‘Ere, Yer A Right Doughnut!
Aaah! It really is superb. The roast lamb, the Yorkshire pudding, the vegetables and the roast potatoes were superb. Well what does one expect. I was back home. Although the winds had been poorly behaved and the rains came down in greater than normal quantities and caused flooding, it really was good to be home. In Britain. The roads had no pot holes and for a moment I thought I was back in my third home in Tangalle, the first home of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
That was not all. All the laws and the rules seemed to be in order in Britain. Drivers drove studiously and kept to the speed limit lest the cameras take your mug shot and automatically generate a ticket sent directly to your home. There was an absence of ‘honking’ and it was a pleasure to drive knowing very well that all the drivers would stick to the same rules. There was a noticeable absence of undertaking as opposed to overtaking. Brake lights worked on all the cars, lorries and yes the buses too. Almost everything worked and if it did not, help was just a telephone call away.
On the political front – yes that too – democracy seemed to be healthy, alive and for want of a better word, vibrantly so. Advanced plans were on hand to ensure that the millions of borrowers would not be conned again by the likes of Barclays and fixing the interbank borrowing rate, which thanks to Mr. Diamond and his boys everyone in Britain now knows to be “LIBOR”. David Cameron and his coalition partners of course bantered and bartered with each other mindful that Ed Miliband was very much alive and well and raring to go – given half a chance. Her Majesty and her Family including The First Husband were also alive and well and doing their Royal Duty. The Olympics 2012 London started with a dazzling, mind-boggling opening display and everyone in Britain – and perhaps the World – understood just what exactly GBP 12 Billion could do to a city. Britain was as one in its expectation – even though the British are now composed of a vast number of minorities like the Eastern bloc nations, Tamils, Jews, Arabs, Africans and almost any other minority one cared to name. Britain is Diversity personified. Palpitations of course exist – a small number of racially motivated criminal cases were doing its rounds in the Courts – but everyone it seemed had every faith in the judiciary including no doubt the two former Gunatanamo Bay inmates who received millions of sterling in compensation – to keep them quiet and the intelligence agencies out of Court and out of sight of the general public.
There was of course great consternation that David Beckham appeared to have been kicked in his teeth after doing ‘so much’ for the London 2012 Olympic cause but that too in its own perverse sense was democracy at its best: just because he had done his part for his country did not mean he would be given a place in Team Britain’s Olympic football squad. I for one thought of Sanath Jayasuriya. Except that ‘our’ David did not write to the other David at Downing Street asking for a slot in the team. I also thought of Charles, the British Princeling – who in spite of his position as eldest son of the Queen of England, did not ask for a huge stadium in his Duchy of Cornwall area unlike another wannabe princeling from Medamulana, a la Hambantota of course. The closest Charles got to being ‘familiar’ in public with his Mother, was when he referred to her at the Golden Jubilee Music Concert, as “Your Majesty … Mummy…”
I researched hard and fast and extensively. I simply could not find any Ministry in Britain or a single political family that controlled over 60% of British government expenditure. No I am sorry to disappoint all of you but there really was no one remotely close to that figure. These sort of occurrences I was assured by my mates in the Rose & Crown simply did not happen in Britain. I quietly thought to myself nor does it happen elsewhere in the democratic world.
There was a noticeable absence of influence peddling at ground level. I mean one simply did not telephone the Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police Force and ask him to cancel the speeding ticket one got on the M1 motorway. Observing passengers checking in at Colombo airport on SriLankan Airlines I was struck by the number of passengers who had ‘arranged’ for their excess baggage to be loaded without payment. On this subject I hear that the President’s youngest son had actually paid for his excess baggage recently because his maternal uncle Nishantha had refused to allow him free excess baggage. Wonderful young man and I do wish to nominate him for a ‘Deshamanya’ award – I mean much better giving it to him than the fellow in Tangalle who supplies the travelling Presidential Security detail their meals when “Sir” is at home.
Of course influence peddling must go on – at a rather elevated level and under the most considerable of covert conditions. The only time I can think of when this influence peddling in Britain was not done so covertly was when the Iron Lady was in office. After a most successful tour of the Middle East – one of the hallmarks of her very long stewardship as Prime Minister – she sent an Emir from the Middle East a photograph inscribing it in the process with the words – the exact words fail me – ‘to mark my visit to your country’ and signed it Margaret Thatcher. The only problem was she sent it through her son who was not an emissary of the British government. Her son of course is a multi-millionaire who lives in various countries but usually not in Britain and who represented a large British construction company at the time. Of course another occasion springs to mind – when the Mittal family donated some money to that ever-grinning Prime Minister Tony’s party. Some weeks later a letter was sent out to the leader of an European country, recommending in effect, that a particular steel plant be sold to Mittal’s company which was described as a ‘British company’. In fact his British company at the time employed very few people and it was his off-shore company that was much bigger. Although at the time there was a hue and cry about it, Blair did not resign and Mittal did get the company in question. Democracy and good governance is alive and well in Britain the country that Sri Lanka is forever trying to emulate. Britain is our biggest trading partner and a considerable number of students go off to Britain in search of a superior education. Some of course end up working in the local Tesco or the Shell forecourt but by and large Sri Lankans get the best out of Britain. In Britain none of the journalists are worried about getting white-vanned or abused by the Secretary of State for Defence Phillip Hammond. Although unlike in Sri Lanka, that position is a cabinet-ranked Ministerial role. On the flip side if Mr. Hammond had even approached a “pilot-friend” at British Airways to perhaps initiate an aircraft change on account of a personal favour Hammond would have been relegated to the dustbin of history within a week of the story breaking. Yet more on the flip side, the News of the World may well have hacked into your mobile conversations but in Sri Lanka The Sunday Leader simply would not be able to safely do that. We in Sri Lanka leave hacking – of telephones or the bodily assault type – to ‘the authorities’. This last week former Prime Minister Sir John Major addressed the Bow Group on the Terrace of the House of Commons (Britain’s parliament). Now here is a peculiarly British occurrence. The Bow Group members are all committed to Conservatism. In fact if they felt a change in their faith they would be expected to resign from membership of the Bow Group. So the Bow Group is a force within the Conservative Party. In Sri Lanka the only comparison I can immediately think of is the Sajith Premadasa types within the UNP. But they are termed ‘factions’, ‘reformists’ or plain ‘dissidents’. Finally I clicked: what all this regimented, regularized lifestyle does for anyone is really quite elementary. It is something that the Muslims practice year in year out. The Buddhists swear by it as do the Hindus. Come to think of it most religions have some sort of variance of it. In Queen Elizabeth’s realm, in spite of the questionable legacy of the now defunct ‘Rule Brittania’ – where the British Empire ruled more than just the seas and Ceylon’s gem pits – in spite of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ and overt racism, in spite of the murder of Steven Lawrence, in spite of the shooting of PC Yvonne Fletcher by the Libyans on our streets, the British way taught itself and in the process taught its citizenry a key ingredient all so necessary for a wholesome life. It has taught Tolerance.