Diary Australia

London diary

19 August 2017

9:00 AM

19 August 2017

9:00 AM

There is one thing Brexit negotiators must fix if Britain really intends to rediscover its Commonwealth. For the last 44 years, having, with fellow Australians, to join the foreigners’ long entry queue at Heathrow while Europeans trot through unhindered, has got up my nose. In the good old days when it really was the British Commonwealth, we Australians were no second class visitors; we were family. Certainly I was, with an English mother and a New Zealand father who died as a result of his naval service for King and Country during World War II. Britain’s joining the EU in 1973 meant that the Germans and Italians he fought against receive preferential treatment at the border. My trying to correct this slight by seeking a British passport (after retiring from parliament, of course!) did not work. It was officially pointed out to me that the citizenship entitlement to offspring of British born persons was termed ‘patrial’ not ‘matrial’. So no Pommie dad, no Pommie passport. However, had my mother not been married at my birth, she would have been treated as an honorary male and a British passport would have been mine. This quaintly sexist nonsense, which fails to recognise the reality that only the mother really knows who the father is (which Judaism understands), has subsequently been corrected, although not retrospectively. But at least this means that there was no prospect that my 21 years as a federal politician could have been disrupted by my mother secretly making me a British citizen, but I may be a Barnaby Kiwi. However, this time I beat the Heathrow system; my replacement left knee was misbehaving, so the consequential wheelchair avoided all the unpleasantness of queuing and I was pushed through to be welcomed to Britain’s green and pleasant land.

Fortunately the fine weather, excellent theatre (Queen Anne and The Ferryman are standouts) and the BBC Proms at the Albert Hall (a remarkable performance of the complete Monteverdi Sicilian Vespers), the National and Portrait Galleries and the RAF Museum with a visitable Concorde and joy-flights (for $4,000 in a WW II Spitfire and for several hundred in a pre-war De Havilland Dragon) all served to take my mind off the dreadful similarity between the political scenes in Australia and Britain. Two unloved prime ministers with wafer-thin majorities due entirely to their incompetent election campaigns (stand up Sir Lynton Crosby) against appalling opponents, both of whose policies would lead their nations into economic disaster, appear to be living on borrowed time. At least Turnbull only has side-issues like same-sex marriage to deal with, unlike Theresa May whose fractious cabinet compounds her massive (and very expensive) Brexit problems.

If, at 87, this is my last visit to London, it is the other side of the coin from my first one more than half a century ago. In late 1960 I was sent by the Australian Financial Review to report on Britain taking the next two years to fail to join the Common Market, eventually succeeding a decade later after twice-nay-saying French President de Gaulle had left the scene. This time I’m reporting (to The Speccie) that Britain seems to be doing its best to take as long to fail to leave Europe as it originally took to fail to join it. Remainers (especially the City, trade unions and much of Westminster) refuse to admit that Leavers actually won the Brexit referendum and are doing their best to sabotage Prime Minister Theresa May’s narrow-majority-imposed difficult negotiating position and to minimise and delay the whole process in the hope of at least partially reversing it. The delaying tactic, given momentum by Chancellor Philip Hammond’s support in a clearly divided Tory cabinet for a ‘transitional agreement’ rather than a negotiated early exit deal, was promoted in the Financial Times last week as ‘the optimal strategy for those who still want the UK to be a member of the EU…(and) could result in another referendum’. Britain could then rejoin the EU under article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty without too much Brexit having to be undone.

Inequality: Bill Shorten is simply mimicking Britain’s hard-line socialist opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn by declaring class war to resolve income inequality by soaking the rich rather than providing incentives to benefit the poor. Theresa May and her predecessor David Cameron have had some success in reducing the income gap for the UK’s ethnic minorities, with a study last week revealing that non-white ‘disparities in terms of employment and wages have been shrinking’. But with overall real wages stagnant in both Britain and Australia, the Shorten-Corbyn populism has legs.

Keeping inequality in proper perspective, the London Evening Standard last week ran a full page article quoting Sir Patrick Stewart’s US National Public Radio talk explaining that the dialects of British cows’ moos reflect, like their human counterparts, ‘a society dominated by class, social status and location’. He noted that ‘the sound made by a cow from West Oxfordshire, birthplace and home to many right of centre politicians, is quite an upper-class bray compared with those from West Yorkshire’. The National Farmers Union backed this up, maintaining that when cows are mo(o)ved from one area of strong accents to another, there is a problem of them initially not responding to the new accent. ‘Cows in the West Country have the distinctive Somerset twang (more of a ‘moo-arr’) while Midlands beasts moo with Brummie accents and Geordie tones are heard Tyneside. And in the US, those bred in the southern states sound very different from the moos heard in the north’. In the Anglosphere’s animal farms, all cows are not equal.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments