How do you explain the British political system to Chinese Government officials?

September 15th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

This morning, I spent four hours in a hotel in Croydon, south London, giving a presentation on the British political system to 22 senior Chinese Government officials from Beijing.

I had to explain that our political system has evolved over many centuries and is therefore particular to our history and culture. It is simply not possible to transplant one nation’s political system onto another country with a very different history and culture. They appreciated this.

The Chinese do not like to be lectured about what they should and should not do in their country and one delegate challenged the right of a Commons Select Committee to comment on the current governance arrangements in Hong Kong. I understood his point, but explained that, in our interconnected global community, people are entitled to pass comment on arrangements in other countries and China should not be so sensitive to outside comments.

I also had to explain that, because the British political system has evolved so gradually, it is not neat and it does not always make sense. For instance, I was asked if religion has any role in our constitutional arrangements and I had to  say why our head of state (the monarch) is also the head of the Church of England (because King Henry VIII wanted a second wife).

Also I tried to spell out the absurdity which is the House of Lords. A second chamber in which no member is elected, in which 92 members owe their position to an hereditary honour centuries old, in which 26 bishops and archbishops of the Church of England have a seat as of right, is simply indefensible.

Of course, I had to declare that this discussion about political arrangements in the United Kingdom was taking place in a week in which Scotland might actually decide to leave the UK and that, even if they did not, there would probably be important political changes as a result [see my comments here]. This led to a discussion on current global challenges to the notion of the nation state with power going upwards to bodies like the European Union and multinational corporations and power going downwards to regions and cities.

I have given this kind of lecture to a number of Chinese groups over the years and I have noticed significant changes in their responses. They ask more questions now and are more open-minded about the need for political reform at home. This is encouraging – but the Chinese will take their own time to make changes. Understandably they will not be pushed from outside, but I’m not sure if they appreciate just how much pressure will come from inside, from the more educated and wealthier Chinese citizenry that the economic reforms of the last 30 years has created.

You can my read my guide to the British political system here.

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (0)

A review of last year’s movie “Her”

September 14th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

How much do you love your technology? Could you actually fall in love with it one day? After all, even Eve went for the Apple.

In the movie “Her”, a guy has a deep relationship with his operating system. You can read my review here.

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A review of the novel “Unexpected Lessons In Love”

September 14th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Not many novels have cancer as a central theme and not many authors die of cancer months after the publication of their novel. But that’s the case with “Unexpected Lessons In Love” and Bernadine Bishop.

Yet this is ultimately an uplifting novel about how we can all find love in forms we might not have expected in places we might not have anticipated. You can read my review here.

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Taking “Pride” in that some films actually show the struggles for workers’ rights

September 13th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

This weekend, I went to see the brilliant film “Pride” which proudly proclaims both the need for equal treatment for the gay community and solidarity with strikers in a industrial dispute. You can read my review here.

There are not many films that show trade unions at work and people fighting for rights at work, but I’ve collected information on most of them here.

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Violence at home costs $8 trillion a year – worse than war

September 12th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

Domestic violence, mainly against women and children, kills far more people than wars and is an often overlooked scourge that costs the world economy more than $8 trillion a year, experts working on a study for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre said this week.

The study, which its authors said was a first attempt to estimate global costs of violence, urged the United Nations to pay more attention to abuse at home that gets less attention than armed conflicts from Syria to Ukraine.

“For every civil war battlefield death, roughly nine people … are killed in inter-personal disputes,” Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University and James Fearon of Stanford University wrote in the report.

From domestic disputes to wars, they estimated that all violence worldwide cost $9.5 trillion a year, mainly in lost economic output and equivalent to 11.2 percent of world gross domestic product.

In recent years, about 20-25 nations suffered civil wars, devastating many local economies and costing about $170 billion a year. Homicides, mainly of men unrelated to domestic disputes, cost $650 billion.

But those figures were dwarfed by the $8 trillion annual cost of domestic violence, mostly against women and children.

More information here.

Posted in World current affairs | Comments (0)

You just never know what’s going on in people’s lives – and we should make allowances

September 11th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

I was recently talking to a colleague who explained that he had just been diagnosed with something called celiac disease - a condition of which I had never previously heard.

It reminded me that so often I have found that people have a physical or psychological issue with which they are coping privately and colleagues and even friends frequently know nothing about this.

If we did know, perhaps we would be willing to make more allowances to people and perhaps we should anyway.

This is the theme of one of my short stories called “The Away Day” which you can read here.

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Whatever the Scots decide in the referendum on independence, the United Kingdom will never be the same

September 10th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

In my lifetime, I have never known a period of such political high drama as we approach the referendum on Scottish independence next Thursday and the polls show the ‘yes’ vote and the ‘no’ vote neck and neck. It has been inspiring to see serious issues debated seriously (although not always honestly or respectfully)  and it looks as if the turnout will be very high – which is good for democracy. Whatever the decision, the consequences will be enormous and long-lasting and, in many cases, unpredictable and even unintended..

If the ‘yes’ vote wins, we will probably have immediate uncertainty on the currency and financial markets and 18 months of intense negotiation between the Scottish and UK governments and parliaments. The nature of the UK General Election in June 2015 would be totally transformed. Then, once the Labour Party loses its substantial share of the Scottish seats in the Westminster Parliament, it would find it hard to form a majority government. The “Guardian” today has attempted to answer some of the many questions that are being asked about impact of independence.

But the consequences could well go beyond the United Kingdom. An independent Scotland with currency problems and an application to join the European Union could unsettle the Eurozone, encourage European recession, and even encourage some other parts of other countries to renew their pressure for their own independence.

If, on the other hand, the ‘no’ vote wins, there will still be considerable and unpredictable change. The three major political parties have promised that a ‘no’ to independence would be followed by an early increase in the powers of the Scottish Parliament. If the ‘no’ vote wins, it is likely to be by a small margin and the debate around full independence for Scotland will continue, as the debate on independence for Quebec continued after the failure of the first referendum there.

With more power to Scotland and a continuation of the Scottish independence debate, the people of Wales and Northern Ireland would certainly want additional powers themselves. Then, inevitably, the major cities – and possibly some regions – of England would put a strong case for more powers.

If further powers are to be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and possibly some English cities, this would require a significant reallocation of seats in the UK Parliaments as between the different parts of the UK.  This would have a major impact on the capacity of the Labour Party to win a majority of seats in the new UK House of Commons. We might even have a rethink about the composition and role of the currently absurd body known as the House of Lords.

Whatever happens (and I hope the Scots vote ‘no’), the consequences will take generations to work through …

Posted in British current affairs | Comments (2)

If you thought Obamacare had failed, think again

September 8th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

The official name for Barack Obama’s reform of the American healthcare system is the Affordable Care Act but it has been dubbed – usually by his opponents – as Obamacare.  Reports on the implementation of the legislation have concentrated – at least outside  the US – on the initial IT problems and on continued legal challenges, but quietly the Act is transforming health care for there better for millions and millions of Americans.

The details in this news report may only be of interest to Americans, but the clear messages for us all come from these quotes:

“President Barack Obama has not had a good couple of weeks. His foreign policy is going badly, his legislative agenda is stalled, and his party looks likely to lose the Senate. He’s entering the traditional lame-duck years of a presidency and further accomplishments appear increasingly remote.

But less than 10 months after major media outlets were hosting debates with headlines like “Is the Affordable Care Act Beyond Repair?”, Obama’s signature accomplishment is succeeding beyond all reasonable expectation.

A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that in seven major cities that have released data on 2015 premiums, the price of the benchmark Obamacare plan — the second-cheapest silver plan, which the federal government uses to calculate subsidies —  is falling. Yes, falling.

Obamacare has been a political failure for the Democrats — and, frankly, a political failure period. Its passage was a bitter, polarizing war; its launch was multi-month catastrophe; and the law remains unpopular even today. But the law is quietly losing its toxicity: fewer members of Congress are running against it, and Republican policy elites are actively trying to persuade their party to give up on repeal and instead “transcend” Obamacare — which is to say, use it as a platform for their own health-care ideas. This is in part because voters seems to be moving on: Aaron Blake notes that Obamacare now ranks behind “other” in polls asking Americans why the country is off-track.

The electorate moving on means Obamacare’s mounting achievements don’t get nearly the attention of its early failures. But the law, at this point, is doing more than simply defying the doomsayers; it’s proving to be a real policy success.”

Posted in US current affairs | Comments (0)

My two movies this week

September 7th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

As regular readers of NightHawk will know well, I’m a big film fan and try to see at least one movie a week.

This week, I’ve seen two:

  • one at the cinema: “Magic In The Moonlight” [my review here]
  • the other on DVD: “All Is Lost” [my review here]

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Word of the day: quotidian

September 6th, 2014 by Roger Darlington

This word is normally used as an adjective.

In the first sense, it means daily. So I recently ate breakfast in a branch of a French chain called “Le Pain Quotidien” (“The Daily Bread”).

In a more literary sense, however, quotidian means usual or every day or commonplace.

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