Australian Constitution 2.0

Posted: August 30, 2011 in Australia, politics

Australia is a lucky country. Blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a beautiful environment, and despite a checkered history, it has grown to become a wealthy, freedom loving and respected middle power, with an enviable parliamentary democracy that serves it purpose. Militarily, it can proudly boast to have played a major role in the defeat of tyrannies and to have supported the spread of democracy. As a nation, Australia has grown out of it Anglo-Celtic birth shroud – born of a British invasion and years of the ‘White Australia’ policy, and now welcomes new arrivals from all corners of the globe. Mediterranean, East European and Asian Australians now form fully integrated major parts of the Australian community. For the most part, the nation is reconciling with its birth through invasion and its poor treatment of the indigenous population in the past, even having grow mature enough to have said “sorry” for their past mistreatment.

The Australian system of government is confusing to many from outside the system. Australia’s origin as six separate British colonies that joined together to become a federal Commonwealth of Australia, placed it amongst those nations that were part of the core of the 20th century British Empire as semi-independent dominions. Unified and loyal, but unsure of how to proceed without losing the locally ‘British’ identities that they had forged, the colonies became states in a three-tiered system of government – Federal, State, and local – and much confused division of powers between the tiers followed. The States and the Federal Government have even sometimes clashed and worked at cross purposes.

It also confuses outsiders that the Australian head of state – the Queen of Australia, is not an Australian at all. With its own parliament of locally elected officials, and with a system of constitutional monarchy, it was independent in every way, except that the newly created Australian monarchy was, and still is, held by the current British head of state.

Whilst there is no need to turn our backs upon the role Britain has played in the formation of Australia, nor indeed, to shy from it, the current system does not best serve Australia any longer. It is time to move onto a new system – better representative of modern Australia, its values and community. The British monarchy and the Union Flag in the upper staff quarter of the Australian defaced blue and red ensigns, proclaim to the world a sense of subjugation to Britain, whether Australians feel it or not, and have no personal meaning to the hundreds of thousands of Australian migrant-citizens whose ancestry is not British. There is no need to stop celebrating Australia’s British origins, systems, influences and cultural infusions but we no longer have to hold onto them so jealously as well. We can look back fondly on the British foundation whilst still growing away from it into our newer role as a multicultural Asian middle power.

I think there are a number of things Australia could improve upon by creating a new world-leading model of republicanism – less corporate influence and interference in government, better political representation and accountability, reduction of party politics and political scheming , less branch stacking and gerrymandering, recognition of traditional indigenous ownership and proper reflection of this in their ceremonial and constitutional role in parliament, and less bureaucracy and corruption…

Much of the constitution can be retained, or re-written as is but to better reflect modern Australia. Changes should include:

CONSTITUTION:
1. Official recognition of the Indigenous Australians as the traditional owners, and that Britain invaded illegally, but that by historical precedence, Australia is now home to both indigenous Australians and all subsequent migrants. It should seek a consensual treaty agreement whereby the Commonwealth of Australia and representatives of all indigenous groups agree to the formation of an inclusive Republic of Australia. This clause should also make a final resolution on the guardianship of sites of sacred significance. This may also incorporate a guaranteed seat in the Senate for indigenous people, if they wish it. Or the formation of a Council of Elders, that must be consulted on all matters related to indigenous affairs, and the sale or usage of any Federal land with traditional significance. The Council of Elders should also be responsible for holding traditional Welcome to Country ceremonies for visiting dignitaries, and ceremonial openings of parliament and regional government assemblies.
2. An Australian Head of State elected by the people, but WITH constitutional powers to form government, dismiss prime ministers. I would even investigate giving the Prime Minister’s role to the new president or whatever they are to be called. I am opposed to purely ceremonial posts as it is a waste of money. I would also require this person to be non-party political.
3. Weakening of party politics through constitutional limitations, at least in the upper house (Senate). We need to get back to politicians representing their local communities, not focusing on the interests of corporate businesses that sponsor their party, or propping up party interests in other regions.

SYSTEM OF GOVERNANCE:

Remain a federation, but three-tier system (Federal, State, Local) replaced by two-tier system – (Federal and Regional) with states abolished and municipal councils merged into regional bodies of approximately equal population distribution – this should see New South Wales sub-divided into 14 regions, Victoria divided into 13, Queensland divided into 11, Western Australia divided into nine, South Australia divided into five, Tasmania divided into three, Northern Territory into two and the ACT remaining one. Cities over 1 million in population (Currently Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide) should have their own regional government, separate from the surrounding regions.

http://epress.anu.edu.au/anzsog/fra/mobile_devices/ch02s02.html

SEPARATION OF POWERS:

The Separation of Powers should be clearly defined and entrenched in the constitution. That being the Legislature, comprising the Federal and Regional bodies, the Executive, being the President, and Regional Premiers, and the Judiciary, being the High Court of Australia and the Federal Court of Australia, and the Regional Supreme Courts. Each Region would also operate local magistrates and coroner’s courts. Family law disputes should pass to the responsibility of regional judiciaries.

LEGISLATION AND POLICING:

All law-making powers should pass to the Federal government to standardise legal systems throughout the regions. The current system where certain laws apply on one side of state borders and not on the other is ludicrous and confusing for border communities. Policing should be the inherited responsibility of the regional bodies though, although funded through Federal funding. Agricultural quarantine zones should remain in place though, but administered by the Federal authorities.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT:

The House of Representatives to remain largely unchanged – with a continuation of 150 members, however all electorates should be reorganised to ensure as exact as possible equal population distribution – at the moment the variation is as great as some with 60,000 members, and others with 120,000. The leader of the lower house to remain Prime Minister, as per new constitutional powers outlined above. A Speaker, appointed by the incumbent president will chair proceedings of the House of Representatives.

The current Senate should be replaced by a new variation, in which the new regions are represented by two senators each, totaling approximately 60 members. The Senate should be directly chaired by the President of the Senate, possibly with a new title to avoid confusion with the head of state. The indigenous community o be consulted over whether they would like a guaranteed seat on the Senate, or the establishment of a 12 member council of elders who are to be always consulted on matters of indigenous affairs and federal land sales.

Federal Government will therefore be responsible for the provision of defence, quarantine and immigration, international relations, trade and commerce, taxation and currency, the environment, resolving regional disputes and challenges to the rulings of regional courts, and any other specific issues as already carried out by the Federal Government.

REGIONAL GOVERNMENTS:

The regional bodies should not have responsibility for policy making except at a local level, leaving the regional bodies to focus more directly on the needs of their community. All funding rests with the federal government, who allocate it proportionally, and it is the responsibility for the regional body to provide services based on local needs, federal policy and funding. They are also responsible for hearing local concerns and raising them with their appropriate Senators, who will be charged with ensuring local concerns get fair hearing in the Federal Parliament.

Regional bodies will therefore essentially be responsible for local law-enforcement (policing) and justice (Supreme, Magistrate’s, Coroner’s and Family Courts); the provision of healthcare – at least one regional hospital and three super clinics; provision of education; provision of water supply, and road, rail and infrastructure maintenance. Regional bodies are also responsible for dealing with all localised issues as they may arise.

This should reduce duplication and wastage, state/federal bickering and politicking, and create better regional representation in proportion to capital cities.

http://www.alga.asn.au/newsroom/speeches/2006/20060508.php

PRESIDENT:

Directly elected by popular vote – first past the post in overall total votes (no electorates or electoral college style systems). Must not be a member of political parties, and should be a prominent Australian with a record of long standing service to Australia. Any member of either house of parliament can make nominations, and the public must be able to make suggestions to their MP or Senator.

Constitutional and Ceremonial powers to include: responsibility for calling elections, calling government and opening parliament, dismissing under-performing or negligent governments, meeting foreign dignitaries and heads of state, presenting awards and honours.

FLAG & ANTHEM:

OK, I know this is massively contentious – not all republicans want to change the flag, and not all monarchists want to keep it (although I think most of the latter probably do!). But I do think it is symbolic of our past as British colonies, our time as a Commonwealth Realm, and no longer fully representative of modern Australia. It has certainly never been representative of indigenous Australia. I am not calling on the flag to be changed for changes sake, nor for us to shun it as an embarrassment, but to be grateful for its service, remember it fondly, and move on to a new flag, that represents the first Australians and all subsequent Australians as well.

I know thousands of soldiers fought and died for God, King, Country and the Flag, and that will never be forgotten, regardless of the replacement. But that is not a reasonable argument to refuse to progress towards a better, more inclusive future.

The new flag should be chosen through a public submission competition, with a shortlist complied by a panel of say 12 prominent Australians drawn from a wide variety of ethnicity, professions and persuasions and then the final choice made by full public referendum.

I think the same should apply for the choice of a new anthem. I would not be opposed to including Advance, Australia Fair for reconsideration, but I think it is probably ready for public review.

I envisage a new world leading parliamentary republic, fully representative, acknowledging and embracing all Australians from the original inhabitants to the most recent migrants and celebrating the way all of us contribute to Australia being one of the best, progressive thinking, peace and freedom loving nations in the world.

The World Cup in South Africa was meant to bring together the ‘dark continent’ and leave a legacy of hope and unity for Africa’s future. There was even optimistic talk that maybe, just maybe, the 6.5kg, 18-carat gold and malachite trophy might be won by an African side.

Instead it has left poverty-stricken South Africa with a £3.5 billion bill, and a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. Don’t get me wrong, many accounts have suggested that the local’s hospitality and generousness of spirit has shown no bounds, and that many visitors have taken away a wonderful experience full of African flavour and flair.

However there has been a much darker experience of this world cup. In a poverty-stricken country where every extra rand earned makes a huge difference, FIFA’s insistence on commercial protection against even the smallest vendors has bordered on gross protectionism of the worst kind. We are not talking about simply seeing off the big multi-national rivals of major sponsors, such as the Dutch beer brand who ambush-marketed a Netherlands match with pretty girls in orange dresses, but more the ‘little people’, such as the ‘Jo’burg’ woman whose self-made food stall on which she depended for her livelihood, selling authentic, South African homemade food to very interested International tourists, had to be forcibly shut down by police in order to protect the profits of official sponsor McDonalds – a product they can all get at home. She had been quite happily making a small living selling this food to Soccer City stadium workers in the build up to the tournament, but as soon as the football fan tourists hove into view, the police dragged her and her stall off. Or the man who was selling hand-crafted key-chains featuring a small football, a metallic map of Africa and a ‘2010’, as well as a small vuvuzela. These had to be confiscated less they interfere with the profiteering of official merchandise. Interestingly enough, kicking out and arresting the Dutch beer girls seems to have drawn more attention to the beer brand than ignoring them probably would have done. Sales have sky-rocketed as a result of this FIFA own goal (It’s called ‘Bavaria’, if you are interested, and is quite a decent drop!)

FIFA’s ignorance of the opportunity they had to help heal a broken South Africa even extended to the official venue staff. The world’s governing body awarded a multi-million pound contract for stadium security to ‘Stallion Security Consortium’, who were highly embarrassed the day before the game between USA and England – possibly the biggest security threat in the whole tournament, when a British reporter for the Evening Standard managed to wander into just about every area of the stadium, including the players dressing rooms, completely unchallenged.  If that was embarrassing, they disgraced themselves when it emerged that the executives were on hundred-thousand pound salaries, and the poor, mostly local black stewards, were originally offered a paltry (but normal by local standards) 450 rand (about £25) per 15 hour shift, only to actually be given 126 rand (about £8.50) per shift. During these gruelling shifts, they had to endure the harsh cold of the South African winter (yes it gets freezing there at night in June) without any officially issued protective clothing. They were also only offered one meal a shift, and some complained the food was either rotten or had been left out during the whole shift. Unsurprisingly, they decided to strike in order to receive the wages they had originally been offered. Not wanting to face the embarrassment of calling off matches, FIFA called on the local police to disperse the security staff with tear gas, and install police guards as match stewards. The show must go on!

As I mentioned, the World Cup in South Africa has still managed to impose a certain ‘African-ness’ on the cup so far. Aside from the earthy African colours, tribal music, and the rather strange Dung Beetle ‘renewing life’ during the opening ceremony, the most obviously African element of the 2010 Cup, has been the incessant use en masse of the local horn known as a ‘vuvuzela’. Love it or hate it, there is probably very few people in the world today who have not had some experience of hearing the buzzing drone of this instrument. Indeed it has been so hard to ignore, that sometimes the commentary and pitch-side sound effects have been drowned out. When blown in large numbers within a football stadium, it produces a buzzing din which sounds like deadly swarms of Tanaostigmodes tambotis (that’s a species of Afrotropical Apoidea, or super-wasp, common to South Africa). This effect is especially acute when the trumpeters decide to blow in concerto in crescendo-ing waves, giving the effect the swarm of wasps is circling around, ready to deliver their deadly stings at any moment.

Some people apparently do enjoy this buzzing din. For me personally, my 2010 FIFA World Cup vuvuzela highlight was the noticeable absence of them in the England vs Slovenia match, in which it was replaced by that old-fashioned but irreplaceable football terrace activity known as singing. So much more pleasant. Indeed, made even the more so, by the sound of 15,000 English fans singing, in the ever-creative way they always do: ‘You can shove your vuvuzelas up your arse, You can shove your vuvuzelas up your arse, you can shove your vuvuzelas, shove your vuvuzelas, shove your vuvuzelas up your arse!’

This has all been before we have even stepped onto the pitch as well! Another FIFA balls-up, has been the ball itself. The ‘Jabulani’ African-themed ball (it’s name means ‘rejoice’ in Zulu), has caused upset and frustration for many of the players. Supertars who can usually be relied upon to hit the target from range have been constantly embarrassed and confused as their attempts at wonder-strikes from distance continue soaring up, up and away towards the nose-bleed seats. It also seemingly resulted in the lowest ever tally of goals after all teams had played one match in any world cup. Ever. And that, despite both Germany and Argentina scoring four each in their first matches. Surprisingly, some players have come out in support of the ball. Unsurprisingly, all of the players who have supported it seem to be personally sponsored by the ball’s manufacturer, Adidas.

Regardless of the ball we have also seen some pretty insipid performances from teams expected to do well. It is the first time the previous champions (Italy), and runners-up (France) have ever gone out in the first round. South Africa also suffered the ignominy of becoming the first ever host nation to go out in the first round. Africa’s other promising contingent of Cameroon, Ivory Coast and Nigeria all also disappointed by failing to progress, with only Ghana’s ‘Black Stars’ keeping the host-continent’s hopes alive. Out of the pre-tournament favourites, England proved the biggest disappointment, but despite their boorish early displays, they were ultimately undone by an absolutely dreadful refereeing error in their round of 16 match against arch-rivals Germany. Uruguayan referee Jorge Larrionda and his compatriot linesman somehow both failed to spot that Frank Lampard’s shot had ricocheted down off the cross bar and bounced a full metre inside the goal before spinning back out into the hands of the German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, who best explains what happened next himself: “I tried not to react to the referee and just concentrate on what was happening. I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over.” I guess that makes him not just a cheat but a boastful cheat to boot. It is true that the German’s went on to win 4-1, but all could see that the non-goal had left the English players demoralised, and their second half performance was hollow. Going in 2-2 at half time would have completely changed the complexion of the match.

Disappointingly, that glaring error has not been an isolated event. Even on the same day a dreadful offside call allowed Argentina’s Carlos Teves to claim an illegal goal and seal the fate of a spirited Mexico side. Indeed it is hard to remember any tournament, ever held, anywhere with so many cataclysmic refereeing howlers. Perhaps the benchmark was set before it even all began, in the France vs Ireland play-off, when Tierry Henry, a player most had previously considered to be above such juvenile cheating, clearly paddled the ball back into play with his hand in order to allow France to score the winner and undeservedly qualify for the finals. The benchmark was set. Under ‘can-do-no-wrong’ protection from FIFA, referees have blundered through, and ruined many matches at the 2010 finals – and taken the hopes of many teams along with them.

In Australia’s first match against powerful Germany, their job was made so much the harder, when Mexican official Marco Rodriguez sent off team talisman Tim Cahill for a challenge in which he won the ball. That decision turned a survivable 2-0, into a 4-0 route, and the Aussies eventually went out only on goal difference. But just to add to their troubles, they got done again in their second match. Having completely outplayed Ghana for the first 25 minutes, and already 1-0 up, their second best player Harry Kewell was given marching orders by Italian Roberto Rosetti, for hand ball on the goal line. Now the ball did hit his arm – his arm, that was firmly tucked against his body and in no way trying to control the ball. Law 12 clearly states the player must be making a deliberate action with the hand or arm to control the ball. Ghana equalised from the penalty, and with a numerical advantage hung on for a 1-1 draw. Chaill’s send off was made to look all the more silly when the next day, in the Italy vs Paraguay match, Mexican ref Tellez only gave a yellow to Paraguay’s Caceres for challenge in which he came in from behind and nearly broke the legs of Italy’s Riccardo Montolivo. French referee Stephane Lannoy, somehow contrived to interpret Ivory Coast’s Keita running into Brazilian Kaka as a foul, brandishing a straight red. In the same match he somehow completely forgot to notice Luis Fabiano blatantly handling the ball for Brazil’s first goal as well. USA were robbed when a perfectly good match winning goal goal against Slovenia was given as a foul. For what, no one is quite sure to this day. USA can also feel aggrieved that not one, but two perfectly good goals were disallowed by Hungarian Viktor Kassai in their 2-1 round of 16 loss to Ghana. In the round of 16 clash between Spain and Portugal, despite being 1-0 up, Spanish player Capdevila took a massive dive that everybody except Argentinian referee Hector Baldassi laughed at – instead Hector gave Ricardo Costa an even more laughable red card. The litany of errors is even longer, but that summarise the worst of the match changing ones. Yes FIFA, some of us do keep tabs. Has their ever been such a bulging catalogue of officialdom errors in such a short space of time? The standard of refereeing in South Africa has not only blighted this world cup, but also ruined it as a fair sporting contest.

FIFA have lost touch with what the game is about. How it inspires people, lifts their spirits, and gives them hope. In the quest to profit, the game has been totally commercialised, and has become an ugly thing as a result. The players are overpaid, spoiled prima-donnas, who think they are owed something and play accordingly. They no longer feel the connection, passion and pride of the fans, and seemingly no longer care. Indeed the grossly inflated cash of the Premier League has done more to tear players attention away from what the game is really about than anything else, and this is now reflecting a lack of pride in their national crests. Do you not see the anguish and pain on the fans faces. You should fight with your life for them, as many of them make massive sacrifices to follow and support you.

I am sure many people will take away happy memories from South Africa 2010, not least the side who eventually lift the trophy, but I am sure much of the local population, deprived of their only chance to witness such a spectacle in their own country, probably for the only time in their lifetimes, and also deprived of any opportunity to profit or even benefit from it, will not be amongst them. And nor I, as a true fan of what used to be a beautiful game, played by champions in a usually fair and honest way, will take happy memories from this tournament. My only hope is that in four years time, 32 of the world’s best international teams will descend on Brazil, and the local spirit will inspire the Brazilian philosophy of joga bonito – ‘beautiful play’.

 

  With the General Election now just a week away, and the Leadership debates done and dusted, I thought it time to summarise who the parties are, and what they actually stand for. (Apologies to Scots, Irish and Welsh – it is an English perspective!)

The Labour Party

HISTORY

The Labour Party was born out of the trade union movement in 1900 with the aim of giving a political voice to the working classes. Initially left-wing, the party was designed to bring about social change through the creation of a more egalitarian society.

The 1910 election saw 42 Labour MPs elected, and by the early 1920s Labour had replaced the Liberal Party as the second most popular in the country. Their first time in power was when Ramsay MacDonald formed a minority government in 1924 with the consent of Asquith’s Liberal Party. Since then, there has been six Labour Prime Ministers, two of them, MacDonald and Harold Wilson, both serving two split terms. In the same period there has been eleven Conservative Prime Ministers.

During World War II, Labour leader Clement Attlee was Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government alongside the conservative Winston Churchill, and prepared a report on improving welfare, which swept Labour convincingly to power in the 1945 election during the closing stages of the war. Although in opposition for more time than in government, the twentieth century did see Labour responsible for the creation of the welfare state and the nationalisation of the coal and steel industry, as well as the railways. Labour presided over economic misery and the pound’s devaluation in the 1970s, and was destroyed by Margaret Thatcher’s conservatives at the 1979 election, going on to lose the next four in a row.

In the run up to the 1997 election, Labour were desperate to break the Tories, so new leader  Tony Blair with his ‘New Labour’ movement, shifted the party increasingly into a centrist stance. Although predominantly ‘Centre-Left’, the Labour Party does express policies that could be considered rightist, and has become pro-big business, pro-big government, and pro-unregulated capitalism. It was during Brown’s time as Chancellor that British banks boomed on sub-prime and predatory lending, easy credit, over-leveraging, deceptive risk pricing, and of course, the hyper-inflated bonuses. The public were of course, suitably outraged when tax-payers money was required to salvage the banking system, from a financial crisis they had created. Many unhappy observers noted a lack of government supervision or regulation. It was also noticed that some of the Banks continued to pay the bonuses, even after the tax-money bail-out.

The most recent Labour governments, those of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, have also presided over two wars. One was a possibly illegal and very unpopular war in Iraq, and the other a less controversial war in Afghanistan against fundamentalist Islam, which is seen as a direct threat to Britain. Both have brought widespread criticism to the Labour government over their lack of provision of proper resources to the military to succeed in those conflicts.

Some of the other experiences of the recent Labour government include: Independence for the Bank of England; the Ecclestone tobacco controversy; the Belfast Peace Agreement for Northern Ireland; The Human Rights Act; devolution to Scotland and Wales; the first steps to House of Lords reform; the introduction of a minimum wage; Britain’s involvement in the Kosovo War; the creation of Greater London Authority and Mayoralty of London; top-up fees introduced for university tuition; The Civil Partnership Act; The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and the creation of a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom; the 2005 London bombings; the Cash for Honours scandal; the introduction of a widely unpopular national identity card scheme; the London car bombs and Glasgow Airport attack; foot-and-mouth outbreak (2007); The 2007 child benefit data loss; The 2007 driver test data loss; the ‘Donorgate Scandal’ in which the Labour party failed to publicly declare cash donations via third parties; the the nationalisation of Northern Rock bank to save it from folding following the subprime mortgage crisis; the passing of the Treaty of Lisbon without referendum, despite the promise of one; the 2008 Home Office offenders data loss; the 2008 RAF personnel data loss; the 2008 Defence contractor EDS data loss; the 2008 Works and Pensions data loss; the introduction of 42 Day detention without charge, ending nearly 800 years of protection from unlawful detention through Habeas Corpus; the abolition of the 10p Tax rate; the financial crisis of 2007–2010, largely brought about by unregulated banking in the UK & USA; the Parliamentary expenses scandal; and the Chilcot Inquiry into the legality of the Iraq War.

POLICIES

Traditionally centre-left and allied to Trade Unions, eighteen years of opposition saw Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ move into a much more ‘centrist’ position in order to woo back disenfranchised Tory voters. They introduced the ‘Third Way’ to British politics, which is essentially a compromise between their traditional position of democratic socialism, and a belief in unregulated free-market capitalism. Under New Labour, the party has adopted a neoliberalism approach to economy, favouring minimum state intervention, and maximising the business sector. They have also shown willingness to privatise government assets and industries. In 2001, party stalwart Peter Mandelson famously stated: “We are all Thatcherites now.”

The Labour Party continues to advocate the Third Way, which rejects laissez-faire and socialist approaches to economic management, instead placing emphasis on competition and deregulation to create continued growth. Traditional socialism had been marginalised in New Labour, although Labour does still advocate some socialist policies, such as government ownership of certain key industries, intervention in the economy, redistribution of wealth, workers rights, the welfare state, and publicly funded education and healthcare.

The Labour Party has brought about greater government intervention in society, creating ASBOs (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders); allowing councils to create ‘controlled drinking areas'; allowing detention without charge; attempting to introduce biometric identity cards; permitting the police to store DNA records of people who have not been charged with an offence; introducing police powers to ‘stop-and-search’ without lawful suspicion; permitting electronic and telephone interceptions without warrant; and permitting police to prevent photography of public places or events. Despite these introductions, widely aimed at reducing crime, anti-social behaviour, and terrorism, all of these issues have grown under the current labour government.

The Labour Party is in favour of greater European integration, but is thought to be generally opposed to the adoption of the Euro – having placed difficult pre-requisites in the way. Whilst not advocating independence, the Labour Party has shown willingness to allow greater self-control for the four British nations, and has introduced devolution of many areas of interest, including economic policy to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and created national assemblies for those three states. Despite this, they have resisted the creation of an English Parliament.

The Conservative Party

HISTORY

The Conservative Party has existed in it’s current form since 1912 after merging with Liberal Unionists, but is essentially a modern continuation of the Tory Party. The Tory Party was formed in 1678 in opposition to the Whigs. Following the War of Three Kingdoms, a deep rift existed in Britain over the nature of the monarchy and the extent of royal power, and the hereditary ascendance of Catholics to the throne. The Whigs were strongly opposed to absolute monarchy, and wanted to prevent the Catholic James, Duke of York from becoming King. The Tories were mostly aristocrats who supported the crown, and saw the King as a powerful check on parliament, and their Whig opponents.

Despite that, the Whigs dominated parliament for several decades in the 17th and 18th centuries, until the rise of William Pitt the Younger. In 1783, he became the youngest Prime Minister ever elected, when at the age of 24 he took advantage of the disaster of the American War of Independence to rise to power. His platform of free trade and strong economic management saw him introduce income tax for the first time, reduce the war debt, reform the constitution, and successfully lead Britain in the Revolutionary War with France.

In the 1830s the party was split between free tradists, and agricultural protectionists, because of Robert Peel’s plans to abolish Corn Laws, which fixed high food prices. The split saw Peel’s faction use the term ‘Conservatives’ for the first time, though party members have continued to be called Tories. The party reunited under the strong leadership of Benjamin Disraeli. In 1886 the party again split over the issue of Home Rule for Ireland, but the strongest branch merged with the Liberal unionists in 1912, to create the modern Conservative Party.

Since that time, the party has represented the centre-right, and has primarily been associated with landowners and the aristocracy, and more recently the middle classes. The Conservative Party was in power for more than two-thirds of the 20th century, and had 13 different Prime Ministers during that time. Hit by scandal they lost control in the 1960s, but saw Labour plunge the nation into recession.

Margaret Thatcher fought her way into control of the party, and declared war on the Labour-Trade Union power-pact, which was crippling British economic growth. She won the 1979 election on a platform of economic reform, and set about privatising national industries and weakening the unions. She declared war on Argentina when they tried to invade the Falkland Islands, and the British success in that campaign bolstered her popularity enormously.

She was removed by an internal power struggle, and her replacement, John Major, was a less effective leader. The party was soon embroiled in bitter infighting for the leadership, and suffered from sleaze scandals, including a a “cash for questions” row. By 1997 it was clear that after 18 years in power, the Tories had lost touch with the people, and lost their way, and they suffered a crushing defeat to Tony Blair’s New Labour movement in that year’s election.

POLICIES

The Conservatives, or Tories, are firmly centre-right, but consist of three differing factions. The first, named for former leader Margaret Thatcher, are the Thatcherites, who are Eurosceptic, and support free market with a laissez-faire approach to industry and economic governance. The second faction are the One Nation Conservatives, who are the most ‘left’ part of the Tory Party, being economically moderate, but socially conservative, and favouring traditional British values. The third group are the Libertarian Conservative Way Forward, which is the most Eurosceptic and Atlanticist (favouring ties with the United States over Europe).

The Tories are still strongly in favour of British unionism (keeping the four constituent countries together as the UK), and are strongly opposed to Scottish independence. They are in favour of issues of social and moral liberal conservatism, an example of which can be seen in Cameron’s tax incentives for married couples. They favour of a libertarian economy, low taxes, and small government. The seek to overhaul the welfare system, ensuring those who need care can access it, but preventing the widespread welfare abuses that currently exist.

The Tories are opposed to handing powers to the European Union, and oppose Britain adopting the Euro. Although not opposed to NATO, the Tories are opposed to the European Defence Agency, and would withdraw Britain from both its programme of European defence integration and the EU battlegroups. They wish to carry out a strategic defence review (the last was in 1997), setting out a new future direction for British defence capabilities.

Widely criticised for failing to have respectable environmental policies in the past, the Tories have much improved in that area under the leadership of bicycle-riding leader David Cameron.

The Liberal Democrat Party

HISTORY

The Liberal Democrats were formed in 1988 by a merger of the original Liberal party, and the Social Democratic Party. The Liberal Party has existed since 1859, when they emerged out of the Whig Party, one of the original two political parties in the United Kingdom. The Whigs had originally believed in opposition to absolute rule by the monarchy, and support of constitutional monarchy, where the monarch was restrained in expression of power, and had to differ certain powers to the parliament.

By the mid-nineteenth century, some Whigs had formed a coalition with free trade Tory followers of Robert Peel, and free trade Radicals, to form the Liberal Party. The Whigs survived for a few more years but the party grew in insignificance, and the Liberals became the main rivals of the Tories.

The Earl of Aberdeen was their first Prime Minister in 1852, though at the time they were known as ‘Peelites’. The first Liberal Prime Minister in their own right was The Viscount Palmerston, who began his second term in 1859, having previously been PM as a Whig. He was succeeded by The Earl Russell in 1865. William Gladstone was next in 1868 and again in 1880 and again in 1886 and again in 1892! The Earl of Rosebury was the next Liberal Prime Minister, followed by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-08), Herbert Asquith (1908-16), and David Llyod George (1916-22), who was the last Liberal Prime Minister. After he lost office to the Conservatives of Andrew Bonar Law, the Liberals soon began to fade from significance, replaced as the second party by Labour.

The rise of Social Liberalism, or new liberalism which called for personal liberty and minimum government intervention played towards Labour. The Liberal Party lost much support in the inter-war years, and shifted toward a policy Keynesian economics, but the message did not get through to the electorate. By the 1940s and 50s support had dwindled dramatically, and if not for a revival under the strong leadership of Jo Grimond in the 1960s, who positioned the party as a centrist alternative to left-socialism and communism, and the mid-right Tories, the Liberals would have become extinct.

Depsite the clever politics of Grimond, it was not until the 1988 merger of the Liberal party and the Social Democratic Party, forming the Liberal Democrats, that they started to regain real momentum. The new party was led by former Liberal MP Paddy Ashdown, but their first test was an embarrassing fourth place behind the greens at the 1989 European elections. Despite the early setback, Ashdown proved a capable leader, and they took 20 seats in the 1992 election.

Ashdown began negotiating with new Labour leader Tony Blair, and the two discussed the possibility of a Lib-Dem-Labour coalition government, in order to oust the Tories. They began a campaign of concentrating on winnable seats, and in the 1997 General Election, which swept Labour out of the wilderness and into power, they also profited from the decline of the Tories, winning 46 seats. Remarkably, they took the newly created seat of Kingston and Surbiton, both of which had been Tory strongholds for decades. It has been Lib-Dem ever since. Labours sweeping victory in that election meant Blair could govern in his own right, and he turned his back on the Lib-Dems.

Ashdown retired in 1999, being replaced by Charles Kennedy. He led them in the 2001 General Election, in which they again improved their share of the vote, moving up from 46 seats to 52. They took seats from both Labour and the Tories, and campaigned on improving civil liberties, electoral reform, including the introduction of proportional representation, and more open and honest government. Their opposition to the Iraq War in 2003, saw them steal two seats off Labour in by-elections in Brent East and Leicester South in 2003 and 2004 respectively, and in the 2005 General Election, they had their greatest ever success, winning 62 seats, and receiving more than a fifth of the entire vote nationwide.

2006 saw the party suffer a setback, when charismatic leader Charles Kennedy was forced to step aside, following a public admission of a long-running personal battle with alcoholism, and he was replaced by party stalwart Sir Menzies ‘Ming’ Campbell, who had been an MP for twenty years. Despite his experience, his advanced age in comparison to rivals Tony Blair and David Cameron did count against him, and by late 2007, support for the Lib-Dems dropped below 20% for the first time in over 15 years.

Nick Clegg, member for Sheffield Hallam, replaced Campbell in December 2007, bringing a younger, fresher face to the party’s leadership. Clegg began warning about his concerns over cheap credit and the direction banking was heading in, well before the financial crisis took hold, and he credited former economist and party treasury spokesman Vince Cable.

The party did well in 2008 local elections, winning control of 12 councils and installing over 1800 councillors nationwide. Clegg has gone from strength to strength, and performed exeptionally well in the 2010 General Election Leadership Debates, widely considered to have won the first two, and either winning or coming second in the third, depending on which polls you consult. Regardless, it clearly placed Labour as the third choice in most opinion polls, and saw the Lib-Dem support rise to around the 34% mark for the first time ever.

POLICIES

The Liberal Democrats, or Lib-Dems were traditionally centrist as the separate Liberals and Social Democrats, but after their merger, and the move to the centre by New Labour, they have drifted left in policy to fill the void left by Labour. Despite they, they remain socially progressive, and one of the key tenants of the Lib-Dem policy manifesto is the introduction of a fairer tax system, which they claim unfairly favours the rich. Overall they seek to introduce general tax cuts, and reduce the government burden on society. This would see the basic rate cut from 20p to 16p, it’s lowest level since World War , and raising the tax-free threshold to £10,000.

The seek political reform, and call for proportional representation in elections whilst trying to undo the two-party system that currently exists. The Lib-Dems want to see more community involvement in politics, and empowering the electorate with the ability to call their MP to account, even sacking them if dissatisfied with their performance.

The Lib-Dems favour social liberalism, believing the state should provide jobs, health care, and education, and protect civil rights and individual liberties. They call for better consumer protection, workers rights, and the reintroduction of civil liberties stripped by Labour. They are opposed to the ‘Nanny-State’ that has been increasingly introduced under Labour, but do favour the welfare state, and government provision of the necessities of life.

The Lib-Dems oppose nuclear power, favouring more sustainable options such as solar and wind-power, and eventually lead Britain towards a zero-carbon emission economy. They plan to introduce green-taxes on polluting industries, and support the creation of green jobs, as well as providing better protections for Britain’s rural and natural places.

They also wish to get rid of Britain’s nuclear weapons programme, freeing up money to better equip the military for the roles they actually provide in the current age.

The Green Party

HISTORY

The Green Party of England and Wales was formed in 1973, following the rise of environmental parties in Tasmania, New Zealand and Germany. Originally called PEOPLE, they became the Ecology Party in 1975, and the Green Party in 1985. By 1990, with the increase in Green movements around the globe, they became the Green Party of England and Wales. In the mid-70s they struggled to gain public support, with general awareness of environmental issues low. At the time the British economy was in tatters, and the majority of people were more concerned about jobs and welfare.

By the 1979 General Election they received 39,000 votes and party membership had risen over 5,000, but they still struggled to bring the environment to the fore at a time of economic recession. The 1985 re-branding coincided with a slow but steady rise in support, as more and more people began to show concern for the environment. In the 1987 General Election, they pulled more than 89,000 votes, but still failed to win a seat.

The Party’s true breakthrough came two year later, when at the 1989 European Elections, the Party managed a staggering 2,292,695 votes, or 15% of the overall vote on the ‘Campaign For Real Democracy’ slogan. It brought Sara Parkin and David Icke to public prominence, but due to Britain’s first-past-the-post system, they incredibly failed to win a single seat. Had their been proportional representation, they would have won 12 seats. By 1999, they had finally gained two seats in the European Parliament, and have been represented there ever since, with two current MEPs.

The Green Party had their largest show of support in the 2005 General Election, earning 281, 780 votes. They have continued to struggle to win seats in UK General Elections, but have had slightly more success in the regional assemblies and local councils. There are currently two Greens on the London Assembly, and 116 local councillors on other councils.

POLICIES

The Green Part is socially progressive, and primarily centre-left in policy. Their main platform is environmentalism, although their greatly expanded manifesto covers all of the topics of the major parties. The wish to increase the top rate of tax, placing the burden more fairly on high earners. They strongly favour the removal of gender bias in pay and conditions. They are moderately Eurosceptic, favouring membership of the EU, but opposing the Euro, European Defence Integration and common European foreign policy.

The Greens have a twelve-point plan to deal with climate change, which is by far the most developed policy of any British party. They seek to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and advocate a contraction and convergence policy on greenhouse gas emissions. They wish to wean the economy off reliance on mass consumption and encourage self-sufficiency, citing current levels of consumption and waste as being unsustainable. They are completely opposed to the use of nuclear power, and wish to remove Britain’s nuclear weapons programme. They favour renationalisation of the rail network and public utilities, suggesting privatisation has led to a reduction of service and increasing waste. They favour local transit schemes such as light rail, cycle systems, and pedestrianisation, and wish to use fuel duty and road pricing to discourage car ownership.

The Greens are strongly in favour of improved animal welfare, and are opposed to genetically modified food. They wish to reduce the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over the NHS, and improve community healthcare. They believe prohibition and criminalisation of drugs is ineffective, and are in favour of the legalisation of cannabis, and the decriminalisation of recreational drugs such as ecstasy, preferring and education, health and welfare approach to drug abuse. They wish to completely ban sponsorship by alcohol and tobacco companies.

The Green Party is in favour of British Republicanism, and wishes to abolish the monarchy, and are the only party to have an official policy on this (republicanism is technically illegal in Britain in accordance with the 1848 Treason Felony Act).

The UK Independence Party

HISTORY

The UK Independence Party was founded in 1993 in response to Britain being embarrassingly forced out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, following the devaluation of the pound. Party founder Alan Sked, merged the fairly insignificant Anti-Federalist League with strongly Eurosceptic members of the Conservative Party, to form UKIP. They campaigned in the 1997 election, but were overshadowed by both the revival of Labour, and the more popular Referendum party, who disappeared after that election with many of their members joining UKIP.

The Party won 3 seats in the European Parliament elections of 1999, but the party was soon plagued by years of in-fighting and leadership challenges. In 2006 Westminster Magistrates Court ordered the party to repay £14,481 of unlawful electoral donations received between 2004 and 2006, and in 2007 UKIP MEP Ashley Mote was charged with 21 counts of fraud. This was followed in 2009 by another MEP, Tome Wise, being charged with false accounting and money laundering.

The party has continued to struggle to find public support to to the general perception that they are a single-policy party, only focused on withdrawal from the European Union.

POLICIES

The UK Independence Party primarily campaigns on a platform of Euroscepticism. They are primarily conservative, and prefer small government and economic liberalism. They favour complete withdrawal from the European Union, and strongly oppose foreign ownership of British companies and institutions.

UKIP seeks to replace the May Day bank holiday with a public holiday for St. George’s Day, and wish to restore Imperial Units of Measure. They are opposed to the ID card scheme, and favour more powers for local and regional governments. They seek to lower taxation in general, and introduce a flat 31% rate across the board, which would result in millions of taxpayers paying more income tax than they currently do. They also wish to cut corporate tax, and inheritance tax.

The party is sceptical of man-made global warming, and wants to greatly increase the creation and use of nuclear power, and they are opposed to enforced carbon-emission cutting.

The British National Party

HISTORY

The BNP was formed in 1982 by John Tyndall, who also founded the National Front. The British National Party is the only party that can be considered to belong to the far right.

Right from the early days the BNP drew heavy criticism and accusations of racism. Members and former supporters have been involved in extremism, including attacking black families living in council housing in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, and fire-bombing the headquarters of communist newspaper Morning Star. During the 1980s they struggled to gain much public support, but by 1993, they had won a council seat when Derek Beackon was elected to the Isle of Dogs Council. That year they also banned party members from also being members of extremist group Combat 18, which was made up of football firm members and far-right activists.

In the 1990s they continued to enjoy minor support at local levels, particularly in East London, but struggled for national success. In 1999 Nick Griffin took over leadership from Tyndall, and began modernising the party, and attempting to create a better public image. He played on nationalistic symbols, and included wartime propaganda, Spitfires and pictures of heroes such as Churchill.

The BNP had a breakthrough in 2005 General Election, gathering 192,746 votes, an improvement of 150,000 votes on the 2001 election. In the buildup to the 2010 election the BNP has been playing on dissatisfaction with Labour rule, and people’s anxiety over jobs and immigration, and hopes to gain further support. They currently hold 56 councillors nationwide, and one London-wide seat on the Greater London Authority.

POLICIES

The BNP’s principle stance is anti-immigration, and the repatriation of non-white members of British society to their nations of origin. They believe only white ethnic groups, principally Anglo-Saxons, Scots, Welsh, Irish and other Celtic groups have the right to claim to be ‘British’, and advocate white nationalism. Accusations of supporting fascism have also been made towards the BNP. They have been accused of being anti-Islam and anti-Semitic, and some former members were open in their disapproval of homosexuality. The party originally had a white-only policy drawing accusations of blatant racism, but this was outlawed by the European Union, and they have since had to remove that requirement from their membership.

The BNP seeks a full withdrawal from the European Union

They also adhere to Third Position economics, which favours neither capitalism or communism, and they are highly opposed to globalism. The believe in a restoration of protectionism, and economic nationalism, but are not overly in favour of corporatism. They advocate a solution to the conflict in Ireland which would involve inviting a United Ireland, to join with England, Scotland and Wales as all equal partners in a new British Federation which would replace the current United Kingdom.

The BNP is in favour of a re-introduction of both corporal and capital punishment, and increased military spending, which would also call for compulsory military service to be reintroduced.

 

Keeping left, or not keeping left


Cycling in London can be a curious experience. Trapped someone in between the day-dreamy world of the pedestrian, who ambles where he pleases, and the motorists, who are, by threat of loss of license or even imprisonment, obliged to strictly adhere to the Highway Code, which in the United Kingdom, obliges them to keep to the left hand side of the road. We try to cycle in accordance with the highway code as well, but we also share pedestrian/bike spaces, and the difficulty in negotiating heavy London traffic calls for innovation, initiative and compromise.

I was recently riding through Brompton Cemetery in Chelsea, which is a shared cycling / walking space, as is the increasingly popular trend in this day and age – and I certainly have no problem with that, but I was doing my best to cycle on the left, whereas the majority of the pedestrians were obviously out to deliberately thwart me. Of the 17 pedestrians I passed in both directions, as I rode south from Lillie Road to Fulham Road, 14 were walking on the right!

Keeping to the left seems quirky, British and old fashioned to many in Europe, and to Americans, who especially love to parody the fact in European holiday style movies, that almost always seem to feature a scene in which the lead male accidentally tried to enter the car on the wrong side. It is a minority in the world of motoring, though it is more common than most people think. Almost all of our European neighbours keep to the right, although there are the following exceptions: Cyprus, Guernsey, Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey, Malta and of course, the United Kingdom. All of these European islands were once part of the British Empire.

KEEP LEFT signs are mostly found in Commonwealth countries and other former British colonies, such as Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and South Africa.

Other countries that drive on the left in Asia are Thailand, Indonesia, Bhutan, Nepal, East Timor and Japan, none of which were part of the British Empire. In South America, only Guyana and Suriname drive on the left. Most of the Pacific countries drive on the left, in line with Australia and New Zealand, with Samoa joining most recently, on 7 September 2009, the first country for three decades to change the side on which it drives.

I mentioned that most of Europe adhered to the driving on the right, as of course, does the number one car owning nation in the world, the United States, along with their neighbours the Canadians, and most of the rest of the Americas, Africa and Asia. In all, there are currently 76 countries that keep left, and 163 countries that prefer the right.

So why do some nations prefer the left, and some the right. The subject of much pub-debating, and with the exact origin lost in the mists of time, historians do now agree that the origin of keeping to one side or the other lies with ancient travellers preferring to pass an oncoming horseman to the left, in order to hold his horse’s reins in his left hand, and keep his right hand free to swing his sword – or show a friendly open handed salute on the side of the oncoming horse. This is also the origin of shaking hands with your right hand.

Archaeological evidence in the form of wheel-ruts on Romans roads shows that the Romans always kept left, presumable for the same sword-swinging reason, and as they were the first extensive road-builders in Europe, the first European highway networks was a KEEP LEFT system all the way, and as the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do… This left-sided system survived the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages, and even the renaissance. Yep, even Leonardo would have kept to the left in Italy. Hard to imagine when you see modern Italian traffic. The first law passed regarding which way to pass was not until 1756, when users of London Bridge became legally required to pass each other on the left. The first Highway Act was passed in 1773, and became more firmly obliging with the amended Highway Act 1835. In the meantime, the French Revolution, and then the Napoleonic Wars were raging across continental Europe. Napoleon being anti-British, decided that from then on, Frenchmen, and the rest of Europe that he subsequently conquered, would do whatever the opposite of everything the British did.

The Americans, who were also not so fond of Britain at the time, copied the French. After the liberation of Europe following Waterloo, some European countries, like Italy, changed back, and some stay right hand sided. Gradually throughout the 20th century, many countries, including all of the mainland European nations switched to right hand traffic. Despite this, left hand drive countries consistently have lower rates of traffic accidents, and this is attribute to the fact that 90% of people are right eye dominant.

Surprisingly, there is no legal obligation to keep left, which in such an insanely crowded country does result in both sidewalk rage – and the annoying left-right two-step where both of you try to get out of the way in the same direction. In places like USA, Canada, and most of Europe it is both the norm and expected that pedestrians keep to the right, although it is convention, not law. In Taiwan, they go one further, with a dividing line in the centre of the path and arrows showing you which way to go.

In the UK, there are no laws, nor any social convention regarding this. In most places, it isn’t too important. Britons have tended to develop a sort of body language that indicates their intended direction, and normally both people correspond, although sometimes this does result in that dreaded two-step.

In London though, it is another thing all together. The London Underground does use KEEP LEFT signs on stairs and walkways, but these are not always observed, especially when there are large crowds trying to disembark a train. In some of the worst stations, there are even dividing rails to try and stop people walking on the wrong side. Escalators are also obviously directional, but there is a very strong rule of standing on the right, and walking on the left, which most locals observe, and most foreigners don’t get until a Londoner runs them down! Walking on Oxford Street is one of the worst experiences a human can endure. ESPECIALLY at Christmas time. Not only are most pedestrians completely unaware that they are sharing with 200 million other pedestrians a year, but their sense of direction gets completely muddled by all the shiny things in the windows. Pavements are for walking not browsing! If you want to browse what shops have for sale, there is a wonderful thing now called the internet – go browse that instead! I do try to avoid Oxford Street at all costs, but occasionally your intended point of travel obliges you to endure the madness of it, it is utterly impossible to ever maintain a reasonable walking speed along any section between Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road though. Ten years ago there was even a campaign to introduce compulsory directional fast lanes ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1049698.stm ), but it never got going.

Other Commonwealth nations also follow the KEEP LEFT when walking rule, but, often not very strictly. In most parts of Australia and New Zealand, there is a tendency to walk on the left, but other than in city centres, the pavements are less crowded than in Europe and North America, allowing a little more leeway for random directionality. Japan is a different story – Keeping left is definitely de rigueur, and not doing so is a social faux pas, and they will usually try to walk through you if you are in the wrong.

Which brings me back to Brompton Cemetery. I was keeping left, gently ringing my bell to ensure any day dreaming pedestrians had ample warning of my approach, and kindly overtaking them, by moving around them to my right – into what would be the oncoming traffic were I on the road. No problems there. Except it suddenly occurred to me, what would happen if I were to have an accident? If I overtook right side walking pedestrians to their right, and crashed into another cyclist, who was keeping left?

I would be at fault, of course, being the one not keeping left. So as a cyclist, I am obliged legally, to keep left, but have to negotiate pedestrians who can keep left, keep right, or go straight down the middle. So as a cyclist we just have to be the most adaptable – dealing with left keeping traffic, who mostly don’t see you – especially when pulling out of side streets, and pedestrians who might be going anywhere, because with London pedestrians, it is anything goes….

We all know that fashions come and go, and then sometimes come again. I am not normally one to keep a close eye on whatever this season’s particular trends are – fashion week comes and goes without me noticing. Indeed, I suppose I am normally a fairly safe ‘jeans and shirt’ kind of guy. I wear a suit to work most of the time, but my sense of style isn’t usually heavily influenced by external sources.

But riding on the tube recently, having missed a copy of Metro in my rush to get the next train, and therefore without any form of distraction to alleviate the pain of my journey, I instead took to that great pass time of people watching.

As I glanced around the tube carriage, which was mostly occupied by morning rush-hour business types, something struck me. I was the only male in the entire carriage without a tie! A quick guess would say there was at least thirty guys in there, and all, bar one, had a tie on.

I was the one without. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sloppily dressed. I was wearing a nice single breasted suit in charcoal, with matching slacks. A white business shirt with stylish cufflinks, and black brogues. But no tie. I wondered if other passengers were looking at me and thinking, hmmm, he doesn’t have a tie on – rebel! It got me thinking, why on earth do men need to wear ties? What is this ‘necessity of ties’ about? And why did the wearing of a tie become de rigueur for conforming contributors to society?

It turns out the wearing of ties has persisted for a very long time indeed, and has continued as many other fashions have come and gone. They first appeared in the modern world during the Thirty Years War (1618–1648), in which Croatian mercenaries fighting for the French wore knotted neckerchiefs, called Cravats. The French though these were quite cool, and very soon any man in Paris had to have one. Originally these were made of lace, and needed a lot of arranging. A bit too fiddly for me.

By the eighteenth century four variations had developed: Stocks, Solitaires, Neckcloths, and the enduring Cravat. Scarves and bandanas came into usage in the early nineteenth century, but it was the late Victorian period in which the neckwear we know and love (or despise) today came about. The industrial revolution led to a need for practical neckwear that could be worn all day comfortably without needing regular adjustment. And so the necktie, a descendant of the narrow stock, came about. Long, thin and easy to tie into a simple knot. Another popular alternative, the bowtie, had descended from the elaborate cravat. The wide flapped Ascot tie was commonly seen at formal occassions, but this was for the upper crusts only.

In 1926 a New York tie maker called Jesse Langsdorf  came up with a fancy way of cutting and sewing ties in three segments, and since that time, almost all neckties have been some variation of ‘the Langsdorf’.

The colour, width, shape and appearance have all varied over time, but by the mid-twentieth century, hand painted and colourful designs, or those with patterns have been usual. Ties with certain colours or stripes have come to represent schools, clubs, military or sporting organisations, and even businesses to show the wearer’s membership, or belonging.

The length of the tie has also varied. With a three-piece suit it is not the done thing for the tie to stick out of the bottom of the vest. Before World War II it was definately not cool to wear it lower than the belly button, but in a fit of post-war crazyness, ties became longer, and horribly, much wider. Reaching a ridiculous 5 inches wide, they soon began to feature outlandish designs of tropical islands, art deco architecture, chrome shining Cadillac front-ends, and even pin-up girls. Bet that went down well in the Mad Men offices of North America. By this stage they were usually at least 48 inches long.

The garish post-war tie soon wore thin, and was replaced by a more respectable 3 inch ‘Mister T’ variation (no, NOT BA Baraccus), which also came with thin lapels, thin hat bands, and thin collars. Although sometimes checked or striped, the crazy pictures were gone. In the 60s it got even slimmer, sometimes a perfectly squared 1 incher, usually in solid, dark colours.

But early 60s tie austerity wasn’t to last, and the hedonistic late sixties saw a return to the wide tie, sometimes 4 1/2 inches in  width, and often featuring pop art or hideous, garish paisley patterns and bold striking colours. Blurgh!

Ties, god forbid, were sometimes neglectfully left off in this period as well! The post-James Dean rebellion had set in. To combat this fashion rebellion, textiles manufacturers took the initiative and began marketing shirt and tie combos, with cleverly pre-arranged matching colours. A bargain! How can I resist wearing the tie if it already goes with the shirt I like!

As I mentioned before fashions come and go, and come again. And the 1980s saw the return of the narrow tie to combat the ridiculously wide ties of the seventies. Although not returning quite to the one incher, one and quarter did come in, and sometimes now in leather. Hot pink leather, black leather, electric blue leather. Wow. and worn inside the shirt, collars turned up and jacket sleaves rolled to the elbow. All we need is a hairspray spike or perm. Done.

The 1990s saw an attempt to go wide again which aborted, thankfully, before settling on an acceptable 3″ to 3¼” wide average. Unfortunately the garish patterns returned, as did the drawn decorations, including cartoon characters, and cult or pop icons. Un-noticed, ties had also extended to an unprecendented 57 inches, and for some men, it was possible to get away with the tie overlapping the belt and the top of the trousers, but not if any degree of beer belly was on show.

The 21st century saw a continuation of the safe three inch zone, with ties typically of 3½” to 3¾” wide. The Taz Devil’s and Bugs Bunnies disappeared and more staid stripes, checks, club ties etc. set in. A brief return to the narrow in 2008/09 has been countered by an attempt to revive the super-wider in 2010, but why tie at all?

The risk of entaglement or strangulation is a good reason not to, but the need for social conformity and the perceived social norms of good morals, work ethics, and a tow-the-party-line attitude, mean smart work fashion always includes a necktie. Or does it?

The rise of the IT industry has seen many corporations within that field allow employees to chose their own workwear, and most go sans-tie. Some workplaces also have casual-dress days, which usually means jeans and shirt, no tie.

At the end of the day, it is often seen as a symbol of submission, ie needing to dress uniformly to belong. So if you want to get ahead, it is pro-tie. If you want to follow your own path, you probably stretch the work fashion to tie-less. One thing is for certain, in this day an age, the wearing of a constrictive piece of material around your neck is seemingly still a matter of choice for millions of men. Just not me.

The future of cricket

Posted: March 18, 2010 in cricket, sport, sports, T20, Twenty20, Uncategorized
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Well we all love cricket – after all, it is the second most popular sport on the planet, after football – and forget whatever the Americans say about their favourite codes – they are all way down the list. But what is the current state of play? A quite glance around web forums shows a huge level of debate about the game and how it is currently played. And just this debate shows something is not quite right.

Despite it’s mass popularity and recent attempts at global expansion, the game still revolves around the sub-continent and other former outposts of the British Empire.  It’s status as the second most popular game is largely thanks to it being the most popular sport for India’s billion plus population.  Football, however, is played in every country on the planet!

Is that due to some kind of archaic elitism associated with cricket?? The complexity of the rules? The image of play meandering for hours with little action? Perhaps… But all of us who love and play the game know that this isn’t the case.  It is  action packed, physically and mentally demanding, highly challanging, and  is a very rewarding sport to play. But how do we get over these old stereotypes? Particularly when trying to take the game into new markets??

I for one think T20 is the only way forward. I AM a traditionalist, don’t get me wrong. Bah! Traditionalists like only like first-class and test cricket, and don’t promote the benefits of T20, I hear you say…. Well I disagree. There is a place for tradition for certain, and it should, and will always remain within the game. As an Australian I will always love to watch an Ashes series decider going down to the wire in the fifth test of a grueling tour, than a silly bit of hit and giggle T20.

But actually, on the other hand I am actually starting to quite enjoy a bit of hit and giggle. The explosive shots, the sense of adventure and daring do, the crowd involved, roaring along – it all reminds me of my mid-80s youth, and the excitement I felt watching the touring West Indies playing ODI’s under lights at the MCG. The likes of Desmond Haynes and Viv Richards charging down the track to smash fast bowlers out of the attack! The coloured clothing. The boozed up (but generally well-behaved) crowd. The classic catches. That was living! But then something weird happened to ODI’s. They got computerised and formulaic.

That sense of excitement has long drifted away from ODI’s, and out of fear of losing television money, desperate cricket boards around the world are in a panic to recapture, reinvent, rejig, reorganise it. Whatever can be done, lest they lose some advertising revenue.

Well administrators, listen to the fans instead of the marketing boffins. Crowds are down in ODI’s all around the globe. Only the Ashes, and perhaps series such as India v Pakistan, and Australia v South Africa continue to draw test crowds. T20 draws big crowds all over now, and the games are fast-paced and action packed. The IPL is very exciting and the games are quite competitive and skillful.

There WILL be more T20 at the expense of ODI’s, but more T20 matches means more advertising space, not less. It is also less stressful on the players, so the quality of the ‘package’ or whatever the markerteers wish to call it, will be improved. Plus, no one has the time to watch a whole ODI on tv these days anyway. Whereas three hours in the evening to watch a T20 game is doable. I say let ODI cricket die it’s natural death. And Shane Warne even agrees with me.

We now all live ever more hectic lives, and the ability to get in a whole game in 2-3 hours on the way home from work is great. I cannot seriously remember the last time I sat down to watch an entire ODI on tv. It is now virtually impossible to get in a whole ODI, unless you want to waste all your annual leave, or are the kind of old money that would only watch test cricket anyway.

T20 is the future, as is the expansion of domestic competitions like the T20 Champions League. I am personally salivating at the prospect of my beloved home team of Tasmania, taking on the English or Indian champions in a future edition. If only they could win the Australian domestic mouthful known as the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash.

I am also in favour of a city-based English league, and similar ventures in other traditional bastions of the game. The prospect of Manchester v London enthrals me. Don’t abandon the County game, but keep it for the first-class comp, and create the T20 EPL. This is the kind of innovation the game needs to maintain its role as the planets second favourite sport, and perhaps challange football as number one. Certainly if not challenge football, it should firmly hold the role as the world’s summer game. After all, imagine if there was more baseball around the world. Urgh! In the media-globalised-techno-world that we now live in, expanding into more countries is essential as well. Countries without the first-class tradition, are more likely to grow to love an exciting fast-paced spectacle of T20, and it will be the main source of growing the game in new countries. I recently met a barman in Naples who was from Sri Lanka, and the likes of him are begging for a league to play in within Italy.

With T20 offering an easier route into the game, the ICC needs to let go of the old MCC gruffness a bit.  So what if a few associates get battered – quite a few of the current test nations got battered when the first entered the test arena, and are now competitive. The idea of watching China v USA in the cricket world cup sounds great, and playing against better the sides will only improve lesser sides. One of my favourite memories of the 2007 ICC World Cup was not my home nation of Australia winning the tournament, but of underdogs Ireland defeating established side Pakistan. We need more of that to keep the game fresh and exciting.

Test cricket and tradition will always have a place, mainly in the old empire countries where it already thrives. But with sports like American gridiron, baseball and basketball, motorsports, rugby and ice hockey all adopting global marketing strategies, cricket has to modernise and sell itself as the fast-paced, action packed game that T20 always offers. No four-day draws here please.

My thought is for the following. Test cricket remains with the current 10 teams, or with a reduced number of nations, if they cannot prove popularity requirements for the game within their country. It is a two division league with promotion and relegation of one team between divisions. Each team plays three home, and three away tests against each other, within a two year period. At the end of each two years, a test champion is crowned. The only exception is the Ashes, which should remain a five-test series, to acknowledge it’s importance as the original international rivalry. However for parity, the winner of the series still receives the same points towards the test championship as all other series. I think the popularity and demand for the Ashes in both the UK and Australia will allow this.

50-over cricket will cease entirely. It has become too formulaic, and it is clear the formula serves no purpose other than to provide tv advertising revenue. Although it still reamins viable in the sub-continent for the time being, it is already being eclipsed by the popularity of T20.

T20 will be structured as follows. The T20 World Cup should expand to 24 or 32 sides, allowing for more nations to get through to the opening group stage. The first round should see six or eight groups of four, with the top two going through from each group. With each of the test sides seeded into a group, it should avoid them meeting in round one, and should also see at least one non-test side progress from each group into round two. Imagine how much it would spark a new interest in the cup if USA or Argentina went through to the second round. Outside of the World Cup T20 should also be played at the Olympics, and regular tour series should accompany Test series, as they currently do. Regional championship tournaments could provide regular matches for non-test teams.

At the domestic level, the test teams should maintain their first-class tournaments, but replace their domestic 50-over tournaments with a second T20 series. One series should be for existing representative sides, and a second for city-based franchise sides. The victors in both series go on to play in the Champions League. New T20 leagues should form the basis of new domestic competitions in expanding market nations. City-based T20 leagues should be set up as the main form of the game in Netherlands, Canada, USA, China, Argentina, Italy etc, all of the top 50 or so countries. Perhaps the T20 champions from non-test nations could go into a qualifying round to see wild-cards play in the Champions League.

The Ashes will go on forever, but 50-over cricket, and test series involving the bottom four sides are losing popularity and threatening cricket overall. T20 is the global future of the game, and I say embrace it. It will also help maintain our game as the world’s number two sport in the increasingly franchised, globalised world of 21st century sport. Or maybe it will even move it up to number one.

Why England are their own worst enemy.

I am always amused by the attitude and commentary of the British public and press, from back pages to pub bars, as England prepare for major sporting tournaments. It is especially interesting when, on the rare occasion, England have even managed to assemble a squad of would-be contenders, with a real or imagined chance to finally lift that elusive trophy.

I have of course, been inspired to discuss this topic by the seeming attempt at self-destruction that is currently being undertaken by the England football team. Back in October 2009, England sailed through qualification for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa on the back of an impressive nine wins out of ten, with a positive goal difference of 28. Despite the minor aberration against Ukraine in the penultimate qualifier, it is impressive stuff, indeed. Then the discussions began. Perhaps they have a genuine chance this time? There is no doubting that the side that cruised through group six of UEFA qualification is an impressive football side. In Cole and Terry you have two of the best defenders in the world. Gerrard and Lampard can control any midfield on their day, and well, Rooney, is probably the best striker in the world on current form. There are also others such as Lennon, Carrick, Crouch, Johnson and Gareth Barry who all look up for the job of performing on the world’s greatest stage. Even the aging Beckham looked like he still had one last in-swinging cross to see the Three Lions over an insurmountable obstacle and onto the next stage, probably in dying moments for added drama.

But that was October, and now we fast forward to mere weeks away from the tournament itself. In the intervening time we have had the Eastenders-esque pantomime that is British sport, start to play it’s usual undermining role. First we have ‘red tab’ revelations about Captain and stalwart Terry and his affair with former Chelsea tem-mate Wayne Bridge’s ex, Vanessa Perroncel. The nation was divided. For some, Terry the defensive god can do no wrong, and should be left to do as he pleases and guide England to world cup victory, shagging whomever he likes along the way. Never mind his missus. For others, the deceit and betrayal is unbecoming of an England captain, and he was rightly stood down. Interestingly, for some, it was more about the betrayal of a team-mate, that the cheating on his lawfully wedded wife. The editors of said paper obviously couldn’t have cared either way, but it certainly shifted not just the expected extra Sunday copies, but dragged on for about ten days, filling the shrinking coffers. Whatever the case, the man who had been arm-banded for England and was probably best qualified for the job, was stood down by his Italian Don. Bullet in foot number one.

What seemed like mere moments later, fellow England and Chelsea defender Ashley Cole was revealed to have cheated with not just one, but five, yes five other women! At least none of them were attached to team-mates… It was alright though, as Cole was already a figure of hatred up and down the fair isle for his money-grubbing exploits and the most heinous of betrayals, a London derby-rival transfer. Monster.

Of course it might not actually be Cole, widely regarded as one of, if not the best left back in the world, who actually performs that role in the Cup, as he is fighting back to fitness from an injury that threatens to scupper his tourney. His obvious replacement would have been Wayne Bridge, quite adept at the role, but victim of said infidelities of Terry and Peroncel. He has subsequently made himself unavailable to ‘protect team unity’, and that leave England with no internationally experienced or decent left-backs. Bullet number two.

Which brings us on to the old curse of injuries. Old warhorse Beckham topped up frequent flying points, learned to love pasta and even got a bit of semplice Italiano in order to become the first Englishman to play in four Cup final tournaments. But of course the England injury curse had to hit someone, and dear oh dear, poor Becks, alas, shall play in the cup no more. At least it was Becks and not Rooney, I hear echoing up and down the land. Well, there is still a lot of football for United to play between now and June…

It has of course all happened before. Rooney’s injury in Euro 2004 may have contributed to the poor showing there. Beckham was famously undercooked trying to recover from an injury prior to the 2002 World Cup, and underperformed. England goal-machine Michael Owen was also hit by the big-tournament curse at the 2006 Cup.

Regardless of injuries, the British Paparazzi never cease to amaze me with their willingness to destroy British sporting ambitions on the sniff of a ‘good story’. I imagine them sitting in their office chewing the nails over whether to destroy England hopes by publishing some revelation of wrong doing, or show support for the cause. Ha! I jest… Of course they would drive the nail in without a second thought.

As an Australian this is very foreign to me, as our press are usually our secret weapon. They hail and lift on high Aussie athletes of all shapes and variety, and always, without fail, make life hell for touring sides by jumping on the backs and leaning backwards for the whole trip. Sometimes quite unfairly, to be honest. But manys the touring cricket side who have travelled from Perth to Sydney and been hounded all the way. And you do not want to make indiscretions on the long and arduous tour, believe me. And that is before the players and the fans have even gotten stuck in. Sporting, spirit of fair play? I think not. We want to win, and win at all costs. British paps however are more interested in who is shagging who.

Speaking of touring down under, it reminds me that it is not just the football team who get completely undermined by Fleet Street. How they rejoiced into their mojitos who the woke up to find Freddie floating across the Caribbean at the 2007 Cricket World Cup. To be fair, the ‘Fredalo’ headline was quite clever. England’s Rugby team have been struck by the same Pap-injury curse as well.

As England go out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on penalties, it will not be the infidelities or the injuries that have cost the team, it will have been the paps who highlight every crack, expose every wound to the opponents, and snap every beer in a club after a win. Our press will be showing the Socceroos training hard, practicing pens, and running their arses off.

Who needs strong opponents when you are being undermined from within?