Montréal, le 17 juillet 1999
Numéro 41
  (page 6)
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 by Ralph Maddocks
          Culture shock is something one may expect to experience when travelling to or living in a foreign country for the first time. Having done quite a bit of that in my lifetime I had thought myself more or less immune. What I hadn’t expected was to suffer culture shock when, recently, I returned for a vacation to the land of my youth. 
Selling England by the pound 
          Almost the first thing I noticed was that what were once called « Chemist’s Shops » (Druggists) have metamorphosed into North American « Pharmacies ». The Americanization of Britain has been proceeding slowly and steadily since the end of the Second World War. Poor Sir Winston must be revolving at high speed in his grave in Bladon Churchyard. It was he, you may recall, who is credited with saying that the British and the Americans were the same people divided only by a language. The complete Americanization of England will take many years yet I suspect, despite the best efforts of Fox television, available on cable or satellite TV, whose subscribers seem eager to watch the largely US inspired mindless programming foisted upon them daily. 
          The talks about the future of Northern Ireland were about to begin when I left the UK and it has been interesting to see that Mr Blair has been twisting arms to save his reputation. He is pushing the Unionist side hard but, strangely, doesn’t insist on the IRA’s decommissioning its arms as a prelude to the power-sharing that is supposed to lead to civil society. He seems to trust the IRA more than he trusted his own licensed handgun owners when he forced abolition of handguns on the law abiding citizens of the UK.  
          It may be recalled that the UK Prime Minister, Mr Blair, responded to Anne Pearston’s tearful appeal, about the slaying of some schoolchildren in Dunblane, at the Labour Party Conference by completely banning handguns. A ban so complete that the British Olympic handgun team must now keep its weapons in Belgium where it practices. This piece of idiocy came to mind when I saw a report in Britain’s Daily Telegraph to the effect that, in the UK, speeding police cars kill 15 people a year and injure 6 people a day. According to the British Home Office, 15 people were killed in 1997/8 and 2 123 injured in accidents involving police cars in pursuit or responding to some emergency. There were 15 such deaths for 1996/7 and  for each of the previous two years there were 21. In 1993, there were 34 deaths, in 1992 the number was 30 and 32 people died in 1991. That adds up to 168 deaths by police car in a decade. During that same decade, 24 people (including Dunblane) were killed with licensed and unlicensed firearms. 
 « Judging from some of the tales of UK Police abuse in recent years, it might not be all that much of an inconvenience to abolish them. »
          I didn’t read yet if, or when, Mr Blair will move to abolish the Police force who quite obviously represent a far greater danger to the unsuspecting public than the handgun owners ever did. Perhaps someone should tell Anne Pearston to organise and kick off another campaign at the next Labour Party conference. Judging from some of the tales of UK Police abuse in recent years, it might not be all that much of an inconvenience to abolish them.  
Poll Bore 
          While I was in Britain, the media was ecstatic over the exploits of the Manchester United soccer team and its triple cup win; exploits which obscured the more important issues of the day. Events such as Britain’s continuing adhesion to the European Union, its potential adoption of the sagging Euro, Corpus Juris and the openings of the Scottish and Welsh parliaments.  
          As in the USA, the voting age population continually avoids opportunities to vote. The percentage of the electors voting is in decline and the day I left there was a vote to elect members of the European Parliament. Subsequent results showed that the turnout was indeed low. In this European election, voting declined from 1994's 36% to around 28%. Spinning furiously, the Labour Party claimed that it was the result of « the politics of contentment »; voters satisfied with the government’s performance. Others claimed, with some justification, that the result indicated voter fatigue following local elections, referendums in Scotland and Wales and elections to those new bodies. A third reason comes to mind; the introduction of a new system of proportional representation to replace the traditional « first past the post » system.  
          Designed by a Belgian, Victor d’Hondt, voters could vote once for a party but not for a person. The names of the potential candidates were all listed and some ballot papers were several feet in length. The Labour party had decided that political parties themselves would chose their representatives and according to how high up on the list you were, the better your chances of selection when the votes are finally apportioned to the candidates. In a four seat district the top four would be declared elected. This system obviously can lead to the party leadership choosing the spineless sycophants over the more independently minded. It is equally interesting that Mr Blair is opposed to introducing proportional representation to the British House of Commons. 

Money does know boundaries 
          One personal experience in particular which I was obliged to undergo was completely unanticipated. Thinking that it might be simpler to deposit my vacation funds in a British bank and issue cheques to cover my expenses, I visited a well known national UK bank and asked to open an account. Simple enough, one might think, deposit a few thousand dollars and there you are; mission accomplished. Not in the UK apparently. I was told that as a non-resident I must complete a form and would need a reference from my own bank. No problem just 'phone them, here is the name of the manager and the telephone number. But we are not allowed to make long distance phone calls, came the reply. Very well, charge it to my own phone card. We can’t do that either. How about sending a fax? We don’t accept faxes as evidence. How about secure encrypted e-mail then? We aren’t online. We need a written reference by mail from your bank. What if I offer to transfer a million dollars (not that I have a million dollars, but they don’t know that) will that do? Not even if I hand them the money there and then, they need a bank reference. 
          Defeated at last, I retired to consider my next move. I called my bank and they arrange to speak to the UK bank and follow it up with written confirmation. Six weeks later, the urgency having obviously dissipated, I still wait for confirmation.  
          Thinking that perhaps all this grief was because I could be a money laundering foreigner with a poor credit record, I related my tale to an old and close friend. My friend, a successful and very wealthy retired business man, had been a customer of his own bank for over fifty years. Recently, his daughter had returned from living in Australia and had a very large cheque to deposit. Accompanied by her father she attempted to open an account at his bank and was treated in exactly the same way as I, and was unable to deposit her cheque. She too was obliged to wait several weeks for the formalities to be completed and had to deposit her cheque in her father’s account for temporary storage. My friend was so upset that he has now changed banks; an option hardly available to me. 
          Banks represent private enterprise so it is not hard to imagine just what it must be like dealing with the swollen state bureaucracy. One bright spot in all of this was the fact that not only in Britain did the socialists lose ground in the European elections, but their like-minded brethren in the rest of Europe have lost their domination of the European parliament. 
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