MR CAMERON LOSES
Political catastrophe in Commons
A NEW chapter in British constitutional history was scripted on Friday with Prime Minister David Cameron&’s defeat in the House of Commons on a matter of foreign policy. The parliamentary vote has rejected the idea of Britain joining the concert of invaders ~ notably America and France ~ to teach Syria a lesson in the aftermath of the alleged chemical attack. It is rare for the government to be defeated on foreign policy; for Mr Cameron, who had pitched for Western invasion ever since the visuals were aired on YouTube, the vote has been a political catastrophe.
It was 200 years ago that a Prime Ministerial war motion was defeated, pre-eminently Lord North over the American War of Independence. Such ironies of war and peace shape history as do judicious initiatives by leaders. Not that the landmark repetition of military history will affect the warlike designs of Barack Obama or Francois Hollande; unlike in Iraq, Britain shall not be part of the attacking forces, however. Iraq was a war that the average Brit didn’t approve of, yet Tony Blair had bashed on regardless in the company of George Bush. Friday&’s robust disapproval of the legislature signifies that enough is enough. The Commons has spelt out the difference between 2003 and 2013; in the span of a decade it has influenced international power-games by setting Britain&’s terms of engagement. Across the Atlantic, President Obama&’s inaugural rhetoric to end the “decade of wars” has been fulfilled by the British legislature though he himself, increasingly egged on by Secretary of State John Kerry, displays an impatient desire to strike.
Britain&’s legislative rejection must rank as a classic case-study of how parliamentary democracy ought to work… free from rumbustious scenes and logjam as in this part of the world. Did Mr Cameron misjudge the mood of the people? Neither he nor his ministers could convince the nation with their claim that there could be no analogy between the planned limited strikes on Syria and the invasion of Iraq. Arguably, the price of misjudgment would have been still more disastrous than the legislative setback. The Prime Minister has been humbled as has his Lib-Dem deputy, Nick Clegg, who too had shrilled for war. Britain&’s international stature is now diminished, while its democratic credentials are reinforced. The resounding note of the Commons vote resonates across the Atlantic.
TOY TRAIN REVIVAL
Railways must shed lethargy
AT A point in time when the Darjeeling hills are in the throes of a Telangana-triggered revival of long-standing political controversy, any lament about the fate of the unique, 132-year-old “toy train” might appear sentimental irrelevance. Yet reviving that famous railway might actually provide a rare ray of sunshine to the region ~ on offer is a Unesco grant of $600,000. Of course, with a rider that the world body would play an active role in the 24-month restoration exercise. A meeting in Paris on 24 October could prove crucial, the Indian Railways will be required to establish a determination to put the train back in operation: Unesco has had reason to question the priority accorded to restoring the Darjeeling Himalayan Mountain Railway ~ the first such system in India to be accorded World Heritage status.
It is a matter of considerable shame that the heritage status came close to being withdrawn because no Indian representative attended a previous meeting. Hence a rather stern “advisory” from a top Unesco official to the Railways to visit the World Heritage Centre in Paris in the near future. “Such proactive approach by your ministry will be extremely helpful to dissolve critical views regarding the current management of DHR”, it was stated. The regional director of Unesco has taken that tough line because it is felt that the Railways have to do much more than what has been done so far to re-rail the system that took a battering in an earthquake two years ago.
Time was when the Railways took tremendous pride in their functioning, and the mountain systems were deemed treasures. Apart from their antique values they bore testament to the engineering accomplishments of yesteryear. That pride has long dissipated, the hill railways have been permitted to go to seed. Even their potential as tourist attractions has been under-exploited. The Darjeeling railway boasted world-famous features such as loops and “Zs”. It would be a lasting national disgrace if Rail Bhawan&’s indifference to a non-political asset is allowed to degenerate to a liability.
HAIL THOSE HEELS
Hallmark of milady&’s elegance
‘FASHION’, at least the western brand of it, has long laid emphasis on a woman&’s footwear, and high-heeled shoes have been one hallmark of milady&’s elegance. It is not quite the same story in India where the traditional sari leaves only limited scope for footwear to make a “statement”. Opinion is divided whether high heels actually enhance a woman&’s poise and “carriage”: the macho-types have another “take”. They appreciate women with heels because that boosts their ego, they perceive signs that the woman/women are trying to “catch up” with them, literally.
After all there are not too many women, like Princess Diana, who opt for low or medium heels to avoid embarrassing their shorter partners. Of course a few of the blokes have had occasion to curse ~ a woman stamping and twisting her stiletto heel on their foot taught them who was boss. Cause to reflect on heels ~ which so many slaves to fashion keep wearing though they are not always comfortable with them ~ comes from a non-fashion quarter. Researchers at the Brigham Young (probably unable to find a more serious subject to analyse) have just concluded that while top quality high heels involve spending top dollar, they actually help a shopper against needless splurging ~ on other items, of course. The theory being that high heels cause the wearer to focus on maintaining a sense of balance, and that emphasis on physical balance then extends itself to the mental dimension: in short a woman in heels would make better choices in the mall or shopping arcade, believe it or not. That “balanced” selection, the researchers explained, could also be noted when shopping on a cruise ship, or even when making pavement purchases in wet, icy conditions. Now Indian men might insist that their women splurge regardless of whether in heels, flats or good old chappals. But away in the Philippines the researchers would be lauded by those who revolted when charges of being lavish and wasteful were levelled at inimitable Imelda.