Most of them are even more bored by the election than you are.
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What do other countries think about the general election?

What do other countries make of Britain's elections? They're even less interested than you are. 

Last week, I found myself chairing a discussion on whether or not the British election mattered, but with a difference: it was a panel made up entirely of foreigners,=,

You know those interventions where someone's friends and family come and will explain how much they care about them? This was basically the exact opposite.

With less than two weeks to polling day, it's striking how little of the election debate within Britain has focused on the outside world. Even on Europe, the focus has been more on Ukip itself than the broader issues.

The rest of the world, meanwhile, has largely ignored the vote. If anything, it has garnered less attention than last year's Scottish independence vote.

That might change, of course, but the bottom line seems to be that this particular election -- even with #kitchengate, #milifandom, the #Cameronettes and Farage -- is just not globally interesting.

Particularly after the 2013 vote not to intervene militarily in Syria, Britain is just seen less relevant and less bothered.

Each of the panellists on Wednesday had their own different reasons for explaining why it didn't matter.

First up was Rahul Roy-Chaudhury, a former Indian security official. He had just returned from Washington DC and a string of meetings at the State Department, Pentagon and elsewhere.

Had anyone asked him about the UK election there? No.

Did India care either? Not really, he said. India's government was "ruthlessly pragmatic" in its relationships and Britain was no longer seen as a major strategic partner.

Next up was Marina Prentoulis, lecturer at the University of East Anglia and London spokeswoman for the Greek ruling party Syriza. The Greeks didn't really care either, she said. Britain was seen outside the eurozone decision-making structures. And Ed Milliband was seen too soft for a Labour victory to be really seen part of a wider backlash against austerity.

American political consultant Jennifer Brindisi gave a somewhat more nuanced answer. No, she said, most Americans did not care -- they were already too focused on next year's presidential vote and none of the British contenders had sufficient "rockstar" appeal (although it might have been different if David Milliband or Boris Johnson were on the ticket).

Within the business community, however, had noticed. The Conservative EU referendum and Labour tax plans both worried them. On balance, she said, they preferred the idea of the Tories.

On national security, Washington has expressed concern at UK defence spending dropping below two percent of GDP. And there's at least some interest in whether the UK keeps the Trident nuclear deterrent or not.

Finally, US State Department media specialist Barakat Jassem summed up the mood in the Middle East. They really didn't care either, he said.

That didn't mean there weren't some interesting broader lessons, the panel concluded. Indeed, British Nigerian writer Emmanuel Akinwotu said he thought this year’s election was amongst the most interesting in recent years, even if not as significant as 1997 or maybe even 2010.

The increased support for unorthodox parties such as UKIP, the overall fatigue with mainstream politics, the growing polarisation and dispute between those who want greater regulation and tax and those who oppose it all have wider relevance.

The problem with mainstream politics in Britain, Greece's Prentoulis said, was that they were striving for a centre ground that no longer existed.

For what it's worth, I'm with Emmanuel -- this is an interesting election. And many of the issues Britain is battling with, not least the growing divide between the political and commercial centre of London and the rest of the country, do have much wider relevance.

Britain may be a much reduced force on the world stage but ironically its capital city is at its most powerful in decades, the centre of a globalised trading system that it ultimately largely created.

It also faces some interesting choices -- on Europe, obviously, even if the polls suggest the UK will stay. The return of an assertive Russia also raises some pressing defence questions, not least altering the debate on Trident.

But whatever Britain chooses, the rest of the world will continue largely regardless.

In Whitehall and to a lesser extent in Washington, officials and pundits now talk of a Britain that is "absent from the world". Frankly, it worries and upsets them.

But as one British official put it, maybe that's just what the electorate wants. No one is hugely interested in domestic Dutch or Norwegian politics either and they are perfectly pleasant places to live.

As Iraqi born Jassem said, there's a lot to be said for living in a non-newsworthy country. It's not surprising that the prime concern for most Britons are domestic.

But a Britain that doesn’t want to be noticed is a very different kind of Britain.

The discussion took place at the Project for the Study of the 21st Century, whose website is here.

 

Peter Apps is a Reuters correspondent currently on sabbatical as the safety director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.