Category Archives: Europe

Is Anyone Out There Listening?


I do not wish to be parochial or small-minded. But the world, at least my world, is behaving in a most peculiar manner. Take Brexit,  or don’t take it, from my point of view, very large numbers of British people admitted that they might be  worse off if there was a  Brexit – but they voted Leave anyway. ‘What do people like us have to lose ‘ they said. Quite a lot actually: your job, higher shop prices, a collapse in annuity values and cancelling the annual holiday to the Costa Brava or some such place. Such warnings were greeted with a shrug. ‘So what’ and ‘they could hardly get worse’. Are you real don’t these things matter any more?

And take Corbyn – I wish you would -and the Labour leadership contest. Owen Smith has made himself as close to an identikit candidate as he could (excepting devising a way to stay in the EU and renewing Trident, that I admit from my point of view are extremely important). He is well educated, presentable. well-informed, has management experience and  the confidence of the Parliamentary Party .Shouldn’t we Labourites  give him a majority? The reply:’I agree he is very presentable and would make a good Prime Minister.but I intend to stay with Jeremy.’ Why doesn’t he agree with me?

Look at the Corbyn closely, listen to his speech, imagine him representing Britain at an international conference (no placards allowed) or mastering a complex document at No 10?You can imagine him doing these things??? Congratulations for it is quite an achievement.

‘Don’t worry. It will never happen.’ I hear you say. Are you really content with a Conservative Government as far as the eye can see. ‘What will be, will be.’ I hear you say.’I doubt if it will make much difference.’

Wake up, wake up, wake up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The State of the Parties 3: the UKIP Lightening Conductor


We are now entering a critical phase of this electoral cycle: local elections, parliamentary elections, further local elections, the European elections and the Scottish referendum on independance The outcomes of these elections will set the agenda for the next General Election. In this cycle, the fortunes of UKiP will determine the outcome of the General Election So long as UKIP’s standing in national polls is in excess of 10 percent, and it now stands at 13 percent in some polls, the Tories cannot win a General Election and Labour will be handicapped in the drive for a majority at Westminster. It is an easy prediction to make that UKIP is likely to top the Euro polls and at some time during 2014 will be showing, in some national opinion polls, support in the 20’s before a decline as the General Election approaches.

I assume that Scottish voters stay in control of their good senses and will vote No in the Scottish referendum. If so one would expect electoral support for the SNP to decline and a recovery of the Labour vote at Westminster to take place in Scotland. If this occurs then Laboiur would be diffiult to defeat in Westminster elections.

While economic predictions are foolhardy the odds are on poor economic performance up to May 2015. The best the Tories can hope for is slow growth, stable employment and a deficit edging slowly downwards. There will be little prospect of electoral bribes. This being so it is safe to predict that the chance of a Tory majority at the next
General Election are near to zero.

What then are the prospects for the Lib Dems? I do not under-rate the resiliance of the Lib Dems. However, if in the public mind they remain linked to the Tories in Coalition a reasonable prediction is that their parliamntsary position would decline substantially with a loss of 30-40 MPs. It would follow from this that it would be
most unlikely that they could play any part in a national coalition with any other party.

In these circumstances I would expect UKIP to win some Westminster seats at the expense of the Coalition parites but not enought seats to achieve any tactical advantage.

If this analysis is broadly right we would haver had a further shake in the party system that could in some circumstance lead to paralysis. As the economic circumstasnces inherited by a new Labour Government would be difficult if not dire Britain might emerge from the experiment of Coalition in a virtually ungovernable
situation.

All this will become clearer to participants and pundits. Will those individuals at the heart of this disaster do nothing? I have never believed that they would behave as rabbits staring into car lights. The Coalitiion will break up and David Cameron could be confronted with a leadership election before May 2015.

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The Present State of the Parties: 2


I have been very quiet in 2012. The reason: finishing a book. Now my freedom conincides with the happy beginning of a new year. The old year had a great deal to grip our interest. We were certainly not short of copy or headline. Some of these, frankly speaking were both silly and ephemeral with hysteria on all sides of the political spectrum.  However, at this stage of the electoral cycle it has not mattered more than fig or two. This year is different. As I hate  right wing rhetoric, and distrust Tory attempts to divide British society, I struggle to be fairminded. You shall be the judge.

The Coalition

I was wrong in believing that the Coaltion would collapse suddenly and violently under the pressure of its own contradictions. When times are bad people prefer to be hung together at the latest possible time. What both the Tories and Lib Dems have succeeded in doing is to speak both ways with one message to  the electorate and the other to their own members. Of course members do not like this and engage in a disquieting chorus of their own. However, commonsense suggests that the reckoning be pushed off to the future.

Lib Dems

The Lib Dems are better placed than I believed likely. Electoral support has levelled out at about 10 percent and in local elections in the south they have benefitted from Labour votes in areas where Labour is not likely to win. The converse is that in the Midlands and the North the party is steadily being eliminated. I do not believe the party can improve on this poll rating. The Tories would be mad to allow a leaders television debate in 2015 (not  least because UKIP might well be able to claim participation). So no bounce there. If the Lib Dems can continue to project a progressive image they are likely to avoid abject humiliation. 

Tories

The Tories still have a chance of winning (defined as a majority or a Lib Dem coalition). However, the odds are lenghtening. Can the party succeed in squaring the circle? Can a right wing posture and radical sounding speeches carry the right wing with the leadership for two whole years. There are three daunting policy difficulties:  the economy, Europe, and reform of the welfare system and none is wholly in their control. I doubt very much whether the deficit will come down, Europe will not oblige a right-wing agenda and it is an open question whether it is possible to reform  the welfare system in the midst of the longest recession in modern economic history.

Labour

If we were describing a football match we would say that Labour has a comfortable lead at half-time. I doubt whether the pundits are right in thinking Labour must do more than that to stay ahead. They are lucky, lucky, lucky. Events, dear boy, are on their side. No need for handbags at half time. Keep control of the ball, keep pressing, concentrate and pray for continued divine intervention.

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The Economy Stupid


Elections are won on economics: its the economy stupid. Our numbers are bad but they will become worse. If the Eurozone collapsess they will be disastrous. But party alleigances are static. Hello, out there is any one listening. The reasons for static polls are well-known: mcu blame is attached to Labour’s inheritance of deby and the, seconly, the electorate are dogmatically fair-minded – they give credit for trying. The Coalition is trying – but in more than one meaning of the word. So it is a long and hard road for Labour toi convince the electorate that they could do better. 

What will change things are events. Anyone looking back in 2011 knows how difficult it is to predict them. If they are external events there is a breathless pause while the country rallies round. What woul be the public reaction to a forced opening of the Straits of Hormouz if petrol prices doubled. How would the public react to yet another war? Would it really come to that? It might. Would things look bad for the Coalition if unemployment topped three million. Mrs Thatcher recovered from that but then she needed a successful invasion of the Falklands.

Sometimes Government’s implode. What would make the Coalition implode.  European policy might if Cameron was foolhardy. Surely he won’t be tempted but you never know. Perhaps not. The Coalition might split. Not much chance of that. It is in the Lib Dem interest to soldier on rather than than be decimated by the electorate. 

Once I would have been bold and would make a prediction. Should we settle for a quiet life with more of what we have got. I hope not. Perhaps if I predict it we shall get something more exhilarating. OK nothing will happen in 2012.

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Can the Coalition Govern?


According to the well-repected bog Conservative Home, the Government is in a state of confusion. Cameron is determined to push through a major reform programmed fueled by Conservative ideology; small government, tax cuts (eventually);  constitutional reform (reluctantly), educational reform (expensively), benefit reform (work if you can or else);  self-help (Queen Victoria’s self help maunual has been lost), and neo-colonial glory (no one has told Assad and Ghadaffi).  What is very clear, as the Archbishop of Canterbury has enunciated, no one voted for Coalition policiues. In the jargon there is no electoral mandate. For the moment the government is cemented together by the fear of  electoral  wrath: it is better to be hung together than singly.

Every shrewd observor knows that these issues taken separately will not sink the Coalition. The only issue that will do that is the state of the economy. We must wait for July for the GDP figures for the second quarter. If these are bad the game may be up. What would be bad? Zero growth would be bad because it would signal that there has been no growth for the nine months in which the effect of the Coalition’s economic policies has been experienced. Slightly higher growth with a projection for the year as a whole of 1 percent to end 31 March, 2012 would be bad because the public sector deficit would be at unacceptable levels. If either of these economic prognostications becomes true there the very real consequential result that the Governmen’t legislative programme would have ground to a halt and the Coalition itself in its present form will collapse.

It may be that it is not only Arab countries and Greece that will have become ungovernable. I sense a gathering storm. Populations in many countries will arrive at the conclusion that politicians are not to be trusted and our political systems may colla[se. If citizens do not trust the system to safeguard ther basic  interests they will seek people-power alternatives: they are already doing so in Libya and Syria. There is something intoxicating about nightly tv screens full of demonstrasing crowds with banners and music. Why not us and why not now?

I suspect that our own governemnt is frightened. If the streets fill up with pensioners and trade unionists, if it goes on through the summer, if one policy initiative after another grounds to a halt, what is there to do? What is certain is that the disease of protest and rejection of authority knows no country boundaries. I have made fun of the Big Society but I do recognise that it has some virtues. If you can state, and if it is true, that we are responsible now and not the government, might the dilemma of electoral madate be solved. The Coalition could say, ‘You (we) are the masters now. Don’t blame us blame  yourself (or is it me that needs saving)?

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The Obama Doctrine: A Signpost to Disaster


President Obama is an eloquent exponent of the American Dream and gave we European’s a version of this on his visit to Europe last week. Dreams are important to us all but they rarely survive long in the harsh glare of light and to seek to fulfill them can lead to disaster. In the current version the extension of universal rights to democracy, representative government , equality, and the rule of law should become a foreign  policy objective for the West. Its immediate focus is on extending democracy to Africa and the Middle East. In the pursuit of this objective all means, economic, financial and the use of force as a last resort are in order. It has become unanswerable in this docrine that democracy is best not only for human happiness but for the trade and economic development on which the economic stability of Western countries is so dependant.

The Obama doctrine finds an enthusiastic audience in Britain and the European Union. Scarce resources are being provided for the funding of aid and active assistance in nation building and the UN itself is enthusiastic about nation building wherever its sway can be achieved. No one is more enthusiastic than David Cameron and, judging from his recent public appearances and pronouncements,   Ed Milliband.

I hear raised voices at this point. What is wrong about that then? Hold on, my revolutionary friends, say I. Rember the Mensheviks. Do you have a monopoly of vision and prophecy? Can you at this moment of history tell us what will be the outcome of the Arab Spring? Do you expect reason to prevail in Israeli- Palestinian relations? Can you predict the political develpment of Iran?  What will be the nature of successor regimes in the Arab world? Is there more to this world than is dreamt of in your philosophy? Much derided as it is it is now, there is logic in the foreign policy objective of seeking stability in the world and not adding to political turbulence. Perhaps we should be a friend in need to emerging nations and not a friend in your face.

Can I point out to you dear British reader that you live in a country constantly at war in ‘far-away countries’ for the ideals that we share with President Obama. More so than any European country we have been alongside our American friends in worthy (but impractible?) causes around the world. Let’s have more of that then, I hear you say. We Brits have an appetite for it. Does not the call to arms and economic and financial sanctions on  recalcitrant states weary you a little? Are we to have a further two decades of armed struggle with all the division among ourselves this brings?

Well, yes, if need be may be your reply BUT I doubt it. I suggest to you that it is wholly absurd to commit ourselves to the Obama docrine at a time of great austerity, economic stagnation and public expenditure cuts, not least to the armed forces; that to be ‘playing soldiers in Libya’ and perhaps elsewhere is an unsupportable nonsense. For the cost of an intervention in Libya, soon to run beyond a billion pounds and ever upwards we could, for example, ensure the financial viability of care services fior the elderly, boost low cost housing or extend aid to the unemployed. No one would receive a tin medal for it but it could do good. The best way to build respect in the world is to earn it ourselves for our love and attention to our nearest and dearest.

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Libya and the Anglo-French Zone of Influence


Do you remember the European Defence Force (EDF) proposed by the France as an alternative to NATO and rejected by the British? You do, good. I have news for you it is alive and kicking (with a little help from Italy). There is new foreign policy strategy. Britain and France have declared that the Mediterranean area including North Africa be deemed their  sphere of influence. There is no immediate need for Britain to have an aircraft carrier for French one will do and the Italians will provide an air base in Southern Italy. If we act now and together there will be no more influx of unwanted immigrants into Frence and Italy. Like all speres of inluence it would be better for the client country to have a similar political system of our own  Trade and investment prospers best in democracies amd a reliable commercial law. To be fair to ourselves her in Britain this has always been the case. All these jolly colonies were reformed into democratic societies and when all was hunky dory we went home and they had their independence. Of course there many wars to achieve this but achieve it we did. Gradually the atlas studied by English schoochildren turned from the pink of Empire to a cacophany of other hues and anthems. 

It dawned on me as I watched French helicopters fir on the Presidential Palace in the Ivory Coast that nothing much had changed. We do not call it Empire any more, these African states are not colonies but the white man’s mission continues. The emotion felt by the former colonisers remains the same.

But I saw other things in this state of confusion as well as well. On the Palace wer trained the guns of UN helicopters. In Afghanistan it was a UN agency that was being stormed. The Un commitment to nation building was in full flood. While I had looked away for a moment or two the UN had developed a role of its own and it wielded armed forces of its own. It came as quite a shock to me.

Why am I getting so excited about this? Well think a bit. There is work to be done to persuade all those African and Arab countries to come into line and to make the region fit for invest and the export of oil. I cannot come about over night. After Libya there will be many other states waiting for our attention. The USSR did not find it easy to have all those client states in Eastern Europe. And let me tell you what happnened to them. They collapsed. All those years of economic sacrifice and political attention and then,  almost over night, nothing.!

I am conscious that this new regional foreign and defence policy has mnot been debated by the House of Commons. It is stealing up on us. Is this neo-colonialism in the interest of  Britain. What will be the efects on our alliance with the USA, the cohesion of NATO and the unity of Europe. No room for the Huns in all this! Germany can sort out the Eurozone and serve them right.

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Dirty Deals in the Middle East


I am at a loss. For the first time in my life I find myself at one with the Left Wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party.Why is it right for Britain, France and the USA to intervene on the side of the social and political revolution sweeping the Middle East in Libya and wrong in the numerous other states busy putting down their protesting masses with a mixture of violence, imprisonment and intimidation; in particular Bahrein, Yemen and Saudi Arabia? It is said that it is because the Ghaddafi regime is peculiarly obnoxious. Not only is he a threat to his own people but he can be in some undisclosed way be a threat to others. This is true. However, it is also true of many other states in the Middle East and elsewhere. Should there be a no fly zone imposed in Iran or military action against Syria. And surely we should not stand idly by while the Chinesese Government tyranises Tibet? No two cases are the same, of course and no one in their own mind would advocate itervention in  Iran or Tibet. Hold on, is this true? So could it be that Ghaddafi is a convenient tyrant. We can corner him and chalk up a few brownie points at home .Foreign wars start as popular. Ask Mrs Thatcher, it won her a General Election; or Tony Blair who became a prophet, although  not in his own land; and now David Cameron, who is hopping about as if he was on drugs. What is it about war that our politicians of all parties get high on it and invite us all to get high with them.

I hate to point it out that drugs can be highly dangerous not only to the takers but to bystanders. Wars are unpredictable. They rarely work out as one hopes. How about a short holiday in Iraq or a a pilgramage in Afghanistan, chaps. You must be joking. You do not need to be a soothsayer to predict that this Libyan adventure will not work out as you now expect. It could be the most horrible of all foreigh interventions of its type,

One disappointment for me personally is the attitude of the Labour Party. ‘We could not stand idly by’ may turn out to be a gravestone epitaph from a party that has learnt nothing about foreign wars and remembered nothing. Courages, mon braves. Use your noddles.

The truth is that US diplomats have been very busy these last ten days. To get any type of resolution through the UN Security Council has required the support of the Arab League. We have seen the US supping with the devil using a long spoon. The nod has been give to the Gulf States that they are free to put down the revolutions in any way they choose so long as they continue with modest changes and in return for their support of a Western intervention tp put down Ghadaffi. We hear the guns in Benghazi but not in Bahrein or Yemen. So the US can continue with its policy of supporting the known and relied upon in oil producing countries while giving a friendly nod to change. All very real, predictable and real politik. Let us all unite and give the bully within our reach a good kicking. We have been wanting to do this for a long time. Pity about the coffins and the body bags.

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Libya and the New Colonialism


European politicians and electors alike are gripped by the political and social revoutions engulfing the Middle East and not least by the bloody resistance of some autocracies to change. This is a generational revolution of young and educatedd populations pressing for a dignified space in the world and of an educated proletariat denied work and democratic rights. As I have written before, it is in France and Great Britain, the former colonial powers , where excitement and the call for international intervention to help dissidents is the strongest. Elsewhere in Europe and in the USA there is caution, concern and a desire not to be involved militarily.

Think of it. Arguably democratic change should be welcomed. It is demonstrable that trade and peace is safeguarded ibest in democratic societies. It is therefore easy to argue that not only are democratic rights good in themselves, and even that they are universal rights, but that they will guarantee peace, tranquility and prosperity in Europe itself. Of course we know nothing about these unknown revolutionaries who wish to sweep autocracies aside. Perhaps it would not work out the way we suppose. When the Communist stone was turned over  in Eastern Europe we discovered nationalism and zenophobia. When these Middle Eastern sand dunes are disturbed might we find militant Islamists and anti-semites anxious for the annihilation of Israel. We just don’t know.

We do know something. These revolutions were born in the Middle East and they belong there. The citizens of these countries own them. Personally I wish them well. But should we intervene militarily to seek to impose democratic changes upon autocratic regimes? There is a growing consensus in the West that we should and that we should attempt to own these democratic changes and influence them in our own democratic interests. That in embracing them we should own them. This desire to own territories with which we trade and in which we invest for the economic and commercial advantages that  ownership would bring has a name: Colonialism. Are we in France and Germany wrapping ourselves in a new flag? Are we not advocating a New Colonialism? Have we not had enough of it: not only our own colonial adventures but those of Germany, the Soviet Union and the USA?

The two major policy objectives for British foreign policy in the Middle East are to deal with the threat that Iran poses for the region and to us directly and to secure an Arab Israeli settlement of what is known now as the Palestinian  question.  Would military intervention in Libya help to achieve these objectives? I think not.

Personally, I am in favour of a little illegal arms trafficking in tanks, artillery and planes to help the dissidents. It is something best kept quiet. I doubt very much whether Ghaddafi’s armies would much like to recieve back what they are giving. I do not think sounding the drum or urging the UN Security Council do what they surely do not wish to do will do the trick for Benghazi. And then good luck to them. Now remind me. Where are we on the Palestine-Israel talks and what next with Iran?

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How Long for the Coalition?


It is now taken for granted by politicians and the general public alike that the Coalition will serve a full term of five years. You will recall that it was not always the position. In the Coalition’s earliest days it was commonly assumed that its days would be few and that it would be brought down by the policy contradictions of the Coalition parties. I assumed it myself. Several factors have kept  the show on the road. The first and most apparent is the hunger of politicians for power and influence. Oh how pleased are the Lib Dems to be in office with the chance to implement what I have long regarded as their platform of idiocies. Now one by one these policues can be put into practice and the various boxes  ticked. There is still a long way to go in that process. And then for the Lib Dems to precipitate a Coalition split would be to commit electoral suicide. Their poll ratings are so low that the Parliamentary party would barely survive an early election – perhaps not any election! Similarly for the Tories the future still beckons. They are convinced that they will be proved right on the deficit reduction programme. Economic growth will resume, the budget deficit will disappear and the nation will be grateful. The world is a nasty and unpredictable place for doctrinaire optimists. Who can forecast what shocks the world economy will be ere to over the coming years?  But the Coalition optimists believe that the ship of state will sail through all the stormy waters to a safe harbour.

Labour has no appetite for power. It is deep in self doubt and humility. Forgive us for our trespasses as we shall forgive those of the Coalition sing the voices. The tumbrils are not ready, no blood will flow (figuratively speaking). Learn to trust us. Every dog must have his day. we would not do these things but what we would do is yet to be revealed. Yawn, yawn, blah, blah.

But will the Coalition last? The determining issue is not the wishes of the political parties but the state of the economy. If real incomes continue to fall and unemployment continues to rise people will in their various ways and in their various times will reject the Coalition. A certain amount of this will not render the Coalition asunder but a lot of it will. A start can be made in May’s Assembly and Local Government elections. It is not the loss of seats alone which will be humbling but who gains them. UKIP only needs a nudge up for its current electoral rating of 5-6 percent to gain representation in Scotland and Wales. What then Britain’s membership of the EU? Watch this space.

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