After the death threats I received for slagging off the Cape Verde police force on this very blog, I learnt a pertinent lesson: don’t say what you really think until you’ve left the damn place. I was therefore saving my torrent of abuse concerning the Australian government’s wretched treatment of tourists until after I was well shut of the otherwise good land of Oz.
However, after finding out it’s going to cost me $255 to extend my AUSTRALIAN TOURIST VISA (which I shouldn’t need in the first place), the dam has burst.
The fury leaping out of my fingertips must be converted to 1s and 0s and plastered all over the net before I explode.
The Aussie Tourist Visa (that’ll be $29 please, thanks KA-CHING!) lasts just a paltry three months. Then you’re supposed to fly to another country and back to renew it for another three months. If you can’t be arsed doing that (unsurprising when the nearest OTHER COUNTRY from Melbourne is at least four hours away on a jumbo jet) you’re hit by a admin fee that is actually MORE THAN the minimum penalty for being caught drink driving.
If I’m to read between the lines here, I would have to suggest that tourists in Australia are less welcome than drink drivers. Ygads.
First up, I want you to realise something: last year, more tourists visited Bulgariathan visited Australia. You think that’s bad? More people visited Syria than visited Australia. But then you can get a visa for Syria upon arrival. See where I’m going with this?
There are, of course, salient geographical reasons for Australia’s dismal tourist figures: Australia is, after all, miles from anywhere. Getting to Melbourne from Europe means sitting on a minimum of two planes for a minimum of 24 hours. Needless to say, it’s not somewhere you go for a weekend break.
Coupled with the wince-inducing strength of the Aussie dollar (take any price and double it. Then double it again.), the logic of being the ONLY WESTERNISED NATION IN THE WORLD to require TOURIST VISAS from Europeans just utterly beggars belief. Yes, you don’t need a visa to visit Argentina, a country the UK was at war with in the 80s. But you do need a visa for Australia… a country that puts our Queen on their banknotes and our flag in the corner of theirs.
I hate hate HATE having to apply for a visa to visit a country. 99% of the time it instantly marks a state out as being nasty, oppressive and totalitarian. There are 142 countries out of the UN 192 that do NOT require a European tourist to purchase a pre-paid visa. Those that do are in the minority: they include such luminary and enlightened countries as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Belarus, Angola, Libya, Turkmenistan, Guinea, Somalia… and Australia.
I can’t stress this fact enough: I have been to every westernised country that exists in the world and not one of them required me to ask permission of the government to pop in for a visit. Except Australia.
Are Europeans likely to come here by mistake? Might they take that ill-fated left turn at Albuquerque and end up in Alice Springs? Maybe Australia is terrified of being swamped with the flotsam and jetsam of the richest and most powerful countries in the world [insert lame convict joke here]. Is it because Australia is so insecure, so tentative in its footsteps on the world stage that it would prefer to linger in the collective subconscious as Crocodile Dundee’s delightful Aboriginal-loving kangaroo-saving larrikin without having to suffer the indignity of people coming here finding out it’s not like that at all?
Indeed, the only logical conclusion one can sensibly reach is that Australia doesn’t want, much less need tourists. Like the boat people (and the Aboriginals if only they weren’t – you know – here first) Aussies would much rather you buggered off back were you came from. Which is not just sad, it’s self-sabotage on a scale that would make your average West African dictator blush.
And – dear lord – have you seen the ads? The ‘come to Australia’ ads. OH. MY. GOD. They give me visions of entering the Australian Tourist Board Marketing Department to find a room filled with baboons wistfully daubing the walls with their own faeces. See for yourself:
Let me make this quite clear: we are not talking about working visas here, we are talking tourist visas. Australia makes around $17 BILLION a year from tourism. I don’t know if the government is too arrogant or too incompetent to understand what a whopping great chunk of cash that is, but I can’t help but feel pretty damn unappreciated for all my hard work over the last ten years periodically dragging money from my British bank account and peppering it like candy around the dance halls, dives and brothels of ol’ Melbourne town.
Lest not forget that the Australian tax payer did not pay for my education (thanks, Blighty old chum), I cannot claim benefits, the dole, working tax credits or train to be a master of falconry while I’m here. I cannot work, I cannot claim free medical care and if I’m hit by a car, it will cost me (or my insurance company) $779 just to be taken to the damn hospital. No, really – the ambulances here aren’t free.
In contrast — and by ‘contrast’ I mean ‘ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ SERIOUS??’ — an Aussie tourist can pop over to the good ship UK any time they want, theydon’t have to ask for prior permission(!), they can stay up to six months (visa free), can visit pretty much every other country in Europe while they are there (visa free) and get hit by cars all they like because the ambulance dragging their mangled remains back to the hospital is paid for by the Great British taxpayer.
This is because in the UK we don’t just like tourists, we LOVE tourists. They’re like little mobile piggy banks dispensing fivers around the realm, fivers that we didn’t have to invest a packet of our tax money to generate in the first place – tourists are a net gain for my country, your country, any country.
I’m not saying this situation is unfair, the fact that UK is enjoying the fruits of a massive boom in tourism over the last fifty years is not something I’m ever going to disparage – long may it continue. But the way the Australian government treat its tourists is stupid. Plain and simple, totally and utterly, mindbogglingly and heartbreakingly stupid.
So, in short, Mr. Ferguson – you are a treasonous dog who is diddling the good people of Australia out of their much-needed tourist dollars. Visa requirements for tourists from prosperous western nations should be scrapped immediately and a six month entry stamp should be the norm.
Oh, and if you want your long-suffering tourist board to produce an advert that wouldn’t make Basil Fawlty scoff at your embarrassingly barnyard attempts at advertising, put a European in charge. Actually, put ME in charge. With a decent budget, a small film crew and a handful of good looking actors, I could make each and every feisty travel-lovin’ European sit up and beg for buttermilk. Australian buttermilk.
Here’s the rest of my jolly list of ten things that make me pull my hair and scream about silly old Blighty…
6. The Daily Mail
For the non-Brits reading this, I’ll let Uncyclopedia explain what The Daily Mail means to us lot in the UK:
Often referred to as “Fascism with Oven Gloves on” The Daily Wail, also known variously as The Daily Hate, The Daily Heil, The Daily Bile, The Daily Hate Mail and The Daily Fail is a hugely popular British comic for those who believe themselves (usually mistakenly) to be members of the middle classes.
While I have nothing but quiet distain for comic-book newspapers like The Sun and The Star, at least everybody knows they’re comics. The Mail is different, it tries to fob itself off as a serious newspaper while obsessing over celebrities, immigration and Princess Diana like some demented old lady whose sole understanding of the massive cultural shifts of the last 100 years mean that “you can’t even call it a blackboard no more.”
And like that same batty old lady, The Daily Mail supported the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s. After over half a million British and Commonwealth citizens lost their lives in the ensuing fight against the forces of fascism, you would think the Mail would show some contrition, some kind of humility, some kind of…
…I don’t know… tact? But I suppose that doesn’t sell too many papers.
But what really gets my goat about the Daily Mail is its — quite frankly — piss-poor science reporting. As may of you know, I’m very much an armchair cheerleader of the sciences, and while it is not my personal forte (I’m much better at roaming the world in search of beer), I do have an ongoing interest in all things science-y. But while my ignorance of the mechanics of the universe is something I actively try to combat, The Mail doesn’t even try. For The Mail, there are no incremental peer-reviewed advances in medicine, only MIRACLE CURES!! There are no interesting asteroids passing within 0.1 AU of the Earth, only DEADLY ASTEROIDS ON COLLISION COURSE!! There are no harmless chemicals in The Mail’s periodic table, only EVIL CHEMICALS THAT WILL EAT YOUR FACE OFF AND SLEEP WITH YOUR WIFE!!
I will concede that the Mail did something noble once…
But the emphasis must be placed squarely on the word “once.” The fact that The Daily Mail is the second best-selling newspaper in the UK is just one more reason for me to add it to the list of 10 things I hate about the UK. For a daily update of the incredible lies, half-truths, distortions of reality and painfully uncritical press-release journalism, check out http://www.mailwatch.co.uk/
7. Prince Charles
I’m by no means a republican. I don’t envy the political systems of France or Italy (interestingly listed as ‘flawed democracies’ by the Democracy Index) and I believe that the American system of government is fundamentally flawed and unfixable.
My support for the institution of the British monarchy stems from three things:
1) there’s nothing socially, morally or politically wrong with having a constitutional monarchy (as evidenced by it being the preferred system of 7 of the 10 most democratic nations on the planet).
2) The Queen routinely receives a whopping 80% approval rating. Take THAT, Sarkozy!
3) Cultural identity is important (not important enough to kill for, but I’ll come to that later) and we’ve had these posh twits sitting on the throne for so long that it has become part of what makes Britain, well, Britain. Like Peperami and Doctor Who.
As our head of state (and head of the Commonwealth) the Queen’s job is to smile and nod and keep her gob shut. I like that. I don’t want my country represented around the world by some career politician – one that would no doubt blab his mouth off, own 70% of the nation’s media and slap ladies on the bottom like some kind of 1930s cartoon wolf.
In short, so long as they keep their sticky beaks out of politics, I’m more than happy to have a monarch.
Having said that, I just can’t bring myself to support the concept of a King Charles III. The guy is an idiot, he cheated on his wife (and got caught), he is an active supporter of woo medicine and (most importantly) he can’t just keep his bloody gob shut. So I’m sorry Charlie-boy, you suck. If you cannot muster the same high level of approval as your mum, then that thing wot makes you King has to skip a generation – just bear in mind what happened to Charles I…
8. Cultural Relativism
Oo-eck, Graham, one minute you’re slagging off the Daily Mail, and then the next you’re jumping on one of their pernicious bandwagons. Before you accuse me of being some kind of double-agent, let me explain. The Daily Mail is anti-immigration. I am not. All that cultural relativism does is help confirm all the daft prejudices that Daily Mail readers have about immigration. “If we hadn’t let them in in the first place this never would have happened” etc. This is because cultural relativism has never, will never and can never work.
When I talk about preserving the monarchy for cultural reasons, it is only because it is harmless. Any culture that causes physical harm or mental anguish is not one that the human race needs to preserve. The Solomon Islanders are much better off now than when they were running about eating each other. The Chinese practice of foot binding has (thankfully) been swept away with the passage of time, as has the fine old game of throw-the-widow-on-the-funeral-pyre that proved popular in medieval India.
It follows that we should not be falling over ourselves to protect the rights of people to do horrible, stupid, misguided and morally bankrupt things to each other in the name of ‘culture’.
Sharia Law is the most blatant example of this, but what about the Northern Irish and their idiotic marches? What about the Jewish woman forced to sell her home in to pay for the ‘Get’ that will allow her to divorce her husband in the eyes of Goddy? What about the gay kid disowned by his or her parents for making baby Jesus cry (presumably)? What about the unfortunate child of Jehovah’s Witnesses who would rather let them die than give them a blood transfusion? What about the young girl of North East African descent who is taken home by her parents in the summer holidays to have her genitalia mutilated with a septic blade?
Honour killings, forced marriage, animal cruelty, sexism, racism, homophobia, sadism, slavery: they have all been justified by saying ‘it’s my culture’. This is when culture stops being about delicious food, amazing architecture and fancy dance moves, and becomes something a lot more sinister.
So it follows that attempting to set up a system in which people are told that everybody’s ‘culture’ (however you choose to define that word) is equally valid is obviously never going to work. We’ve got to stop using ‘culture’ as a trump-card that renders all argument moot and brands any dissenters as insensitive, or even more fallaciously, racists.
Just as the British flag has been hijacked by extremists to mean something it shouldn’t, so the word ‘culture’ has been hijacked by every yahoo who wants to defend something that is otherwise pretty damn indefensible. The upshot of which is that now (say) ‘spicy food’ is seen as part of a given culture, but so is some bafflingly cruel custom that nobody in the UK wants or needs. The word ‘culture’ is being used to trump human rights and human dignity.
The basic concept of multiculturalism is that you lump the rough with the smooth and it’ll all work its way out in the wash. The reality is very different. In making my argument, it would be helpful for me to split the word ‘culture’ in two. So let’s say ‘noble culture’, which we can group under headings such as ‘art’ and ‘science’ and let’s have ‘rotten culture’ which we can group under the headings ‘cruelty’ and ‘stupidity’.
There is a fine balance to be struck here, but it’s not that hard to achieve: Welcome to Britain, leave your unwanted baggage at the door, thanks. Of course you can bring your beautiful calligraphy, your ancient texts and your fabulous music, but the bigotry, misogyny and homophobia… well, I’m afraid they’re not welcome here, despite what Richard Littlejohn thinks.
So while I am a massive supporter of ‘noble culture’, I see no intrinsic good coming from ‘rotten culture’. All I see is misery, despair and isolation. And it is these facets that make cultural relativity so divisive and so problematic. By positively encouraging people to make little effort to integrate into the wider community we are doing nothing but contributing to the increasing ghettoisation of the UK.
This cuts both ways: British ex-pats who live their lives in foreign climes for years on end and never bother to learn the local lingo should be just as irksome to people as Pakistanis in Bradford who don’t learn English. If anything, it shows a basic lack of respect for the community in the place you have chosen to live. It doesn’t matter whether the natives are I-Kiribati, Aboriginal or Glaswegian, there can be no cross-community cohesion while we have this Balkanisation of communities… something that is achieved through the exploitation of cultural fault-lines: ie. the rotten stuff.
Kipling was wrong when he said that “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet”. We can all agree that Lamb Rogan Josh is a good thing, that the Taj Mahal is beautiful and that Bollywood films are a bloody good larf. In these cases, East meets West and everyone has a great time.
But when it comes to the Indian caste system, we are faced with a situation in which one community is wrongfully stratified from birth and people are openly discriminated against by other members of their community for obscure and nefarious reasons. We can’t somehow incorporate that into our moral framework, our laws or our society. And the same goes for Sharia: we can’t have a community in the UK which runs itself on laws which ignore the last 200 years of social progress. A two-tier system system of justice and morality is most definitely not what the doctor ordered.
When David Cameron said a few months ago that ‘multiculturalism has failed’, there was hardly a mumble of dissent. He’s wrong, of course, multiculturalism has made the UK better than ever (think how dreadful food was in the 1970s), but I can see how for many, multiculturalism in the UK has been a massive failure: it has led to misery, bitterness, hate crimes, the regrowth of the British Nazi movement.
But this isn’t the fault of multiculturalism per se, it’s more the fault of having a ‘one size fits all’ policy when it comes to cultural matters. Branding something ‘cultural’ does not automatically make it worthwhile, necessary or good.
Overcoming our inherent tribalism while still retaining the ‘noble culture’ of our tribe (and learning from the ‘noble culture’ of others) is something that all of us should strive to achieve: whether we’re a native or an immigrant. After all, it’s a lot more difficult to say you hate any given minority when your best friends come from that very minority.
I’m very much a believer in the ‘melting pot’ society: schools that are separated by individual strengths, not by race, religion or creed. Communities that are encouraged to work together, not tear each other apart. Politicians that represent the aspirations of the country, not just their own narrow agenda. A UK where being intolerant, impolite and thuggish is seen as an affront to all our ‘noble culture’: a place where if I see a bunch of angry skinheads marching along the street shouting racist obscenities and I can gather my friends from all over the world and say “oh dear, how desperately un-British.”
9. The Film “Industry”
This deserves a post all of its own, but I’ll try and keep this brief: Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein… if we were to put the money that these BRITISH creations have made for HOLLYWOOD together, we would enough wonga to buy the moon.
Of the top 20 box office hits of all time, 10 were British inventions (I’m including the Titanic in that!), and 13 feature a British main character – sometimes even a Yank pretending to be British.
All eight Harry Potter films were filmed in the UK, with a British cast, British crew, British producer, and based on the books by a British writer. The last five films were all directed by Brits.
Deathly Hallows Parts I and II have (so far) taken a whopping $2,300,000,000 worldwide – just at the box-office. That’s not taking into account DVDs, downloads, spin-offs, merchandise, the World of Harry Potter or the fact Dumbledore is now the gay icon of the age. Put the entire series together and we are talking MEGAbucks, more than the annual GDP of some countries.
And where does all this money go?
Why? Because British people are stupid. Oh yeah, look at us producing a decent sit-com at a rate of about one per decade – aren’t we great? Occasionally we get enough money together to make a feature film, but instead of setting the box-office alight with our tried-and-tested intellectual property, we decide what the world REALLY NEEDS is another dreary period drama set in a swamp. Or a gangster film.
We’re useless, aren’t we? Too busy watching soap-operas instead of spinning our best ideas into box-office gold. Would it really have made ANY difference AT ALL if a British studio had paid to make the Harry Potter films? No. We had the tools, we had the talent. All we are missing is ANY LIVING BRITISH ENTREPRENEUR with a brain and a pair of balls. Somebody willing to invest 100 million quid, not on some god-awful building that they’ll demolish in 30 years, but on a safe bet that they will make over a BILLION POUNDS OF PURE PROFIT at the box-office.
EIGHT TIMES OVER!!
Do me a favour, the next time you’re at a party and some pretentious Brit says that “all Americas are thick”, punch them in the cock and scream “Tell that to Harry Potter!!”
10. The Weather
Ah yes. The weather. This is what the British do when the sun comes out:
Today marked the start of the 4-day Diamond Jubilee celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s 60th year as Head of State of The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and numerous Commonwealth realms.
It’s given the British people a couple of days off work, a free concert and injected some much-needed joy into a otherwise perpetually depressed nation. There are some that argue that the royal family is an anachronism, that it’s irrelevant, that it’s out-of-touch. So would I! But then, let’s face it, those adjectives could be used to describe every political institution in the world, not least the United Nations.
I’m not swayed by arguments wrung out by Daily Mail-types who believe that to criticise the monarchy is akin to collaborating with The Nazis. Nor am I swayed by arguments wrung out by tub-thumbing Trots screaming off with her head – these are arguments borne out of emotion, of jealousy, hatred, fear, misguided patriotism and xenophobia. These do not interest me.
As a graduate of History and Politics and well-travelled absorber of all things groovy and novel, what does interest me is political systems: ones that work and ones that don’t.
I want to convince you in the course of this essay that republics – democracies with an elected head of state – are a deeply flawed political system, and that constitutional monarchies – democracies with a un-elected head of state – are (perverse as it may sound) a fairer, more sensible and more democratic way of doing things.
When you’ve finished picking your jaw up off the floor, I’d like to refer you to the Democracy Index. A list of the most democratic nations in the world. Notice how 7 of the top ten most democratic states in the world are constitutional monarchies. In fact, 4 out of the top 5 most democratic states in the world are constitutional monarchies. Weirded out yet? I hope so.
This goes against all common sense – how can having an un-elected head of state be more democratic that having an elected one?
The answer, as with most things in life, is politics. In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch has no political power. Nor should they have – after all, they are just one man or one woman, who are they to frustrate the will of hundreds of elected politicians? Who are they to frustrate the will of the millions of people who didn’t vote for them? Who are they to steal the country’s natural resources or unilaterally declare war on another country?
The system that works the best is when the Head of State and Head of Government are two clear and distinct roles, the former having no political power and the latter not being in direct control of the army.
A presidential system naturally cedes far too much power into the hands of one man.
In the USA, which I believe has one of the worst political systems this side of North Korea, you have a situation in which the Head of State, Head of Government AND Head of the Armed Services is one man. ONE MAN. Let’s think about this for a moment.
ONE MAN can veto each and every bill that has spent months – maybe even years – passing through both houses of Congress. A bill that would have been carefully formulated, gone through committees, sub-committees, debates, re-writes, collective bargaining and been voted on by a majority in both the House of Representatives and The Senate. ONE MAN has the power to say ‘bollocks to that for a game of soldiers’ and throw the bill in his drawer and forget about it. You might presume that this amazing and unbelievable power would be something that happens maybe once or twice in an entire presidency.
Not so. George W Bush vetoed 12 bills.
That’s nothing: Clinton vetoed 37. George Bush Senior 44… and Ronald Reagan? 78.
In contrast, the Queen of Britain has vetoed exactly 0 bills. In 60 years. In fact, the last time the British Head of State vetoed a bill that had passed through both houses of parliament WAS in 1708. OVER 300 years ago. The power of veto is there in case of emergency, say if we get a loony Hitler-type in charge of parliament who wants to kill all the Welsh, but that’s never happened… and is rather unlikely to happen because the armed services of the UK do not swear alliance to the Prime Minister, they swear allegiance to the Queen. They have a right to say no. Unlike in the USA where…
ONE MAN can order the armed services to invade a foreign country FOR SIX WEEKS before having to seek permission from Congress for his actions.
You might want to rub your eyes and read that sentence again. SIX WEEKS!! Of course this rule was invented when it took six weeks to cross the Atlantic, and the British were running around burning down the president’s residence (according to scuttlebutt, the Yanks painted it white to cover the scorch marks). NOT when the USA had the capacity to WIPE OUT ALL HUMANS ON THE PLANET in the same given time frame.
Don’t forget: ONE MAN HAS THIS POWER. This is a presidential system. It is the reason the USA scores below the UK – which still doesn’t have an elected upper house, AND has a monarchy – in the Democracy Index.
It is the reason why France and Italy aren’t even down as ‘full democracies’, but rather ‘flawed democracies’ along with Cape ‘frikkin’ Verde. You look at the monumental corruption of Berlusconi, Mitterand, Chirac et al and then you look at how remarkably incorruptible the Queens of Britain or the Netherlands or Denmark are. Incorruptible because they aren’t greedy career politicians in it for the money, or the power, or both.
The line that sticks with me is in Gladiator when Marcus Aurelius Says to Maximus that he wants him to lead Rome back to democracy. Maximus says he doesn’t want the job. That, says Marcus, is why it must be you.
You see a job like that of Head of State naturally attracts the wrong sort of people. So does Head of Government, but at least in a parliamentary system the Head of Government can be over-ruled by cabinet or their own party… and can be gotten rid of as soon as they cock-up big style. Contrast the axing of Maggie Thatcher over the Poll Tax compared to the unbearable unpopularity of that dickwick George W Bush in his second term. Could the US voters get rid of Bush before the end of his term of office? NO. Not unless they could prove he broke the law. Being excruciatingly BAD AT YOUR JOB isn’t enough to fire a president – after all, he’s Head of State.
So let’s lay my cards on the table. In my humble opinion, the USA elects a dictator every four years. A dictator that has a phenomenal (and grossly un-democratic) amount of power. But the US isn’t alone in this madness. Look around the world – presidents are almost universally bad news (note that NONE of the top ten democracies are presidental systems).
In most countries in Africa, where a tribal-cum-parliamentary system would be best, you have a guy who is a member of one particular tribe – usually the biggest tribe – and he’s president. And he will look after his tribe to the detriment of all others. The corruption that stifles development in the third world is almost always linked to a presidential system. One man. Head of State. Head of Government. Head of the Armed Services. Let’s have a coup d’etat! Let’s kill the opposition! Let’s change the constitution so I’m president for life! This is not the way we should be conducting matters and running countries in the 21st century.
Yes a monarchy is anachronistic, yes it’s probably out-of-touch and yes I quite frankly hate Prince Charles. Maybe other political models work better, but that’s not the purpose of this piece. I’m merely telling you why I’m not a republican. It is because I find republics IN PRACTICE to be a one-way ticket to tyranny. Give me the checks and balances ensured by Constitutional Monarchies around the world anyday.
In closing, I’d just like to say that I once met a Jewish guy from the lower east side of Manhattan. This was in 2005, a few months after George W Bush was re-elected president. I suggested that he must be rather miffed that that walking disaster for the world had got back in.
“No”, he says, “I voted for him”.
My years of political study about voting patterns, demographics and political loyalty went flying out the window.
“WTF???” I scream, half in horror, half in sheer disbelief.
Well, says my Jewish friend, “you have to rally around your leader at a time of war.”