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The Diplomatic Dispatch

The British Ambassador to Sweden blogs on The Local

Archive for March, 2011

A Coup de Grass

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Given everything else going on in the world it was never likely to feature widely in the world’s press.  But quietly, quietly, Britain’s Olympic build proceeds.  Today the last piece of turf was laid on the London Olympic Stadium’s field of play, marking the completion of construction on the flagship venue.

It has been a remarkable journey.  Construction started on the Olympic Stadium just under three years ago and has been completed on time, under budget and with an exemplary safety record. That’s already quite a lot to get excited about.  And if you happened to be part of one of the 240 UK businesses that have won contracts for the construction of the Stadium or the 5,250 people that have worked on the project over the past 3 years you’ll also have had plenty to cheer about.

And talking of cheering, the Stadium will have an 80,000 capacity in Games mode, which should guarantee quite a crescendo of sound when the 100m sprint bursts to life.   But it will also have a life beyond The Bolt.  The Stadium will become a football ground – as Hammers fans know – and the parkland surrounding it – the Stadium island site covers an area of 40 acres and is surrounded by water on three sides – will become a haven of green and grace in East London.  All of that is quite a transformation; 33 buildings on the Olympic Stadium site had to be demolished and over 800,000 tonnes of soil taken away before construction could begin – enough to fill the Royal Albert Hall nine times over.  Which would have prevented any cheering there.

So while we’re cheering, here’s one for the builders and two for the company in Scunthorpe that grew the grass and cut it into 360 rolls of turf.  A coup de grass?

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International Women’s Day

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Guest blogger: Mette Kahlin, Political Attaché at the British Embassy in Sweden

Today is International Women’s Day. The day was first marked in 1911. Men and women attended rallies calling for women to be allowed to vote, hold public office, and enjoy equal opportunities in the workforce. The world has moved forward significantly since then, but it is still a day that gives us much to think about.

Compared to many countries, Sweden has made considerable progress towards gender equality. Men and women are almost equally represented in the Swedish parliament and government, and in the Swedish job market. Fathers are taking an increased share of  parental leave (from 0.5 % in 1974 when introduced, to 12.4% in 2000 and up to 22.3 % in the latest released figures from 2009).

Sweden is a country the UK can learn from when it comes to gender equality, and particularly when it comes to parental leave. The British Government recently announced that it will implement a new system of parental leave as of this April. It will allow mothers and fathers more flexibility to share time off after a baby’s birth. The proposed system of parental leave mirrors the system in place in Sweden in many ways.

A policy aimed at allowing men to stay at home with their child is, of course, beneficial for men in many ways, but equally so for women, as well as society as a whole. The economy and future growth depend on women’s participation in the labour market. The combination of an ageing workforce and a more skill-dependent economy means that countries will have to make better use of their female populations. But the UK acknowledges that a more equal share of parental leave won’t solve everything. It will therefore be holding a consultation in the next couple of weeks that will look at extending the right to request flexible working to all employees. This is another policy aimed at encouraging more women into the workplace.

Much more remains to be done before there is full gender equality within the labour market, not only in the UK but also in Sweden. Gender discrimination in both markets can be seen in different pay rates within male and female-dominated professions, different hiring and promotion prospects, and unequal sharing of responsibility for home and family.

Despite Sweden being ahead of the UK in many ways, International Women’s Day is still a day worthy of consideration in both countries.

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Egypt and Iran

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

I wonder whether, like me, you’ve watched the dramatic events in the Middle East and North Africa with astonishment and awe.  And, perhaps, with humility. The sacrifices made by so many young people in the cause of freedom brings to mind the sentiments that Churchill expressed about the airmen that gave their lives in 1940 in the summer skies of southern England, to whom so many owed so much.  It was Churchill’s particular genius to capture a moment in history and to find the words to define it, words that would become synonymous with the event itself.  I suspect he might have found the right words to capture the extraordinary essence of this moment in history that might – just might – offer the opportunity of better lives to millions of people.

The countries of the Middle East are very different, of course.  But I suspect that Churchill might also have seen at least one common factor in the events across the region.  Because this began with the death of one young man, consumed by despair at the shackles that bound his life in Tunisia.  And across the Middle East young people are coming together in the hope of a better future.

Which, by the way, makes the rhetoric that we hear from Iran even more perplexing.  Here the Iranian regime is claiming that the revolts represent the triumph of a particular form of Iranian-inspired revolution.  But this is patently not the case.  Egypt is not Iran.  The protesters in the Middle East have a strong secular dimension, driven by the aspiration for more representative forms of democratic government and an end to state-sponsored repression.  This can hardly be said to be any kind of likeness for the Iranian model.

And if you listen to the young people of Iran you will indeed hear a different story.  There too, young people campaign for more representative democracy and an end to repressive acts by government.  The similarities with the Middle East may not be the ones that the Iranian leadership appears to expect.

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