Category Archives: United Kingdom

UK Elections: Is it a chance or a real threat?

I was at Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto speech in London at Chatham House last month. Despite being a good speaker and being able to construct lovely sentences with a proper British accent, it made me think of the implications of a hung parliament with Corbyn in the government in the UK.

The election on June 8th is a good chance for the UK to reaffirm support for the Tories and deliver them a clear mandate or clear political chaos for the future of the country.

As Theresa May says, “This is a really important moment for our country and we’ve got to get this right. If we get it right, I am optimistic for the British people…”.

A hung parliament would be a real disaster for Britain due to the huge gap in the different policies of the different parties, but more significantly, I am pretty sure that this would be used by Brussels quite cruelly.

Some of Jeremy Corbyn’s romantic statements, such as not to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances, no hand-holding with the US anymore, and potential tax increases, made me worry about the country’s future defence policy along with its economic policy.

 Could Singapore’s model be applied to the UK if the Tories win by large majority?

The answer to this  question is, potentially yes, but it would not be easy since it is a much bigger country with many people dependent on the system of social security. But it’s not impossible…

Lowering taxation in the UK would attract various types of businesses from all over the world and it would create a healthy opportunity to replace the departing financial industry. In addition, it would assure its place as one of the best options in the world for global talent to live and work.

On the other hand, it would push up the prices of everything (especially housing!) and citizens without health insurance would really suffer as there would be no safety net for them going forward! It could potentially create an even more competitive economy; thus, the transition would be painful for a lot of families and it would be very hard to find a balance there.

In contradiction to why voters voted to “Leave”, the current result may create a real “Remain” for London and the rest of the country.

I am personally optimistic for the UK after the election since history proves that many victories around the globe are not won on the battlefield but at the negotiation table!

Good luck Britain!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
@sukru_haskan

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Trip Notes: London

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I had a chance to spend part of my summer holidays in London—six days, plus a day and a half on the way back to Singapore—and met quite a few people from different industries such as finance, law, higher education, food and government.

First of all, I can say that London is still London and nothing really has hammered its good mood.

Since the referendum on June 23rd, nothing much has changed except for the fact that EU citizens living in London are preparing themselves to apply for British passports.

Restaurants are full, theatres are colourful and, most importantly, there are tourists all over London, despite what’s going on in continental Europe.

I went to see a dramatised version of George Orwell’s 1984 and it was absolutely great. (Tip: read the book to understand the play better.)

People had apparently had a real shock on that frightening Friday with the referendum results, but it looks like that initial reaction has soon dissipated. With the new government in place very quickly, confidence levels are coming back, though they are still nowhere near the desirable level.

Of the people I spoke to, I can say that none of them showed any intention of leaving the UK following the Brexit vote.

During my stay in London, the only thing that really bothered me was the persistent helicopter hovering over central London, but unfortunately that’s a new normality and we will have to live with it for some time.

Since I have been living in Singapore for the last three years, I keep comparing London with Singapore, and I must admit that the level of service in Singapore is much better than that in London right now. If you are looking for a single example, try to call the British Airways hotline and then call Singapore Airlines.

Another example could be the fantastic BA ground staff at Heathrow Terminal 5. On the way to Italy, the check in process took us 40 minutes due to an incompetent member of staff.

Fintech is growing very fast and I visited level 39 at 1 Canada Square to see how these people are doing. It looks like they are doing okay-ish, in that they are now situated on levels 39 to 42.

Canary Wharf management had to decide how to fill up the vacant space after banks began to pull out (or simply went bankrupt, like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers) and they decided to divide the space into pieces and rent the space to fintech companies, since they are growing very fast.

It would not be a surprise to see many fintechs in Canary Wharf in the near future.

Even though Brexit looks ugly and frightening right now, a nation with great negotiation skills demonstrated over the course of centuries makes me feel quite comfortable.

With a proposal to reduce the corporate tax level to 15 per cent and possible personal income tax reductions, it would be very attractive for many people to stay or even to return to the UK.

London is really unique and it has its own vibe compared with the rest of the country. Sometimes I think that it would make sense for London to have a special zone status within the rest of the UK.

From my point of view, the biggest challenge ahead for the UK is how to educate the uneducated and low skilled parents to make sure their children are part of the country’s future success. Access to education in the UK is free for everyone, but unfortunately a proper education is only enjoyed by a fraction of the population.

Last but not least, I paid visits to many book stores, including my favourite, Daunt Books at Marylebone, and bought some more books. These are Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, Germany by Neil MacGregor, This is London by Ben Judah, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education by Tony Little and When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.

I have already read Prisoners of Geography and I really like the book. I will be writing a book review on it in the coming weeks.

If you are looking for a restaurant tip, go to Oka for sushi on Kings Road.

I may still be biased but, having travelled to 53 countries now, nothing can really beat London.

All the best from Singapore,

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Brexit: Will it really happen?

Britain is going for another referendum on June 23rd to decide whether to accept the EU reforms or leave the EU. On the street, people are referring to the referendum as the Brexit and the real question is: Will it really happen?

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I really don’t think so.

Since David Cameron declared that he would re-negotiate the relationship with the EU in 2013, I see the whole process as a well-rehearsed theatrical play. There are some good cops and bad cops in the play, but the agenda and the outcome are very well planned ahead.

The good cops are the ones who are very happy with the “special status” obtained from the EU after hard negotiations led by David Cameron.

This group is very happy, since concessions have been obtained and the UK is now a “privileged” member of the union. Of course, nothing should be shown as having been won easily at someone else’s expense, so there the bad cops kick in and the theatre starts.

The other group of people are still not really happy with the EU after the “special status” and they want the UK to leave the EU regardless.

Within this group, there are two distinct sub-groups: genuine politicians who really want the UK to leave the EU, since they are populist politicians, without calculating the damage to the UK; and the others, there to play the bad cop for the drama or for their own personal interest.

Currently half a dozen cabinet members are in favour of leaving the EU; however, most of the cabinet members want the UK to stay in Europe. Boris Johnson’s decision to campaign to leave the EU was an eye opener for the political arena as well as the financial markets.

Sterling dropped from 1.44 to 1.39 against the US dollar.

If the referendum result is to leave the EU in June, David Cameron will be a definite loser and, since Boris Johnson is the strongest candidate for the Tory leadership, the probability that he will win the most desired seat earlier becomes significantly higher.

It is good to remember that this is not the first time that the British public has voted to stay in or leave the EU, and the Conservatives have a good record of being split on important issues, going back to the late nineteenth century and, more recently, the 1990s, when its own MPs prepared the end of Thatcher’s eleven year premiership. In other words, they opened the door for 13 years of Labour leadership.

The UK is currently the world’s fifth biggest economy and it is the fifth largest spender on defence. The EU takes almost half of the UK’s exports and the UK takes less than ten per cent of the EU’s. A decision to leave the EU will definitely harm both sides and a Brexit will create a more dominant Germany in the EU, which I am not sure many of the member states will be happy to see.

Arguably, it may open the door for other members to re-negotiate their status with the alliance, and the models of Norway or Switzerland could be preferable for future members rather than joining the union.

One may discuss the capabilities of the UK in the current world, but nobody can ignore that Britain is still a top notch leader when it comes to politics.

Why would such a political genius open the door for another referendum for Scotland to leave the UK, financial companies to relocate their headquarters and a huge volume of transactions to move out of the UK, especially at a time when “special status” has already been granted from the EU, thanks to Prime Minister David Cameron?

It is simply another well acted piece of theatre.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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A weekend in London – What would I do?

I lived in London for 7.5 years and I became a true Londoner in this period of time. Since I have been living in Singapore for the last 2.5 years, I sometimes miss London, and whenever I have a chance to go to London, it is a great opportunity for me to get into my old routine for a few days.

What would I do in a weekend in London?

London, the capital, is a place where new ideas are generated so it is a place to visit museums, shows, restaurants but, most importantly, bookstores. You will not get any night life advice here.

In a typical weekend, I would start my day walking to Marylebone: this is my London centre since I lived in Bickenhall Street for 3.5 years.

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Marylebone is a very special place for me as I have a lot of memories of every single corner of it, and my first visit would be Daunt Bookstore on Marylebone.

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Technology is evolving and many argue that books will be history, since a lot of people have already shifted to e-books. Daunt Bookstore definitely fights quite strongly against this idea.

It is a great place for me to spend a couple of hours. It is an Edwardian bookstore with long oak galleries. This bookstore specialises in travel books, but there are other sections such as history and literature. I love to look through its travel books, but I would always buy a history, politics or economics book over a travel book. Since this is my first stop early in the morning, I won’t buy any books but I decide on what to buy on my return.

Now the long walk to Hampstead starts.

I cross the Marylebone Road and reach Regent’s Park, where I spent many of my early mornings and late nights. Through Regent’s Park, I reach Prince Albert Road and then I continue to walk towards Hampstead. The nonstop walk will take about an hour to reach beautiful Hampstead Heath.

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My stop would be at The Wells, a gastropub, by Hampstead Heath. It is a family friendly pub with an evolving menu. I would stop here for an hour or two before heading back to Marylebone to buy the books that I decided to buy earlier.

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I find a lot of similarities between Marylebone and Hampstead Heath. A boutique cinema chain (Everyman) and my favourite bookstore Daunt Books are only two of them. I feel both have distinct characteristics, not like Chelsea, and they are both true London boroughs.

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The time would hit 4–5 pm now and I would have to go and leave my books and maybe rest a bit. I have a lot of favourite restaurants in London, and I would prefer Big Easy on Kings Road, Alounak in Westbourne Grove or a new London restaurant recommended by a friend.

If I could a squeeze in a theatre at night, that’s perfect. Sometimes it is quite difficult, but I would definitely try.

The walk should take about 17–18 km that day. In other words, around 35,000 steps. Not too bad! And thank God that London is flat.

I would wake up as early as possible on my second and final day in London. I would try to go to Trafalgar and Covent Garden, to walk without any aim. Then I would walk to Parliament and would cross Waterloo Bridge.

This would enable me to walk towards London Bridge and should take about 45 minutes. On my way, there are the Tate Modern, a nice pub by the river, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Vinopolis—which I heard that it is closing down.

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Lunchtime should be about there and I would take a cab or a tube from London Bridge and go to my favourite spot once more, Marylebone. My lunch would take place at Casa Becci, an authentic Italian restaurant run by an Italian family for a long time.

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It is a very simple restaurant and price friendly, but, most importantly, great simple Italian food. My favourite here would be Spaghetti Aglio E Olio.

Unfortunately, the weekend has come to an end. I have to take a flight to continue wherever I need to go. I should walked about 15,000 steps that day, or in other words 10–11 km. Not bad!

London is not an easy city to live in, but it is definitely one of the best!

P.S. Most of my walking sessions started at Chelsea Bridge Wharf over the last three years as my beloved friend, Hakan Dikmen, kept hosting me without grumbling. Thank you, Hakan—you are such a great host!

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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New Silk Road: One Belt, One Road

Chinese President, Mr. Xi Jinping, made a four day official visit to the UK last week. This was the first visit since 2005 and the UK was definitely well prepared to ensure that the Chinese President left the UK with a good impression and, more importantly, that he left with many infrastructure and trade projects signed.

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As we all well know, China is becoming more powerful and China has a lot of ambitions. One of the most important is its ambition to revitalize the Silk Road under the One Belt, One Road project.

The Silk Road is an ancient route facilitating trade and cultural exchange from east to west. The Great Wall of China was built to protect this route—in a way, to protect the continuation of trade between the east and the west. The development of this route enabled China, Persia, India and many countries in the past to benefit from cultural and economic development.

The length of the route is 6,000 km. The name Silk Road comes from the famous Chinese silk, which was a major attraction in building this route. Nowadays, thanks to the development of technology and fast transportation options, this route can be utilized more efficiently.

Following the global financial crisis in 2008, we are still not out of the woods. More importantly, we are losing our patience and our hopes for the future. When under 25 unemployment hits 50% in some developed countries, that is not only telling us about a single problem. It is signalling a much bigger problem: a lost generation.

The New Silk Road is being worked on in such an environment, and it excites everyone as it did in the past. And obviously everybody wants to get their share.

In the EU, the UK is lagging behind Germany with its trade volume with China. Obviously, Germany sells its cars and manufactured goods whereas the UK is not very competitive, actually not producing many exportation goods at all.

However, the UK is the leading country in the service sector in the EU. That’s where the internationalization of RMB could play an important role, as London can be the main clearing centre for renminbi.

In addition, the UK is where ideas of the future are turning into reality. It is the country where you can freely discuss with intellectuals and implement your ideas. Most importantly, the UK has a global talent pool which may only be compared with the USA.

Of course, it is not only Germany and the UK that are competing for a share in this big cake. Japanese president, Mr. Abe, has been travelling in Central Asia this week to secure better relationships with Central Asian countries. Given that Central Asia is the main connecting point, it is the main artery for the New Silk Road, pumping blood into its heart.

In my opinion, this visit is too late for Japan. Chinese companies, with the support of the Chinese Exim Bank, have been working on this region for many years now.

The power shift has already begun. The UK decided to sign for the foundation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, where many hesitant countries followed the UK. This should be a warning bell for the US.

I think we have to give credit to Cameron’s chancellor, George Osborne, for this courageous move.

The UK media criticized David Cameron for not discussing in detail China’s human rights track record and its steel pricing policy. On top of that, it was unfortunate timing that the UK steel industry announced job cuts during the visit of the Chinese president to the UK.

I believe David Cameron is following the right strategy with China.

How would it be possible to cooperate with someone on social issues without establishing the right relationship?

History might be bloody between the UK and China, but the future definitely looks bright.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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UK: Prime Minister’s Questions

Prime Minister’s Questions is the weekly session where Prime Minister answers questions of the opposition leader and the other MP’s in the House of Common.

For those you that are not familiar with the UK parliamentary system, House of Commons is the parliament where members of the parliament meet each other.

David Cameron speaks during PMQs

Although prime ministers have answered questions in parliament for centuries, until the 1880s questions to the prime minister were treated the same as questions to other Ministers asked without notice.

In 1881 fixed time-limits for questions were introduced and questions to the prime minister were moved to the last slot of the day as a courtesy to the 72-year-old prime minister at the time, William Gladstone, so he could come to the Commons later in the day. In 1953, when Winston Churchill was prime minister, it was agreed that questions would be submitted on fixed days (Tuesdays and Thursdays.

It is the year of 1961 when the PMQs were made permanent. Since then there has been some tweaks in the format, and it continues in the current format.

I have been following the PMQ in the last four years and there are many funny moments that I laughed out loud.

I think it is a great way to understand British politics and it is also great way to flourish your language skills.

David Cameron is my real star when it comes to PMQ as his performance is always a stellar.

Some of my favourite conservations from PMQ:

#1 David Cameron: “…. which we wouldn’t have, if we would listen the muttering idiot sitting idiot opposite to me”
Speaker: “Prime Minister, please withdraw the word ‘Idiot” as it is unparliamentary…”

#2 David Cameron:  “I do feel now that a big part of my life is trying to give pleasure to Mrs… ” and then he continues “I feel on this occasion, I can only go so far.”

#3 David Cameron: “There is a complete mug …..” to Ed Miliband.

#4 David Cameron: “The gentleman sitting right opposite, enjoys the game, Bingo as it is only time that he’s got close to Number 10”

5# David Cameron: “…. You do not need to be knowing it’s Christmas, when you sitting next to a turkey.”

#6 David Cameron: ” In 43 days time, I am plan to arrange his retirement plan…”

Speaker : “Orderrrr, Orderrrr…”

I do not want to imagine what could happen if these conversations with the noise in the background, would take place in some other countries.

That’s the beauty of advanced democracy in a develop country. I strongly advise you watch PMQs if you haven’t been familiar yet.

All the best from Istanbul before heading back to Singapore,

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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