“Why do the Brits accept surveillance” asks Jonathan Freedland in the New York Times? Freedland points out that, even after the Edward Snowden revelations, only 19% of British people think that the security services have too much power. By contrast, some 64% think they have the right amount of power or too little. Freedland’s explanation for this striking state of affairs is that the Brits have a more deferential attitude to the state than Americans, reflected in the fact that it is “Her Majesty’s government”. He points out that “Britons remain subjects not citizens.”
This is a clever explanation, but not one that I find particularly convincing. It is true that the British tend to be less hostile to the idea of government than Americans. But that is an attitude that is common in Europe, including in states that are highly suspicious of intelligence agencies, such as Germany.
My alternative theory is that British people basically accept the claim that was made by Britain’s intelligence chiefs when they testified before Parliament last week. The spooks argued that they are working to protect democracy. That claim, which would be met with derision in Germany or by much of liberal America, is broadly accepted in Britain, for reasons that are deeply rooted in British history.
The basic narrative of British history, as taught in schools and broadcast on television, is of a country that has had to ward off a succession of attempted foreign invasions. The role of the intelligence services in protecting the UK is both noted and celebrated. Most obviously, in the second world war, the code-breakers of Bletchley Park – who cracked the German Enigma signals – are regarded as national heroes. But it goes back a lot further than that. Elizabeth I’s spy-master, Francis Walsingham, ran an extensive network of spies that gathered vital intelligence on the Spanish Armada. Read more
After days of severe weather warnings and anticipation, England suffered transport chaos and widespread power cuts this morning after a storm with gusts of up to 99 mph hit southern England.
Though the storm was not severe by international standards, it is the worst to hit the country in a number of years.
Porthleven in Cornwall. (c) Getty Images
This video from the Met Office shows the progress of the storm across the country.
The worst of the weather is now over, with the focus turning to the cleanup.
London’s rail stations were eerily quiet as most major rail companies cancelled all early morning trains.
(c) Claer Barrett
(c) Claer Barrett
Network Rail, like many other companies, took to Twitter to update commuters on problems.
It said that more than 100 trees have been discovered on the rail network across the south east so far today.
As of 10am, many major commuter routes were still closed. Read more
This morning’s article in the FT by David Miliband has caused a stir in Britain. Just a week after Ed Miliband and the Labour Party came out against British military involvement in Syria, David Miliband – Ed’s older brother and defeated rival – has hinted strongly that he would have been in favour. In his piece, he argues that “while international engagement is decreasingly popular in the advanced democracies, a multipolar world makes it increasingly necessary.” David M’s intervention in the debate has been widely portrayed as the latest twist in the ongoing Miliband melodrama. “Brothers At War”, shrieked the Daily Mail headline today. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Edward Snowden seems like a bright chap. So he will probably have noticed the irony of voicing his complaints about persecution by the US legal system from the confines of Moscow airport. There are few governments in the world that abuse the law, for political purposes, with the ruthlessness and cynicism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory on Sunday afternoon was a moment of tennis history. But just behind the sporting drama lay a political drama.
When the television crowd-shots were not focusing adoringly on Murray’s girlfriend, they panned over to the VIP box. Sitting in the front row was Britain’s tennis-playing prime minister, David Cameron – just behind him was Alex Salmond, the Scottish first minister.
With a referendum on Scottish independence coming up next year, both political leaders would dearly love to wrap this new sporting hero in the flag – the Scottish saltire in Salmond’s case, the Union Jack in Cameron’s case.
Indeed, as the courtside celebrations broke out, Salmond could briefly be seen unfurling a large Scottish flag – before the BBC panned swiftly away. (That’s B, as in British Broadcasting Corporation.) Read more
Syrian rebels in the southern town of Maaret al-Numan (AFP)
US President Barack Obama’s decision to send arms to the Syrian rebels is clearly an important moment in the country’s civil war. It is a decision that will be welcomed by David Cameron, the British prime minister.
Over the last year, Cameron has been one of the strongest supporters for the idea of sending arms to the rebels in order to level the Syrian battlefield and help bring the Assad regime to the negotiating table. A constant theme in his argument is that there must not be a repeat of the Bosnia conflict in the 1990s, in which thousands died while the west stood aside and did nothing. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
As the world edges towards a peace conference on Syria, three ideas about the west’s role in the conflict are widely accepted. First, that the longer the conflict goes on, the greater the chances of direct or indirect western military intervention. Second, that there is a deep and bitter division between the US and Russia that is making progress much harder. Third, that the Syrian civil war is dominating western thinking on the Middle East. Few people publicly dispute these propositions. And yet they are all distinctly questionable.
'Getting to Gnome you' (Getty)
The Chelsea Flower show, that quintessentially British annual event where celebrities, business leaders, and horticulturalists rub shoulders with royalty, is in full bloom. This year it has generated a number of unusual talking points.
The chatter started with the Gnome controversy. This year the organisers, the Royal Horticultural Society, announced (well ahead of the show so Gnome collecting could begin in earnest) that they were lifting their ban on the love-them-or-hate-them ornaments. A plethora of photoshoots have now been held of the humble figures, displayed liberally around the show. Debate’s raged over whether they were tacky, somewhat lowering the tone of this highly polished event that kicks of the British social ‘season’, or whether it signified a welcome abandonment of snobbery and class discrimination. Read more
I am pleased that my column on Britain and Europe today has attracted lots of hits and comments. But, inevitably, when you try to deal with such a complex subject in 900 words (give or take), there is a lot you have to leave out. And there was one vital part of the subject that I didn’t deal with – and that is the impact of immigration on the British debate on Europe. Read more