Thursday, October 27, 2011

The enduring appeal of the Monarchy in Australia

As in Britain, it has deep emotional roots that the politically correct brigade will never even begin to understand

The papers have now given up billing this as the ‘farewell tour’. Anyone watching the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh steadfastly working their way through the multitude and boarding a tram in Melbourne yesterday could understand why.

No one was saying: ‘Goodbye.’ So what if they are, respectively, 85 and 90? The question on Australian lips now is: ‘When are they coming back?’

Even the most ardent monarchists Down Under have been surprised by the euphoria for the Queen in recent days as she has travelled coast-to-coast across her colossal realm.

Monday saw 45,000 people crammed 30-deep on the riverbank in Brisbane just to see her step off a boat. Many required first aid for heatstroke after waiting since before dawn.

Yesterday’s scheduled 15-minute walkabout in Melbourne’s Federation Square stretched on for more than half an hour after tens of thousands turned out for a glimpse. There were so many flowers for the Queen the royal party ran out of hands.

Even more remarkable, perhaps, has been the behaviour of Melbourne’s ‘Occupy’ protesters.

This is the same anti-capitalist movement currently camping outside St Paul’s Cathedral in London. But whereas the ‘Occupy London’ crowd won’t budge for anyone, the ‘Occupy Melbourne’ brigade yesterday agreed to suspend their protest in the city centre. Organisers decided it would be counter-productive and ‘belligerent’ to spoil the Queen’s day. So they called a truce.

Extraordinary stuff.

As for the royal couple, they have not betrayed a flicker of fatigue from the moment they landed in Canberra last week and embarked on a full schedule without so much as a rest day. One might say that she hit the ground reigning.

All those around the Queen — her staff and footsore veterans of the royal press pack — have noticed she is positively relishing the pace and atmosphere of this tour, happily letting the schedule slip when the crowds show no sign of letting up.

This may be her 16th tour of Australia but there is seldom a dull moment. Today she visits Clontarf Aboriginal College where pupils have devised an unusual royal menu: scones and kangaroo stew. As for the Duke, one royal official observes: ‘People keep asking us what he’s on. He’s in cracking form.’

Indeed, as the royal launch came into dock in Brisbane on Monday, Prince Philip could not stop his old nautical self and started helping to moor the thing. Now the world’s most hyperactive nonagenarian, he is off to Italy next week for a multi-faith environment conference.

Aside from one Brisbane construction worker arrested for ‘mooning’ at the monarch (it turned out to be a wager rather than a statement), this has, thus far, been a glitch-free tour.

So what on earth happened to the republicans? Is this the same feisty, self-confident nation which, just 12 years back, was the cheerleader for replacing the Sovereign? Of all the Queen’s 16 realms, which cover a large part of the planet, Australia was the one which seemed most likely to seek a new constitutional settlement.

And then came that referendum in 1999. With the liberal establishment and most of the media batting for a republic, metropolitan Australia put on its party clothes and prepared to celebrate.

But the public, as they so often do in these matters, had other ideas. In the end, 55 per cent of them preferred the Queen to the republican model of a president chosen by the politicians. [It was nearly two thirds in favour of the monarchy in my home State of Queensland -- JR]

Received wisdom, at the time, was that support for the monarchy would gradually wither away and that the republicans would waltz like Matilda through the next referendum. Except it did not work out like that.

The Royal Family continued to visit on a regular basis and Australia turned its attention to more pressing world issues.

And as royal fortunes have improved in Britain, so the mood has changed in Oz. Few countries could match Australia’s enthusiasm for this year’s Royal Wedding.

It came just weeks after Prince William had made an emergency visit Down Under, on behalf of the Queen, to meet those afflicted by a series of natural disasters — a visit which had a profound impact on the victims.

And now we have this week’s scenes. Opinion polls show that supporters of a presidential system have dwindled to 34 per cent. The activists have all but given up. Not so long ago, the Australian Republican Movement was a multi-million-pound organisation drawing the cream of the chattering classes to its champagne-fuelled soirees. Today, it is so hard-up that it can run only to a single part-time employee.

The reason? It certainly helps that the Queen and the Duke are so conspicuously happy to be in Australia. But it goes much deeper than that. We are witnessing, as one royal official put it to me this week, a ‘revival’. And much of it, surely, is down to the age-old attraction of a constitutional monarchy.

In times of uncertainty and trouble, there is something reassuring in an institution which stands for permanence and stability. And there is no greater symbol of continuity than a monarch who has been on her throne for longer than half of the countries on Earth have existed in their present form.

At the time of Australia’s referendum, republicans made much of the fact that one in four modern Australians was born overseas and, therefore, lacked a link with the ‘mother country’.

What social commentators are now discovering, however, is that support for the monarchy is just as strong among the immigrant community because newcomers feel a 1,000-year-old Crown offers greater protection of their freedoms than a fledgling president.

But there is something else here. Having spent the last two years with privileged access to the Queen and her staff for my new book, Our Queen, I have seen the way in which the aura around her has changed.

People who may seldom have given her much thought suddenly find themselves overawed by the most famous — and some would say respected — public figure on the planet. The sentiment was epitomised by one man in the Melbourne crowd yesterday. Dick Johnson told ABC Australia that he was surprised at how emotional he had suddenly become. ‘I’m not a terribly strong monarchist and I’m not a republican, but it just seems there’s something special about it,’ he said.

To which republicans say that the mood will be very different come a change of reign. But the Prince of Wales, part-educated in Australia, has a deep attachment to the place which does not go unreciprocated.

The new Duke of Cambridge can expect Queen-sized crowds when he brings his new Duchess Down Under. And, in any case, these are enduring bonds which go far beyond a mere popularity contest. Back in 1954, when she was the first reigning monarch to visit Australia, the Queen drew unprecedented crowds.

Millions of people — up to three-quarters of the population it was suggested — turned out to see her. Inevitably, her subsequent tours could not compete; comparisons would always invite a sense of anti-climax. Hence, the sense of monarchy in decline.

Well, now there is a sense of things going the other way. It may not be for ever. Australia will, doubtless, one day seek a new constitutional arrangement. For now, though, we are seeing the way in which historic symbols of kinship and shared values are sometimes more appealing than hard, rational modernity.

It is a fact worth remembering in a week when brutal European realities are set against the warmth of old Commonwealth friendships.


Occupying St. Paul’s

A centuries-old building is rendered useless by demonstrators

British history has been punctuated by stories of turbulent priests more often than by stories of recalcitrant congregations. As Thomas à Becket discovered to his detriment, it is usually the clergy — and not their flock — who find themselves in danger of being ousted. As of October 16, London’s famous St. Paul’s cathedral sits squarely in this tradition, with its dean, the Right Reverend Graeme Knowles, now publicly regretting the leniency he initially showed the camped-out members of “Occupy London Stock Exchange” — the British franchise of the now-global “Occupy” brigade.

If Dean Knowles had expected to be afforded the same respect by OLSX that he has become accustomed to from his parishioners, he was sorely mistaken. Since their free pass was issued, the people-in-tents have made it blindingly obvious that they are not merely differently dressed members of the City of London’s laity, but, literally, occupiers intent on holding the fort at all costs.

And there are costs. When the first protesters arrived, the cathedral’s authorities turned the other cheek, accepting the imposition of the protest camp with alacrity. St. Paul’s even took the unusual step of instructing London’s police to leave the protesters where they were. In doing so, an unfortunate precedent was set. As the crowd has grown to 2,000 strong, access to the landmark has been gradually blocked, forcing St. Paul’s to close its doors for the first time since 1940, when German bombs rained indiscriminately down on the city during the Blitz and an unexploded incendiary forced evacuation for a few days while the device was removed.

“We have done this with a very heavy heart,” the Right Reverend Knowles announced at a press conference, “but it is simply not possible to fulfill our day-to-day obligations to worshippers, visitors, and pilgrims.” Reluctantly, the dean has now asked the protesters to leave, which they have predictably refused to do. Clearly, “we’ll stay here as long as we have to” is a common refrain on both sides of the Atlantic.

Aside from keeping away worshippers and tourists alike, the closure is having a real impact on what is one of Britain’s finest pieces of Restoration architecture. Each day that it is shuttered, St. Paul’s loses between £16,000 and £23,000 in revenues ($26,000 to $37,000), a crippling blow to a glorious 300-year-old building that receives little financial support from the state. And then there is the fire risk: “Health, Safety and Fire officers have pointed out that access to and from the Cathedral is seriously limited. With so many stoves and fires and lots of different types of fuel around, there is a clear fire hazard,” wrote the dean in a press release explaining his decision. No doubt the irony that St. Paul’s was the grand centerpiece of the rebuilding program after 1666’s devastating Great Fire has not been lost on observers.

The closure of St. Paul’s provides a key insight into the nature of the “Occupy” protests: Making a scene is the sine qua non of the movement, the one thing on whose necessity all participants can agree. In his sad statement to the press, Knowles noted that the church was “alongside those seeking equality and financial probity” and that “the debate about a more just society is at the heart of much of our work at St. Paul’s.” But that’s not the point — for the occupiers, the medium is the message. “The fight has to go on,” said protester Ronan McNern, and then promised he would be there until Christmas if necessary.

Never mind that St. Paul’s is not the London Stock Exchange, and that its management is supportive of OLSX’s goals. (The same goes for Zuccotti Park; as one lower-Manhattan resident told me, “They aren’t occupying Wall Street!”) Never mind that the cathedral is one of Britain’s national treasures and is desperately in need of money for maintenance. Never mind that for many of the 99 percent that the “Occupy” movement claims holistically to represent, St. Paul’s is a place of pilgrimage and sanctuary and keen historical significance. As long as the performance continues, all is well. The show must go on!

London’s literati are starting to catch on to this. Writing in the Times, professional moderate Libby Purves noted that “it is impossible to think of any clear, feasible action by an elected government that would satisfy and shift them.” She is right, but then there never has been such an action. As OLSX protester Naomi Colvin put it, “We’re in the business of defining process, and specific demands will evolve from this in time.” Witness, thus, the ever-present appeal to mañana.

St. Paul’s cathedral has stood proud, open, and unharmed through twelve monarchs, an abdication crisis, two world wars, repeated terrorist atrocities, the fight over female suffrage, and fundamental constitutional change. During the dark days of the Second World War, it seemed almost preternaturally preserved from harm: As bombs dropped all around, destroying everything in sight, its celebrated dome poked imperforate through clouds of smoke, and a famous photograph provided succor to millions of weary Londoners. Since its consecration in 1708, St. Paul’s has been a happy constant in British life. It would be a tragedy if this stellar record of openness and repair were eventually blighted by 2,000 heedless members of a rag-tag mob camped out aimlessly on the streets of the capital.


Now you CAN fight back against burglars in Britain: Law change protects anyone using violence to defend home

Homeowners who fight to defend their property will have the full backing of the law for the first time. In an historic move, Justice Secretary Ken Clarke yesterday announced a major strengthening of the rights of victims standing up to intruders in their property. It means anyone who reacts ‘instinctively’ to defend their home and possessions will be protected if they use reasonable force.

The current law says they can act only if they feared for their life or those of their family. It also places duty on victims to retreat from an attacker if they are acting in self-defence. This will also be scrapped.

At the same time, the Home Office is set to change guidance for police on whether to arrest someone who has attacked an intruder in their home. It could mean arrests are not necessary when householders and businessmen say they have acted in self-defence.

Mr Clarke said: ‘While fleeing is usually the safest option if you feel threatened, people are not obliged to retreat when defending themselves or their homes. ‘We will ensure that if you do react instinctively to repel an intruder you will not be punished for it – as long as you used reasonable force. People should feel safe in their communities and especially in their own homes and these measures will ensure they are protected.’

A string of cases in recent years have fuelled public outrage at the law and led to demands for a change. They include that of Tony Martin, the Norfolk farmer who shot dead a burglar, and Munir Hussain, who chased and beat a man who held his family at knifepoint.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Justice published amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill.

MPs will vote on the measures next week and the Bill could become law before Christmas. Tory MP Priti Patel said: ‘This is a long overdue reform to give power back to the victims of burglary and other personal crimes. ‘It will send a clear message to criminals who break in to people’s homes that the law is on the side of the homeowner.’ A string of court judgments led to demands ‘reasonable force’ be changed to allow anything that was not ‘grossly unreasonable’.

Criminologist Dr David Green, director of the Civitas think-tank, said the law was ‘not quite there yet’ but endorsed the move as a ‘step in the right direction’. He added: ‘Previously, reasonable force was uncontroversial but it started to be interpreted in a way that meant you had a high chance of being arrested if you fought back in the way any self-respecting person would.

‘If someone is in your house, especially at night, then you should be able to disable them until the police come. If they get severely injured or even killed in the process, then that’s the way it is.’

Mr Hussain, a millionaire businessman, was ambushed by masked robbers at his family home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire. They forced him and his family to lie on the floor and threatened to kill them. But he and his brother were jailed for attacking and injuring a criminal who they chased down the street.

The case went to the Court of Appeal where the Lord Chief Justice ruled Mr Hussain should have been given a suspended sentence.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the law will ‘put beyond doubt that homeowners and small shopkeepers who use reasonable force to defend themselves or their properties will not be prosecuted.’

In other law changes, squatters will face a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of £5,000. For the first time squatting will be a criminal offence, as ministers aim to end the misery faced by homeowners who find strangers occupying their property.

‘Far too many people endure the misery, expense and incredible hassle of removing squatters from their property,’ Mr Clarke said. ‘Hard-working homeowners need and deserve a justice system where their rights come first.’

And fees paid to middle men and blamed for huge increases in insurance premiums will be scrapped. Insurance companies regularly sell details of their clients to no-win, no-fee lawyers for thousands of pounds. Lawyers then bombard victims with calls, urging them to claim.

Mr Clarke said: ‘Our ban on referral fees together with our changes to no-win, no-fee arrangements will reduce legal costs and speculative suing, so businesses, schools and individuals can be less fearful of unnecessary claims encouraged by those looking for profit rather than justice.’


Britain has had enough of deception. It's time to close the yawning gap between the ruling and the ruled

How's this for a starkly unequivocal promise? ‘The European Union has evolved significantly since the last public vote on membership over 30 years ago. Liberal Democrats, therefore, remain committed to an in/out referendum the next time a British Government signs up for fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU.’

Such was the solemn manifesto pledge made to the British people by every Lib Dem candidate who stood for election less than 18 months ago.

Yet on Monday night, guess how many of the party’s 57 MPs stood by that promise and voted for a Commons motion approving the principle of an EU referendum that would include an in/out option?

The shocking answer is just one — Adrian Sanders of Torbay — a solitary honourable man in a party of puppets. As with tuition fees, the other 56 apparently thought nothing of breaking their word to the people who voted them into power.

Or how about this for another unequivocal manifesto pledge? ‘We will be positive members of the European Union but we are clear that there should be no further extension of the EU’s power over the UK without the British people’s consent. We will ensure that by law, no future Government can hand over areas of power to the EU or join the euro without a referendum of the British people.’

So said the Conservatives, every one of them, before that same election in May 2010 — and all praise to the 96 (out of 306) Tories who mounted the biggest rebellion in their party’s modern history on Monday night, keeping their word to their constituents and defying their leader’s orders to vote against the motion.

But given that manifesto pledge, what in the name of integrity possessed David Cameron to impose a three-line whip in the first place, instructing his MPs to breach their electors’ trust on pain of losing their government jobs or their hopes of promotion to the front bench?

And how profoundly depressing and unedifying to see those lifelong Eurosceptics William Hague and Michael Gove wriggling like maggots on a hook as they betrayed every belief about Europe they’ve espoused throughout their political careers.

Truly, there is something hideously wrong with the state of democracy in Britain today, when candidates say one thing to the electorate, only to be told by their party leaders to do the direct opposite when they are voted into the Commons.

The supreme irony of Monday’s debate is that it was called in answer to a mass public petition, in accordance with a pre-election Conservative pledge that was meant to prove the party’s determination to reconnect the political class with the people. In the event, the e-petition gimmick served only to highlight and deepen the yawning democratic deficit between the rulers and the ruled.

Nowhere, of course, has that deficit been more glaringly apparent over the years than in the political establishment’s contempt for voters in all matters touching upon Europe.

Indeed, the entire history of the relentless expansion of the EU’s powers since we joined what was then the Common Market in 1973 has been a tale of brazen deceit, broken promises and disenfranchisement of the electorate by all three major political parties.

Remember Labour’s 2005 manifesto pledge on the new European Constitution? ‘We will put it to the British people in a referendum.’ Nothing, surely, could have been more unequivocal.

Yet when it came to signing the Lisbon Treaty, in which the new constitution was enshrined, Gordon Brown conveniently forgot about it. Or, rather, he fobbed off the public with the monstrous lie that Lisbon (referred to in official documents as ‘the Constitutional Treaty’) was not, in fact, a European Constitution at all.

The Tories and Lib Dems were no better. Both promised explicitly to put the Constitution to a referendum. But as soon as they were in a position to do so, they smirked and said: ‘No point now. Lisbon’s been signed.’

Wherever Europe is concerned, there’s always some snivelling shyster’s excuse, some weasel-worded legalistic technicality seized on by the politicians to wriggle out of their commitment to give the public their say. (And these days, when all else fails, there’s always that catch-all standby: ‘Sorry, old boy. The Coalition agreement won’t allow it.’)

So it is that, one by one, the ancient powers of Britain’s once sovereign Parliament, paid for by the blood of our ancestors, slip away to Brussels — into the hands of unaccountable European Commission, where voters will never be able to touch them again.

(And how can we boast of the West’s belief in liberal representative government while that abomination against democracy holds increasing sway over every aspect of our lives, from immigration control to working hours?)

Meanwhile in the Continent’s capitals, the Europhile political class pushes its ambitions ever further, enmeshing one nation after another in its anti-democratic web.

Today, on the streets of Athens, Lisbon, Madrid, Rome and Dublin, we are seeing the disastrous consequences of those political ambitions. For the slow-motion car crash of the euro — long predicted by wiser heads who understood the economic madness of a one-size-fits-all single currency for countries as diverse as Germany and Greece — is bringing misery and unemployment to countless millions.

How deeply disturbing is the news, then, that the Eurozone countries have called off today’s summit because they can’t even agree on an agenda. And more worrying still is the latest appeal to the International Monetary Fund, which will mean — you’ve guessed it — once again, British taxpayers will be involved in bailing out the euro.

Let the Mail lay all its cards on the table. This paper has no desire for Britain to pull out of Europe — and particularly not at a time like this, when withdrawal would add immeasurably to the uncertainties threatening our recovery and rocking the confidence of the markets. For the same reason, we earnestly hope EU leaders will find a solution that saves the euro from disorderly collapse.

Inevitably, we believe, this will mean re‑writing the EU constitution yet again, to bring the countries of the Eurozone under a single economic government, with more uniform tax and spending policies — almost certainly to be dictated by Germany.

Whether this can work in the long run is anybody’s guess. The Mail doubts it. But in the depths of this crisis, we see no other way. Herein, of course, lies great danger for Britain. For as a leopard never changes its spots, so the Euro empire-builders will surely seek to extend any new fiscal and regulatory powers beyond the Eurozone, with their eyes fixed firmly, as ever, on the wealth of the City of London.

But here, also, lies a golden opportunity, perhaps never to be repeated, to redefine our own relationship with the EU in a way that sets democracy back on its rightful throne at Westminster.

For what the Mail wants passionately — and we believe the overwhelming majority of Britons share our wish — is to reclaim powers over such matters as immigration, social policy and business regulation, which should never have been conceded to Brussels and which are daily threatening our ability to compete with developing super-giant economies such as India and China.

We have no illusions. Yet again, the Europhile elite will seek to introduce its constitutional changes in a way that leaves a loophole for the Coalition to duck out of its statutory obligation to hold a referendum on the transfer of any new powers to the EU.

So the Mail has a simple proposal: let there be a single-question referendum, asking the public if we wish to reclaim powers from Brussels, yes or no. True, it will not satisfy those who wish to withdraw altogether. But for them, better this than the nothing they will otherwise be offered.

As for the timing, let the referendum be called the moment a new treaty is drawn up. Or if it becomes clear that the new rules are to be introduced on the sly, without a treaty, then let it be held within 12 months from today.

There can be no more lies, no more deceit, no more creeping federalism without consent. This time, those unequivocal manifesto promises must be honoured. Only then will our political class redeem the disgrace of Monday night — and begin to reconnect with the people they were elected to represent.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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