The use of Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 by UK PM Gordon Brown to seize Icelandic assets in the UK has been applauded at home, a political calculation by the former Chancellor to make himself look good to a nationalist audience. The ﬂip side of that is the people he targets: Icelanders are justiﬁably offended at being called terrorists.
Some are saying this is the end of globalization or even globalism as we know it; even though outside the ﬁnancial and political worlds people are still connecting with one another, regardless of their governments. And maybe this time, the citizenry will prevail in maintaining their contact with their friends and colleagues across the borders. And car nuts will still keep watching Top Gear, even if Jeremy Clarkson’s jokes about the Germans (ﬁrmly rooted in WWII) are steadily applying to more and more members of the British Government.
No everyday Briton thinks that an Icelander is a terrorist any more than those of us with Muslim friends would label them that way.
But governments still hold a great deal of power over their nation brands and the idea of a nationalistic Britain that acts in the name of terrorism and homeland security strikes me as Orwellian.
Iceland’s health minister, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, said to the BBC, ‘Gordon Brown made the calculated decision that to raise his ratings in the polls, it would be ideal to attack Iceland. This has been made very clear.’ It is the act of a prime minister who, only a few months ago, was seen as increasingly lame-duck.
In the comments one can ﬁnd this comment from an Icelander, Gunnlaugur Briem (not the typeface designer, as far as I can ascertain): ‘Our government said it would not assume obligations in foreign countries beyond its legal obligation of deposit insurance. It did say it would honour that legal obligation. In response, Brown guillotined our remaining functional, solvent and liquid bank—doubling our catastrophe and the damage to UK depositors, and scoring political points for himself. Brown notably did not seize JP Morgan’s assets in the UK in retaliation for the US government not assuming all liabilities of the failed Lehman Brothers [my emphasis]. Why not? Because the US is big and brawny, can seize British assets in return, and is not as easily viliﬁed as Iceland is.’
It would be wrong to judge the Prime Minister on a single policy, so another item of news, buried among coverage of the ﬁnancial crisis, gives cause for concern.
On October 5, the Murdoch Press reported that the government ‘will spy on every call and e-mail’.
The programme, which might total £12 billion, is already under way, with the ﬁrst billion already given to the GCHQ, the spy monitoring centre.
V for Vendetta, anyone?
Remember, in that ﬁlm (and I imagine the comics, which I have not read), these things started very gradually, and if we do not express our points of view, then we will lose the right to do so.
It was not that long ago that Britons thought the idea of identity cards were a symbol of a totalitarian dictatorship.
Now, under the Identity Cards Act 2006, they will be a reality—because, I imagine, the ﬁght against them was undertaken by too few.
Since government policy does drive a great deal of nation branding, Brown’s Britain is looking more and more like what the British once opposed, with an increasingly negative image abroad. Contrary to cool Britannia, there are plenty of expatriates expressing their dislike of the UK today with the disappearance of its values and freedoms. There are real reasons more and more Britons are emigrating to the antipodes.
For those of us in the Anglosphere, this is worrying, because being an Anglophone might be seen in upcoming years as a minus and not a plus.
I exaggerate for now, but with the US’s image in a less than stellar position abroad and some Britons telling me they prefer living in the US, it makes me wonder just how much further the British Government has declined in people’s eyes since my last proper visit there in 2003. Posted by Jack Yan, 00:13
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