April 25: Election threatens to divide and rule UK

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THIS was already the most ill-tempered and scurrilous general election in living memory before Ed Miliband responded to Tory attacks about his personal integrity by implying that the Prime Minister was to blame in some way for the refugee boat tragedies in the Mediterranean.

Such name-calling neglects the fact that British foreign policy is at a crossroads following the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, a state of affairs not helped by latest delays announced this week to the long-awaited publication of the critically important Chilcot inquiry and whether Tony Blair abused the powers at his disposal.

Such vindictiveness is also now characterising the bitter debate about Scotland’s role in the future of the United Kingdom if the outcome on May 7 is the election of a Labour government dependent on the direct or indirect support of the SNP in order to pass a Queen’s Speech and Budget.

Though the Tories are right to highlight this democratic imbalance, hence the party’s renewed attempt to empower English MPs while also devolving major powers to city-regions across the North, the divisiveness of the current campaign is doing little to protect the fabric of the United Kingdom after Scotland voted narrowly last September to reject independence.

Given that the next premier will be responsible for the whole country, it does seem perverse that Mr Miliband is going out of his way to alienate the English while Mr Cameron continues to be hostile towards the Scots. For, unless the leaders of Britain’s major parties, and that includes Nicola Sturgeon and Nigel Farage of the SNP and Ukip respectively, show some statesmanship and acknowledge opposing views, this election could end up accelerating the break-up of the United Kingdom rather than forging a stronger alliance built upon mutual respect.

HSBC out of credit: no longer ‘the listening bank’

THE latest threat by HSBC to quit the United Kingdom is already polarising opinion. Some contend that the bank is still smarting over financial regulations following embarrassing revelations about the sharp practices undertaken by its Swiss private banking arm while others believe the intervention smacks of wider unease in the business community about the repercussions if the Tories are in a position, after the election, to stage a referendum on Britain’s future membership of the European Union.

Yet such machinations mask a far greater betrayal – and that is how institutions like HSBC, and which also owns Leeds-based First Direct, have become far removed from the customers that they purport to serve in a consumer-driven society. Like it or not, this firm’s financial success has been built on the longstanding reputation, and success, of the Midland Bank which it acquired in the early 1990s.

This was a high street institution which prided – and marketed – itself on being ‘the listening bank’. It employed ‘old school’ bank managers who knew their customers and advised them accordingly. And, because of this, generations of families banked with the Midland because of the priceless values that it came to represent. Today banks like HSBC could not be more different. They have become global entities with little regard for customers wanting not only a tailor-made service, but the ability to speak face-to-face to a bank manager rather than an anonymous operative in a call centre. Perhaps HSBC chairman Douglas Flint will reflect on this before alienating his core client base still further.

Gallipoli’s greats: Coming of age of Anzac warriors

THE poignancy was palpable as the Prince of Wales, and Prince Harry, led the tributes on the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli, one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War and which would ultimately bring about the creation of modern Turkey.

Yet, while Britain endured grievous losses, the ill-fated Dardanelles Campaign also marked the coming of age of Australia and New Zealand – two countries still in their infancy when their young men were asked to put their lives on the line in the name of the British Empire. This selflessness brought about the creation of the Anzac Spirit which continues to define these distant nations. It would also be remiss if the commemorations to mark the centenary of the Great War did not acknowledge the heroic role played by those Commonwealth realms which stood up for King and country in this darkest of hours. Their sacrifices, often overlooked, are one reason why the beacon of liberty burns so brightly excactly a century after this military disaster.