On the 8th of June Britain went to the polls. Theresa May called an early election in the expectation that she would strengthen her hand ahead of the Brexit negotiations. In her mind she would be returned to power with an increased majority. Two months ahead of the election the press was united in the view that this would happen, and the Labour Party, under the leadership of the demonised Jeremy Corbyn, would be crushed. Well that did not materialise. The Tories (Conservatives) won just 317 seats, and as there are 650 seats in the House of Commons this is not a majority. Labour gained 30 seats, giving them 262. It is now generally felt the winners lost and the losers won.
This election saw a numbers of firsts for me. I felt really strongly the Tories should be voted out of power after the appalling outcome of the referendum, and the almost certainty that the UK will leave the European Union. I entered the discussion as something other than just an observer and voter. I posted on my Facebook page urging people to engage and vote strategically.
The biggest change though was that in this election I voted Labour for the first time in my life. At least I believe I did because Ailsa had my proxy vote. It was clear that the election needed strategic voting, effectively whoever was the most likely opposition candidate needed the vote. That meant although I would normally support the Liberal Democrats, there was no way they would win in our constituency, Norwich North. We have had a conservative MP since 2009. In the 2015 General Election she held the seat with a majority of about 5000, in 2017 this was reduced to just over 500. I felt my vote really mattered and counted.
Because May is governing through a coalition the general consensus is that there will be, at some point soon, a vote of confidence which she will lose and there will have to be another election. I am quite uncertain as to what will happen, but I hope that now Labour have a sense that they could win, and with any luck we will see a change in government. In my view that would mean a move towards significantly more social spending and higher taxes. Both would be good thing. Of course Britain’s departure from the EU is going to hit the economy hard, the value of the pound has already fallen significantly.
I travelled to England on the 30th of June, thereby missing a big celebration in Canada. The country celebrated 150 years as a Confederation. The provinces that formed the confederation in 1867 were the colonies of Canada (this province then divided into Ontario and Quebec); Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The current structure has ten provinces and three territories, Newfoundland only joined in 1949, before this it was a crown colony ruled by a British governor.
I have to admit to not fully understanding the system of governance in Canada. It is fully independent and a member of the British Commonwealth. According to Wikipedia – that font of all knowledge: “Canada has a parliamentary system within the context of a constitutional monarchy, the monarchy of Canada being the foundation of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The sovereign is Queen Elizabeth II … the Queen’s representative, the Governor General of Canada … carries out most of the federal royal duties”. Each province has a Lieutenant Governor and the $20 Canadian banknote has a picture of the Queen. It is all strange for an independent nation. Australia and New Zealand are similar.
If I were to become a Canadian citizen, there is a test and these are things one would have to know. Indeed, as part of becoming a citizen, one has to swear the Oath of Citizenship, the first part of which is an Oath of Allegiance, ‘a promise or declaration of fealty to the Canadian monarch’. I have asked many of my Canadian friends how they feel about this close link with the UK. The consensus seems to be that it is ok; a sense of ‘if it is not broken don’t fix it’. I am not sure how this will pan out when Charles and Camilla become King and Queen respectively. However they went to Canada to mark the 150 years and presumably this was also to place themselves for their future roles.
The students from the Balsillie School had a trip to Ottawa in June. Our Masters’ of Public Policy (MIPP) group went up for a week and had a chance to see how the government works. Many of the rest: the Masters’ of Global Governance (MAGG) and PhD students travelled up on Thursday and gave presentations of their policy briefs to the Department of Global Affairs Canada (GAC). I went with this group. They mostly worked in teams and in total there were 15 presentations, which took all day. I was exhausted by the end of the day. The GAC people invited other civil servants, so there were always people interested in the students and what they had to say.
The team I mentored talked about currency fluctuations and the impact they have on international development assistance. It sounds dry, but I think it is fascinating and it has real and detrimental effects on the funding for health and HIV. This is something I have been thinking about for a long time and have been working on for about a year with the support on UNAIDS and DFID. The most recent report had been posted by DFID and is available on the UK government website. Nick Zebryk, who has worked with me for a couple of years, co-authored the report and did much of the research. We sent it out to everyone we talked to, and many others besides. Interestingly there has been little reaction to the final report, although there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the research.
The journey to Ottawa seemed endless. We went up by train: about 90 minutes from Kitchener to Toronto and then over four and a half hours from Toronto to Ottawa. The trains are comfortable and there is a more than adequate trolley service, but it is long journey. The students and most of the staff stayed in the residences at Carleton University. Having joined them there in 2016 I decided a hotel room in the city was worth splashing out on. The hotel I use is the one where I spent a month in 2007 when I was a Visiting Fellow at Carleton. I think the curtains and carpet are exactly the same, although I am sure they have been cleaned frequently. It is a ‘suites’ hotel which means there is a living area and small kitchen, rather wasted on such a short trip.
Travelling to back to Norwich actually took only a little longer than the journey to Ottawa, and was much less pleasant. I had an economy comfort seat in the first row, which meant there was leg room, but the seats are small. The plane was completely packed, schools in Canada broke-up on the 29th, and while there were not many young people on the plane, I think it was full of escaping teachers. This may make sense as the 150th Anniversary was worth being in Canada for, especially if there is a chance an individual would see the 200th, and anyone under 30 has a good chance of being alive for that. I personally regret that I did not delay my travel for a few days.
At least, though, I have a few weeks in Norwich before travelling to Southern Africa for a Waterford Board meeting in Swaziland and a quick stop in Durban. I am not looking forward to the long plane journeys of the next month or so, perhaps one upgrade will be warranted. It is also with reminding myself that, as a KLM elite card holder, I at least get access to the lounges and all the perks that go with this status. It would be hard to contemplate travelling without these benefits.