Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A "chiseler" meets an honest man

The U.S. envoy to London finds himself in the middle of an amusing little row with leftist London Mayor Ken Livingstone. New Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle refuses to pay the "Congestion Charge" levied by the city on all cars using a central zone. The toll cuts traffic and air pollution, though it hasn't raised revenue above the cost of enforcement. Not surprisingly, many Londoners and others consider the levy a terrible, socialistic imposition.

The U.S. refuses to pay. Rick Roberts, a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy insisted: "We pay our parking tickets. We honor every commitment we have except tax. We are good citizens." Many embassies in London pay the charge. The British Foreign office insists it "comes under the same category as parking fees and toll charges."

Tuttle's selection to the post was explained by the Telegraph in this bemused fashion:

American appointments to plum postings tend to be seen as rewards for support, usually in the grubby matter of campaign contributions, in marked contrast to the British custom of sending seasoned diplomats to key posts. Mr. Holmes Tuttle was in the elite group of "Pioneers", meaning that he raised more than $100,000 (£55,000) for Mr. Bush's re-election campaign. He also contributed $100,000 to fund the inauguration ceremony. ...

Mr. Holmes Tuttle's interests and his family should help him to counter the standard European stereotype of Republicans as cultural barbarians. He is the chairman of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and has a prized collection of modern art. A close friend of both President Bush and his father, Mr. Holmes Tuttle was Mr. Reagan's director of personnel.

His Tuttle-Click Automotive Group was founded by his father and is one of the largest dealers in America.

Ken Livingstone has made his own assessment of Tuttle's refusal.

"This new ambassador is a car salesman and an ally of President Bush. This is clearly a political decision,...It would actually be quite nice if the American ambassador in Britain could pay the charge that everybody else is paying and not actually try and skive out of it like some chiseling little crook.''

It is always satisfying when other people's politicians can speak the home truths that ours hide from.

Livingstone's constituents don't seem to mind the plain talk:

"Good on him," said Ann Love, 29, who works in financial services and supported Livingstone's tough words. "I think he just blurted it out -- he's just too honest to be a politician."

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