Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunrise, Sunset

Virgin Matures

Part of the reason why the British Empire was so successful was thanks to the naturally efficient tendencies of the British people. They organized their empire better than most people organize their socks, with elaborate categories and columns and hierarchies and bureaucracies.

There is no British Empire today of course, but the British still have a collection of things called "overseas territories" which they sort of colonially-run. The surviving relics of the Empire, as it were. There's about a dozen of them today, and they're all little islands with tiny populations. Government-wise, they have different systems depending on what stage of colonial "evolution" they're at.

The smaller colonies have strong governors, appointed by the British government, who hold almost all political power. As the colony matures and grows, it eventually gets an elected parliament, and the governor delegates some of his powers to the legislature. As it matures further, the parliament gets larger and more sophisticated, and chooses its own chief minister and cabinet to assist the governor in day-to-day operations. And then, in the final step before independence, the chief minister becomes a prime minister, and the governor becomes a mostly symbolic figure, who is barely involved in government at all.

I mention all this because one of Britain's more famous colonies recently upgraded its status. On August 20 the British Virgin Islands formally entered the final phase of colonial evolution, and new elections were held. Longtime politician Ralph O'Neal was in turn elected the nation's first Prime Minister.

The Virgin Islands joins Bermuda and the Turks and Caicos Islands as territories of Britain that are virtually independent. Certainly more independent than Canada was in the early 20th Century, if you want to use that analogy. It remains to be seen whether or not any of these nations will ever become fully independent countries, however. The Bermuda people routinely vote against independence, in part because they benefit from the various tax breaks and passport loopholes that come with being colonial citizens. The Puerto Ricans have been pulling the same scam for decades.

Rest in Peace

And now, a rather sad collection of deaths to report.

Gaston Thorn died yesterday, he was the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and one of that country's great statesmen. He was PM for five years, from '74 to '79. After leaving office he became head of the European Commission, and was one of the founding fathers of the modern EU system.

Raymond Barre passed away on the 25th, he was the Prime Minister of France from 1976 to 1981, serving between Jacque Chirac's two terms. A conservative economist, he was one of the first western leaders to advocate the kind of harsh right-wing economic reforms that would become so fashionable in the 1980's.

Perhaps most notable of all was the August 24 death of Abdul Rahman Arif. Arif was President of Iraq from 1966 to 1968. His term ended when he was overthrown by the Baath Party, who proceded to establish a dictatorship under President Ahmad Hassan al Baker and Vice President Saddam Hussein.

Arif was the brother of the first President of Iraq, Abdul Salam Arif, who was part of the gang that overthrew the Iraqi monarchy in the late 1950's. When the elder Arif was killed in a helicopter crash, the younger assumed the presidency of the nation. And the Iraqi people cheered, because this kind of thing clearly illustrated how a dictatorship was superior to a monarchy.


Brian said...

Slight mistake in post JJ, the under The Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007, the head of government is henceforth known as the "Premier" (it was "Chief Minister")

Peter said...

If you look at many of the British Overseas territories and dependencies, most (if not all) have some form of home rule where the Governor is mostly a figurehead. Gibraltar, for example is virtually independent as is the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands (who the UK actually had to negotiate seperate entry into the European Union on their behalf). Most of the oversea territories have Chief Ministers and this perception that the Governor is this all seeing, all powerful ogre rampaging around and hogging all the power is rather outdated and old hat.

The most obvious indicator of the power of the oversea territories is the fact that they all steadfastly refuse to give up British citizenship and sovereignty, despite the best efforts of various British governments (who, to be quite frank, would rather be rid of the Virgin Islands and any other far away island which still flies the Union flag).

Anonymous said...

Premier is actually one step lower than Prime Minister, but it is the highest level the local leader can obtain before independence. Prime Minister would mean the territory has become and independent Commonwealth Realm that still shares the same Monarch with the United Kingdom.