Oh, for a Fat Controller!

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Rev Wilbert Awdry

Have you have read any of the Reverend Wilbert Awdry’s books about Thomas the Tank Engine and his rail-bound colleagues you will understand the allusion to the Fat Controller. It has nothing to do with weight loss and everything to do with our need for an overlord (or indeed an overlady).

In these stories the units of anthropomorphic rolling stock, with their personalities, their strengths and their weaknesses, often make a mess of things. But the Fat Controller (aka Sir Topham Hatt) always appears on the final page to praise the good, admonish the naughty and put things right. It’s the perfect way to end the day before snuggling beneath the bedclothes.

“Oh no!” I hear you say. “Not another post about Brexit!”

Sorry, but yes. The UK Government, Opposition and Parliament are in turmoil. The long-suffering people are dismayed. Many long to be dis-Mayed. They want a Fat Controller to step into the story and mend their fractured universe.

HM The Queen

The only candidates with sufficient moral authority are Joanna Lumley and the Queen. My preference would be the Queen. With an unwritten constitution, her power is limited only by what her people believe it to be and want it to be. I would love it if she turned up at Parliament one day, unannounced, and said something along the lines of “For God’s sake, you people, grow up! Isn’t it blindingly obvious that this whole Brexit thing isn’t working? What’s more it’s tearing my kingdom apart and it just won’t do. Stop it. Now. Tell those people in Brussels that you’re going to have another think about it and we’ll email them when we’re good and ready. OK? Good. Carry on.”

 

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Lacrosse and the Liberals

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I like our MP and I hope he retains his seat at the next election. But this flyer, found yesterday in our letterbox, appals me. On the back it explains that Burnside Lacrosse Club has received a grant of A$154,000 from the Federal Government to upgrade their changing rooms.

What the hell is the Federal Government doing funding local sports clubs?!!

I want to know when we’re going to have an energy policy; radical measures to combat climate change; effective law enforcement in the finance sector; and a defence capability to deter a big aggressive neighbour.

Meanwhile the lacrossers of Burnside can change in the comfort of their own homes and travel to/from the ground in their gear.

Brexit and Other Civil Wars

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It’s a truism that civil wars are the most brutal. I think that’s because the losers have nowhere else to go, so the war has to continue until one side surrenders or is destroyed.

This is what we see now in the UK: the fight between Remainers and Brexiteers is in effect a civil war. This is why Theresa May’s attempts to find a compromise are doomed to fail. One side has to win, the other lose. Compromise, which the British are supposed to be so good at, is a non-starter.

Personally, I hope the Remainers win. This can happen only with another vote: a People’s Vote, since it cannot be called a referendum. There are two good reasons for a People’s Vote:

  • The great majority of people who voted in 2016, on both sides, had no notion of what disentangling the UK from the EU would involve and cost.
  • No-one voted for the dissolution of the United Kingdom, which would almost certainly follow a hard Brexit. Scotland would have ample grounds for another independence referendum, and the only way to avoid a ‘hard border’ with the Republic of Ireland would be to relinquish Northern Ireland.

I’m glad the Queen has seen fit to comment. Addressing the Women’s Institute she called on all sides to search for common ground – without actually mentioning Brexit of course. The nearest thing to common ground might be “We’re not ready for this, it’s tearing our country apart, let’s call the whole thing off for now and have another vote in ten years’ time.”

Theresa May, having nailed her ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ colours to the mast, would have to be sacrificed on the altar of expediency. The British are famously fond of glorious failures: Boadicea’s rebellion, the retreat from Dunkirk and the Charge of the Light Brigade to name but a few. So history will be kind to her. She charged the guns heroically, sabre glinting in the setting sun, and for that she will be admired.

Asylum for Apostates

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We just got the news that Rahal al-Qunun has been granted asylum in Canada. Indeed, the 18-year-old Saudi woman is already on her way to her new home.

Rahal al-Qunun

Most people applaud her courageous escape from an oppressive regime, under which the renunciation of Islam (apostasy) is punishable by death. One hopes that by her action she will embolden other women to rebel.

One can also feel sympathy for her family, who will surely be condemned for letting this happen while they were on holiday in Kuwait; and for Canadian authorities who will be responsible for protecting Rahal from vengeful attacks by Muslims who consider death a necessary punishment for apostasy.

How likely are such attacks? According to the Independent newspaper there are twelve Muslim-majority countries in which apostasy carries the death penalty. Scholars are divided over this issue. As often happens where religious belief is based on a very old book, texts can be cited to support any point of view; and because the Quran has been supplemented by a body of writings known as the Hadith (meaning ‘tradition’) Islam is especially vulnerable to this phenomenon.

Asia Bibi

But judging by the scale of violent outrage when Asia Bibi, a Christian woman in Pakistan, was acquitted of a charge of blasphemy against Islam, views that most non-Muslims would consider extreme are not necessarily rare. (Blasphemy is a capital offence in Pakistan, but apostasy is not.)

Given that a) most people in the world would rather live in Western Europe, North America, Australia or New Zealand than in their own countries, and b) some of the nastiest countries to live in have Muslim-majority populations, should we not expect a blossoming of apostasy in the expectation that it will confer immediate refugee status and resettlement somewhere nice?

Muslim readers are especially welcome to comment on this post. I claim no theological expertise.

Privatisation

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I was always a reluctant believer in the conventional wisdom of privatising everything that wasn’t nailed down, and much that wasn’t. Some services really should be provided by governments, I thought, especially in cases where:

  • There is a natural monopoly.
  • Access should not be restricted by ability to pay.
  • Private control may confer disproportionate power.

I deplored the rush to privatise utilities, transport infrastructure and a mind-boggling range of government activities including even prisons and aspects of the military.

Land Titles Office, South Australia

The stupidest example to come to my attention recently was the South Australian Land Titles Office in my home state of South Australia. Did the cash-hungry Labour government never pause to wonder why a consortium comprising a commercial bank and a foreign pension fund would be willing to part with A$1.6 billion for the right to run the LTO for 40 years?

Anyway, I have just read a concise and well-documented article by Ross Gittings, economics columnist with Fairfax Media, entitled ‘The Experts Told Us Not To Worry’. I recommend it – if you can find a way to read it without subscribing to the Sydney Morning Herald. He chiefly blames state governments and their supposedly expert advisors, who little dreamt of the depths to which private investors would sink in the pursuit of monopoly profits, or the enormity of the loopholes in the regulatory frameworks conscientiously erected in a vain effort to protect consumers.

Do you have a favourite privatisation horror story to share?

Australian Liberals

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Here’s a letter I wrote to my MP, who happens also to be a Minister in Australia’s Liberal-led Commonwealth Government. I have just received a stock answer.

Dear Christopher,

As one of your constituents and a Liberal voter since I came to Australia in 1978, I have to tell you of my growing disenchantment with your party, to the point where I feel I can no longer vote for it.

I would like you personally to remain in Parliament and on the front bench, whether in government or in opposition, but the ongoing factional civil war and our new PM’s antics have me in despair. First there was the lump of coal in Parliament, now we’ve had the abandonment of the NEG, the refusal to take a stand on climate change, the description of the country’s most iconic building as a ‘billboard’ and – the last straw for me – the news that Mr Morrison is considering moving our Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem!

I know we have to trot submissively at President Trump’s heels to some extent, to keep our place under the USA’s nuclear umbrella, but to kowtow to a rogue state whose disregard for humanitarian principles and international law matches Russia’s or China’s, and to take sides against some of the most oppressed and dispossessed people in the world… well, words fail me.

And is it really only a device to curry favour with the 13% of Wentworth voters who are Jewish, as I heard on Radio National this morning? Is our foreign policy being driven by short-term electoral gaming? If so, I’d rather give Penny Wong a go.

I don’t usually send off an email while I’m still angry; I prefer to wait, re-read and edit. But not this time. I suspect my anger will only grow, so I might as well shoot this off now.

With good wishes to you, if not to your party or its present leader…

John Standingford
Linden Park
https://StroppyGit.com
16/10/18

Explanatory notes:

In February 2017 Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal into Parliament as a prop for a speech promoting the continued mining and burning of coal in spite of its alleged contribution to climate change.

NEG was the National Energy Guarantee, the closest thing to an energy policy that Australia has had for many years. It resulted from hard negotiations between parties that put energy prices ahead of decarbonisation and vice versa, Federal and State Governments, industry and consumers. Scott Morrison dumped it as soon as he became Prime Minister.

Wentworth is the constituency where Malcolm Turnbull, the deposed PM, had a 17% majority. The Liberal-led ruling coalition had a 1-seat parliamentary majority and was desperate to retain the seat after Turnbull’s resignation. They lost it to an independent. Coincidentally a TV serial called Wentworth is running at the moment. It’s set in a women’s prison and shows brutality almost on a par with what’s going on in the Liberal Party.

Penny Wong is the Shadow Foreign Minister – fair-minded, level-headed and popular.

Life Imitates Monty Python – Again

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Three recent news items had me shaking my head, unsure whether to laugh or cry. You have almost certainly heard or read them already, but I’ll share them anyway…

No.1: President Trump nominates Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court. A woman comes forward saying that he attempted to rape her at a teenage party 35 years before. BK denies it. The FBI is asked to investigate the allegation – with a whole week to complete the task. Not surprisingly, they could find no evidence one way or the other. If everything I did when I was 17 were made public, incompetent fumbling included… well, I just hope it never is. How about you?

No.2: The promoters of a new horse race (The Everest) want to project advertising material on the ‘sails’ of the Sydney Opera House. The CEO is interviewed by notorious radio shock jock Alan Jones, explains that the Opera House’s charter forbids commercial advertising, and is vilified, shouted over and threatened on air.

The Premier of New South Wales immediately orders the advertising to go ahead and the Prime Minister backs her, describing the Opera House sails as ‘the biggest billboard in Sydney’. 300,000+ people sign an online petition against the decision and a crown gathers to shine torch-beams on the sails to disrupt the display.

At one stroke the Liberal Party, already in bad odour because of the ongoing civil war that toppled Malcolm Turnbull, has alienated lovers of culture, opponents of gambling and anyone who was appalled by a) the on-air bullying of a conscientious public servant and b) the State Premier’s kowtowing to a shock jock. It is not known whether the scandal has also jeopardised the Opera House’s World Heritage status.

No.3: There is to be an APEC meeting in Port Morseby. To ensure that the participants can travel between their hotels and meeting places, a fleet of 40 Maserati Quattroportes is being airfreighted into PNG. Reportedly, they are to be distributed to Provincial Governors when their very brief service to world leaders is over. I cannot think of any words that would usefully embellish the raw facts of this act of lunacy.