Guest Notes

London notes

25 May 2019

9:00 AM

25 May 2019

9:00 AM

A Right shambles

One of the glories of London is its vast Hyde Park and adjoining Kensington Gardens. On a visit, I do my usual run around the two parks to earn one of Blighty’s other glories – the Full English. On day one of our stay, the parks are a picture of order and springtime perfection. Taking the same route on day two, however, I seem to have been transported to a landfill site. Rubbish is everywhere. What could have caused this? A bikies’ convention? No, Royal Parks workers cleaning up the mess tell me: environmental activists. A rally the previous day to legalise cannabis was joined by huge numbers of the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ demonstrators, who had shut down much of London over preceding days. My tweeted photos of the shambles prompted indignant denials from the environmental activists that they were responsible, then implausible claims that they later cleaned up the mess even though they didn’t cause it. Some of the eco-warriors’ tweets made clear they see concern about urban litter as a bourgeois neurosis, not a serious environmental issue.

Britain’s establishment was aswoon with the visit of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish 16 year-old eco-activist and pioneer of schoolchildren ‘climate strikes’, who came to support the Extinction Rebellion demonstrators. Thunberg wants to ban all carbon emissions by 2025. And who would do anything but praise a 16 year- old with Asperger’s who wants to save the planet? Her presence duly took on the flavour of a state visit, including an invitation to address MPs in the Houses of Parliament. Penguin Press judged the mood well by announcing it was publishing Thunberg’s collected speeches. Even so, Environment Secretary, Michael Gove removed any residual claim to being a serious Tory with his gushing references to her being ‘the voice of our conscience’.

While Thunberg was invited to the Mother of Parliaments, it seems that the Leader of the Free World, who visits London on 3 June, will be denied that honour. Commons speaker John Bercow has said this will underline Parliament’s ‘opposition to racism and to sexism’. Trump is visiting Britain and France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day and America’s enormous sacrifices which saved Western Europe from the Nazis. But Bercow shows no sign of backing down. Meanwhile the Times reports that members of the Royal Family are also Trump-snubbers. Princes Charles and William refused to meet him during his visit to Britain last year. It seems that some of the royals have become so ‘woke’ they’ve forgotten that their role does not include making foreign policy but does include showing full courtesy to visiting US presidents.


A visit to the theatre underlines the gulf separating Britain’s pro-Remain cultural establishment from the pro-Brexit majority. John Godber’s Scary Bikers, at the Trafalgar Studios, billed as bravely ventilating pro-Leave sentiments, concerns the budding relationship between Don, a northern ex-miner and Carol, a café owner. Don backs Leave while Carol supports Remain. Don is portrayed as gullible, motivated to support Leave by anti-establishment grudges and susceptibility to simplistic arguments that post-Brexit Britain would be able radically to increase National Health spending. The main reasons most supported Leave – the desire to re-establish national sovereignty including over immigration – don’t intrude.

In the real world, the spectacle of Theresa May clinging to office long after it became clear that she’s botched Brexit exerts a grim fascination. Her desperate efforts to do a deal with the Marxist Corbyn are farcical. If May were leading an Australian party, she would long ago have been replaced. But despite the collapse in support for her among Conservatives – 82 per cent want her gone – the Tory establishment clings absurdly to the importance of her departing with dignity. This despite the terrible Tory results at the 3 May local elections – they lost 44 of 137 councils – and the coming further disaster in the European Parliament elections, in which they’re  polling around 10 per cent.  Inevitably, Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party is thriving. Unless the Tories reverse course with a new leader capable of bringing back disenchanted Tory supporters – most obviously Boris Johnson – the split conservative vote under Britain’s first-past-the-post system risks the catastrophe of a Jeremy Corbyn government.

One of the most powerful criticisms made of the EU is that it’s run by unelected officials. Appropriately, as Theresa May is at heart a Remainer, she’s done exactly the same thing with her own government. The Daily Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey  reveals that May’s Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill – an unelected official – last year shouted down former minister Esther McVey for demanding a cabinet vote on her EU deal. As Tominey comments, May ‘doesn’t trust other elected politicians. She places her trust in advisers and officials’. There are daily reminders that the Conservative government elected in 2010 isn’t in any real sense conservative. Housing Secretary Brokenshire sacks brilliant conservative philosopher Roger Scruton from a government advisor role on the basis of an interview that the left-wing New Statesman distorted to make him seem racist. And it emerges that a Libyan embassy official who killed a London police constable in 1984 was granted asylum by the Cameron government.

But Britain always offers compensations. We explore Bristol which has one of the most impressive collections of Georgian architecture anywhere and a railway station which looks like an Oxbridge college. And there’s a nice surprise for Australians: a plaque reveals that the elegant Clifton Club was designed by none other than Francis Greenway, who became the father of Australian architecture after he received a one-way passage to Sydney in 1812 for a forgery conviction.

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