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April 9, 2014
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Samuel G. Freedman
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Jewish World Review
June 2, 2010
/ 20 Sivan, 5770
Can the Brits play nice?
During Britain's recent election campaign, someone asked David Cameron, the Conservative leader who is now prime minister, for his favorite joke. He replied, "Nick Clegg." During that same election campaign, Nick Clegg, now the deputy prime minister and a Liberal Democrat, accused Cameron of "breathtaking arrogance." "In this country," Clegg declared, unsubtly alluding to his opponent's aristocratic background, "you don't inherit power, you have to earn it."
All of which was pretty lame, by the standards of British politics. Winston Churchill once described his opponent Clement Attlee as "a modest man with much to be modest about" -- and, on another occasion, as "a sheep in sheep's clothing." Elaborating on that same theme, one Labor politician infamously dismissed an opponent's attack on the grounds that "it was like being savaged by a dead sheep." Not all of the nastiness is between parties: When asked why Margaret Thatcher so disliked him, her Tory predecessor, Edward Heath, merely shrugged. "I am not a doctor," he said.
Insults, both amusing and otherwise, are central to British public life: This is a country in which the government and the opposition glower at each other from opposite sides of the House of Commons, in which backbenchers jeer when their opponents speak. American partisanship, whether of the Nancy Pelosi or Sarah Palin variety, is a pale imitation by comparison. All of which explains the genuine fascination of the Cameron/Clegg, Conservative/Liberal Democrat, rightish-leftish U.K. coalition: After 21 days, it has become clear that this isn't just a government, it's a cultural sea change.
Curiously, the two men at the center of the whole thing are making the adjustment easily. Thanks, no doubt, to their identical educations (boarding school, Oxbridge), they share an identical sense of ironic distance and an identical sense of humor. At their first news conference, Cameron humbly confessed to that "Nick Clegg" joke, Clegg pretended to walk off in a huff, Cameron melodramatically shouted "come back!" and all was well in officers' mess.
But others just can't seem to get their bearings. Richard Littlejohn, the Daily Mail columnist who occupies the cozy space between right and far-right, last week careened between belittling Cameron (he is "working on the basis that it's best to get your betrayals in early"), praising the new government's plans for welfare reform and simultaneously predicting that they will fail ("I don't want to rain on his parade . . ."). Meanwhile, Polly Toynbee, who occupies a similar place on the left, furiously ranted against the new coalition's plans to cut the deficit -- Britain's deficit is the largest in Europe, even bigger than that of Greece -- while assaulting the Labor government for, um, wanting to cut the deficit.
Whom to attack? Whom to defend? It's hard to be a partisan columnist when all of the partisan lines are being redrawn -- but it's even harder to be a partisan politician. There are Tories who went into politics to fight against European integration. There are Liberal Democrats who went into politics to support it. All face the same, very real, moral dilemma: Stick to your principles -- and thus torpedo your party's crack at power -- or compromise. And each political crisis, each major decision is going to force each of them to face that dilemma again.
Already, we have had a taste of what is to come. Over the weekend, a senior Liberal Democrat, Chief Treasury Secretary David Laws, resigned after news emerged that he was claiming expenses for an apartment rented from his (male) partner. Amid all of the normal squeals of glee and horror, another urgent question emerged: Could Laws -- an economically literate fiscal conservative -- even be replaced? Is there another economically literate fiscal conservative in the Liberal Democratic Party? The Tories seemed prepared to accept Laws, but there is no guarantee they will accept his replacement. The Liberal Democrats seemed prepared to accept Laws' budget cuts, but there is no guarantee they will accept them if they appear to be "Tory" budget cuts. No one knows what will happen next.
It's a drama that is going to last as long as this coalition, and it's only going to get more interesting: Unusually, this government's fate depends on not only the normal political calculations but also on some more basic questions about human nature. And there are lessons here for the rest of us. If it succeeds -- if the coalition stays together, if it tackles Britain's financial crisis, if it reforms education and welfare, if it produces a coherent foreign policy -- we will know that yes, it is possible to convert bitter partisanship into amicable bipartisanship without destroying your party or losing your soul. And if the coalition fails -- well, maybe partisanship can't be overcome after all.
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Gulag: A History
Nearly 30 million prisoners passed through the Soviet Union's labor camps in their more than 60 years of operation. This remarkable volume, the first fully documented history of the gulag, describes how, largely under Stalin's watch, a regulated, centralized system of prison labor-unprecedented in scope-gradually arose out of the chaos of the Russian Revolution. Fueled by waves of capricious arrests, this prison labor came to underpin the Soviet economy. JWR's Applebaum, a former Warsaw correspondent for the Economist and a regular contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, draws on newly accessible Soviet archives as well as scores of camp memoirs and interviews with survivors to trace the gulag's origins and expansion Sales help fund JWR.
Comment on JWR contributor Anne Applebaum's column by clicking here.
05/11/10: Greece's stubborn surrender
05/04/10: Another human-rights irony at the U.N.
04/27/10: Britain's spot of Tea Party
04/13/10: Out of tragedy, a detente of sorts between Russia, Poland
03/25/10: From Britain's Tories, lessons for the GOP
03/16/10: Britain and America both have center-left leaders, but the two nations are further apart than ever
03/09/10: Germany Is Tired of Paying Europe's Bills
03/02/10: Chile will survive the earthquake because its democracy works
02/23/10: Prepare for war with Iran in case Israel strikes
02/17/10: America's Greek tragedy?
02/09/10: The Big Problem With Big Solutions
01/26/10: India's model of reflective patriotism
01/12/10: Haiti's man-made disasters
01/12/10: We need a smarter way to fight the jihadi elite
01/05/10: How every year we waste millions on wasteful homeland-security projects
12/30/09: The next decade will be bad for authoritarian regimes except one
12/15/09: The Apocalypse Is Not Upon Us
11/24/09: Superpower without a partner
11/17/09: Why has the global response to swine flu been so politicized?
11/10/09: After the wall fell
11/03/09: Angela Merkel's Quiet Revolution
10/20/09: Will the President of Europe Be a Gifted Pol or a Compromising Bureaucrat?
09/29/09:What Is Iran Afraid Of?
09/22/09: Letting Europe Drift
09/17/09: Greed and fear are proving stronger than companies' commitment to free speech
09/08/09: Will Obama Fight For Afghanistan?
09/01/09: The Polish Prologue
08/20/09: Why Afghans Need a Vote
07/29/09: No Burqa For Clinton
07/14/09: The Summit of Green Futility
07/09/09: Obama Puts Medvedev Ahead of Putin
06/30/09: In Morocco, an alternative to Iran
06/23/09: An overlooked force in Iran
06/16/09: Some good in a bad election
06/09/09: Why Is the Right Doing So Well in Europe?
06/02/09: Is China Pulling Strings in North Korea?
05/26/09: What a Member of Parliament Deserves
04/22/09: The Twitter Revolution That Wasn't
04/14/09: Do we really need interactive exhibits to bring Jefferson to life?
04/07/09: No Nukes? No Thanks: Obama's odd obsession with universal nuclear disarmament
03/31/09: What's Loud, Unnecessary, and Costs $75 Million?
03/03/09: European Disunion
02/24/09: Who cares what Hillary Clinton says to China's leaders about human rights?
02/17/09: Witless protection
02/10/09: Our Ticket Out of Afghanistan
01/27/09:Why some foreigners can't believe Obama won the presidency fair and square
01/20/09: A Flight Test for All of Us
01/14/09: Europe's New Cold War
01/07/09: Pointless Peace Proposals
12/30/08: The magnificent rhetorical legacy of the Founding Fathers
12/23/08: Do riots in Athens portend demonstrations in Paris and Cincinnati?
12/16/08: Breach of Trust: Bernard Madoff's massive fraud will cripple American capitalism
12/09/08: In praise of charismatic politicians
12/03/08: Moscow's Empire of Dust
11/20/08: Getting Past Mythmaking In Georgia
11/12/08: In Praise of Political Rock Stars
10/03/08: Election Day myths you must resist
09/30/08: Not just a metaphor: Lehman Brothers was economic's 9/11
09/04/08: Class of '64
08/28/08: Did Hillary really help the Barack cause?
08/27/08: Show of Power, Indeed
08/19/08: What Is Russia Afraid Of?
08/13/08: When China Starved
08/11/08: Two of the world's rising powers are strutting their stuff
08/05/08: How Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago changed the world
07/29/08:The Hour of Europe Tolls Again … But are European politicians up to the task?
07/15/08: Why Does Obama Want To Campaign in Berlin?
07/01/08: Citizen Athletes: How did a guy who can't speak Polish end up scoring Poland's only goal of Euro 2008?
06/24/08: Why do we expect presidential candidates to be kind?
06/17/08: Pity the Poor Eurocrats
06/12/08: Is the World Ready for a Black American President?
05/28/08: The Busiest Generation: America seems to value its children's status and achievements over their happiness
05/20/08: Leave Hitler Out of It: The craze for injecting the Nazis into political debate must end
05/13/08: A Drastic Remedy: The case for intervention in Burma
05/07/08: A Warning Shot From Moscow?
04/23/08: Radio to stay tuned to
04/17/08: China learns the price of a few weeks of global attention
04/01/08: Head scarves are potent political symbols
03/26/08: The Olympics are the perfect place for a protest
03/19/08: Could Tibet bring down modern China?
03/12/08: Have political autobiographies made us more susceptible to fake memoirs?
03/05/08: Why does Russia bother to hold elections?
02/20/08: Kosovo is a textbook example of the law of unintended consequences
02/06/08: A Craven Canterbury Tale
02/06/08: French prez' whirlwind romance reminds voters of his political recklessness
© 2009, Anne Applebaum. By permission of the author