Letter from London, Part 2

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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison was in London during the recent turbulent events, and he has been thinking a great deal about what effect the London bombings may have on English politics.

(ROBISON) In the first part of these observations from London which aired previously, I talked about London’s exceptional open- ness; about the Live 8, Make Poverty History event; about London being chosen as the venue for the 2012 Summer Olympics; about the G8 Summit in Scotland, which Londoners somehow thought was their event; and then, of course, the horrible bombings.

I have been privileged to travel extensively to far-flung parts of the world, and I know of no other place on earth quite as open and inviting as London. They claim that some 300 languages are spo- ken there, and that does not seem to me to be an exaggeration.

And yet there are costs to such exceptional openness, and today, London is dealing with the aftermath of terrible losses in the wake of the almost simultaneous bombings of three subway trains and a double-decker bus. There was dreadful carnage – over 50 people lost their lives, and another 700 were seriously injured. The re- markable resilience of the British people has once again been on display as even the Mayor of London was almost immediately back on the subways himself riding, as he does each workday, to work on London’s mass transit system.

It will be most interesting indeed to see how Britain’s politicians cope with all of this. The evidence publicly available thus far sug- gests that it is likely that there were suicide bombers and that, while British, they may well have come from one of the immigrant communities there. Will they, as has been done in the States, now move to curb entry into the country? Will there be a govern- mental roll-back of civil liberties?

Politicians everywhere dread having to deal with anything like this – not only because the provocation is so grievous, but because, in the end, no one really knows what ought to be done. Even so, any political leader who hopes to stay in office needs to be seen doing something, as addressing the issue, as providing leadership. That, after all, is what they were elected to do.

My guess is that in England the political responses will be dif- ferent from what they have been in the U. S. Here in America, the tragedies of 9/11 have proven quite divisive politically, in part be- cause one side has quite successfully sought to show how tough it is by suggesting that any opposition to the current leadership is unpatriotic. The result has been to reduce what the British would call “the loyal opposition” to virtual silence.

I rather doubt that such will be the case in England. We’ll see. But there is a very long tradition there of giving refuge to a great many from far and near, even as has been the case in the U. S. There will no doubt be some tightening, but probably not the equivalent of The Patriot Act.

It seems doubtful to me that the political leadership there will re- sort to trying to paint the political opposition as unpatriotic. Just witness on C-Span the House of Commons debates when the Prime Minister and others of his government subject themselves
to questions from the opposition. It is, to say the least, spirited.

Let’s all hope it stays that way.

This is Olin Robison.

Olin Robison is past president of both the Salzburg Seminar and of Middlebury College. He now lives in Shelburne.

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