.

It is hard to imagine any British political party hiring a Frenchman or an Italian to run their election campaigns. The more complicated the world is, the stronger the bonds of language and the common law become. In the end, culture trumps geography.

Which leaves a question hanging: if our political and sporting elite are so keen on recruiting those from the Dominions, why should we allow anyone from Greece to come and seek work in Britain while making it harder and harder for Canadian architects and Indian businessmen to move to these shores?

The new colonials tend to share this puzzlement. Before he was recruited by No. 10, Crosby conducted a whole series of polls for a client about what arguments are most effective in persuading the public that Britain needs a very different relationship with the EU. It would be particularly fitting if the new colonials used their growing power in British life to raise our sights from the Channel to the oceans beyond.

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  • john

    Yet another example of Britain’s inability to face the future. We have sunk back into a 1950s mind set and are looking elsewhwere for some vision of the way forward.

  • David Webb

    Well, I don’t mind the Australians and Canadians, who are of British origin in the first place. Just as long as it is not racial supremacists from India and Pakistan who are running us – and in too many cases they are – many of the judges are from the subcontinent.

    • Rach

      I’m sure the irony of “racial supremacy” in your post isn’t lost on many.

      • David Webb

        I lived in China for years – and didn’t seek political power over the Chinese – and so what do you cajl it when a Pakistani moves here and willing takes up a job judging us in our courts? That is out and out racial supremacism.

        • simhedges

          I call it freedom and democracy.

        • Ratib Ali

          Greeting from KKK. You’ve been promoted to Superior Commander just for posting this comment. God bless (the God of the Anglican Church of course, not them stupid Mossies or Hindus).

    • Alex Stansfield

      What of the many Aussies and Canadians who aren’t of British origin? Or do you only mean the white ones? Even then there is no guarantee they are British. But then maybe as long as they’re not brown it’s all ok.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I think the article is talking about the white ones, don’t you?

  • Greg

    Canadians aren’t foreigners, hence the High Commissions instead of embassies and why we have a Foreign and Commonwealth office. I do wish the Spectator and the rest of the media would get it right.

    • john

      Give it up Greg. We no longer have an Empire and Canada, Oz etc all have better things to do than curtsey to Mrs Windsor. Britain needs to invent its own future out of the current mess.

      • Greg

        I was making a factual point and it has nothing to do with Mrs Windsor. Malaysians, Kenyans and Pakistanis to name but a few aren’t foreigners either.

        • john

          They clearly are foreigners even nationals of Commonwealth countries. They all need visas to enter the UK. Even if your point is technically correct, practically it’s wishful thinking. We need to move on and plough our own furrow.

          • Greg

            So I was right and you were wrong. It’s hard work being right about everything all the time.

          • john

            Greg: I was trying to be kind! Of course you are WRONG. None of the colonials you list now has an automatic right to live in the UK and therefore must be defined as foreigners. In fact, EU citizens now have this right of domicile and are not foreigners.

          • Greg

            Having the right to settle has nothing to do with it. In British law if you are a Commonwealth citizen you are not foreign. Therefore my original point (as you admitted) is CORRECT.

            I’m not sure what you are trying to get at nwereley. Who mentioned anything about colonies? The Commonwealth is a family of equal sovereign nations that have a shared history and set of values. They felt so close that they decided to not to call nationals of each other’s countries foreigners . They also decided to have High Commisioners for each others countries instead of Embassadors. Hence Australia has a High Commisioner in Kenya.
            As somebody who has lived, worked and payed taxes in Britain, Canada and Australia, the idea that they are foreign countries is technically and spiritually false.

          • john

            Greg: let me close by reiterating that the most obvious definition of a foreigner is someone who has no automatic right of residence in a country. Ex colonials no longer have that right in the UK and are foreigners – no matter how agreeable you find them!
            On the reverse side, just try going to Australia or Canada (I’ve worked in both) without a visa.

          • Arnold Swift

            Just because the bureaucrats put visa restrictions between us does not make Canada, Oz, NZ and the UK foreign countries. All it does show is the bureaucrats are everywhere, and everywhere they do harm.

          • john

            As with Greg and Paul, you’re showing loss of empire remorse (a mortal British disease). These countries have strong historical ties but the world has moved on and they are no longer our colonials. The Commonwealth is a pointless concept – just to give the monarchy some semblance of international importance.
            BTW I notice you only quote “white” ex colonies. Feel the same way about Zambians, Indians, Pakistanis etc?
            There are Brits who are in a somewhat ambivalent position as a result of “staying on” but those cases will be resolved step by step.

          • Arnold Swift

            Why Canada, Oz, NZ? Because my great uncles got on a boat and went to each of those nations, now when their children try to come home, the bureaucrats require visas, and the Socialists call us racists.

            I call my cousins family: that’s not racist, and only vermin would say that it is.

          • john

            Chill out Arnie – we’re all friends here. Pretty much everyone in the UK has relatives who got on the boat and went to Oz, NZ, Canada etc. But your principle doesn’t stand up. What about our relatives who went to the USA, Republic of Ireland etc. Are they still cousins and entitled to visa free entry?

          • Arnold Swift

            I like that idea: if you are directly descended from people born here and emigrated then you should be considered British; and everybody else can just go away.

          • john

            Since Brits have been emigating for centuries, that would be a pretty large number! Millions of nationals of other countries could claim that connection – maybe 50 – 100 million Yanks alone..

          • Arnold Swift

            That’s fine. Once a member of my family, always a member of my family.

          • Keith Thomas

            Also the new members of the Commonwealth: Rwanda and Mozambique? What about the citizens of, say Australia who were born in Lebanon? The Australian Aborigines?

          • Ratib Ali

            Blimey Keith, they’re BROWN!

          • Greg

            All the more reason for Britain to leave the economically declining EU and re-engage with the economically growing Commonwealth.

          • nwereley

            Greg, as a Canadian I can tell you that we are indeed foreigners now.
            Mrs.Windsor is the ‘Queen of Canada’ in her capacity of our head of
            state. With the passage of the Statute of Westminster in the 1930’s, the distinctive Canadian citizenship legislation of the late 1940’s, and the repatriation of our constitution in 1982,
            Canada, as with many of the self-governing dominions, became an
            independent state with total political and economic sovereignty. India
            and Pakistan are even more independent as they elected to form Republics
            rather than constitutional-democracies. The age of Empire in the
            settler-dominions is over. The commonwealth is an association of
            equally sovereign state, not a colonial conference.

          • Arnold Swift

            Once a member of the family, always a member of the family.
            We are cousins, call yourself what you want, but we share a common great great great grandparent. And that is the difference between us and the rest of the world.

          • Ratib Ali

            I love how you use these flowery words but whenever we Bangladeshis show up at your shores for handouts and free healthcare, you scorn at us.

          • Arnold Swift

            You just don’t get it do you.

          • Paul

            Lots of UK citizens need a visa to enter the UK … all the citizens of overseas territories (excluding those in the EU [Gibraltar, Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus] and the Crown Colonies) and tbose who remained British after Hong Kong was handed back.

    • Ratib Ali

      Bangladesh (and India and Pakistan) maintains High Commissions in London (and Ottawa and Canberra). You sure you want to call the 1.5 billion subcontinentals non-foreigners? Because if you thought we brownies have taken over UK, you’ve seen nothing yet 😛

  • john

    There’s a Canadian woman in charge of the Royal Mail, too.

    • simhedges

      Heavens to betsy! Whatever next?

      • john


    • Arnold Swift

      A woman?!

  • ohforheavensake

    James? They’re not colonies. Not any more.

  • Davidh

    Ha, Ha! And this bothers you?

    Get on with the job, I would have thought…

  • CraigStrachan

    “the Canadian Lord Beaverbrook was in charge of ensuring enough planes were in the air to win the Battle of Britain”

    Well, Beaverbrook was in charge of ensuring enough planes were coming off the production lines. Ensuring they were in the air at the right place and time was more the job of Keith Park. Who was a Kiwi.

  • John

    I love how South Africans are left out of the headline, despite being mentioned a number of times in the article. One Kiwi mention gets them into the headline. Is having South African’s in positions of power perhaps too frightening for the Spectator’s readership?

    • Ratib Ali

      “African” isn’t nearly as sexy as “mild-minded Canadian”.

  • global city

    This is a good thing. It helps to keep the Eurocrats and fanatics at arms length for a little longer and helps to remind us that we are actually a globally connected culture and community.

    I hate the insistence made that we have to consign ourselves to being a region on the arse end of a statist and inward looking continentalist empire!

  • F. Hugh Eveleigh

    The final paragraph of Mr Forsyth’s illuminating article summates the desire many of us libertarians have: open up this country to the Commonwealth Realms and the Commonwealth in general and leave the EU’s political shenanigans completely. Only then will we have the chance to move Britain forward to ‘the oceans beyond’

  • FairBobby

    We, to the limits of treachery , abandoned our links to the former Dominions and colonies as a price of joining the EU. I’ve always felt a profound sense of shame about this, particularly as they had sacrificed so much to support us in World War II. I’ve never understood why so many of our political class chose a continental style of government leading to a totalitarian marxist-like state in preference to our hard earned democracy. With the help of Australia, NZ. Canada etc we can perhaps rejoin them and again become a force for good in the world.

    • john

      Total imperial nostalgia

      • global city

        as opposed to your fetishisation of continental submission?

        • john

          My what to what? You should think about changing your handle to something more appropriate.

          • global city

            Why do you equate the EU with global culture? It offers quite the reverse, if only Eurofreaks would take a moment to think the issue through.

          • john

            I have no idea what you are talking about. I don’t equate the EU with global culture and have no idea what global culture is. I’m not a Eurofreak – again whatever that means.

          • global city

            well, your reference to changing my ‘handle’ leaves me utterly confused then?

          • john

            Your comments seem to indicate a rather narrow perspective while your handle implies a worldwide view.

          • global city

            That is what I assumed you meant.

            Please indulge me. tell me which of my initial comments indicate a ‘narrow view’?

            When you wrote that, I took that to mean that you think the EU is somehow more expansive, progressive, internationalist, not based on petty nationalism or little ingerlunderness, etc and that any objection to it must be because of some narrow perspective or intelect, or something.

            I am intrigued as to what you actually meant and I eagerly await your explanation!

          • john


          • global city

            Very illuminating. Thanks!

      • FairBobby

        Nothing to do with imperialism. Everything to do with common heritage, common language, common laws, shared democracy and world wide trade. Who better to do it with than our kith and kin.

        • john

          Two sides of the same coin.

    • Kev

      Canada managed just fine with the FTA and then NAFTA with the US and Mexico. Seems like we understood the advantages of trading with our closest and natural trading partners. If only the same could be said for you … I imagine we would sign up to a free trade agreement with the UK if the terms were favourable, i.e. no imperial preference this time around. But certainly not at the expense of the real prize: a FTA with the EU.

    • RodCl

      Try telling all that to your various governments who refuse to pay British born pensioners their “paid for” state pensions in full, giving them no cost of living increases. Someone who retired to Canada, Australia, NZ, South Africa about 10 years ago on £85 pw still gets just that although the full pension is now about £107.
      If that person lived in Niagara Fall, New York, USA rather than 1/3 mile away across the river in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada he/she would get the full present pension. As would someone who lived in Germany, Italy, or Japan.
      So living among the people who hated or ignored you in 1939-1941 is great…..but as for the ones that came to your immediate aid in 1914 and 1939……..

    • right of tory

      Its time for more co-ordination between the realms both militarily and politically.

  • Arnold Swift

    Why? Well in the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the best of us got on boats and sailed away to the new world.

    Fortunately some of the best are coming back to save us from the Socialists who took over in their absence.

  • john

    BTW It’s probably worth pointing out that this “colonial eruption” is just selective reporting and probably has no real significance.

  • Mike of Sydney

    It goes both ways, until recently John McTernan was calling the shots here in Australia.

  • Fergus Pickering

    Let us stick with cricket. Good on Andy Flower but a coach can only do so much. You’ve got to have the players in the first place. And I hope you are not suggesting that Broad, Anderson and Swan are lacking in masculinity. It’s true that Trott and Pietersen are South Africans. More fool the South Africans for letting them go because they were the wrong colour.

    Perhaps you are suggesting that the best type of immigrant is white and speaks English as his first language. Can’t fault you there. That IS what you were saying, isn’t it?.

    • Ratib Ali

      Morgan’s Irish, and up until last year, I thought England had a brown quota (Monty Panesar/Sajid Mahmood/Kabir Ali).

  • Kev

    I’m pretty confident that most of my fellow Canadians working in the UK are there for the usual reasons: money, prestige, experience … Nostalgia or some sort of spectral cultural affinity hardly plays a role. But if it means a leg-up on the competition, well, who’s going to say no? Fair warning, though: I wouldn’t expect any sort of (imperial) reciprocity if I were you. Canada (and the other “dominions” too, I imagine) has a quaint little attitude which we like to call “welcoming the best qualified people, regardless of origin.” Seems to have worked well so far.

    • Ratib Ali

      Regardless of origin? What are you? Canad… okay I did not think this through.

  • hdb

    Richard Reeves? A Blairite in LibDem clothing. Popular with Clegg, no doubt, but hardly a voice to be looking to for inspiration.

  • Zizi

    Your cover says “Why Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians are running Britain”;The second individual mentioned is Ryan Coetzee, a South African. The fourth person mentioned is Andy Flower a Rhodesian/Zimbabwean.

  • Jonathan Lawley

    I think the phenomenon is mainly a reflection of the the strengthening effect that significant experience of another culture gives people. They get new perspectives on the strengths and weaknesses of their own culture and the opportunity to gain from the strengths of the second culture

  • Peter Bailey

    Not all men. Canadian Moya Greene was appointed CEO of the Royal Mail, the first woman to hold the post. And first Canadian one presumes.

  • Hugh Knight

    The Empire strikes back

  • bigcitycanadian

    Mark Carney was a fantastic governor of the Bank of Canada, and now it’s the turn of the Brits to enjoy his excellence. You are welcome.