Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

26/12/2016

A piece notes the problems of globalisation “votes for Brexit in the United Kingdom and for Donald Trump in the United States have confounded foreign-policy commentators the world over. How could the world’s two great Anglo-Saxon democracies, for centuries the leaders and advocates of a global, rules-based international trade regime, now be leading a path toward isolationism and mercantilism?

In the aftermath of a shock, we tend to rationalize that it is a result of contingent factors, the absence of which would leave the world as we imagined it to be. Perhaps the relationship between Britain and the European Union was always contentious. Perhaps the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis left an unusually large pool of underemployed working-class voters, seeking to lash out against the establishment. A few years sooner, a few years later, and it would all be different.

Yet public opinion data proves the earthquakes of Brexit and Trump are not simply the result of chance or bad timing. Instead, they are the outcome of deepening fissures in the long-running project of globalization. Over several decades, that project has produced significant shifts in public opinion around the world, including ascendant national pride, antipathy to migrants, and growing skepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international institutions. Those were tremors warning of a revolt against globalization. It is a revolt that has already defined politics in countries as far apart as Russia, Venezuela, and the Philippines, and it has now reached the established democracies of the West in the form of Brexit and Trump.

The resilience of national identity

First, one of the paradoxes of globalization has been that, as cross-border travel, migration, and trade have increased, attachment to national identity has not weakened, but instead grown stronger. Since 1981 the European and World Values Surveys have asked respondents whether they feel “very proud,” “quite proud,” “not very proud,” or “not at all proud” of their national identity (see chart below). That recent decades have seen an upsurge in national attachment in authoritarian regimes such as Russia or China is unsurprising, yet less noted is a return of national pride in societies that were once thought of “post-national,” such as Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands. This surge in national pride has been concurrent with the growth of “new right” political parties, such as the Sweden Democrats (SD), the Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the Party for Freedom (PVV) in the Netherlands.

National pride need not take the form of chauvinism or nationalism, and yet, these remain its inherent risks. Pride entails a need for recognition, and a feeling that one’s achievements or way of life are worthy of special value, promotion, and protection. A proud public is easier for political elites to manipulate by instrumentalizing external conflicts, or blaming scapegoats within: “take back control,” and “restore our country” are the universal slogans of populist parties and movements.

Hostility toward immigrants

Second, as scholars such as Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel have documented, over the past thirty years, Western societies have become more tolerant in a remarkable variety of ways, including toward homosexual marriage, abortion, divorce, and the use of soft drugs. And yet, while such “lifestyle tolerance” has risen markedly across Western countries, “identity tolerance” — tolerance of peoples with different ethnic or religious backgrounds — has moved in the opposite direction. In particular, hostile sentiment towards immigrants has increased steadily decade by decade since the 1980s.

The conjunction of rising lifestyle tolerance with growing intolerance of migrants may appear, at first, contradictory: Should tolerance not extend to all groups and minorities? Yet it has opened the space for a socially libertarian platform within the radical right, defining itself as the defender of a “national way of life” against newcomers who do not share the West’s liberal values. Pim Fortuyn, the openly homosexual Dutch politician who combined a flamboyant social liberalism with unabashed Islamophobia, was the first far-right politician to occupy this ideological space. Yet the same rhetorical strategy has become a cornerstone of Geert Wilders’s PVV in the Netherlands, of Israeli secular nationalists, of the big-tent National Front (FN) of Marine Le Pen, and Donald Trump’s libertarian supporters, such as Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos. If the true clash of civilizations between Islam and the West, as Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris suggested in these pages, is over social liberties, then the globalization of media and peoples has turned this clash from an international to a domestic one, and one that is reshaping the party systems of major Western democracies. That may be one reason why Western political systems are now following the precedent set by Israel in the early 2000s, in which the collapse of the cosmopolitan center-left in the form of the Labor Party ceded place to a resurgent secular ethnic nationalism led by Likud, Kadima, and Yisrael Beiteinu.

Loss of faith in international institutions

As national identity has grown and resentment of international migrants increased, there has been a corresponding loss of faith in the value and purpose of international organizations, including the European Union, United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the so-called Bretton Woods institutions. That is most evident in Europe, where since 1990, the European Values Study has asked respondents in Europe their degree of confidence in the European Community, and since 1995, the European Union.

Already in the 1990s, skepticism about the European Union was growing among the publics of major EU member states. While the launch of the euro and the founding of the European Constitutional Convention at the start of the new century may have felt like an apogee for the European project, already by this point a majority of respondents in major EU member states felt distrust in European institutions. Further efforts at European integration have been forced against the will of European publics, as evinced from the Dutch and French votes against the European Constitution in 2005, or the Irish rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. The vote for Brexit in 2016 shows the inherent limits in elite-led integration — and the project of global governance more generally.

How did we get here?

Why have citizens across Western democracies become increasingly nationalistic, opposed to mass migration, and suspicious of international institutions? One answer is that this is a consequence of the financial crisis, which has left deep pockets of economic deprivation and underemployment. But that answer is clearly wrong, because these trends have been in place for the better part of 30 years. A more accurate answer would be that they reflect an inherent tension between national democratic sovereignty and elite-led efforts at global integration, and that this tension has now reached its breaking point.

As economies and societies around the globe become more and more interconnected and bound within transnational rules and institutions, the range of policy options available to domestic policymakers has declined. Such constraints range from formal rules, such as the acceptance of the free movement of peoples within the European Union, or the asylum obligations that are outlined under the U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, or the limits on deficits stipulated in European Union’s Stability and Growth Pact and the implicit economic constraints imposed by global financial and investment flows. Thus, on issue after issue, from corporate taxation, to control over immigration, to fiscal and monetary policy, national elites frequently find themselves unable to deliver policies consistent with public preferences. Instead they have blamed international institutions for their inability to take actions that they privately do not condone. In this way, politicians feel obliged, in the words of Hillary Clinton, to maintain “both a public and a private position.”

Yet the constraints on national sovereignty entailed by global markets and institutions has weakened the mechanisms that once translated popular views into public policy, leading to a “democratic deficit”’ that has left citizens increasingly frustrated with democratic politics, and increasingly with the democratic system itself. At the same time, the institutions of “global governance” have failed not only to provide avenues for popular participation, but also to deliver outcomes that such participation would be liable to generate, such as compensation for the losers from global trade, or protection of the identities and ways of life of local and national communities. In the words of Larry Summers, one of global integration’s advocates, it is a project “carried out by elites, for elites, with little consideration for the interests of ordinary people.”

This frustration has set up a dangerous dynamic, the consequences of which are now only too visible. In many countries, the only viable challenge to an increasingly homogeneous set of decision-makers comes from political parties or movements established by outsiders, such as the tea party movement and now Donald Trump in the United States, or populist parties of the right and left in Europe. These movements explicitly set themselves against a metropolitan and cosmopolitan elite which, they claim — not always without reason — routinely ignores popular demands and policy preferences. As the differences between establishment parties on the left and right have dwindled in many countries, the only way for voters to effect a change in policy has been to rally to parties that reject many of the traditional rules of the democratic game. In this way, as politicians’ responsiveness to citizens has decreased, citizens have been encouraged to turn away from democracy.

Where will this lead? History’s answers are not encouraging. In the runup to World War I, it was widely believed that a new liberal order had been constructed under the aegis of the British, French, and Habsburg empires, yet this world was thrown into utter disarray by the upheavals of war and the Great Depression. Far from eroding the nation-state, the era of elite-led global integration in the years after 1989 has similarly failed to create legitimate transnational institutions, leaving national democratic communities as the primary source of identity, security, and loyalty for citizens. Now that the defenders of the traditional nation-state are regaining the power they have coveted for so long, the future of global governance rests in their hands. At stake is whether they succeed in finding a new balance between national sovereignty and transnational cooperation — or instead, return us to an era of mercantilism, inter-state competition, and great-power warfare.

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May’s religious nationalism

18/12/2016

Andrew Brown writes about the importance of understanding Threasa May’s faith when it come sto understanding Brexit, “Among the least understood, yet most important, things about British Prime Minister Theresa May is that she is the daughter of a Church of England vicar. The fact that she is personally devout, by contrast, is well-known. I have heard several anecdotes about her time as a member of Parliament and minister when she would turn up at local parish initiatives that could offer her no conceivable political advantage. Such devotion to the church is unusual if not unknown among British politicians. Gordon Brown remains a very serious Presbyterian; Tony Blair went to Mass most Sundays. But the reason May’s Anglicanism offers insight into her political character, and her political agenda, is not because it has informed her identity as a devout Christian. Rather, it is because it has informed her identity as an Englishwoman”.

Brown argues “As a Conservative politician, May’s appeal depends largely on her apparently apolitical common sense. Her manner and rhetoric always suggest that things are pretty much all right as they are, that reasonable people don’t want to rock the boat, and that there is something wrong with the people who want large change. She expresses distrust of ideologues and chancers — the two labels that most naturally attach to her political rivals at the moment. But it’s telling that the teachings of the Church of England have always managed to combine common sense with a very strong nationalistic streak. The clue is in the name. The one thing that distinguished Henry VIII’s church from that of his father, Henry VII, was that the king of England appointed the clergy, not the bishop of Rome. Doctrine had hardly changed at all. (That would have to wait until the convulsions under Henry VIII’s children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth.) Until Henry died, all that really changed was that England became, to use the technical term of the times, an “empire.” In that sense, Brexit really is a continuation of the Reformation impulse — it promises nothing so much as a restoration of national prerogatives and privileges”.

Brown notes that “This is not to suggest that May, who is now obliged to oversee the Brexit process, is enthusiastic about its prospects. Prior to the referendum vote that initiated Brexit, May believed the economic effects were likely to be disastrous, as her leaked pre-referendum speech to Goldman Sachs showed. And her intentions about Brexit are still remarkably opaque: A senior aide leaving a recent briefing at the newly created Department for Exiting the EU was photographed holding a briefing note on which the words “have cake and eat it” could be read. That plan will clearly not survive contact with the enemy. But it’s worth noting that May seemed quick to embrace the idea of a hard Brexit, in which keeping out immigrants takes priority over ensuring decent trading conditions. And that would be consistent with her time leading the Home Office, where she showed a consistent determination to keep down net immigration figures. (Someone who worked with her then described her three policy priorities as “down with immigration, down with crime, and up with Theresa May.”) Generally, the leaks we have had make it seem that she is more concerned about managing her party, and its constituents, than managing relations with the French and Germans”.

Brown points out “If Americans don’t immediately grasp what this style of thinking has to do with the Church of England, that’s because it’s built on a very different model of Christianity from the one that seems natural in the United States. From the Middle Ages until very recently, the church was organized and understood itself on the basis of the parish. The parish, in England, is a geographical division, one that is no longer a unit of political or economic significance but which remains fundamental to the church’s self-understanding. Everyone lives in a parish, and every parish has its church, so everyone has a priest in the Church of England who is in some sense responsible for their spiritual welfare. This has also meant that the church hierarchy — the clergy, and ultimately the bishops, who sit in the House of Lords and thus have a say over all legislation considered by Parliament — is expected to feel a responsibility for everyone in their respective parishes, no matter how poor and miserable. This sense of responsibility, almost as much as the two world wars, was what reconciled the English Conservative Party, which had a close relationship with the church hierarchy, to the welfare state. And that state was very much inspired by the work of Anglican intellectuals, such as William Temple, the wartime archbishop of Canterbury. For that generation, the postwar welfare state was an attempt to turn England into the New Jerusalem. The Christian elements of that vision faded with time and so did the nationalist ones. The last ones may now be coming back”.

Brown mentions “The Church of England is, in an important sense, not a religious body at all. It is, or was, a mode of being English. It was the official position of the Church of England that it had no distinctive doctrines of its own. It was simply the English part of the universal church. This claim was hard to sustain in reality — the doctrine that the Church of England has no unique doctrines is itself unique to the Church of England — but it reflected a deep conservative self-confidence. It was only as a member of the Church of England that C.S. Lewis could write a book titled Mere Christianity, referencing the plain, commonsensical essence of belief, without the extravagance of Rome or the doctrinal extremism of the puritans. The link with May should be obvious. The lack of explicit theological distinctiveness in her church coheres with an almost complete lack of ideology in her politics. She seems to have no large vision of how society should be organized or the economy run: She sees problems in her nation and fixes them, without worrying too much about how everything might fit into a grand scheme. If she had a slogan, it might be “common sense without stupidity.” The Brexit vote would seem to contradict both halves of the slogan. But we still have no clear idea how she intends to deal with it — except that she does not intend to let anyone outside the government know anything until the last possible moment. The attempt to negotiate what is supposed to be a return to parliamentary sovereignty without a vote in Parliament is one example. Another is her repetition of the phrase “Brexit means Brexit” until its lack of meaning became embarrassingly obvious”.

He ends “It’s almost as if she believed her policies could be as private as her spiritual beliefs. Though she has by all accounts a strong sense of duty, May is quite remarkably undemonstrative. She is extremely private about her religious beliefs, as with all other aspects of her private life; this, too, is a traditional sort of Englishness, in which you perform your duties but have no public existence outside them. Those duties sometimes take a universalist cast. One of the causes May pushed hardest at the Home Office and elsewhere was the fight against modern slavery. There are few votes to be won in this fight, but it is the right thing to do, and she has worked very hard to ensure that problem was taken seriously throughout the criminal justice system. The bishops would agree with her on that, while being a long way to her left on welfare reform and on the treatment of refugees. It’s very notable that some of the most bigoted social conservatives on the English Christian scene are also in favour of the large-scale resettlement of Christian refugees from around the world to England. Generally, however, May’s political career is given coherence by her supposition that her Christian duty is to the people of England rather than to humanity in general or even to other Christians”.

He finishes “This is another thing that distinguishes state churches, on the European model, from congregational ones, on the American model. The state church is not something you join, or leave, any more than the nation is. It is run as a kind of public utility: a national spiritual health service, if you like. In Germany and Scandinavia, the churches are paid for out of taxation collected by the state, as the English church once was, even if the church taxes in Europe are now voluntary. Because there is no special membership status, no one is excluded either, and there is an obligation to serve everyone. May’s father was legally obliged to marry or bury any resident of the parish who demanded this service — the assumption being that they were members of the church. May won’t bring her faith into politics explicitly, but we can expect her to behave as if England were a special, almost sacred, country in ways that none of her immediate predecessors, much less Americans, would understand”.

 

UK presence in Asia in 2020

12/12/2016

British fighter planes visiting Japan will fly over the South China Sea and Britain will sail aircraft carriers in the Pacific once they are operational in 2020, given concerns about freedom of navigation there, Britain’s ambassador to the United States said on Thursday. The envoy, Kim Darroch, told a Washington think tank that British Typhoon aircraft currently deployed on a visit to Japan would fly across disputed parts of the South China Sea to assert international overflight rights, but gave no time frame. Speaking at an event also attended by Japan’s ambassador to Washington, Darroch said that most future British defense capacity would have to be directed toward the Middle East”.

UK, leaving the single market?

01/12/2016

A news report from the Guardian notes that the UK is unlikely to stay in the single market, “Britain is unlikely to be able to remain a member of the single market, according to a document photographed in the hands of a senior Conservative official on Downing Street. A handwritten note, carried by an aide to the Tory vice-chair Mark Field after a meeting at the Department for Exiting the European Union, could be seen to say: “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it.” And in a further embarrassment, it added “French likely to be most difficult.” It also suggests that a deal on manufacturing with the EU should be “relatively straightforward” but admits that services, such as in the financial or legal sectors, are harder. One idea cited in the note is a “Canada-plus” option, suggesting Britain could look to replicate the free trade deal hammered out by the EU over seven years with Ottawa. However, it suggests that the UK would be seeking “more on services” than was agreed in the comprehensive economic and trade agreement (Ceta). A government spokesperson distanced Theresa May from the document, saying: “These individual notes do not belong to a government official or a special adviser. They do not reflect the government’s position in relation to Brexit negotiations.” However, the fact they appeared to have been taken during a meeting with officials or even ministers – given May’s tight-lipped approach to the negotiating strategy – means that they will be pored over”.

The report adds “The woman carrying the document appears to be Julia Dockerill, chief of staff to Field, who is vice-chair of the Conservative party, working on international issues and MP for the Cities of London and Westminster. Field does not have a formal Brexit role but does take a keen interest on the impact that leaving the EU could have on the country’s financial services, many of which are based in his constituency, and is likely to have been speaking to senior figures about this issue. The notes also said: “Transitional – loath to do it. Whitehall will hold onto it. We need to bring an end to negotiations.” That could suggest that ministers are not keen to enter a transitional deal after the end of the article 50 period, despite May hinting last week that this would be possible. Other comments include: “Difficult on article 50 implementation – Barnier wants to see what deal looks like first”, in reference to lead negotiator Michel Barnier. “Got to be done in parallel – 20 odd negotiations. Keep the two years. Won’t provide more detail,” it adds. “We think it’s unlikely we’ll be offered Single Market.” The document appears to reflect a discussion about the prospect of a trade deal like that of Norway, which is a member of the European Economic Area”.

It points out that “That appears to refer to the drawbacks of taking on the Norwegian model, which has the country outside the EU and its customs union, but inside the single market. The reason Brexit supporters do not want to follow that idea is the requirement that Norway accepts free movement of people and is under the jurisdiction of the European court. The document was being carried out of 9 Downing Street, the Brexit department, and into No 10 Downing Street when it was photographed. It comes after reports that there is a sign on the DExEU exit doors reading: “Stop! Are your documents on show?”. It emerged on Monday that the government faces the prospect of a second legal challenge to its Brexit plans, with the group British Influence threatening a judicial review over whether leaving the EU means Britain must also automatically leave the European Economic Area and hence lose the free trading benefits of the single market”.

It concludes “She has made clear that there will have to be more controls on immigration from the EU and wants to see an end to the jurisdiction of the European court of justice – which is why many think Britain will come out of the single market. But the lack of further details from No 10 has alarmed many formerly pro-EU Labour and Tory MPs, who are increasingly cooperating in an attempt to stop a “hard Brexit”. Their key demands are staying as close to the single market as possible, a transitional deal to cushion the economic effect of leaving and more parliamentary scrutiny of the negotiations. Some former remain politicians, including former prime ministers Tony Blair and Sir John Major, are even pushing for a second referendum to allow the public to vote on or even veto any deal for leaving the EU. It was also reported in the Sunday Times that Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, backs a transitional deal with the EU to cushion the impact of Brexit for businesses until at least 2021″.

 

Germany, wary of China

29/11/2016

An interesting report notes how Germany is refusing to sell its industries to China, “Germany withdrew its support for the sale of semiconductor firm Aixtron to a Chinese bidder. The decision apparently came after U.S. intelligence officials warned Germany that the sale would give China technology that it could use for military purposes; so, too, did it follow months of increasingly protectionist chatter by Gabriel, who has stressed that Europe’s high-tech industry “should not just be sold off.” Beijing has made clear that it has “great concern” over this turn of events, according to Deutsche Welle.  It’s not difficult to see why: Chinese firms, often state-owned, were happily buying and investing in Europe until the continent’s economic powerhouse pumped the proverbial breaks. Per Bloomberg, Chinese companies have announced bids or bought German companies to the tune of $12 billion this year”.

The piece notes how “That’s part and parcel of China’s so-called “New Silk Road,” which envisions links between China, Central Asia, the Indian Ocean, and Europe. Gaining access to markets there is important for Beijing: China and France announced a fund for joint overseas investment; China-U.K. trade is booming; and China initiated the 16+1 framework with Central and Eastern European countries for diplomatic and, ahem, economic relations. Some Europeans have welcomed Chinese money with open arms. The U.K., for example, eagerly courted Chinese investment in recent years, as France is doing now. And for some countries and sectors — such as busy container ports like Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Greece’s Piraeus — Chinese largesse is helpful indeed. But fears are starting to grow in Europe that Chinese money has geopolitical strings attached”.

The author writes that “many in Germany including Gabriel want to push back against what they see as a strategic swoop by China to gobble up key companies in high-tech sectors. Gabriel has taken issue with Beijing’s opposition to opening up its own market to foreign investment. EU Digital Economy Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who, unlike Gabriel, is a member of Angela Merkel’s political party, has also criticized China’s buying spree. Oettinger went so far as to refer to Chinese people as “slit eyes” and “sly dogs” in a speech to business leaders in Hamburg. Oettinger later clarified that he meant Chinese are clever, and thus Europe should not be complacent in its dealings with China and the technological and digital sectors. It remains to be seen if Oettinger’s clarification will be enough to open doors for Gabriel, who embarks Tuesday on a five-day trip to China to see German business leaders and Chinese government officials”.

Trump, bankrupting America

27/11/2016

Daniel Altman writes that Trump will bankrupt America, “Trump has done the United States a peculiar favour. By campaigning on promises to cut taxes and raise government spending, which economists agree will increase the national debt by trillions of dollars, he has at least been honest about his party’s abandonment of fiscal conservatism. But there is more to his strategy, which may well bankrupt the nation just as he bankrupted so many companies. Think back to the eight-year presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Both spent heavily on the military while cutting income taxes dramatically. Both left the nation with such huge debts that their successors were forced to raise taxes — George H.W. Bush despite his famous campaign promise, and Barack Obama despite the painful aftermath of a deep recession. Some of Reagan’s and Bush’s advisors also claimed that cutting taxes would increase tax revenue, so great would be the resulting boost to economic activity. That notion has been shown to be false for the United States, time after time. Trump, at least, has employed no such pretension. Rather, he has relied on his usual business strategy, starting with the seduction of starry-eyed investors (now voters) with the glamour of the Trump name and promises of monumental proportions. The next steps — the ones that led him to repeated bankruptcies — are more ominous: Lever up a mountain of debt, and then leave others to foot the bill when repayment becomes impossible. Americans already know what happens when this strategy comes to Washington. Reagan and the younger Bush let the nation live beyond its means, too, stealing from legions of unborn Americans to fund their grand ideas. They also stole from as-yet unelected presidents; whoever followed them in power would be the ones to pay the piper. Their own party would return when times were good again”.

Altman writes that “This politically cynical budgeting has happened in other rich countries, yet it wasn’t until the late 1990s in the United Kingdom that one party finally called it out. No more “Tory boom and bust,” said then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown and his cohorts in the Labour Party as they shamed their Conservative predecessors. Instead, they chose to abide by a “golden rule” — in which the government would be bound to balance its budget over the length of the economic cycle, socking money away in the good times and then using it to soften the bad ones. The Labour government stuck to its word — at least until the global financial crisis hit — leaving the British national debt 3 percent lower, as a share of gross domestic product, than before they took power. Some commentators said Labour could have done even better, but contrast their record with Reagan, who ballooned the national debt by 12 percent of GDP, and Bush, who erased a rainy-day fund worth $5.6 trillion and ended up increasing the debt by 2 percent of GDP by the end of 2007. As with his Republican predecessors, any sort of “golden rule” seems to be far from Trump’s thinking, unless we’re talking about interior decorating. The first victim of his presidency is likely to be Paul Ryan’s reputation for prudence. The speaker of the house and the rest of the Republican-led Congress will likely rubber-stamp Trump’s plans for spending and tax cuts, though there is little need for stimulus at this point in the economic cycle. Of course, they had no trouble dashing similar plans when the nation truly needed stimulus in 2010 and 2011, but back then their overriding goal was to derail Barack Obama’s presidency. To be sure, not all of Trump’s economic proposals are irredeemable, yet even the ones that show some promise are half-baked. The corporate income tax is an unnecessarily volatile source of revenue for the federal government, and even experts aren’t really sure how it affects the economy. So lowering the rate from 35 percent to 15 percent — or even eliminating it entirely — isn’t such a bad idea. But the revenue would have to be replaced with other taxes, preferably stable ones like individual income taxes, and Trump has no such plans”.

He argues that “Investing in infrastructure is also something the economy needs, though more now for long-term growth than for any immediate stimulus. Of course, that infrastructure must actually be useful for the former effect to take hold, and it’s not clear that a big wall on the nation’s southern border would fit that description. The road system, energy grid, and water and waste systems are far more urgent priorities. Regardless of how taxes are cut and money is spent, adding 30 percent of GDP to the national debt hardly seems like a good idea. At the moment, the debt is still about 75 percent of GDP. Among the countries labeled as “advanced economies” by the International Monetary Fund, only struggling Italy, Japan, and Portugal are higher. The Treasury’s canny refinancing of the debt at low interest rates has made the current burden bearable. But there’s little more it can do, though, especially if Trump’s spending forces interest rates back up”.

He ends “A combination of rapidly rising deficits and higher interest rates could make the nation’s debt unsustainable even within Trump’s four-year term — and that’s if his stimulus works. If he stays true to his record in business, another bankruptcy could be on the horizon. This time, though, there won’t be any second chances, and all Americans will be left holding the bag”.

“Increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010”

23/11/2016

The European Union agreed on Tuesday to increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010 after Britain softened its opposition, a breakthrough that may signal British support for defense co-operation even once outside the bloc. A day after agreeing a new defense plan aimed at making Europe less reliant on U.S. help, EU governments increased the 2017 funding of the European Defence Agency, which helps countries develop aircraft and other assets, by 1.6 percent, in line with inflation and taking the modest budget to 31 million euros ($33 million). While well below the 6.5 percent rise the agency wanted, it was the first time in six years that Britain has not blocked an increase at the agency whose budget has shrunk 15 percent in real terms, EU officials said.

Trump’s transition in disarray

17/11/2016

The New York Times reports that Trump’s transition is in disarray, “President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition was in disarray on Tuesday, marked by firings, infighting and revelations that American allies were blindly dialing in to Trump Tower to try to reach the soon-to-be-leader of the free world. One week after Mr. Trump scored an upset victory that took him by surprise, his team was improvising the most basic traditions of assuming power. That included working without official State Department briefing materials in his first conversations with foreign leaders. Two officials who had been handling national security for the transition, former Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan and Matthew Freedman, a lobbyist who consults with corporations and foreign governments, were fired. Both were part of what officials described as a purge orchestrated by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser”.

The article notes how “The dismissals followed the abrupt firing on Friday of Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was replaced as chief of the transition by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. Mr. Kushner, a transition official said, was systematically dismissing people like Mr. Rogers who had ties with Mr. Christie. As a federal prosecutor, Mr. Christie had sent Mr. Kushner’s father to jail. Prominent American allies were in the meantime scrambling to figure out how and when to contact Mr. Trump. At times, they have been patched through to him in his luxury office tower with little warning, according to a Western diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail private conversations. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt was the first to reach Mr. Trump for such a call last Wednesday, followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel not long afterward. But that was about 24 hours before Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain got through — a striking break from diplomatic practice given the close alliance between the United States and Britain. Despite the haphazard nature of Mr. Trump’s early calls with world leaders, his advisers said the transition team was not suffering unusual setbacks. They argued that they were hard at work behind the scenes dealing with the same troubles that incoming presidents have faced for decades”.

It adds that “Trump himself fired back at critics with a Twitter message he sent about 10 p.m. “Very organized process taking place as I decide on Cabinet and many other positions,” he wrote. “I am the only one who knows who the finalists are!” The process is “completely normal,” said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor, who emerged on Tuesday as the leading contender to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of state. “It happened in the Reagan transition. Clinton had delays in hiring people.” Giuliani, who made his comments in a telephone interview, added: “This is a hard thing to do. Transitions always have glitches. This is an enormously complex process.” There were some reports within the transition of score-settling. One member of the transition team said that at least one reason Mr. Rogers had fallen out of favour among Mr. Trump’s advisers was that, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he had overseen a report about the 2012 attacks on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, which concluded that the Obama administration had not intentionally misled the public about the events there. That report echoed the findings of numerous other government investigations into the episode. The report’s conclusions were at odds with the campaign position of Mr. Trump, who repeatedly blamed Hillary Clinton, his Democratic opponent and the secretary of state during the attacks, for the resulting deaths of four Americans”.

Not supurisingly the article notes “Eliot A. Cohen, a former State Department official who had criticized Mr. Trump during the campaign but said after his election that he would keep an open mind about advising him, said Tuesday on Twitter that he had changed his opinion. After speaking to the transition team, he wrote, he had “changed my recommendation: stay away.” He added: “They’re angry, arrogant, screaming ‘you LOST!’ Will be ugly.” Mr. Cohen, a conservative Republican who served under President George W. Bush, said Trump transition officials had excoriated him after he offered some names of people who might serve in the new administration, but only if they felt departments were led by credible people. “They think of these jobs as lollipops,” Mr. Cohen said in an interview. Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona and the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, weighed in as well. On Tuesday, he issued a blunt warning to Mr. Trump and his emerging foreign policy team not to be taken in by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom Mr. Trump praised during the campaign”.

The piece mentions that “Some of the early transition difficulties may reflect the fact that Mr. Trump, who has no governing experience or Washington network and campaigned as an agent of change, does not have a long list of establishment figures from the Bush era to tap. His allies suggested that might ultimately prove positive for Mr. Trump if he was able to assemble a functioning team that would bring new perspectives to his administration. For advice on building Mr. Trump’s national security team, his inner circle has been relying on three hawkish current and former American officials: Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; Peter Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman and former chairman of the Intelligence Committee; and Frank Gaffney, a Pentagon official during the Reagan administration and a founder of the Center for Security Policy. Mr. Gaffney has long advanced baseless conspiracy theories, including that President Obama might be a closet Muslim. The Southern Poverty Law Center described him as “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.” Prominent donors to Mr. Trump were also having little success in recruiting people for rank-and-file posts in his administration”.

Trump, doing permanent damage

07/11/2016

Stephen Walt writes the damage done during the election could be permanent, “assuming, Hillary Clinton is elected president, the collective sigh of relief heard ’round the world could well be deafening. Way back in June (i.e., before the revelations about Trump’s fondness for groping women surfaced), a Pew Research Center survey found that more 80 percent of Swedes, Germans, French, British, Japanese and Australians, had “no confidence” in Trump’s ability to handle foreign affairs. Their scepticism wasn’t surprising, insofar as the Republican nominee had already revealed himself to be the living embodiment of the “Ugly American” stereotype: a bumptious blowhard who knows little about foreign policy and isn’t troubled by his own ignorance. There are undoubtedly some U.S. rivals who will be disappointed by his defeat: the Islamic State will be deprived an ideal recruiting poster, Putin won’t have an admirer in the White House, and Xi Jinping won’t get to go up against rank amateur with a short attention span and long record of failure. For the rest of the world, however, it will be a moment to exhale and to be grateful for a bullet dodged”.

Walt writes that “That sense of relief may be short-lived, however, because Trump’s candidacy and the broader condition of American politics have already done considerable damage to America’s image overseas. If you talk to foreigners a lot (it’s part of my job), you mostly hear repeated expressions of bewilderment: they find the Trump phenomenon as hard to understand as America’s fondness for guns. The French newspaper Liberation called him the “American Nightmare,” and a diverse array of foreign media outlets offer similar appraisals. Or as the New York Daily News headlined in March: “As [Trump] sinks lower, he does lasting harm to America’s image in the world.” But it’s not just Trump. In fact, the entire 2016 election has been a pretty poor advertisement for American democracy”.

Not supurisingly he notes “To make matters worse, the Trump campaign has revealed that a fair number of Americans seem to like the Donald’s disdainful and bigoted views of Muslims, Mexicans, and most U.S. allies. It can’t be encouraging for the citizens of other countries to discover that a non-trivial chunk of the American body politic is xenophobic, racist, protectionist, and ill-informed. That may always have been true, but it took the Trump campaign to put it up in bright lights. 2016 also reveals that the two-party system (or at least the two parties that currently dominate that system) is badly broken. More than 150 million Americans are technically eligible to be president, yet somehow this long and costly process produced two major-party candidates with historically strong negatives and repeated episodes of bad judgment. And it’s not like the alternatives were any better. The Republican primary was a clown show — I mean, seriously: Marco Rubio? Ted Cruz? Chris Christie? Ben Carson? — and the reason why a boorish cad like Trump could steamroll them all. On the Democratic side, all those earnest Sanders supporters never seemed to realise he was both a one-note candidate and one of the least popular or effective members of the Senate. If this collection of contenders was the best the American system could offer up, no wonder foreign observers are beginning to think something is broken. Alas, the problem isn’t just the campaign. The recurring dysfunctions at both federal and state levels reinforce the growing sense that something has gone badly awry with America’s other political institutions. Congress can’t pass budgets or ratify trade agreements, won’t even bother to hold hearings on Supreme Court nominees, won’t vote either to authorise the use of force or to withhold authorization, won’t conduct genuine oversight of the intelligence community, and won’t perform any of the other key functions the Founding Fathers designated for them. Instead, representatives and senators spend more time “dialing for (campaign) dollars” than they do legislating, while the rascals most responsible for all this obstructionism keep getting reelected. Several U.S. states are flirting with bankruptcy; gerrymandering is endemic; media outlets spew fact-free bile on a daily basis; and the country’s existing institutions seem incapable of undertaking clear, obvious, and farsighted initiatives and then bringing them to fruition”.

Pointedly he notes “Perhaps the only consolation in all this is that politics in the U.K., the Philippines, Turkey, Italy, and many other places have been equally unsettling. And there is a silver lining, at least potentially. If global impressions of American democracy could decline so sharply from 2008 to 2016, then in theory they could swing back just as quickly now. Engineering that shift will be Hillary Clinton’s greatest challenge. The success of her presidency — including the success of her foreign policy — will depend not on whether she ends the Syrian civil war; resolves the disputes over the South China Sea; caps North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs; conjures up a stable government in Yemen, Libya, or South Sudan; liberates Crimea; gets major carbon emitters to abide by the Paris climate accord; or successfully manages any of the other foreign-policy problems that her advisors will be eager to address. Rather, the success of her presidency will depend on whether she can figure out a way to get America’s democratic system working again. Not perfectly or brilliantly, perhaps, but at least competently. The surest way for her to fail at that task would be to take on a bunch of ambitious new burdens abroad. She may be tempted to do so, because then she wouldn’t have to deal with a pesky or obstructionist Congress and she’ll get some grudging support from interventionists, hawks, and the numerous special interest groups which are always trying to get Washington to do something, somewhere, on behalf of someone”.

 

 

Cameron’s legacy

10/10/2016

An excellent editorial in the New Statesman, “Cameron’s tarnished legacy”, gives an excellent summary of Cameron’s legacy, “prime minister, David Cameron was derided for his U-turns. It was fitting, then, that his time in parliament should end with one. Having vowed after leaving No 10 that he would remain the MP for Witney for the duration of the parliament, he resigned on 12 September. Mr Cameron’s decision was understandable. At the age of 49, he is the youngest former prime minister since the Earl of Rosebery in 1895. He has no desire to be limited by the Commons. But his departure completes a remarkable denouement. Only 16 months ago, Mr Cameron became the first Conservative leader in 23 years to win a parliamentary majority. History will more often record him as the first to lose a national referendum. Despite decades of anti-EU sentiment, Mr Cameron wagered that he could win a vote on UK membership of the EU. That fatal misjudgement – Michael Portillo called it the “greatest blunder ever made by a British prime minister” – will define his legacy”.

The piece goes on to argue “Cameron’s decision was understandable. At the age of 49, he is the youngest former prime minister since the Earl of Rosebery in 1895. He has no desire to be limited by the Commons. But his departure completes a remarkable denouement. Only 16 months ago, Mr Cameron became the first Conservative leader in 23 years to win a parliamentary majority. History will more often record him as the first to lose a national referendum. Despite decades of anti-EU sentiment, Mr Cameron wagered that he could win a vote on UK membership of the EU. That fatal misjudgement – Michael Portillo called it the “greatest blunder ever made by a British prime minister” – will define his legacy”.

It goes on to note how “In his six years in Downing Street, Mr Cameron achieved some things of which he can be proud. He introduced equal marriage, in opposition to most of his party, agreed to spend 0.7 per cent of our GDP on foreign aid and oversaw record levels of employment. But, in most respects, his record is deplorable. After the financial crisis of 2008, he made it his defining ambition to eliminate the UK’s current deficit. But his premiership ended with government borrowing having only halved. Austerity starved the economy of investment, reduced growth and penalised future generations. Housebuilding stayed at its lowest level since the 1920s. Having vowed to make the Conservatives “the party of the NHS”, Mr Cameron imposed an expensive and botched reorganisation on it. Today’s underfunded and overstretched health service is the consequence”.

It rightly adds how “The promised transformation of the welfare system through Universal Credit was barely begun. After six years of Conservative government, the programme is not due to be completed until 2022. As Iain Duncan Smith finally recognised, “welfare reform” became a façade for cuts to the bene­fits of the poorest. Though he often spoke of social justice, Mr Cameron’s policies were frequently regressive. The “bedroom tax” and benefit cap penalised the vulnerable in return for paltry fiscal gains. After forming a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010, Mr Cameron spoke of forging a “new politics”. He pledged to reform party funding to “remove big money from politics”, to create a “wholly or mainly elected upper chamber” and to fund 200 open primaries in safe seats. Not one of these promises was kept. Mr Cameron’s administration ended in tawdry fashion with his doling out of honours to donors, cronies and friends”.

It ends “Once asked why he wanted to be prime minister, Mr Cameron replied: “Because I think I’d be good at it.” At times, such as his response to the Bloody Sunday inquiry, he was. He was always fluent and composed, but he never settled on a larger purpose for his premiership. He was an incoherent fusion of soft Thatcherism, shire Toryism and modish west London liberalism. Theresa May, who has broken with her legacy in several respects, can learn more from his failures than his successes. Not yet 50, Mr Cameron has ample time to redefine himself out of office. He should put his talents at the service of those causes ill served while he was in it”.

“I’d talk a lot more about my faith in democracy itself”

08/10/2016

An article discusses how Clinton has to appeal to those attracted by fear driven politics, “Hillary Clinton talks a lot about globalisation and its discontents, and much of what she says about the world is intelligent and true. Her supporters correspondingly like to cast her as the cosmopolitan in America’s presidential race, the one who really understands how the world works. In this narrative, Donald Trump is the parochial rube, the guy who just doesn’t get the big picture. And you can be pretty sure that that’s how she’ll play it in tonight’s much-anticipated presidential debate. But is that really true? If you take a look around the world right now, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Donald Trump is the candidate who’s in sync with the zeitgeist. It’s a deeply depressing thought. But Clinton ignores it at her peril”.

The piece goes on to point out “Much of the world currently finds itself in the grip of dark emotions. The democracies of the West seem to be suffering from a collective nervous breakdown. Anxiety about sluggish economic growth is fusing with fears about terrorism and migration to devastating effect. There’s a widespread sense that remote political elites are completely out of touch with the anxieties of ordinary voters.In the United Kingdom, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson deftly exploited these fears in their campaign to persuade Britons to leave the EU; Johnson has now become the U.K.’s foreign minister. France’s Marine Le Pen, who has made a career out of channeling resentment against immigrants, has a real shot at becoming her country’s next president. Hungary’s Viktor Orban has vowed to end liberal democracy in his country. Meanwhile, Germans have been voting in droves for a party called the Alternative for Germany, a nativist movement that’s been causing big headaches for Chancellor Angela Merkel”.

The piece goes on later to discuss how “As far as Trump is concerned, many commentators have pointed out that his nightmare vision of the United States — a place mired in recession, weighed down by hopeless African-Americans, and plagued by rampant crime and runaway immigration — doesn’t correspond to reality. Poverty is declining, violent crime is down, and immigrants were a larger share of the U.S. population in the early 20th century. Yet Trump supporters, discomfited by a society in the grip of tumultuous cultural and demographic change, see his dark caricature as an accurate reflection of their own nagging worries. So how should the defenders of liberal democracy respond? Combating inequality and creating greater economic opportunity should obviously be part of the answer. But we also need to acknowledge the power of the id — by paying attention to the less tangible reasons for the current age of anxiety. We need to think about how to make democracy more effective at cushioning citizens from the shocks of change. We need to think hard about tackling political polarization and creating new space for politics that can actually address pressing problems rather than succumbing to the gridlock that discredits democracy. We need to think about information policies — including media literacy programs — that can offer urgently needed counterweights to the echo chambers and conspiracy factories of the internet”.

Crucially he writes that “if I were Hillary Clinton, I’d talk a lot more about my faith in democracy itself. I’d tell people that I understand their fears about the perceived loss of control to big government and the faceless forces of globalization, and I’d propose reforms to address the erosion of trust — such as radical new policies of government transparency and changes to the electoral system that would enable people to feel that their votes really count. I might even argue that true democracy is impossible without genuine law and order — which you can only have as long as the police and the courts are truly accountable to all citizens. And I would certainly talk about the crucial importance of revitalizing education, since there’s no hope for democracy without an informed electorate. Above all I would argue that it’s time for the United States to start setting a trend of its own — by showing that strongmen aren’t the answer. I suspect we can only really succeed in doing that if we acknowledge the deficits of our own democracy. I have to admit that I’m skeptical that the next president — whoever he or she is — will be up to the task. But we’re going to need to start on it sooner or later”.

 

US calls Russia’s actions barbaric

08/10/2016

“The United States on Sunday called Russia’s action in Syria “barbarism,” not counter-terrorism, while Moscow’s U.N. envoy said ending the war “is almost an impossible task now” as Syrian government forces, backed by Moscow, bombed the city of Aleppo. The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday at the request of the United States, Britain and France to discuss the escalation of fighting in Aleppo following the announcement on Thursday of an offensive by the Syrian army to retake the city. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the 15-member council. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” Power said. A Sept. 9 ceasefire deal between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov aimed at putting Syria’s peace process back on track effectively collapsed on Monday when an aid convoy was bombed.

UK will block EU defence proposals

04/10/2016

Britain will resist new European Union defence proposals if it feels they undermine NATO, British officials say, in a warning to France and Germany that London will defend its military interests even as it negotiates to leave the EU bloc. Paris and Berlin proposed last week reviving EU common defense plans long blocked by Britain, partly to give the bloc a sense of purpose after Britons’ vote to quit the EU and also to counter the loss of the union’s biggest defense spender. Those plans include a joint and permanent EU headquarters for civilian and military missions, possibly in Brussels, which London says will drain away finite resources when NATO already has its military command center, also in Belgium. Most EU members, including Britain, France and Germany, are also NATO allies. But Europe wants to be able to act independently of the United States in its neighbourhood. While not proposing an EU army, Paris and Berlin see security and defense cooperation as one of the few areas where the remaining 27 EU governments could find common ground and show that the EU is still relevant after a British departure”.

Boring Brexit?

02/10/2016

An piece in Foreign Policy notes that how May intends to make Brexit boring, “Back in June, Britain’s decision to exit the European Union was the biggest thing in global politics. Flags were waved, slogans were chanted, joy and despair were unconfined. And now? There has been no Brexit recession. But there has been no Brexit decision, either. May has assured us that “Brexit means Brexit” — in other words, even though she voted to Remain, she will deliver on the voters’ decision to leave the EU. But what, precisely, does Brexit mean? On that score, it’s all gone quiet — and it will apparently stay that way for quite some time. In the interim, the British press can happily occupy itself with arguments about grammar schools and giving the departing prime minister a kick up the backside on his way out”.

The article writes “There are three reasons why May has succeed in lowering the Brexit temperature from rolling boil to gentle simmer. The first is that the topic is, by its very nature, hugely important but hugely boring. The headline slogan is “Take back control!” — but the mechanism of doing that involves unpicking thousands of regulations and scrutinizing dozens of potential legal frameworks. Even the big headline questions — such as whether Britain wants to remain a member of the single market (and enjoy tariff-free trade at the price of accepting unrestricted immigration) — break down into the question of what differentiates access to the market from membership of it into issues of financial passporting and WTO baselines and Canadian or Norwegian models. The second reason is that these technocratic issues are meat and drink to May. Her Tory supporters may be painting her as the second coming of Margaret Thatcher. But there are aspects of her personality that are much closer to (whisper it) Gordon Brown. Like him, she successfully ran a major department (the Home Office rather than the Treasury) with a strategy of top-down command and control, mastering every detail while keeping both decisions and information as tightly controlled as possible. For May, inscrutability isn’t a bug — it’s a feature. The third reason, which is closely allied to this, is the extent to which May has stamped her authority on government — and on Brexit”.

He writes that “Her masterstroke was to hand control of the departments overseeing the process to three rival Brexiteers — Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, and David Davis. Each has a healthy regard for his own ability and is not noted for a history of friendship or communality of political vision with the other two. Each also represents a separate institutional power base that will inevitably push against the others. (Not least because Fox’s and Davis’s departments, covering international trade and the Brexit negotiations, respectively, will need to filch staff from Johnson’s Foreign Office.) There is something else about this triumvirate: They are no threat to her. Johnson, the foreign secretary, is the biggest beast — May’s likely rival for the leadership until being knifed by his former Vote Leave comrade Michael Gove. But Fox and Davis were — to Westminster observers if not to themselves — on the downslope of their careers. The former, the international trade secretary, had left office in disgrace. The latter, having come in runner-up to David Cameron in the previous leadership contest, stormed out of the shadow cabinet to mount a quixotic campaign over civil liberties. It was a sign of their diminished standing, perhaps, that neither of the two was involved at a senior level in Vote Leave. And this, too, is crucial, because it has given May enormous room to maneuver”.

He notes that “During the referendum campaign, the Brexiteers made certain promises about what Britain would look like after Brexit: Britain’s EU spending (the largely mythical $462 million a year) to go to the National Health Service, a points-based immigration system, scrapping value-added tax on fuel. One by one, May has brushed these aside. She was not part of Vote Leave and does not feel bound by its specific pledges. So what will Brexit look like? It is impossible to tell what is happening behind the scenes, but so far any attempt by one of her three juniors to venture an opinion — whether it be Johnson’s sending her his thoughts on what the “red lines” in negotiation should be or Davis’s suggesting that Britain will probably leave the single market — appears to have been met with either a frosty silence or an outright rebuke by the prime minister. What Brexit means, in other words, is what May wants it to mean. And she isn’t telling anyone. In terms of taking the heat out of the issue, this has been a masterstroke. The dilemma facing her, however, is that at a certain point, masterly inactivity simply becomes inactivity”.

Crucially he contends that “In some respects, it’s already clear what May wants from Brexit. As home secretary, she was constantly determined to cut immigration and constantly unhappy at the fact that European rules (and her colleagues’ desire to protect Britain’s lucrative trade in educating foreign students) prevented her from doing so. She believes she now has a clear instruction from voters to control immigration, even if it means that Britain takes an economic hit from leaving the single market. But as for the rest of it? There are 1,000 decisions to make, each of them deeply contentious, many of which will need endorsement from a Parliament in which May has a slim majority in the House of Commons and a nonexistent one in the House of Lords, with interest groups and lobbyists and campaigners kicking up an almighty fuss all the while. The legalistic details involved mean that the process might, on many fronts, go rapidly from technical to nightmarish — as helpfully pointed out in a recent briefing paper by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. May would obviously prefer to formulate her plans in private: Davis has said that neither the public nor Parliament will be given a running update. But as Cameron found out when he was trying to win concessions from EU countries before the Brexit vote, getting your negotiations done in secret is next to impossible — as is coming up with deals that are acceptable to both your audience at home and your partners abroad. Meanwhile, there is an economy to keep on an even keel, a party to keep under control, and all the other duties of a prime minister to carry out”.

He ends “As of this week, May is mistress of all she surveys: streets ahead in the polls, unrivaled commander of the Cabinet, the previous Tory regime driven from power and, in the case of its leader, from Parliament. The problem for her is that whatever decisions she makes on Brexit, she will upset a large and vocal constituency. Perhaps that’s why she seems so happy to postpone them”.

“Democratic constitutional order in Poland has broken down”

29/09/2016

Poland’s constitutional crisis is discussed, “After simmering for nine months, the tension between Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the country’s highest court, the Constitutional Tribunal, is coming to a boil. The PiS government is attempting an unconstitutional takeover of the tribunal—ignoring its rulings, trying to pack it with new judges, and, most recently, threatening the head judge with prosecution. At stake are the survival of constitutional democracy and the rule of law in Poland. On July 27, the European Commission, which has been pressing the PiS to change course for months, called on the government to remedy the situation within three months or risk facing disciplinary proceedings that could lead to sanctions. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chair of the PiS and puppet master behind Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s government, responded that he was “amused” by Brussels’ warning. In the weeks since then, the PiS has pressed on with its attacks”.

The report continues “The PiS is determined to defeat the Constitutional Tribunal because it is a major impediment to Kaczynski’s plan to introduce a populist electoral autocracy in Poland along the lines of Viktor Orban’s in Hungary. When Orban became prime minister, in 2010, he had a parliamentary majority large enough to legally rewrite Hungary’s constitution to help cement his grip on power. But in Poland, where the procedures for amending the constitution are more demanding, the PiS does not have that option, and many of its initiatives—including laws designed to control the media, limit civil liberties, politicize the civil service, and attack judicial independence—risk being declared unconstitutional. As a result, the government is engaged in a blatantly illegal effort to subjugate the Constitutional Tribunal. So far, the judges have held firm, ruling unconstitutional the very laws that the government has passed to attack them, such as its December 2015 law that sought to cripple the court by changing the rules governing its operations. But the PiS is growing more crude and aggressive, and its recent threat to prosecute the Tribunal’s top judge suggests that it may take more forceful action to crush judicial independence before too long. European leaders, meanwhile, are beset by crises—from Brexit to the refugees to continued economic weakness in the eurozone—and many may be tempted to avoid conflict with Warsaw. Yet the EU has no excuse for inaction. In the case of Hungary, EU leaders may have been caught unawares by Orban’s assaults on democracy. But Kaczynski and his PiS colleagues are hardly subtle about their intentions. Allowing them to stamp out constitutional democracy in one of Europe’s largest and most strategically important member states would mean the end of the EU’s “union of values” and would further damage its battered reputation”.

The writer goes on to add “The roots of the current constitutional crisis lie, ironically, with the centrist Civic Platform (PO) party, which governed Poland from 2007 to 2015. In its last month in office, the outgoing government appointed three judges to the Constitutional Tribunal to replace three who were retiring. That was perfectly legal. But the PO sought to further stack the deck by appointing replacements for two additional judges set to retire in December 2015, after the new PiS government would take office. The PiS-affiliated president, Andrzej Duda, refused to swear in any of the five judges, even after the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that only two had been nominated illegally. Instead, Duda swore in a slate of five different judges named by the new PiS-led parliament. The tribunal refused to hear cases together with the illegitimate replacement judges and a standoff with the government ensued. Since then, the PiS has passed laws designed to curtail the tribunal’s authority and make it subservient to the current parliamentary majority. The tribunal has judged the new laws unconstitutional, but the government has in turn refused to recognise those judgments. Quite simply, the democratic constitutional order in Poland has broken down”.

He notes that “In January of this year, the EU intervened. For the first time ever, the European Commission announced that it would be assessing the threat to the rule of law in Poland by activating the so-called Rule of Law Framework, which had been established in March 2014 in response to the erosion of the rule of law in Hungary and the EU’s failure to confront it. Before then, the EU’s main disciplinary tool—Article Seven of the Treaty on European Union—was viewed by many as an impractical nuclear option: it allowed the EU to suspend voting rights and impose other sanctions on a member state, but only after other governments agreed unanimously that the state in question was in “serious and persistent breach” of the EU’s fundamental values. The Rule of Law Framework was conceived as a precursor to Article Seven—a means to gradually ramp up pressure on a member government. On June 1, 2016, after months of failed negotiations, the commission finally issued a formal Rule of Law Opinion expressing concerns over the appointment of new judges, the laws passed by the government concerning the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, the government’s non-implementation of the tribunal’s rulings, and the effectiveness of constitutional review in the country more generally. International pressure on the Polish government, including from the Obama administration, continued to mount in the run-up to the July NATO summit in Warsaw. On the eve of the summit, the Polish parliament rushed through a new law on the Constitutional Tribunal, which it claimed responded to EU and international criticism. But the European Commission made it clear that it saw these reforms as wholly inadequate, with First Vice-President Frans Timmermans declaring that “the main issues which threaten the rule of law in Poland that have not been resolved.” On July 27, the commission launched the next step in the Rule of Law Mechanism—issuing a Rule of Law Recommendation to Poland, which asked the PiS government to publish and implement recent Constitutional Tribunal rulings and assure that any further legal reforms would respect the tribunal’s judgments. The Commission warned that if Poland failed to act on these recommendations within three months, it might trigger Article Seven”.

Crucially he writes that “The EU’s failure to stand up to Orban in Hungary, however, does not inspire confidence about how it will act in Poland. But the situations in the two countries differ enough that Brussels may be able to do more this time. First, whereas Orban’s Fidesz party was able to entrench its hold on power through legal constitutional amendments, PiS is blatantly violating the Polish constitution and crushing the high court that is trying to defend it. This makes it much harder for European leaders to sit back in silence. Second, Kaczynski’s PiS has fewer friends in Brussels—and throughout Europe—than does Orban’s Fidesz. Fidesz is a member of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, and most EPP leaders have backed it throughout the deterioration of democracy in Hungary. The EPP has been willing to defend Orban out of partisan loyalty and because his party delivers the votes they need to dominate law-making in the parliament. The PiS, which belongs to the much smaller European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, is in a considerably weaker position. This weakness was on display recently, when members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted overwhelmingly (513 to 142 with 30 abstentions) for a resolution calling on the Polish government to respect democratic principles and the rule of law. The PiS’ political position is further damaged by the prospect of Brexit, since the largest party in the ECR, and one of the PiS’ staunchest defenders, is the British Conservative Party”.

Interestingly he writes that “But the Polish government still has an ace up its sleeve in Orban, who has explicitly pledged to block Article Seven sanctions against Poland. And therein lies a profound flaw in the EU’s approach to defending the rule of law and other democratic values. The threat looming behind the Rule of Law Framework is Article Seven, but the sanctions stage of Article Seven can only be triggered after there is unanimity among member governments. So long as the EU tolerates one autocrat—Orban—he can protect others of his ilk. The Polish government can count on the protection of Orban—as well as perhaps the leaders of the other Visegrad countries (Czech Republic and Slovakia)—and knows that ultimately Article Seven sanctions are unlikely to be imposed. But that is no reason not to trigger an Article Seven vote anyway. It is time for Europe’s leaders to stand up and be counted”.

He ends “Even a vote that fails to secure the unanimity needed for sanctions could be a galvanizing event, helping Europe’s democratic leaders remember what they and their union stand for. In the wake of such a vote, the EPP might finally eject and denounce Fidesz, a party that has not only undermined pluralist democracy but has eagerly stoked xenophobia. Talk among members of the European Parliament of cutting off EU funding to countries that flout European values is increasing, and even the failure of a vote against the Polish government might finally push leaders to get serious about using the power of the purse to deny autocrats the EU funds they use to prop up their regimes”.

Low interest rates forever?

23/09/2016

Gillian Tett discusses low interest rates, “In 1998, when I was a reporter in Tokyo, an event happened that economists once thought impossible. Japan was at the height of its banking crisis, and as panic swelled, short-term market interest rates — what traders pay to borrow one another’s money overnight — dipped below zero for the first time ever. It was such a shock that computers at local banks went haywire; programmers hadn’t prepared for negative interest rates. I told my colleagues that a world where people got paid for borrowing money, rather than paying for the privilege, was crazy. It would never last. I was wrong”.

She writes that “This June, Fitch Ratings released a report calculating that there are $11.7 trillion worth of bonds carrying negative interest rates. That represents almost half of all sovereign bonds in developed countries. Consider 10-year bonds, which, as of press time, carried yields of minus 0.01 percent in Japan, negative 0.5 percent in Switzerland, and minus 0.06 percent in Germany. Meanwhile, rates were slightly positive in the United Kingdom but at record lows — and sinking. In July, the yield on U.S. 10-year bonds dropped below 1.4 percent, to the lowest point ever. In truth, it seems unlikely that medium- to long-term rates will turn negative in America, because the national economy is growing. I would not dare to rule it out, however — not after what’s happened in the two decades since negative yields first appeared. The world has slipped into an economist’s version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: a place where normal rules are turned upside down and nothing can be discounted”.

She posits that “There are at least three explanations for tumbling interest rates. One is the deliberate decision by central banks to push yields down. This trend started in the 1990s, when the Bank of Japan slashed official policy rates — what central banks charge private ones to borrow — to zero in a desperate and ultimately failed bid to boost growth. This January, Japan announced that when private-sector financial institutions left money on reserve overnight, a rate of negative 0.1 percent would be imposed. Similarly, the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank (ECB) cut policy rates to zero to offset economic stagnation after the financial crisis; this spring, the ECB levied a negative 0.4 percent yield on funds stored overnight. A second explanation is that structural factors are prompting investors to gobble up an abnormally large quantity of bonds, lifting prices and depressing market rates. (Bond prices move in an inverse direction to yields.) Since 2008, a host of new regulations, including in the United States, have been introduced that encourage, if not force, big financial institutions to buy more bonds. Supposedly, this gives banks a spare cushion of “safe” assets to better withstand financial shock. Meanwhile, pension funds are stockpiling bonds in an effort to meet future payout obligations”.

The report adds that “The third reason, and perhaps the most difficult to address, is pessimism about the global economic outlook. Investors are buying bonds because, perhaps, they cannot imagine anything else that would offer value in a low-growth world or because they think consumer prices will drop. This shift in viewpoint is hard to quantify. Recent surveys from the Federal Reserve of New York, however, have pointed to a small decline in consumers’ expectations of inflation and growth. Some blend of all three factors bears responsibility for the fall down the rabbit hole. So pointing a finger at just one culprit — as some analysts have done in recent months, targeting especially central banks’ policies — isn’t terribly productive. Instead, attention should be focused on the dangerous, debilitating consequences of subzero interest rates. After all, a world of negative yields is one in which savers are penalized for being thrifty; they lose money just by leaving funds in the bank. Moreover, entities that hold large quantities of bonds tend to find it very hard to make decent investment returns and meet their claims. Many pension funds, for example, have devised financial plans that assume they will earn around 8 percent annual returns on the bonds they’ve amassed, so yields oscillating around zero threaten to open a gaping economic hole in the coming decades”.

She ends mentioning “Is there any solution, even a partial one, to interest rates bottoming out? Some governments, such as Canada’s, have embarked on fiscal spending programs. But these are exceptions. For America, Germany, and other major economic players, the idea of a stimulus remains too politically controversial to implement. Similarly, central banks’ governors, such as Janet Yellen and Mario Draghi, are so anxious about being blamed for starting a recession or for instigating market shock that they are proceeding “cautiously,” which means keeping interest rates low. Yields, then, seem likely to stay at historic nadirs for much longer than anyone ever imagined. Never mind the sorry history of the place where negative yields were born. I’m referring, of course, to Japan’s “lost decades.” In Wonderland economics, it turns out, rules aren’t the only things that don’t matter. The lessons of experience don’t either. This bizarre landscape is no solution to modern financial woes, and the longer we remain in it, the harder it will be to muster the political courage and clarity of vision to leap out”.

May’s Brexit

17/09/2016

An interesting article in Foreign Affairs discusses Theresa May’s Brexit plan, “In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum, in which 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the European Union, many among the British electorate felt that the lights of economic integration had been extinguished and that dark times lay ahead for the United Kingdom. The febrile, early post-referendum atmosphere in Westminster was infused with recriminations over the toxic referendum campaign and the divisions within the government. A basic negotiation principle is to have unity on your side, and this was sorely missing—an inauspicious basis for embarking on what will be the most important and complex negotiation in the country’s history. But amid the tumult, there were some positive signs. A new Conservative leader, Theresa May, emerged from the political chaos and quickly showed the sort of steel that many party members admired in the United Kingdom’s only previous female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. After assuming the prime ministership in July, May dismissed potentially discordant ministers and appointed a finely balanced new cabinet. Although she herself had favoured remaining in the EU, she coined the mantra “Brexit means Brexit” and wisely named a former minister of state for Europe and “leave” advocate, David Davis, as secretary of state for exiting the European Union. The new secretary of state for international trade, Liam Fox, is another Brexiteer, as is May’s most controversial appointment: Boris Johnson as foreign secretary”.

The writer notes that “his appointment may prove to be a smart move. Johnson, who successfully led the Brexit campaign, draws a distinction between opposing the hegemony of the Brussels bureaucracy and pursuing broader relations with European countries. “There’s a massive difference between leaving the EU and our relations with Europe,” he has said, “which, if anything, are going to be intensified and built up at an intergovernmental level.” He is a pragmatic politician who is not from the extreme “Eurosceptic” wing of his party and is immensely popular across a wide range of the population. (A May 2016 poll revealed that 52 percent of Londoners approved of his performance as mayor, although a post-referendum poll has shown a decline in his popularity.) May recognizes this and doubtless will be looking to him to engage thoughtfully with foreign leaders and, eventually, to help sell the final Brexit agreement domestically”.

The writer points of for the need for those with negotiating skills in the Civil Service across not just trade but a wide range of the areas. He adds that “Although it was reported at the time as an unpalatably harsh stance, the prime minister displayed her acuity as a negotiator by declining to assure European citizens already residing in the United Kingdom that they would be able to stay after the United Kingdom formally leaves the EU. She, unlike her rivals for the Conservative leadership, realised that this is a key negotiating point that should be yielded only in return for an equal or similar concession, possibly on an aspect of the free movement of people within the EU”.

He makes the point that “May has pledged not to invoke Article 50 until she has secured a “UK-wide approach” that addresses concerns in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The two regions voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, and Scotland has threatened to hold its own “leave the United Kingdom” vote. May visited Edinburgh in mid-July and then ten days later traveled to Belfast, sending a clear signal of her commitment to include the concerns of the devolved administrations in the negotiations. Another issue is that no less than 11 national elections are scheduled in EU member countries over the next two years. The landscape will inevitably shift over the course of the negotiations. Reports now suggest that the British government will wait until after the elections in France and Germany next year to invoke Article 50, pushing the start of the two-year formal negotiation process to late 2017, which would provide additional time for the United Kingdom to prepare”.

Crucially he mentions that “A final consideration for the United Kingdom is to avoid having negotiations over the single market, with its “four freedoms” (the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people), be set apart from the negotiations over other concerns. Although trade and migration issues are high on the agenda, it would be a mistake for them to be negotiated within a single-market silo. It may be that an issue to be negotiated in an unrelated area, such as health, consumer protection, or rules for the digital economy, could provide an opportunity to create a deal on a difficult single-market issue. The next step, then, which British negotiators will constantly need to revisit and refine when they are at the negotiating table, is to to apply a relative value to each issue on multiple agendas from the perspective of each negotiating party. They will be looking for as many issues as possible where both (or multiple) parties attach a different value to the same issue. Looking back to the 1978 Camp David accords, it was assumed that it would be impossible for Egypt and Israel to agree on how to divide the Sinai, which they initially both wanted. But they wanted it for different reasons”.

The article ends “The Brexit negotiators need to look for issues that are of high value for one negotiator to gain on and of comparatively low cost for the other negotiator to concede. The more issues that can be identified where the cost and value to each side is different, the easier it will be to make multiple trades. Above all, the EU needs to establish clear rules on communication with the press and the public about the negotiations. These rules will call for the careful balancing of transparency with the need for discretion, so that deals can be made and discussed without being compromised by premature public revelations. The eventual agreement on the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU may be much more positive than the shrill debate in the aftermath of the vote on June 23, 2016, implied it would be. But once a comprehensive agreement has been reached, the British government will face a big remaining challenge: selling the package to a population that was so polarized by the referendum”.

Cameron resigns again, more broken promises

13/09/2016

An article discusses the recent resignation of David Cameron from the House of Common and his legacy, “On June 27, David Cameron issued this statement: “I will continue with my duties as the MP for Witney. It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of West Oxfordshire.” So enormous that he could only bear it for a few more weeks, apparently. He’s off, leaving the Commons and triggering a by-election in Witney: some lucky Tory will soon inherit one of the safest and prettiest seats in the country”.

The article adds “What does this tell us about Mr Cameron? Nothing terribly positive, to be honest. Let’s remember, he fought the EU referendum campaign promising not to quit if he lost, then quit when he lost — but only having clung to office as long as possible and having banned the Civil Service from doing any preparatory work for Brexit, thus making it harder for his successor to actually get on with the job. In between breaking his promise not to resign as PM and breaking his promise not to resign as an MP, the only significant official work he undertook was drawing up an honours list handing an OBE to his wife’s stylist and a knighthood to his press officer.  Not exactly the most dignified departure from office, is it? And certainly not one that’s easy to reconcile with many, many statements from Mr Cameron about the sense of duty he owed to his nation, the selfless service he felt obliged to render.  In fact, it’s rather more reminiscent of the way Tony Blair took his leave: as soon as he lost power, he left Parliament. For Blair, there was no honour or nobility to be found in Parliament as a mere backbencher. Politics was about one thing: power. If you don’t have it, can’t exercise it, there’s no point doing it.  It’s a sentiment that will be familiar to anyone with small children: If you can’t win the game, why play it? In neither Mr Blair nor Mr Cameron is this petulance an attractive or admirable quality: storming off because things are no longer going your way simply isn’t a good look. The similarities continue, too, because in both cases, a hasty and graceless departure was out of keeping with the premiership that went before it”.

The writer, showing his own partisanship and support of Cameron’s only historical legacy, he adds “Cameron made mistakes, including the European errors that ultimately undid him. But he was not, overall, a bad prime minister. In fact, he was often quite a good one. Certainly his reflexes and instincts in times of trouble were sound: when in doubt, he generally did what was sensible, and the nation recognised that. He saw Britain through a financial crisis that could have ended truly badly. There was, despite his occasional intellectual pretensions, no Cameronism, no big idea or school of thought. His best ideas were never driven home with real force, never made permanent parts of our political and national life. That’s why Theresa May saw no reason to pause before trying to sweep away what was actually a fairly successful Cameron education policy and replacing it with the grammar schools he so opposed. He’s has now confirmed he doesn’t care enough about those policies to stay on and fight for them”.

The piece ends “And this is why flouncing out of Parliament in this way is so telling: it speaks to something fundamental about Mr Cameron’s character and his approach to politics: a lack of seriousness, the absence of real commitment.  Yes, he wanted the job and yes he put the hours in, to the cost of his family. But he would never die in a ditch for his political beliefs, never shed blood and move mountains to hammer home his arguments. It was always enough to get by, to do just enough to get the top grade and do better than the rest. Blessed with charm, a cool head and a good mind, Mr Cameron’s just-good-enough performance was, in fact, pretty good, and probably better than any of the others who might have done his job at the time”.

He concludes “Yet that lack of commitment, the sense that he never anything more than a gentleman amateur trying his hand at governing out of a combination of duty, boredom and vanity will stay with him when the histories are written. He won’t care, of course. He goes from here to start a very nice, very comfortable life, enjoying his family and wealth beyond most of our dreams. That will be enough for David Cameron. And if you or I happen to think less of him for the manner his departure, why should he mind?  Who are we to judge him?  The end of his political career shows just how little he really cares about what the little people think of him”.

 

Violent America?

03/09/2016

An article argues that even if guns were banned the United States would still be a violent place, “In 1923, the British novelist D. H. Lawrence offered a grim assessment of America and Americans: “All the other stuff, the love, the democracy, the floundering into lust, is a sort of by-play. The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic, and a killer. It has never yet melted.” Lawrence’s observations of the American character did not draw upon deep wells of direct personal experience. When he wrote those lines, he had only been living in the United States for a bit more than a year and had spent much of that time among artists and the literati. But he was neither the first nor the last to make such an observation. Nearly 50 years ago, surveying both the wreckage of the 1960s and centuries of archives, the brilliant historian Richard Hofstadter acknowledged that “Americans certainly have reason to inquire whether, when compared with other advanced industrial nations, they are not a people of exceptional violence.” The allegation that the American character is essentially murderous — or at least more murderous than that of other nations — still strikes a chord today. It’s not just the periodic invitations to violence that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has issued over the course of his campaign, most recently against his Democratic competitor Hillary Clinton. This summer’s headlines have also enumerated trauma after trauma. Eight members of a single family murdered in Ohio. Forty-nine dead in a mass shooting in Florida. Shootings by police claiming the lives of black Americans in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Maryland. Fatal shootings of police in Texas, Louisiana, and California. Breaking reports of horror follow one another fast enough to induce a kind of whiplash”.

He argues that “consider the strenuousness with which each political party now routinely denies that Americans are inherently violent, a refrain that can begin to feel like protesting too much. In his final speech at the Republican National Convention last month, Trump bemoaned the “violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities” but, true to form, laid the blame on hordes of “illegal immigrants … roaming free to threaten peaceful citizens”; “brutal Islamic terrorism”; and the enabling of a Democratic president whom Trump has previously and unsubtly intimated isn’t really American himself. Democrats likewise tend to suggest that, for Americans, acts of violence are an aberration. Announcing a gun safety program in the wake of last December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, President Barack Obama declared: “We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.” From this perspective, violence in America does not indicate anything “inherent” in the American character: It is about the presence of guns, the availability of which is a contingent and remediable matter of policy”.

The piece adds “But what if there’s good reason to believe that being American has always involved a relationship of some kind to violence — whether as its victim, as its perpetrator, as a complicit party, or even as all of these at once. Rather than assuming, in Obama’s words, that Americans are “not inherently more prone to violence,” the country owes it to itself to finally try to consider the question directly. How is violence quantified, and what are the benchmarks used to assess whether a given society’s level of violence is high or low, normal or exceptional? The general practice among researchers across numerous disciplines is to present yearly “intentional homicide” rates per 100,000 of a given nation’s population; crucially, these figures do not include deaths directly related to full-blown wars”.

The author mentions how “The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) compiles national figures for its reports, the most recent of which reflects data from 2012 and 2013. Per the UNODC, some 437,000 people were murdered worldwide in 2012, putting the average murder rate at 6.2 victims per 100,000 persons. But beyond that average figure, as you might expect, there is wide variation in terms of both individual nations and continents. Regionally, Central America and southern Africa both clock in at over four times the global average (more than 25 per 100,000), while Western Europe and East Asia are some five times lower than it. Within continents and regions, the variations can be stark. Thus, to take Africa as an example, the rate in Senegal is 2.8; Egypt, 3.4; Sudan, 11.2; and Lesotho, the highest, at 38. In Europe, Switzerland’s rate is 0.6; the U.K., 1; Finland, 1.6; Lithuania, 6.7; and Russia, the highest, at 9.2. The Americas show the widest variation: Canada’s rate is 1.6; Argentina, 5.5; Costa Rica, 8.5; Panama, 17.2; Mexico, 21.5; and Honduras, the highest in the world — at 90.4 per 100,000. Against this backdrop, for the period of 2007-2012, the United States has averaged 4.9 homicides per 100,000 persons. America thus stands more or less shoulder to shoulder with Iran (4.1), Cuba (4.2), Latvia (4.7), and Albania (5). So much for the data on homicides tout court. The question then is whether or not to consider America’s standing among countries like these to be an aberration. Such states certainly aren’t in the same class as the United States in terms of development metrics like per capita GDP, and this fact tends to get cited by American politicians and political observers as prima facie evidence that something else (whether “terrorists” or guns) is skewing their country’s violence data, pushing it out of its allegedly more “natural” peer group — places like the Scandinavian states, the U.K., or Japan. But while such comparisons may sound rigorous at first blush, they are often naively aspirational (at best) or deliberately deceptive and chauvinistic (at worst). Nowhere is this more blatant than in the context of the debate over guns. For example, many gun control advocates and supposedly objective analysts will condemn violence in the United States as abnormal by invoking comparisons to “developed” nations as defined by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Yet these comparisons will regularly exclude Mexico, which is not only an OECD member but also America’s third-largest trading partner and its unfortunate next-door neighbor. The reason given for this exclusion, as though self-explanatory, is “the drug war.” The annual U.S. market for illegal drugs may be well over $109 billion, and an estimated quarter-million guns may be trafficked to Mexican cartels from the United States in any given year, but inviting the contemplation of such queasy moral entanglements is apparently less politically expedient, and more offensive to patriotic amour-propre, than demanding why America can’t just clean up its act and be more like the places we feel it “should” resemble”.

Interestingly he notes “It’s not just our use of empirical metrics for evaluating violence in America that can be dubious. Opining on the supposedly inherent tendencies of vast groups of people toward violence — Americans, Muslims, the left-handed, anyone — should rightly raise flags. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from a 19th-century phrenologist, someone who would measure skulls for indicators of “destructiveness.” But although the vintage pseudo-scientific quackery underwriting such speculation may have fallen out of fashion, the sentiments themselves haven’t disappeared. Consider Iowa Rep. Steve King, for example, pontificating on the civilizational contributions of whites versus other “subgroups,” or research indicating widespread biases whereby black Americans are perceived to be both “prone to violence” and less susceptible to pain. Passing judgment on “a people” as an abstraction rarely leads anywhere good and frequently reveals more about the observer than the observed”.

He argues that “Because like most goods and ills in America — from job opportunities to education to healthy drinking water — violence is not equally distributed among Americans. Indeed, drilling down into the demographics of violence in America reads like an indictment of society’s broader treatment of the poor and marginalized. As analysts have pointedly observed, black Americans are someeight times more likely to be murdered than their white compatriots and, in any given year, will be killed at rates anywhere from 10 to 20 times the benchmark OECD rates. When the homicide rates for individual states rather than the national average are compared, the results are damning: The murder rates in Louisiana (11.93 per 100,000) and Washington, D.C., (13.92) are on par with figures from countries like Nicaragua (11), the Central African Republic (11.8), and Côte d’Ivoire (13.6)”.

He makes the point that “Although in the past year many cities have experienced a sharp and disturbing increase in homicides, with no clear explanation as to why, overall violent crime rates have been dropping for decades, even as Americans have consistently expresseda conviction that crime has been steadily getting “worse” and even as they have accordingly purchased more guns than ever before. From a certain perspective, when considering America’s unprecedented saturation with firearms, observers may be forced to admit that the surprising thing is how much moreviolent America could be than it currently is. If there is any singular feature that characterizes how many Americans understand our national relation to violence, it is our ingenuity at looking the other way, at siloing problems away from one another, and at disavowing, sublimating, or repackaging our complicity in the most easily observable patterns”.

He ends “Signs of supposed progress in expressions of American violence often disguise profound continuities. For example: The era of highly visible public lynchings, which is estimated to have claimed some 5,000 lives, has passed. Yet since then we have moved on to an institutionalized death penalty regime, wherein states that previously had the highest numbers of lynchings now have the greatest numbers of black people on death row. Both per capita and in raw numbers, America’s prisons warehouse more human beings than any other country on the planet, and its police demonstrate a clear pattern of racial bias in killing their fellow citizens at a rate stratospherically higher than that of any of its supposed peer nations. U.S. soldiers are deployed in some 135 countries, and the number of troops actually engaged in combat is almost certainly much higher than authorities are willing to admit. Meanwhile, America is far and away the world’s largest exporter of weapons, with the global arms industry’s largest and most profitable players based in the United States and reaping booming markets in conflict zones while being heavily subsidized by federal and state tax dollars. Everyday Americans may not be “inherently more prone to violence,” but our way of life is certainly structured around violence and around selectively empowering, quarantining, directing, and monetizing it at home and abroad. The majority of Americans apparently find no cognitive dissonance in this arrangement, if we even perceive it at all. Instead, we express bafflement and outrage that we are not something other than what we are and what we have always been. Plumbing what lurks within the “essential American soul,” a cynic might suggest, is a self-indulgent exercise, a red herring. The better question might be whether we even have one in the first place”.

Fox vs Johnson, round 1

26/08/2016

A report notes the emerging tensions between the UK ministers who oversee British exit from the EU, “Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, made an attempted power grab on key areas of Boris Johnson’s Foreign Office, writing to his colleague and the prime minister, Theresa May, in an effort to wrest control of Britain’s overseas economic policy, a leaked letter has revealed. Tensions have been escalating between the Foreign Office and Fox’s Department for International Trade, but the former defence secretary’s suggestion has apparently been given short shrift by No 10, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Within a fortnight of arriving at the newly created department, Fox wrote to Johnson, copying in May, to ask for economic diplomacy – a key function of the Foreign Office – to become part of the remit of his department”.

The report notes that “In the letter leaked to the Telegraph, Fox called for a “rational restructuring” of the departments and suggested that he take “clear leadership of the trade and investment agenda,” with Johnson leading on diplomacy and security, including oversight of the intelligence services. He wrote: “In my first few weeks as secretary of state for international trade, it has become clear to me that existing cross-Whitehall structures have meant that HM government has not taken the holistic approach it might have on trade and investment agendas.” Economic diplomacy was, he said, “crucial to delivery of the objectives I have been set by the prime minister as international trade secretary”. The letter went on: “I strongly believe this will be the only chance we get to materially change the approach we take to trade and investment and, as such, would urge you to consider this proposition favourably. If we fail to take this opportunity to restructure now, I feel we will have a suboptimal structure for the future.” Johnson is said to have firmly rejected the request, but agreed to second several members of staff to the new department to lend expertise”.

The piece notes that “A government spokesman said it would not comment on leaked documents. “Alongside other departments, the FCO [Foreign Office] are seconding a small number of staff with relevant expertise to the new Department for International Trade,” the spokesman said. “This is all part of the cross-government effort to ensure we make a success of Brexit.” Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said May was to blame for the jostling between the departments. “She created these three separate departments, not because it made sense in terms of coordinating Whitehall’s management of Brexit, but just to buy the loyalty of Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis,” she said”

It ends “The leaked letter is the second blunder for Fox’s department in recent days. On Friday, it removed from its website a confusing press release that appeared to announce that the UK would still trade with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules after leaving the bloc, “until any new trade deals are negotiated”. Trading under WTO rules would mean that businesses were subject to steep tariffs on goods exported to the EU, including a 10% duty on cars and 12% on clothing, and having no access to the EU’s service markets or financial service markets. The department said the press release had been issued in error”.

“Politicians need to respond to the howl of protest”

24/08/2016

A piece from Foreign Affairs notes how to unite the UK after Brexit, “The referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union has underlined the profoundly divided state of England. My middle-class friends and family based in the country’s south continue to bemoan the outcome of the referendum in tones more suited to a family bereavement than a political event. Meanwhile, in the north of the country where I grew up, there were celebratory street parties with revelers full of delight that voters had risen up and given the establishment a good kicking. Although the referendum revealed a riven country, it did not create it. It simply provided many voters who had effectively opted out of British politics an opportunity to get back in. Their opinions may be unpopular in some quarters, but their mobilization cannot be ignored”.

It goes on to mention “The Leave campaign’s dismissal of experts tallied with a pervasive mistrust of the establishment among those left behind by globalization. One incident at a town hall event sticks in my mind. A couple of colleagues and I were in Newcastle, in the northeast, discussing the fact that the vast majority of economists agreed that Brexit would lead to an economic slowdown. A two percent drop in the United Kingdom’s GDP, I said, would dwarf any savings the country would generate from curtailing its contribution to the EU budget. “That’s your bloody GDP,” came the shouted response, “not ours.” In deprived areas of the country, where jobs are insecure, wages are depressed, housing is scarce, and education levels are far below those in London, there is a profound unease with the kind of aggregate statistics bandied about by experts. Membership in the single market may have increased the GDP of the whole country, but it didn’t make a difference everywhere. Boston in Lincolnshire provided the Leave campaign’s biggest victory—76 percent voted for Brexit. The median income here is less than £17,000 ($22,600), as compared with £27,000 ($35,900) across the 20 local authorities where support for EU membership was strongest. For all the good that membership might have done for the economy as a whole, inequality has worsened. As one woman in Yorkshire put it to me, “I don’t mind if we take an economic hit. Our lives have never been easy, after all. But it will be nice to see the rich folk down south suffer.” Dramatic falls in the value of the pound or national income mean little to people who are already struggling”.

It goes on to mention, “The backlash from disappointed Remainers has been immediate. To date, a petition to annul the result on the grounds that turnout was below 75 percent and the winning side received fewer than 60 percent of the votes cast has received over four million signatures. Some members of Parliament have suggested that there should be a second referendum, or that the result of this one could be overruled by a parliamentary vote (the vast majority of British parliamentarians support Britain remaining within the European Union). Such talk is misguided and dangerous. To be sure, one-off referendums are not an optimal way of deciding complex political issues, and are even less so when there is no defined threshold for turnout or margin of victory. As leading economist Kenneth Rogoff has argued, it seems bizarre that such a crucial decision could be made by 36 percent of eligible voters. Further, the Remainers are also right to claim that the Leave camp proved adept at twisting the truth; its claim, painted on the side of its battle bus, that the United Kingdom pays £350 ($465) million per week to the EU was simply and provably false. And it is doubtless true that some people had not thought through what their vote would mean”.

He points out that “all that is in the past. Political campaigns are not usually beacons of honesty and straightforwardness. And the notion that large numbers of pro-Brexit voters are experiencing buyer’s remorse is both unproven and irrelevant. Voters knew the score before the referendum. It was a one-shot deal. The four million signatories of the petition are dwarfed by the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit. And it is hard to avoid the feeling that much of the Remain camp disappointment comes from people who are simply not used to losing votes that might negatively affect their own lives. As Manchester Professor Rob Ford put it, the English middle class is simply experiencing what UKIP voters have had to put up with for years. The fundamental problem with the idea of ignoring the outcome of the referendum, however, is political. The referendum was, in part, a political protest against a system that no longer adequately represents its people. Overturning the result, therefore, would simply make matters worse. And the backlash would hit the Labour Party worst of all. Many of the places where the Brexit campaign triumphed are areas in which Labour had been holding off a challenge from UKIP. Part of UKIP’s appeal—apart, of course, from being the only party in favour of a proposition that 17 million people supported—is its insurgent nature”.

He rightly points out that “the referendum result will affect their ability to do so. If the economists’ predictions are correct, Brexit will reduce the resources of the British state and hence its ability to act. Yet the levers that need to be pulled to address the kinds of issues that the vote revealed rest, nevertheless, in the hands of the British government. Training, education, the provision of adequate housing, and ensuring a more equal distribution of the spoils of globalization are all matters for which the British government has primary responsibility. Each would, in its own way, help to bridge the chasm that has grown between the globalized middle class and the white, blue collar working class. The rest of the world should watch the British response to this challenge with interest. The forces of reaction and revolt are on the march, whether via the Front National in France or the Trump presidential candidacy in the United States. In all these places, established parties, rather than dealing immediately with the legitimate grievances that have generated such anger, have waited until hurt feelings have grown into political movements capable of challenging longtime incumbents”.

He ends “As ever, no one would choose to start from here. The referendum will have severe consequences for the British economy and British society. Yet it can still serve as a wake-up call. Politicians need to respond to the howl of protest that woke them in the early hours of June 24. No longer can they simply plug their ears. Let that be the legacy of the European Union referendum”.

 

Chamberlain, Timothy and May

24/08/2016

A piece from the Economist examines Threasa mays new chief of staff, “ON JULY 7th 1906 Joseph Chamberlain led an 80-car rally to celebrate his 70th birthday. Thousands of Brummies lined its 17-mile route. “Our Joe” had fought for Birmingham’s workers as mayor and, on the national stage, had advocated tariffs protecting its industries. The city was a palimpsest of his achievements: its schools for the poor, its magnificent parks, its grand civic buildings, its whirring workshops and clanking factories full of confident, well-fed workers. Still, eyebrows twitched when, in a speech almost precisely 110 years later, Theresa May cited him as an example. She was campaigning for the Tory leadership and, though he had ditched the Liberal Party over its tolerance for Irish autonomy, Chamberlain had never been a Tory. That the woman who today runs Britain praised him had everything to do with her closest adviser: Nick Timothy. He is one of the most interesting figures in her government. The son of a steelworker and a school secretary, he venerates Chamberlain’s interventionism and wrote a biography of the man. He even wears a long Victorian beard”.

The article goes on, “Those close to Mrs May differ on how much Mr Timothy influences her, but only between “quite a lot” and “enormously”. Like her he is a cricket fanatic (he lives a big six away from the Oval ground). He shares the post of Downing Street chief-of-staff with Fiona Hill. For most of their boss’s spell as home secretary this duo was her praetorian guard: bossing around civil servants, telling David Cameron’s aides to mind their own business and generally exhibiting an unflinchingly protective loyalty to her”.

Interestingly it adds, “Admirers credit this with Mrs May’s unusually long (six-year) stint in the job. Critics fret that the control freakery will now constipate Whitehall: “You couldn’t blow your nose without Nick or Fi knowing,” recalls one former colleague. It is not an exaggeration to discern a direct line between Mr Timothy’s upbringing and Mrs May’s vision. He provides a pragmatic prime minister with an idealistic edge. His credo is captured in an article he wrote in March (one of a series for ConservativeHome, a Tory-aligned website) about “modernisation”. Here a bit of history helps. Back in the early 2000s, when the Conservatives were in the doldrums and the reactionary old farts were doing battle against modernisers, Mr Timothy was with the modernisers. But with David Cameron’s rise to the leadership in 2005, the debate shifted to what modernisation should mean. There was “Easterhouse modernisation”, a focus on the poorest, named after a Glasgow housing estate. There was “Soho modernisation”, an urban social liberalism named after a trendy part of London. But Mr Timothy reckoned a third leg of the stool was missing: “Erdington modernisation”, a concentration on the struggling, patriotic working-class named after the industrial suburb of Birmingham where he grew up”.

The writer goes on to note how “His writings expatiate on the idea. At home: more intervention in the economy, a clamp on immigration, less greenery, tough measures against crime, more religious schools and selective education rewarding poor, bright kids. Abroad: closer links with the Commonwealth—akin to Chamberlain’s proposed imperial economic union—and looser ties to Europe, which features in Mr Timothy’s output only as a source of bad public policies, corrupt leadership and justifications for Brexit. It also means a cooling of Britain’s links to both America, to which he reckons Tony Blair was too close, and China, to which he believes Mr Cameron was too craven. Overall it means a government keener to confront foreigners, vested interests and especially the sort of polenta-munching elites who share each other’s globalising enthusiasms, holiday villas and platforms at Davos”.

It adds “May’s premiership is not a month old. But already it bears Mr Timothy’s stamp. Britain has lost a department dedicated to climate change and gained one devoted to “industrial policy”. She has sidelined the “Northern Powerhouse” programme to integrate the big northern cities and committed to reining in foreign takeovers. A Chinese bid to finance Hinkley Point, a nuclear power station, has been put on hold. The new prime minister’s speech to the Tory conference in October (in Birmingham, as it happens) should be a Chamberlainite symphony. Renewal, a think-tank founded in 2013 to promote working-class Toryism, is emerging as the new regime’s brains trust. Mr Timothy’s analysis of his party—that it can appear not to “give a toss about ordinary people”—is accurate. The Cameroons’ brand of modernisation owed too much to noblesse oblige, to a vision of society that treated the welfare state as the institutional equivalent of giving one’s gardener a Christmas bonus. Mrs May’s authoritative mien and middle-class roots, combined with Mr Timothy’s instinct for working-class priorities, makes her party newly formidable, propelling it into landslide territory (an early election is surely not off the cards). Moreover, she and he have a point. Britain is too unequal. The past years have been brutal to the sorts of left-behind places that have been denied the boom enjoyed by the big cities”.

It ends “Still, the new Chamberlainites have questions to answer. Britain has found confidence and relative prosperity as a linchpin of globalisation. It is good at the sort of service industries that demand flexible labour markets, urban clusters, worldly universities and fast-moving capital: think not just the City of London but successful provincial centres like Swindon, Milton Keynes and Manchester. Where manufacturing survives, it is often thanks to the country’s openness to foreign investors. All this has bypassed some towns. But for decades Britain has sought to make the most of its strengths while helping those who have lost out to adapt or move. Mrs May and Mr Timothy seem to reckon those strengths—and globalisation itself—are much more malleable than their predecessors have realised. The burden of evidence is on them”.

The end of UKIP?

24/08/2016

A piece questions the future of UKIP, “THE past couple of months have hardly been an advertisement for the competence of British politicians. Yet few blunders have been as avoidable as that made by Steven Woolfe, an MEP for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who on July 31st submitted his application for the party leadership 17 minutes late. He blamed a malfunctioning website for failing to accept his papers (others pointed out that he might have had more luck had he not waited until 25 minutes before the midday deadline to apply). Mr Woolfe had spoken of the need to “professionalise” the party. On August 3rd UKIP’s governing body ruled that he would not be allowed to stand in the contest. Mr Woolfe had been the front-runner; his exclusion leaves a field of six, and many possible paths for the insurgent party”.

It continues, “After the Brexit vote, which it was instrumental in helping to win, UKIP should be on a roll. Instead, it has reverted to its favourite pastime of infighting. One faction, which includes the outgoing leader, Nigel Farage, argues that the party should focus on winning seats in northern England and Wales by appealing to disaffected, working-class Labour voters. Mr Woolfe, a mixed-race former barrister who grew up in a tough part of Manchester, had seemed perfect for the job, combining a hard line on immigration with talk of improving social mobility. His supporters may now shift to Diane James, the party’s deputy chair, who has stronger support in the south.  Another camp wants to make the party more emollient in the hope of appealing to moderate voters. It includes Douglas Carswell, the party’s sole MP, who criticised the “angry nativism” of some Brexiteers during the referendum. This group seems to have united behind Lisa Duffy, a local councillor from Cambridgeshire. Yet for all the talk of contrasting visions for the party, the split is really about personal differences, says Matthew Goodwin, a UKIP expert at Kent University. Indeed, Ms Duffy, the supposed moderate candidate, recently said that she supported a “total ban” on Muslim state schools”.

The article mentions that “First, Mr Farage and his supporters will seek to change how UKIP works. In a recent article for Breitbart, a right-wing news website, Mr Farage described the party’s high command as “total amateurs who come to London once a month with sandwiches in their rucksacks, to attend [party] meetings that normally last seven hours”. He and others have been considering adopting a decentralised model in which party members have more say—similar to that of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement—for the past year or so, says Mr Goodwin. It is likely they will try to push ahead with such plans now. If that fails, a split could be on the cards. One former aide to Mr Farage, writing on Facebook the night before Mr Woolfe’s exclusion, vowed to “declare full-scale war on UKIP” if Mr Woolfe was blocked from running. Arron Banks, a prominent donor, tweeted that Mr Woolfe’s exclusion would be “the final straw”. Some have suggested that a new party could be created from the remains of the Leave.EU campaign, which Mr Banks founded and to which he gave £6m ($8m) during the referendum”.

It ends “Despite its achievements, which include winning 12.6% of the vote in last year’s general election, UKIP has never had much institutional ballast. During the 2010 election campaign its then-leader, Lord Pearson, admitted when quizzed on the party’s manifesto: “I haven’t remembered it all in detail.” If the popular Mr Farage were to leave UKIP, many of its members might follow suit. Yet he and his supporters will surely be loth to abandon a brand they have spent years building. The squabbling has only just begun”.

Brexit: cosmopolitan vs parochial

22/08/2016

An important piece discusses what the Brexit vote revealed, “Referenda are terrible mechanisms of democracy. As a case in point, the recent British referendum over the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU was a reckless gamble that took a very real issue—the need for more open and legitimate contestation in the EU—and turned it into a political grotesquerie of shamelessly opportunistic political elites”.

Of course referendums are not terrible. They can be very revealing and legitimate ways to engage the public on very specific and important issues but must take place within special settings. The public must be knowledgeable, not just about the topic in question but politics generally. The UK has very poor, almost non-existent civic education. If there was a profound well defined and serious course of political education in schools and democracy, the role of the citizen and the state from an early age this would dramatically increase the level of debate. Moreover, it would marginalise the dangerous, lying and biased press, for which the UK has become known and played such a role in the referendum. There was no such education and so people were easily confused and unable to tell fact from lies. Had they been better educated the result might have been very different.

The piece goes on to argue, “The raucous debate over the United Kingdom’s continued membership in the EU was riven with lies and misrepresentations, some of which are now being explicitly rolled back by Brexit advocates; even the British press rues its bombastic support for the Leave side. Unfortunately, many British voters appear not to have known exactly what the EU is, validating other recent research demonstrating a lack of factual knowledge about the union. Observers of the referendum should therefore be wary about drawing conclusions about broader globalization efforts, the Western order, the inevitability of the rise of populist anti-immigration parties, or the viability of the EU project overall. The answer to the breathless question posed in the New York Times on Sunday—“Is the post-1945 order imposed on the world by the United States and its allies unraveling, too?”—is simple. No, it is not. And yet the emotions and cultural chasms brought to bear in the Brexit vote cannot and should not be ignored. Brexit’s real lesson is that there is a consequential divide between cosmopolitans who view the future with hope and those who have been left behind and have seen their economic situations and ways of life deteriorate. The same story may well play out in the United States and elsewhere, with important electoral effects. But the Brexit story also speaks to the uniqueness of the EU as a new kind of polity with a profound impact on the lives of all within it”.

The article goes on to point out, “Although the Brexit referendum was a highly imperfect form of democratic representation, the emotions voiced by Leave voters were very real. They echo important and valid feelings of other populations across the Western democracies. There are two worlds of people, as analysis of Brexit voting patterns clearly indicated, that are divided in their experiences and their visions of the future. Educational attainment, age, and national identity decisively determined the vote. Younger voters of all economic backgrounds and those with a university education voted overwhelmingly in favour of Remain. Older voters, the unemployed, and those with a strong sense of English national identity sought to leave. The fight over Brexit is a reflection of the social exclusion that arises in a world of stark economic inequality. One way of thinking about the division is to see it as cosmopolitan versus parochial thinking, rooted in deeper social and economic trends that create their own cultural dynamics. Cosmopolitanism, a sense of belonging to a global community beyond one’s immediate borders, requires confidence in one’s place in the world and implies a hope about the future beyond the nation-state. The parochial view is tinged with fear about that future and a sense that societal transformation will leave the common voter behind”.

Correctly he points out that “In part, that fear reflects the opening of markets, but it is equally due to changes in technology and broader shifts in capitalism away from protection of both the middle and the working classes. These shifts can’t be blamed solely on globalization; they also have much to do with domestic politics and policy decisions. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, political choices have accelerated deindustrialization while decimating social safety nets and doing little to put the brakes on rising inequality. Given this harsh reality for the unemployed, the older, and the uneducated, the Remain campaign’s warnings about the economic disaster of Brexit carried little weight; many voters believed that their opportunities were closed off long ago. The clever marketing of the Brexit campaign, including the mantras “Take Back Control” and “Breaking Point,” spoke to very real senses of exclusion but offered few solutions; the reality is that British political dynamics, more than the EU’s rules, have created the United Kingdom’s social and economic problems”.

He argues that “The fight over Brexit is a reflection of the social exclusion that arises in a world of stark economic inequality. But the referendum should also be viewed in terms of a much longer history of political development and state building. The EU is far beyond a simple international organization or trade treaty, since it has accrued significant political authority across a wide range of areas. The rulings of the European Court of Justice, for example, supersede national law, and the laws of the EU have transformed everyday life in Europe, even as the Brussels bureaucracy and its fiscal presence remain tiny. Historically, new political authorities have emerged and evolved in messy, ugly, and often violent ways. National projects of unification have involved coercion, civil wars, and the brutal exercise of power. Questions of federalism in the United States are still being fought today. Although the nation-state seems universal and natural, there have been many other forms of government in Europe alone: the Habsburg monarchy, Italian city-states, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Hanseatic League, for example, have all come and gone. The EU, for all its faults, is an innovative new form, a polity in formation. Those under 45, and particularly those under 30, embrace it and see it as a natural and positive thing, a backdrop to their changed everyday lives that creates more opportunities than it closes down”.

It ends “Given history’s guide, we should not be surprised that the deepening of the EU has created a backlash. But we can be appalled by the craven opportunism and lack of political leadership in the United Kingdom and on the European continent in guiding this development. The EU will only work if all its citizens can imagine themselves part of a cosmopolitan, thriving democratic polity, one that balances local, national, and EU powers and creates economic opportunity. Listening to those on both sides of the cultural divide, and working to ease the economic inequality that underlies the division between the hopeful and the excluded, is the only way forward for the EU—and the rest of us”.

“May can play off her three sort-of foreign secretaries against each other”

20/08/2016

In a piece from the Economist, the author argues that Boris Johnson has diminished the stature and relevance of the UK globally, “IF EVER you find yourself at a dinner party with British establishment types, ask them about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Jokes about gin-swilling, oikophobe globetrotters in linen suits will spill forth. The more chauvinistic may tut about that diplomat’s disease: “going native”, or sympathising more with foreigners than with folk back home. To sound clever, someone will decree that every prime minister since Thatcher has been his or her “own foreign secretary” (as if Churchill and Eden were remembered today for their education policies) and that the FCO these days is just a venue for formalities”.

The piece adds, “This image riles diplomats, and rightly. The essence of the grandest department on Whitehall is not that it deals with the world outside Britain. Practically every government body does that: the business department frets about foreign takeovers, the Ministry of Defence is hardwired into NATO, 10 Downing Street co-ordinates big summits. The point of the FCO is to go beyond the transactional focus of these branches, of fleeting political moods and fads, of narrow, immediate readings of the national interest. Its embassies are a nervous system conveying information, cultivating influence and generally providing a strategy for the country’s global role that transcends the next photo opportunity or crisis. Its goal is an influential Britain in an orderly world. Or, as Ernest Bevin, the post-war foreign secretary, put it: the preservation of every Briton’s ability to “take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please!”  It is in this context that the sudden and brutal humiliation of the FCO following Britain’s vote for Brexit should be understood. The swingeing budget cuts and departmental turf wars of recent years have been tough enough. But none of this compares with the indignities visited upon it in recent weeks”.

The author rightly points out, “Most colourful among them is Theresa May’s appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. The former mayor of London, who campaigned for Brexit, is affable and intelligent. But he is also unscrupulous and unserious. In Brussels he is loathed for his myth-making about the EU and for comparing the union to the Third Reich. German news readers struggled to stifle laughter when they read out the news of his promotion on July 14th. In Washington the reaction was no better: five days later the new foreign secretary grinned his way sheepishly through a press conference as American journalists read from his litany of undiplomatic remarks. In 2007 he compared Hillary Clinton to a sadistic mental health nurse, for example; the following year he described Africans as “piccaninnies” .  What possessed Mrs May? It seems the prime minister wants to pack Mr Johnson off to parts foreign, welcoming him back in London only to help her, a Remainer before the referendum, to sell an eventual Brexit deal with the EU to Eurosceptics. That is dismal. It treats the FCO, a giant national asset, as a tool of domestic political management and thus suggests a drastic downgrade of Britain’s ambitions on the world stage”.

The writer mentions that “So too does the prime minister’s creation of two new departments: one for Brexit and one for international trade. The former, in particular, will be composed from chunks of the FCO, including some of its brightest staff. Both are led by uncompromising Eurosceptics, David Davis and Liam Fox, who seem determined to nab further turf from the (in their eyes) all-too internationalist diplomats. Thus the FCO will now have to share facilities—like Chevening, the foreign secretary’s country retreat—and battle for influence with two rival outfits programmed to see other countries less as partners than as negotiating opponents”.

The piece mentions “A hint of what is to come came on July 20th, when Mrs May travelled to Berlin to meet Angela Merkel. The prime minister received military honours and exchanged warm words with her German counterpart. Yet insiders detected a shift. For all the talk of co-operation on Turkey and the refugee crisis, in the German capital Britain is now seen less as a solution than a problem. As one local diplomat put it to Bagehot: “Here Britain now means Brexit.” For the foreseeable future, then, the country’s scope to play the expansive, agenda-setting role for which the FCO is designed is limited. Brexit talks will drain energy from other fields. The fragmentation of Britain’s diplomatic arsenal will Balkanise policymaking. Doors will close which once were open. Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, reckons the country could end up as “a bit player in support of policies developed in Berlin, DC and other places.”

It ends “Too gloomy, say some, pointing to Britain’s ongoing NATO membership, UN Security Council seat, Commonwealth links and economic and military heft. These things matter, of course. But quitting the EU denies Britain opportunities to make the most of them (consider its leadership, alongside France and Germany, in the Iran nuclear talks). The country’s temperamental and institutional tilt in a more zero-sum, nation-state-centric, sovereignty-first direction makes its existing strengths less valuable: a less open and collaborative ally to its friends. Mr Leonard calls this “strategic shrinkage on steroids”. He sees Britain taking a more craven stance towards economic powers like China and Russia, whose cash might help it plug the economic gap left by Brexit. Not everything about this is preordained. Perhaps Mrs May can play off her three sort-of foreign secretaries against each other. Abroad she has opportunities to shore up some of Britain’s influence, says Brendan Simms, a historian of the country’s place in Europe: by striving to remain a useful ally to Germany, by amplifying Britain’s voice on defence and security matters (it is still a major player in NATO’s defences in the Baltics, for example) and by throwing herself into debates about the future integration of continental Europe. Britain’s stature in the world is shrinking. By how much is up to its leaders.

“Pensioners have preserved their privileges”

20/08/2016

A piece in Foreign Affairs discusses the need to cut pensions in Europe, “Since the outbreak of the European debt crisis, Greek retirees have become a scapegoat for the continent’s financial and political woes. International creditors were infuriated by the lavish Greek pension system, which allowed public employees to retire as early as the age of 50, and demanded radical overhauls in exchange for bailout funds. They got what they asked for; today, pensions in Greece are 50 percent lower than in 2010. As a result, about 45 percent of Greek pensioners receive monthly checks below the official poverty threshold. Yet the harshness displayed toward Greek retirees is unusual by European standards. The continent’s decision-making process is so heavily tilted in favour of the elderly that pensioners have preserved their privileges even in the face of stagnating growth, crumbling public finances, and skyrocketing youth unemployment. But as the young are pushed to the margins of society, Europe’s gerontocracy is becoming not only financially unsustainable but morally unbearable. Striking a balance between the conflicting interests of the old and the young is therefore necessary to ward off explosive intergenerational tensions”.

The piece goes on to note “Pensioners are a nearly unstoppable force in European politics. With a demographic weight of 130 million people—roughly a quarter of the EU population—they can alter the outcome of any election. But their influence is not just a function of their numbers. Retirees are also one of the most politically active groups in Europe. The Brexit referendum is a case in point. Although the vote was about the future of the United Kingdom, only 36 percent of Britons aged 18 to 24 showed up to the ballot box, as opposed to 83 percent of those over 65. Young people are overwhelmingly pro-European, and if more of them had voted, Britain would not be a departing member of the European Union. (Some millennials are now accusing their parents, not their peers, of having deprived them of a bright future.) All over Europe, political outcomes show a similar bias toward the preferences of the old. In 2014, German Chancellor Angela Merkel rewarded her seniors with several pension giveaways for having supported her third reelection. British Prime Minister David Cameron promised during his reelection campaign to protect the entitlements of retirees, who, in his own words, “made this [the United Kingdom] the great country it is today.” Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is currently toying with a similar retreat on pension reform, and French President François Hollande has barely attempted to tackle a pension deficit that is set to reach $23 billion in 2020″.

He correctly adds that “Seniors have also been spared from the effects of the financial crisis. In the United Kingdom, for instance, the austerity measures adopted by Cameron’s first cabinet reduced the income of the average household by about $750, while cutting the earnings of the average two-pensioner family by just $36. Even the reforms adopted between 2010 and 2014 mostly affected the entitlements of future pensioners. Italy raised the retirement age, Spain linked future entitlements to life expectancy, and France increased contributions paid by firms and workers. All shielded the pensions of those already retired. This is a familiar pattern for Europe: when unrealistic retirement promises conflict with the reality of an aging continent, politicians shift the burden onto the next generation”.

He posits that “In addition to political power, pensioners control a disproportionate amount of wealth. European governments spend, on average, 15 percent of their GDP on pensions, but only seven percent on education and family policies. The income of the median European retiree is as high as that of the median active worker, and in some countries is even higher. Finally, pensioners are less likely than the rest of the population to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This wasn’t always the case: in the 1960s, Britons aged 65 to 70 were in the bottom 25 percent of the country’s income distribution; now they are in the top 40 percent”.

The article contends that ” The intergenerational fault lines exposed by Brexit testify to growing disaffection with this system. Organizations such as the Foundation for the Rights of Future Generations and the Intergenerational Foundation proliferate across the continent. Europe’s pay-as-you-go pension schemes are based on a promise between generations: today’s workers fund their parents’ pensions, while expecting their offspring to fund their own in turn. The system is vulnerable: it prospers only as long as each generation of workers expects to be at least as well off as the generation of pensioners it pays for. But this is no longer the case, and the temptation to stop contributing to a broken financial scheme is mounting. If enough people start questioning the system, it could implode. To avoid this outcome, European governments should strike a balance between three often incompatible principles: financial sustainability, intergenerational solidarity, and intergenerational fairness. Call it a retirement trilemma.  The principle of financial stability calls for a radical revision of the privileges enjoyed by current pensioners. Benefits should be reduced, and the retirement age should be raised to levels consistent with ongoing increases in life expectancy. This would align Europe’s pension systems with the recommendations of the European Commission and International Monetary Fund, and would be an important step toward sustainability. As the Greek crisis demonstrated, slashing pensions and postponing retirement may replace financial problems with a social catastrophe. That’s why, according to the principle of intergenerational solidarity, governments should allow for some degree of flexibility. Pensions should not just be proportional to lifetime contributions but should also be adequate to guarantee a decent lifestyle. In order to make the system financially sustainable, governments could levy a solidarity tax on the highest incomes and redistribute the proceeds among the poorest pensioners. Likewise, since even the most skilled workers usually lack the skills to keep up with disruptive technological change, workers hurt by automation should be allowed to retire early if necessary. But in exchange for being removed from a tough job market, they should give something back”.

He goes on to argue that “This is linked to the third principle, intergenerational fairness. At a time of stagnating growth and shrinking work forces, idle retirement is something advanced economies can no longer afford. Old people, especially those who retire early, should therefore actively contribute to the well-being of their societies. As long as pensioners are in good health, their benefits should become conditional on work in public institutions. This work should involve the skills acquired throughout retirees’ careers: retired teachers could volunteer in schools; retired doctors could volunteer in hospitals. Lord Richard, the former head of the British Benefits Agency, was criticized for suggesting something similar in 2012, but these active retirement policies would relieve distressed public finances, increase the self-esteem of the old, and make the pension system more acceptable to the young”.

He ends “Finally, in order for any of these reforms to be possible, it will be necessary to dilute the political power of the older generation. Proposed measures include lowering the voting age to 16, setting the minimum candidacy age at 18, and capping candidacy age at 65. To increase the low turnout rates of young voters, governments should invest in voter education programs through schools and media campaigns. And referenda on nation-defining issues like leaving the European Union should require a supermajority—especially in countries where the elderly represent the majority of the electorate. Europe needs some fresh thinking to address the economic and political costs associated with its aging population. Governments should opt for solutions that promote cooperation between generations and avoid short-sighted electoral temptations. Only then can they solve the retirement trilemma”.

Cameron, the worst PM?

18/08/2016

A piece calls David Cameron the worst prime minister for a hundred years, “David Cameron is not given to melodrama but he has starred in enough. For the time being, there are three moments of history to remember, outside that famous door. The time when he walked through it with Nick Clegg. The time – even more surprising – that he walked through it on his own, just thirteen months ago”.

It adds “And now this, which in time will be the only time that mattered. The UK out of Europe. The union with Scotland on the brink. Northern Ireland too. All for what’s being called a gamble but is in fact simply a strategic failure. “I love this country,” he said, his voice cracking. The 74th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and, more latterly, Northern Ireland. And there will in all likelihood be just one more, before Little England is loosed upon the world. ‘Broken Britain’ is a term that has forced its way into public parlance and the Cameron years – six of them, now over. Well it will be broken, now. And this will be all that he is remembered for”.

It goes on to mention “It was a highlights reel. Significant achievements, some of them, but all were leading with insidious intent to an overwhelming admission. “I think the country required fresh leadership to take it in this [new] direction. I will steady the ship for the coming weeks and months. “There needs to no precise timetable in place,” he said, but “a new Prime Minister should be in place before the Conservative Party Conference in October.” It is more than ten years since he took over a factionalised and failing party. He transformed it, and now he leaves it as he left it. It is hard not to see how without him, it will always be thus. As he turned around and strode back through the door, the hair on the back of his head gone grey overnight. The youngest ex-Prime Minister since 1895, drawing his political pension. Yesterday’s man now, when the full peril of tomorrow is when his party will need him most”.

“British special forces operating on the ground in Syria”

18/08/2016

The BBC has obtained exclusive pictures showing for the first time British special forces operating on the ground in Syria. It is the vehicles that first stand out. The open air, Thalab long range patrol vehicles are built for harsh terrain and are favoured by special forces. In this case it is British special forces, seen for the first time on the ground, inside Syria, in photographs obtained by the BBC. The pictures, which date from June, follow an attack by the so-called Islamic State (IS) on the moderate rebel New Syrian Army base of Al Tanaf on the Syria-Iraq border. The British soldiers appear to be securing the base’s perimeter.

The Lords delays Brexit?

10/08/2016

The House of Lords could derail or delay the process of leaving the European Union, a Conservative peer has said. Baroness Wheatcroft said she hoped that a pause in introducing Article 50 could lead to a second EU referendum and potentially the public changing its mind. “If it comes to a Bill, I think the Lords might actually delay things. I think there’s a majority in the Lords for remaining,” she told The Times newspaper. The courts are set to decide in the autumn whether the Government can trigger Article 50 without the consent of Parliament. The baroness said she would support the Lords delaying the move if Parliament were indeed given a say.  “I would hope, while we delayed things, that there would be sufficient movement in the EU to justify putting it to the electorate, either through a general election or a second referendum,” she said.

“Politics is never just about policy. It’s also about emotion”

08/08/2016

A piece urges politicians to inspire people, “David Cameron. François Hollande. Hillary Clinton. What do they have in common? They’re all deeply traditional politicians. They all have long track records of public service, and they’re all thorough, meticulous managers. They make a point of exuding calm and competence.  All of which probably helps to explain why so many people dislike them. Despite helping France climb out of a long economic slump last year, Hollande’s popularity has been hitting historic lows. His compatriots despise him for his milquetoast manner and failure to move decisively against terrorism. Cameron achieved a remarkable record of growth during his six-year stint as British prime minister — but that didn’t matter to voters when he gave them a referendum on whether their country should stay in the European Union. His ignominious defeat in last month’s Brexit ballot, which prompted him to step down, will remain as the most memorable, and inglorious, achievement of an otherwise successful term in office”.

Aside from the author’s obvious lack of knowledge of the tenure of Cameron, his disastrous decisions and seemingly endless shifts which are anything but “meticulous” the overall point is still valid.

The piece notes “Clinton is burning through millions of dollars in her textbook campaign to win the presidency. But Donald Trump — dysfunctional, dishonest, underfunded Donald Trump — continues to hold his own. Clinton, Cameron, and Hollande are all very different politicians, operating in very different contexts. Yet they all seem to be suffering from a similar problem. The nature of their opponents may hold an important clue. Despite their impressive credentials, these establishment titans have proved vulnerable to exactly the same sorts of opponents — namely, fiery populists. Trump and Bernie Sanders are worlds apart ideologically, but together they’ve given Clinton a humiliating master class in the power of simple solutions and raw emotion. Hollande’s nemesis is National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who has ridden her blistering brand of far-right identity politics to unprecedented heights. Cameron was undone by his Conservative Party comrade Boris Johnson, the extravagant and ruthless former mayor of London (now turned foreign minister), and by Brexiteer-in-charge Nigel Farage, who has successfully channeled corrosive anxiety about migrants and globalization into a potent challenge to the status quo”.
He rightly points out that “To be sure, the U.S. presidential hopeful, the ex-British PM, and the struggling French president all have plenty of real flaws. Their problem is that we’re in a historical moment that plays up their shortcomings and undercuts what would normally be their strengths.  The Great Recession and the disruptions of technological change have transformed economies, fueling white-hot anger among those who have been left behind. Terrorism and immigration stir deep-seated fears, tapping into sections of the reptilian brain that don’t really respond to sedate calls for reasonableness and unity. Politics is never just about policy. It’s also about emotion. And that’s never been truer than today. It’s a sad fact of life that the most powerful political emotions aren’t always positive. The politicians of the far right have shown that appeals to nativism can be more effective in stirring people up than high-minded calls to idealism and common purpose. That’s a big reason why Euroskeptic nationalists are gaining the upper hand over the efficient, well-educated, and deathly dull officials who run the European Union. The British politicians who campaigned for the U.K. to stay in the EU — most notably Cameron and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn — conspicuously failed to make emotionally compelling arguments for their case”.
The piece ends, “For Hillary Clinton, the answer is simple: Be more Margaret Thatcher, less Oprah. Something like this is what political satirist Jon Stewart had in mind, I think, when he astutely described Clinton as a “bright woman without the courage of her convictions.”  The problem goes beyond worries about some alleged lack of “authenticity.” Personally, I don’t give a damn about whether my president is someone I’d want to have a beer with. But we really do need to have a serious think about why some voters feel drawn to over-the-top buffoons. I suspect that it’s precisely because — in open defiance of the reigning ethos of focus groups, data mining, and sentiment analysis — the Trumps and the Johnsons and the Farages make a point of exciting a strong visceral response. So the Republican convention is a mess? Perhaps. But it’s generating a huge amount of nonstop coverage, social media attention, and passionate discussion. The Democratic version, coming soon, is shaping up to be a sleek, smooth, flawlessly managed machine. One wonders if anyone will tune in”.

The press, democracy and Brexit

29/07/2016

An important article notes the decline of the British press, “There is a conceit among many senior editors in the U.K. that Britain has “the best journalism in the world.” At its best, certainly, British journalism is very good indeed. From the sober analysis of the Financial Times and the Economist to the tub-thumping of the tabloid press to the BBC’s worldwide reputation for accuracy and impartiality, the British public has access to a healthy mixture of domestic, foreign, and investigative reporting. On many occasions, democracy has been well served by journalists who make important stories accessible and hold power to account”.

Correctly he notes that “At its worst, however, journalism in Britain can be truly awful. Five years ago, much of the world was rightly shocked by revelations of phone-hacking on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid News of the World. The subsequent judicial investigation into the culture, practice, and ethics of the press, led by Lord Justice Leveson, exposed the tasteless practices on which some British tabloids had come to rely: the invasions into personal privacy, the gross intrusions into private grief. At the time, it seemed like a new low for the industry. If the Leveson inquiry revealed the tawdry side of the media business in the U.K., however, the Brexit campaign has featured a different kind of journalistic abuse: contempt for basic norms of truth and accuracy”.

He points out that “In the lead-up to the June 23 European Union referendum, British mainstream media failed spectacularly. Led, inevitably, by the viscerally anti-EU Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Express, and Telegraph papers, most of Britain’s national press indulged in little more than a catalog of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies. It was a ferocious propaganda campaign in which facts and sober analysis were sacrificed to the ideologically driven objectives of editors and their proprietors. The interests of readers, much less the interests of British democracy, were barely considered. Three days after the vote, I spoke to a Labour Member of Parliament who represents a constituency in northern England with one of the lowest proportions of immigrants in the country. Despite this, a majority of her constituents had voted to leave the EU. Why? Mainly, she said, because they were convinced that waves of immigrants would soon overwhelm their communities, take their jobs, and undermine their way of life. They were particularly concerned about the looming massive influx of Muslims, given the imminent European debut of Turkey – a country that stands no chance of joining the EU in my lifetime, let alone in the next few years”.

He questions, “How did things get so bad? In part, you can blame the internet, which has gutted traditional business models of journalism around the world. British journalism has been particularly vulnerable: For historical and geographical reasons – partly due to early industrialization and partly due to efficient distribution networks in a small country – Britain has long enjoyed the largest national press in any mature democracy. Nine national newspapers (10, until March, when the Independent went online-only) still battle furiously for eyeballs. This is, in many ways, for the good. But this frantic competition for a diminishing pool of readers and shrinking ad revenue, particularly at the tabloid end of the market, partly explains why some publications have been willing to sacrifice basic journalistic norms of accuracy and respect for privacy. But a second, equally powerful reason is unique to the United Kingdom — the passionate right-wing ideology that drives many of those newspapers. The country has a long history of explicit partisanship in its journalism. While there has always been a predominance of right-wing papers (at times, very right wing: the Daily Mail famously supported pro-Fascist groups during the 1930s), in the past, this was partly balanced by the mass circulation of the Mirror newspapers. But the Mirror’s decline has been precipitate; the Mails online dominance, on the other hand, driven by its embrace of celebrity news and pictures (mostly of young women in various states of undress), has enhanced its popular and political influence. Led by the Murdoch-owned Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Telegraph, with the Times (also Murdoch-owned) in a supporting role, the partisan right now overwhelms the comparatively insignificant presence of the Daily Mirror and Guardian on the left, especially with the left-leaning Independent now relegated to an online-only presence. During the referendum campaign, this toxic combination of uncompromising devotion to a political cause and contempt for the truth played a major role in leading Britain down the Brexit road”.

He mentions that “In a June 18 blog post, journalism blogger Liz Gerard compiled a montage of front-page headlines in order to demonstrate how the constant reiteration of words such as “migrants” and “borders” in large, bold font systematically ramped up the xenophobic message. “Turks, Romanians, Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Albanians: millions of them apparently want to abandon their homelands and settle in the English countryside — and only leaving the EU will stop them,” Gerard wrote. “No claim was too preposterous, no figure too huge to print.” The tabloid campaign against the EU itself — its faceless pen-pushing bureaucrats, its absurd regulations, and how much it costs the U.K. as an institution — lent itself perfectly to the oft-repeated Leave mantra of “Take back control.” Perhaps the most egregious example was a front-page Daily Mail headline on June 16 (inevitably repeated by the Sun) claiming that a truckload of migrants had arrived in the U.K. demanding, “We’re from Europe – let us in!” The story ran despite video footage that clearly demonstrated the new arrivals had informed officials that they were, in fact, refugees from Iraq and Kuwait. In a futile attempt to demonstrate that they aspired to some notion of journalistic integrity, the following day’s paper carried a “correction” consisting of 54 words at the bottom of Page 2″.

The article goes on to point out that “This was a much-repeated pattern throughout the referendum campaign: Journalist Hugo Dixon, who founded a pro-Remain fact-checking site called InFacts, drew attention to both the number of inaccurate stories and the chronically inadequate “corrections” relegated to inside pages. The problem was compounded by the sheer weight of anti-EU press. According to a Loughborough University study, once newspaper circulation is taken into account, just 18 percent of media coverage was pro-Remain compared with 82 percent pro-Leave. It’s difficult to prove conclusively that this constant drumbeat of headlines directly influenced voters’ decision-making. What is clear, however, is that it influenced the national conversation and, in particular, played an agenda-setting role for broadcasters, which in the U.K. (as in most of Europe) are bound by strict impartiality rules and are therefore more trusted by consumers to provide a nonpartisan approach. Remain campaign strategists were confident that the message of economic risk would succeed – as it had in the Scottish independence referendum – but they did not factor in a deeply hostile press whose slogans served as an echo chamber that broadcasters could scarcely resist”.

He notes how “This echo chamber was particularly evident on the vaunted BBC, which, by an unfortunate coincidence, is immersed in negotiations with the government about the renewal of its 10-year charter, always a tricky and delicate task. As a result, its normally self-assured journalists have been obsessed with “balance”: Any argument that receives airtime is accompanied by a counterargument, however patently absurd. This silliness was on display, for example, during a broadcast on the highly influential Radio 4 Today program, which featured an eminent scientist on the huge scientific research risks of Brexit. She was then “balanced” by a marginal and wholly unrepresentative cancer specialist who had previously stood as a candidate for the anti-EU UK Independence Party. Overall, the BBC’s EU referendum coverage was much more inclined to follow rather than lead. Film director Lord Puttnam, the former deputy chairman of Channel 4, a competing broadcaster, memorably described the BBC’s journalism during the campaign as “constipated.” In her post-referendum media roundup, the Guardian’s Jane Martinson revealed that, within an hour of Leave’s declaring victory, Sun editor Tony Gallagher told the Guardian: “So much for the waning power of the print media.” There was a further twist a few days later, when, on one of the most dramatic days in British politics, prominent Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, long considered the most likely next Conservative leader, abandoned his leadership bid. A leaked email suggested that, among other obstacles to a successful bid, he didn’t have the support of Murdoch or Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. Even in the age of social and digital media, which so many commentators believe will democratize communications, old-fashioned media proprietors and editors still serve as political kingmakers in Britain”.

He concludes questioning if anything can change, “In the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal, Parliament did, in fact, accept Leveson’s key recommendation: that the press’s efforts at self-regulation should be periodically scrutinized by an independent body in order to ensure that it is abiding by its own Code of Conduct – whose first rule is that newspapers should “take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. A Leveson compliant system would include regulatory sanctions for errant publications, such as equal prominence for corrections and fines for systematic code breaches. Had such a system been put in place, perhaps Brexit coverage would have been different. The kind of deliberate distortions that featured repeatedly across most of the tabloid press may have, at the very least, been discouraged by a regime that would oblige newspapers to print a front-page headline correction to counter a front-page headline lie. In any event, the new Conservative government, under huge pressure from the same press barons who undid Johnson, has stalled on implementing Leveson’s recommendations, and the British press today therefore feels free to break its own industry code with as much frequency and impunity as before 2011. To deflect criticism, it has established a “new” regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which is owned and run by the major publishers. As the referendum campaign demonstrated, IPSO has been ineffectual in holding its newspaper members to account. Those same commentators who preach the revolution of social media also like to cite new media like BuzzFeed, Vice News, and other online outlets as examples of greater plurality and more opportunities for journalists. These are all welcome additions, but so far they have been unable to compete with the legacy of traditional news brands, which are extending their online presence. According to some sources, the entertainment-focused Daily Mail website, which attracts upward of 200 million global visitors every month, is the most popular English-language site in the world. Perhaps that will gradually change. Meanwhile, broadcast journalism still aspires to the highest standards of accuracy and impartiality, and another hope lies in detaching those broadcast newsrooms from their mind-numbing dependency on agenda-driven newspapers”.

 

May’s Brexiteers, Johnson, Davis and Fox

27/07/2016

David Francis writes about the team for Brexit, “The prime minister who took power because of the Brexit just formed a cabinet shaped by the Brexit — but it’s not at all clear how that new government will actually manage the Brexit. The appointments by newly minted British Prime Minister Theresa May came quickly and in succession. Brexit opponent George Osborne is out as British treasury secretary, replaced by fellow opponent Philip Hammond, who left his job as foreign secretary. Hammond is being replaced by Boris Johnson, the flamboyant and controversial former mayor of London who championed the pro-Brexit movement”.

Francis writes that “Two new positions have been created to deal with the logistics of the Brexit. David Davis, a Eurosceptic conservative who campaigned to leave, wasnamed secretary of state for exiting the European Union — the so-called Brexit minister — created to guide the process to show the U.K. out of the EU. Liam Fox, another veteran of the Eurosceptic right, was appointed to the new role of international trade minister, charged with delivering the improved trade deals pro-exit campaigners promised the U.K. could get if it left the EU. He’s also pro-Brexit. In other words, five people — the prime minister and the chancellor of the exchequer, both anti-Brexit, and the foreign secretary, Brexit minister, and international trade minister, all pro-Brexit — are now charged with seeing Britain out of the European Union, which means they have to come to terms with 27 other nations on issues ranging from exports to migration to marriage privileges. It’s already shaping up as a messy and chaotic divorce”.

He points out that “The prime minister has said that she would not soon invoke Article 50, which would officially begin the process of formally removing Britain from the EU, before 2017 and that talks with Brussels should not be launched before the end of year. She said Britain needs time to develop its negotiating strategy. European leaders want May to get on with the Brexit, and have said no talks would start before London officially moves to leave. British officials want the U.K. to have access to the European common market, a notion powerful German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected. She said there would be no “cherry picking” of what London wants to keep from its EU membership while jettisoning the aspects of the relationship it dislikes, such as policies allowing EU citizens to have passport-free travel to the U.K. Hammond has said talks between London and Brussels could take six years, four years longer than allowed by Article 50″.

The piece notes that “The truth is no one knows what will happen next simply because a nation has never left the European Union, said Nicolas Véron, a French economist and visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “A lot of things will happen in six months,” he told Foreign Policy on Wednesday, referring to May’s refusal to invoke Article 50 before 2017. “We don’t know what, but six months is a lot of time for unexpected things to happen in politics.” One immediate reaction was clear: shock that Johnson has become the new face of British diplomacy. The former mayor of London is known for getting stuck on a zip line and knocking over a Japanese child while playing rugby, as well as for odd statements about drugs and food. “It’s difficult to really make sense of the choices, especially Boris Johnson,” said Véron, who characterized the picks, and how they were made public, as chaotic. “The less chaotic choice is Hammond as chancellor. I struggle to make sense of the Johnson appointment in particular.” He added that he wasn’t familiar with either Davis or Fox. Mujtaba Rahman, a Europe expert at the Eurasia Group, told FP the makeup of the cabinet is a reflection of British politics more than it is an effort to put together a team that can deal with Europe; it’s slightly favoured in the pro-Brexit camp, just as the referendum was. He added, “Boris Johnson in particular is a serious risk, given his role in the Leave campaign and subsequent withdrawal from the premiership.” That’s because Johnson has, at best, a spotty reputation as a British diplomat. In the run-up to the Brexit vote, he compared Winston Churchill’s fight against totalitarian regimes in World War II with Britain’s efforts to leave a “federal superstate” and blasted President Barack Obama for his anti-Brexit stance”.

Correctly he point out Johnson’s myriad other gaffes, “Johnson has also praised Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for protecting Palmyra from the Islamic State. Then, in May, he was awarded 1,000 pounds, or $1,314, in a British magazine contest on who could write the most offensive poem about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It reads:

There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera.

A 2015 trip to Iraq by Johnson has also proven controversial. Documentsreleased by the Foreign Office in January 2016 showed it had to pick up a bar tab run up by Johnson, block his planned trip to the front line of the war against the Islamic State, and stop him from driving a sports car out of an Iraqi showroom. Even May has been critical of Johnson’s ability as a statesman. Speaking in late June, before Johnson announced he would not be running for prime minister, she said: “Boris negotiated in Europe. I seem to remember [the] last time he did a deal with the Germans, he came back with three nearly new water cannon[s],” referring to anti-riot weapons Johnson secured as London’s mayor”.

The piece notes “When asked about Johnson’s appointment Wednesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at Wednesday’s press briefing, “We’re always going to be able to work with the British, no matter who is occupying the role of foreign secretary because of our deep abiding special relationship with the United Kingdom.” He added the relationship between London and Washington “goes beyond personalities.” The other officials named Wednesday all face daunting challenges. Hammond, who has vast experience dealing with European leaders like Merkel and French President François Hollande, must navigate the U.K. through what nearly three-thirds of economists recently surveyed by Bloomberg predict to be a looming recession due to the Brexit. He must also deal with a pound sterling hovering around 31-year lows against the dollar. Britons have seen the value of their currency drop as 1.32 pounds equal one dollar. On June 23, the day of the referendum, one pound was worth $1.49. In addition, capital has been fleeing the country in the wake of the Brexit. Last week, M&G Investments suspended a 4.4 billion-pound ($5.7 billion) real-estate fund there, following in the footsteps of Aviva Investors and Standard Life Investments after a number of investors pulled out of their funds”.

It concludes “Finally, Hammond, along with Fox, will have to repair the trade relationship between London and Washington. Obama has said that Britain would moveto the back of the line when it comes to negotiating a U.K./U.S. trade deal, as opposed to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the entirety of the EU.

Turkey requests Gulen’s extradition

23/07/2016

“Turkey’s prime minister says Ankara has sent dossiers to the United States for the extradition of a U.S.-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, over his alleged links to the July 15 failed coup attempt. “We have sent four dossiers to the United States for the extradition of the terrorist chief. We will present them with more evidence than they want,” Binali Yildirim told parliament on July 19. Yildirim accused the United States of double standards in its fight against terrorism. Washington has said it will only consider an extradition request if clear evidence is provided. The Turkish government blames Gulen for orchestrating the attempted military coup, in which more than 200 people were killed. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly called for the cleric’s extradition from the United States. Gulen has condemned the coup and denied involvement”.

Frexit?

21/07/2016

An article notes the possibility of Frexit, a French exit from the EU, “after Grexit and Brexit, the next crisis to confront the European Union will be Frexit. It will prove to be the worst of all. While dramatic, the Greek tragedy had a limited run. While seismic, the British divorce will not necessarily upend Brussels. But for historical and institutional reasons, a French crisis would be cataclysmic. The midwife for the EU’s birth, France now risks becoming its gravedigger”.

The author makes the point that “the French believe, rightly, there can be no Europe without the people of their own glorious nation. That corollary breathes life into France’s traditional conception of a united Europe and thus lends vitality to the continent’s abstract ideals. It also motivates Europe’s traditional bouts of frustration with France. Upon coming to power in 1958, Charles de Gaulle insisted upon the necessity of a “European Europe.” In principle, this meant a united Europe of equals; in practice, de Gaulle meant a Europe in which France would be more equal than the others. Tellingly, when he signed the Rome Treaty in 1958 (the future EU’s act of conception), it was not because he believed in “Europe.” Instead, it was because he believed in an independent and sovereign France, one yoked to the accomplishment of “great undertakings.” De Gaulle accepted the EU because it ensured France’s own magnificence”.

The author points out that “A funny thing happened, though, on France’s way to a future of peace and prosperity. While the former grew humdrum, the latter grew hazier. After enjoying the 30-year period of postwar growth — known as the “trente glorieuses” — the French economy faltered during the oil crisis of the early 1970s and never fully recovered. While successive French governments continued to lay bricks for the European project, they failed to restart the national economy — which slowed from an annual average of 4 percent during the trente glorieuses to slightly more than 1 percent now forecast for 2017 — just as they failed to resolve the predicament of the growing number of unemployed, which currently stands at slightly more than 10 percent. As the foundations of a new European order were being laid, France’s imperial past caught up with it as hundreds of thousands of immigrants from its former colonies in North Africa — Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Algeria — settled in the country. Recruited to fill jobs created during the trente glorieuses, these same immigrants found the welcome mat pulled from under their feet as France’s economy slowed and then headed south by the end of the 20th century. By the turn of the 21st century, the diffuse fear of “le grand replacement” — coined by the essayist Renaud Camus and positing the submersion of a white and Christian France by Arab and Muslim immigrants — had become an article of faith among the growing number of French turning to the extreme right-wing Front National (FN)”.

He aruges the French is unsure of its identity which is rebounding on the EU, “The inability of both conservative and socialist governments to redress the growing social and economic fissures in French society, and to reinvent the republican model for the 21st century, has encouraged the retreat to nativism and nationalism. Tellingly, a 2015 poll revealed that if the 2005 referendum on the European Constitution were to be held again, 62 percent of respondents would vote against it, a 7 percent rise from the original “non” vote. It is a crisis, moreover, the French government seems incapable of addressing. The day after the British vote was tallied, and the stock markets went into a tailspin, President François Hollande went before the nation and again underwhelmed it. He explained that “Europe could not go on as before,” expounded on the need to “reinforce the eurozone and democratic governance,” and exhorted Europe to take the necessary “leap” to secure its future. Stapled to the end of these oft-repeated pieties — spoken by a president with the mien of a funeral home director — was a solemn chestnut: “History,” Hollande intoned, “is knocking at our door.” It remains unclear when or whether Hollande will open the door. Not only are 26 other nations huddled behind the same door squabbling over how to answer the knocking, but the weightiest nation seems in no great hurry to answer it at all. While Hollande was, in his inimitable style, urging his fellow leaders — in particular, German Chancellor Angela Merkel — to make haste, Merkel agreed that Europe must make haste, but slowly. Very slowly. After meeting with the leaders of Germany’s political parties, Merkel appealed for “calm and determination” and warned against “simple and fast solutions that would only further divide Europe.” In a word, whereas Hollande urged the principal duo of the EU, France and Germany, to take the lead, Merkel instead emphasized gemeinsam, or collective, action”.

The report mentions that “The tumult is greatest on the party’s left. Shortly before the Brexit vote, Arnaud Montebourg was unpersuasively denying reports that he planned to enter the primary race. Having been tapped by Hollande to serve as economy minister, Montebourg found himself unemployed in 2014 when the government, scrambling to meet the EU’s deficit requirements, largely swallowed its austerity demands. Not only has Montebourg since been a consistent critic of these policies, but his earlier anti-globalization sentiments — summarized in his 2011 manifesto Votez pour la démondialisation (Vote for De-Globalization) — are now crystallizing into a “dé-europisation” stance. Montebourg is not the only prominent figure on the left who is, as he recently described himself, “euro-épuisé,” or “Euro-exhausted.” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the perennial presidential candidate of the Parti de Gauche, has long inveighed against “the caste of Eurocrats and politics of austerity” imposed on EU member states. Not surprisingly, he welcomed the Brexit vote as a reality check for the French political class, as well as a promising harbinger of his own political prospects. “This is the beginning of the end to an era,” he exclaimed. “Either we change the European Union or we leave it.” Though he hotly refuses such comparisons, Mélenchon’s reasoning and rhetoric echo that of his ideological opposite and nemesis, Marine Le Pen. Among the ways Le Pen has transformed the party founded by her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is to have turned inside out its relation to Europe. Fervently anti-Communist, anti-Gaullist, and thus pro-Europeanist during the Cold War, the FN began its long lurch toward its current hyper-nationalism with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The near-death of the Maastricht Treaty referendum in 1992, the full death of the European Constitution in the 2005 referendum, and its resurrection two years later in the widely despised Lisbon Treaty (signed by then-President Nicolas Sarkozy without a referendum) showed Le Pen père and fille the electoral advantages of mining the deepening vein of popular alienation from Brussels”.

Importantly he notes “In the wake of the Brexit vote, Le Pen could scarcely contain her satisfaction. At a short press conference at the her party’s headquarters, Le Pen stood in front of a newly minted poster displaying a pair of hands breaking free of a handcuff made of gold stars. For those unable to interpret the image, there also ran a caption: “And Now France!” Indeed. In her opening remarks, Le Pen congratulated the British people — along with the “very brave” Boris Johnson and her “friend and ally” Janice Atkinson (a European Parliament deputy formerly with the UK Independence Party) — for reminding France that, yes, “it is possible to leave the European Union.” She also abstained from playing the religion, race, and immigration cards that brought her to prominence: The French already know the hand she is holding. As a result, she mentioned the word “immigration” just once but repeated more than a dozen times the words “liberty” and “democracy” — the very values born in Europe, she has argued, but scorned by the EU and France’s traditional political parties”.

Crucially, “In 2014, Le Pen was already promising that, if elected to the presidency, her first order of business would be to schedule a referendum on whether France should remain in the EU. Suddenly, this promise seems a bit less fantastic, all the more because she has largely succeeded in making the FN a party like the others. (In a recent and underreported finding by France’s prestigious polling institute, the IFOP, the historic gap between those who say they will vote for the FN and those who do vote for it has almost entirely closed. This suggests, as IFOP director Jérôme Fourquet notes, that the shame FN voters once felt is a thing of the past.) In the most recent salvo of polls from early June, in which the French were asked for their presidential preferences, Le Pen is the first over the finish line. In nearly every poll, she breaks the barrier of 30 percent, leaving her competitors in the dust”.

He ends “For the moment, the nature of France’s electoral process — in which the top two finishers face off in a second round of voting — remains a rampart against a Le Pen presidency. Polls reveal that the only competitor she would defeat in the second round is the discredited and derided François Hollande. The candidacies of Alain Juppé and Sarkozy, the leading contestants for the nomination of the conservative Les Républicains, pose another obstacle. In a projected second round, both men would attract enough voters from the center and left to decisively defeat Le Pen. Finally, Le Pen’s path to the Élysée is also mined by the French public’s complex attitude toward the European Union. In an Odoxa poll taken last week, the French clearly stated that while they cannot live with the EU, they also cannot live without it. Sixty-four percent of respondents do not wish to see France quit the EU, yet at the same time only 31 percent saw the EU as a “source of hope.” Yet, as Le Pen underscored in her press conference, much can happen in the 10 months remaining between now and France’s presidential elections. Juppé’s Europeanism and economic liberalism can easily morph into political liabilities; by the same token, voters will not forget that Sarkozy, who now insists that the Lisbon Treaty be rewritten, had rammed through that same treaty in 2007 when he was president. Most important, if the United Kingdom manages a smooth divorce from the EU, a majority of French voters may come to see a “grande France” as a source of hope, just as a majority of British voters last week saw hope in a Little England”.

 

UK buys Apaches

21/07/2016

The U.K. Ministry of Defense on Monday announced a $2.3 billion deal to buy 50 AH-64E Apache helicopters from Boeing for the army. The new Apaches, already in service with the U.S. Army, are being purchased through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, the MOD said in a statement. The helicopter increases the force’s weapons capacity while being more fuel efficient, allowing for longer operations in demanding conditions. The first U.K. helicopters are due off the U.S. production line in early 2020, and will enter service in 2022. While the Apaches will be built in the United States, the MOD said subcontracts representing about 5 percent of the Apache supply chain are being awarded to several U.K. companies”.

The problems of peace

17/07/2016

Stephen Walt argues the benefits of war, “A striking trend in contemporary world politics is the apparent erosion of political unity in so many different places. In the Middle East, we’ve seen the upheavals of the Arab Spring and the continuing bloodbaths in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. In Europe, support for the European Union continues to drop, Great Britain may vote to leave it, and Scotland might still decide to exit the United Kingdom. Here in the United States, we have a level of bitter partisanship not seen for many decades, the two main political parties are themselves deeply divided, and the presumptive GOP presidential candidate is a rank amateur (in several senses of that term). To say “the center cannot hold” seems like an understatement these days. What’s going on here? Some people believe today’s fractious politics is a consequence of globalization, which has accelerated the pace of change, threatened traditional cultural norms, and left millions of people feeling marginalized. Other observers blame economic policies that have enriched the One Percent and insulated them from their own misdeeds, leaving the rest of us to forage for the crumbs from their table. Or perhaps the digital revolution and new media are the real culprits, with the combination of cable TV, Twitter, and other modern means of communication lowering barriers to entry, coarsening the national dialogue, spreading extremism, and making the nastiest forms of political innuendo seem legitimate”.

Interestingly he makes the point “There may be some truth in each of these claims, but they all overlook an even more important explanation for the fractious state of contemporary politics: peace. Don’t get me wrong: I think peace is wonderful, and I wish more politicians talked about it openly and did more to further it. But prolonged periods of peace may also have a downside: They allow divisions within different societies to grow and deepen. Even worse, they may eventually drive the world back toward war”.

Walt adds “I wish I could claim this was my original idea, but this explanation for our present divisions has been around for quite a while. Indeed, 20 years ago, political scientist Michael Desch published a fascinating article in the academic journal International Organization, titled “War and Strong States, Peace and Weak States?” Drawing on the earlier work of Max Weber, Otto Hintze, George Simmel, Charles Tilly, Lewis Coser, and others, Desch argued that war (and external threats more generally) were perhaps the single-most important factor explaining the emergence of strong, centralized states and cohesive national polities. In particular, the pressures of international competition forced rival states to develop effective bureaucracies, efficient systems of taxation, and formidable armies, and it also encouraged the promotion of patriotism and a dampening of internal divisions. When the wolf is at the door, domestic quarrels are put aside in order to deal with the more immediate danger. Unfortunately, this argument also implies that the arrival of peace can have a negative effect on national unity”.

Walt rightly questions this proposition, “Does the historical record support this view? Desch thought so. In his words: “Variation in the intensity of the international security competition also affected the cohesion of many states. From the end of the Napoleonic wars and the Treaty of Versailles in 1815 until the Crimean War of 1853-1856, the external threat environment facing European states became relatively benign. The period between 1815 and 1853 witnessed an unprecedented breakdown in state cohesion manifested in a series of internal upheavals in various European states.” He also saw a similar pattern in U.S. history.”

Walt summarises the article noting, “The two world wars, by contrast, helped create the modern American federal state and were a powerful source of national unity, a trend reinforced even more by the subsequent Cold War. In Desch’s view, “The cold war was the ‘perfect’ type of threat. It never escalated to a major war … although it was serious enough to be a unifying factor.” The end of the Cold War removed this source of unity, however, and as Nils Petter Gleditsch, John Mueller, Steven Pinker, and Joshua Goldstein have all argued, the level of conflict (and external threat) in the world has been declining (until a recent modest uptick). The result, as Desch foresaw two decades ago, has been growing internal disunity and a weakening of state effectiveness, although the strength of these tendencies varies widely around the world. States that mobilise power through market mechanisms appear to be more robust than those that do so through coercive extraction, and there is also a “ratchet effect” when states go stronger. Because bureaucracies and institutions created at one point in time rarely go out of business as soon as their original rationale disappears, and because modern states do more than just prepare for war, a decline in external threats does not necessarily cause modern states to shrink all the way back to their pre-threat proportions. But as we are now seeing, it can make their internal politics far more divisive”.

Walt notes that “Desch to some striking predictions, including:“First, the viability of multiethnic states facing a less challenging external security environment will certainly decrease … [T]hose that survive will have to cope with a much higher level of ethnic separatism and demands for autonomy. “States with deep ethnic, social, or linguistic cleavages facing a more benign threat environment should find it harder to maintain cohesion. Key cases to watch here are Israel (secular versus religious Jews and the Jewish majority versus the Arab minority), multiethnic Arab states such as Syria (Alawites) and Jordan (Palestinians), Afghanistan (various political factions), much of black Africa (tribal), and especially South Africa (Zulus and whites). “[T]he longer the period of reduced international security competition, the more likely are developed states to be plagued by the rise of narrow sectoral, rather than broad encompassing, interest groups. [The United States is] now witnessing significant challenges to federal authority, a growing consensus on the need to cut spending to balance the federal budget, serious efforts to eliminate cabinet departments and other federal agencies, skepticism about a state-dominated industrial policy, and a Republican-controlled Congress committed to, and so far successful, in its efforts to limit the growth of the American state.” Sounds about right to me”.

Walt rightly points out that “Although some of Desch’s predictions were not fully borne out, his article anticipated many of the fissiparous tendencies that characterise political life in the United States, Europe, and parts of the developing world. At a minimum, his crystal ball has performed much better than Frank Fukuyama’s belief that we had reached the “end of history,” or the late Samuel P. Huntington’s forecast of a looming “clash of civilizations.” “Not so fast,” I hear you say. What about al Qaeda and the threat that states face from violent extremism of all sorts? Didn’t 9/11 actually produce an upsurge of national unity in the United States along with the creation of state structures like the Department of Homeland Security? And doesn’t the growing political rancor in the face of the dangers posed by al Qaeda, the Islamic State, or even Putin’s Russia cast serious doubt on Desch’s argument? Don’t shocking events like the recent attacks in Orlando, Florida, give us reason to put aside our differences and pull together once again? It would be nice to think so, but I have my doubts. The threat from al Qaeda and its ilk is just not serious enough to galvanise the national unity that a genuine international rivalry produces”.

Walt mentions that “international terrorism is also the shadowy, hard-to-measure danger that can turn a nation’s fears inward and magnify domestic divisions. When a hostile group uses terrorism, and is able to attract a handful of supporters abroad, it inevitably triggers fears of “fifth columns” or “lone wolves” or even some vast and well-orchestrated plot to attack us here at home. Contemporary Islamophobia is a perfect illustration of this sort of concern, and it is precisely this thinking Donald Trump has exploited in his unexpected march to the Republican presidential nomination. In short, if the U.S.-Soviet Cold War was the “perfect” threat for generating national unity, terrorism is perhaps the worst type of danger for holding the United States together. It’s not fearsome enough to bring a new “Greatest Generation” to the fore, and politicians eager to play on our worst fears can easily exploit it in ways that are more likely to divide than to unite the country. If Desch is right — and I think he is — the implications are both ironic and disheartening. Reducing external dangers turns out to have a downside: The less threatened we are by the outside world, the more prone we are to ugly quarrels at home. Even worse, peace may even contain the seeds of its own destruction. As we are now seeing in the Middle East, the collapse of unity and state authority can easily trigger violent internal conflicts that eventually drag outside powers back in”.

 

May’s Cabinet: blood and Brexit

15/07/2016

A report notes the recent reshuffle that took place earlier this week in the UK after the new PM was formally appointed, “Theresa May has drawn a decisive line under the David Cameron era with a sweeping reshuffle that saw several of his key ministers, including justice secretary, Michael Gove, sacked, and her own handpicked team rewarded with cabinet posts. Conservative MPs, some of whom had seen the former home secretary as a continuity candidate who would build incrementally on the record of the Cameron governments, were stunned by the radical reboot. May began the day in her Westminster office, holding a series of one-to-one meetings with ministers she had decided to replace, including Gove, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and the culture secretary, John Whittingdale. She later moved to Downing Street, where senior Conservatives came and went throughout the day to be told their fate”.

The piece adds “In total, six of Cameron’s ministers, including the former chancellor George Osborne, have been shown the door since Wednesday night. Big winners included Justine Greening, who will run a new beefed-up Department for Education, and Liz Truss, who takes Gove’s role as justice secretary. May will travel to Scotland to meet first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday for her first official visit and stress her determination to uphold the union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom despite the decision to leave the EU – something Scottish voters rejected at the referendum. She will say: “I believe with all my heart in the United Kingdom – the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This visit to Scotland is my first as prime minister and I’m coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries.” There were several surprising appointments to May’s cabinet. She handed key roles to Brexiters demonstrating that she is determined to repair the rift in the party created by the hard-fought referendum campaign”.

It continues “Andrea Leadsom, who paved the way for May’s premiership when she dropped out of the leadership race earlier this week, will be the new secretary for environment, food and rural affairs. Leadsom made clear during the leadership campaign that she would like the ban on foxhunting to be repealed and once suggested the subsidies which are received by farmers from the European Union should be completely phased out. Priti Patel, the former employment minister, takes over as secretary of state for international development, despite a history of being sceptical about foreign aid. She has previously called for the department to be abolished. The new cabinet has a distinctly less privileged flavour, with Cameron’s party chairman, his close friend Lord Feldman, replaced with Patrick McLoughlin, who comes from a working-class background in Yorkshire. Greening went to a comprehensive school. Only about a fifth of the new team were privately educated, compared with almost half under Cameron. McLoughlin has been given the job of winning seats and gaining support in parts of the country that are not traditional Conservative strongholds in a clear signal that May hopes to exploit Labour’s disarray by reaching out to working-class voters”.

Interestingly the report notes “May’s allies insisted she was not motivated by a personal animus against the “chumocracy” of close friends and allies that surrounded Cameron and Osborne; but had ruthlessly favoured colleagues she believed could deliver. The new prime minister also announced the most radical shakeup in the shape of Whitehall for years, with the Department for Energy and Climate Change being abolished and its responsibilities absorbed into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Sajid Javid, who has been far more reluctant to use the phrase “industrial strategy” than his coalition predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, will move across to be communities secretary, while Greg Clark takes over at business”.

Sensibly it mentions that “Education will be beefed up under Greening, taking over responsibility for apprenticeships and higher education, currently overseen by the business department. Downing Street said that was so that children’s full journey, from the early years to their first steps into the workplace, would be overseen by a single Whitehall department. Despite Truss and Greening’s success, however, expectations that Britain’s second female prime minister would bring a decisive boost to the number of women in government were disappointed, with most roles still held by men. Senior Conservatives came and went in Downing Street all day to find out what job their new leader was prepared to offer them. There were rumours – which were believed to be true by senior officials at the Department of Health – that Jeremy Hunt would be sacked, but he was later confirmed in his post, tweeting, ‘“rumours of my death have been exaggerated” and that he wasthrilled to be back “in the best job in government”. One well-placed NHS official said: “We were told this morning [Thursday] that he was going. Everybody was hoping that he would move on and everyone was expecting that he would move on. But then we were stumped that he was being retained. People were genuinely surprised. Hunt staying was clearly not the plan”. May’s office denied reports that Stephen Crabb was offered the health brief, before turning it down”.

The article mentions that “May’s spokeswoman later said her appointments demonstrated that she would run a “bold” cabinet. “What we’re seeing is the commitment of the prime minister to putting social reform at the heart of her government,” she said. Truss’s appointment in particular was a signal that criminal justice reform is a key priority for May, who had previously been regarded as a relatively hardline home secretary, but has made a pitch for the centreground by stressing her commitment to reform, since standing for the leadership. In her first handful of announcements, on Wednesday night, May placed the responsibility for negotiating Britain’s way out of the European Union squarely on the shoulders of the men who fought for it in the referendum campaign – David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, who will be Brexit secretary, overseas trade secretary and foreign secretary respectively”.

As expected it mentions “Between the hiring and firing on Thursday, May found 15 minutes to receive a congratulatory call from the US president, Barack Obama. The pair discussed the need to safeguard the “special relationship” between the two countries and May stressed to him that she would honour the electorate’s decision at last month’s referendum to leave the EU. Jon Ashworth MP, the shadow minister without portfolio, responding to the cabinet announcements, said: “We had warm words from the prime minister yesterday on the need for her government to stand up for more than just a privileged few, but Theresa May’s appointments are completely out of kilter with her words on the steps of Downing Street yesterday. It’s difficult to see this new-look cabinet as anything other than a sharp shift to the right by the Tories.”

“She has always been driven less by ideology than by morality”

15/07/2016

A piece from the Guardian profiles the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, “For a woman on the verge of running the country, Theresa May has seemed almost preternaturally calm over the past few days. “She’s basically the same as ever; quite relaxed and cheerful. There’s no sense of the prison shades falling,” says a longstanding friend who has observed her closely during the campaign. But then, unlike Andrea Leadsom, seemingly badly shaken by a single weekend of hostile media coverage, May knew better than anyone what to expect. Over the past six years, May has weathered riots, sat in on a decision to go to war, and chaired an emergency Cobra meeting in the prime minister’s absence following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby”.

The writer goes on to remark that “She has been diligently doing her homework for years and, while even she did not foresee David Cameron resigning in these circumstances (let alone the collapse of all other contenders), she is as ready as she will ever be. The question is whether that is anywhere near ready enough for the turbulent times ahead. Tory grandee Ken Clarke’s unguarded remarks about her being a “bloody difficult woman”probably did May nothing but good with female voters – and she turned them to her own advantage at the last parliamentary hustings, promising that European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker would soon find out how “bloody difficult” she could be. But even her friends concede Clarke has a point. “She can be a bugger,” says one otherwise admiring colleague succinctly. “Not easy to work with.” May fights her corner tigerishly and, unusually for a politician, she does not seem bothered about being liked”.

Interestingly it mentions that “It is typical of her take-me-or-leave-me approach that she managed to win the support of almost two-thirds of her parliamentary colleagues despite refusing to bribe waverers with job offers. “You can’t go in and say, ‘Make me under-secretary of state for sproggets and badges and you’ve got my support’,” says Eric Pickles, the ex-cabinet minister and longstanding ally. “That’s not how she operates. You’ve got to take her unconditionally.” Indeed, the most intriguing political comparison is arguably not with Thatcher, but with Gordon Brown, the last political figure dominant enough to become prime minister basically by acclamation. Two serious-minded children of religious ministers, steeped in moral purpose, both possessed of an iron need to control. May is a famously reluctant delegator, needing to know exactly what her juniors are doing and to chew over every detail of decisions – a micromanagement style she cannot hope to apply to an entire government – and like Brown, she demands unswerving loyalty. (Although unlike him, she generally won’t say behind your back what she wouldn’t say to your face)”.

It goes on to make the point “Yet for all her apparent stubbornness, in private May is surprisingly open to a well-sourced argument. A former junior minister who observed her playing hardball in negotiations says she will usually do a deal in the end: “It’s not just ‘because I say so’ – if you make a good argument to Theresa, she can be willing to change her position.” She may not be adored, but she commands admiration, a wary respect, and deep gratitude from many Tory women for what the business minister Anna Soubry calls the “proper sisterhood” that she has built inside the party. There is something fitting about the fact that over a decade after May overhauled the candidate selection system to bring more women and minority ethnic MPs up the ladder behind her, her party briefly volunteered an all-female shortlist for the top job”.

The writer goes on to mention that “What makes a May premiership interestingly unpredictable is that she has always been driven less by ideology than by morality, a very personal sense of right or wrong. Her more radical moments – attacking police corruption, fighting Downing Street for an inquiry into institutional child abuse, overruling civil service advice – have often come from a feeling that common decency has been offended. She loathes any sense of impropriety in public service, of sloppy and self-serving behaviour leading to injustice. On Monday, she hinted at an equally moralistic approach to economic policy, outlining plans to curb executive pay and put consumers and workers on corporate boards. In a rather audacious parking of the tanks on Labour’s lawn, she plans to pitch herself as a champion of the “left behind”, people struggling financially who voted to leave the EU because they didn’t see how things could get worse. Robert Halfon, the minister without portfolio and champion of blue-collar conservatism, recognises that description well from his Harlow constituency. He backed May partly because he hopes she will advocate a more socially responsible capitalism. “I don’t think she’s a slasher-and-burner. I think she’ll take on crony capitalism – I’ve said we should be a party of the NHS, not BHS, not these awful people screwing the workers,” he says. It’s not hard to see where she got this rather old-fashioned sense of duty. The only daughter of the Rev Hubert Brasier and his wife Zaidee grew up in rural Oxfordshire, in a family that revolved around the demands of her father’s parishioners. It was dinned into her very young that, as the vicar’s daughter, she was always “on show”, and to this day she retains a puritanical streak; the juiciest surprise in her published tax return is that she gives quite heavily to charity”.

Crucially it notes that “Hers was a comfortable middle-class upbringing – two years of private school, then a local grammar and Oxford – and she enjoys a famously strong marriage to Philip, a banker she met at a Tory student disco. But life hasn’t always been easy. Her father was killed in a car crash shortly after she graduated, and her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died the year after. Then came the bitter discovery that the Mays could not have children. She watched as, one by one, her male Oxford contemporaries bagged seats before her and, despite being promoted dizzyingly fast when she finally reached Westminster in 1997, was never quite part of any leader’s inner circle. Perhaps it took a certain sense of detachment to deliver that broadside after the 2001 defeat, in which she warned that the Conservatives would not regain power while they were seen as a “nasty party”. It remains a pivotal moment in Tory history, presaging Cameron’s modernising revolution four years later. Surviving the ferocious subsequent backlash, meanwhile, taught her that she was tougher than she thought”.

The author adds “Such feats of daring remain, however, rare. “She likes to go through the usual structures,” says a fellow senior minister, who praises her as careful rather than wildly creative. She is in many ways the continuity candidate, with Tories speculating that trusted colleagues might well stay in their old jobs to smooth the transition. Even the chancellor, George Osborne, has gone out of his way to be helpful, holding private talks with her in recent days. At a time of national crisis, caution has its appeal. Halfon says that when he asked constituents for their views on a new leader, the word he kept hearing was “security”. She may lack a grand political vision, but if the sky fell in you sense she’d know what to do. Yet awkward questions remain. If she is such a strong leader, why did she disappear during the EU referendum? Surely she was not cynically hedging her bets? And can a remainer ever really deliver a form of Brexit that satisfies the Tory right, without outraging her more centrist supporters? The collapse of the leadership contest means May has not been forced to clarify her views on several controversial issues related to Brexit, chief among them immigration. As home secretary, she managed to be both passionately liberal on race issues – challenging stop-and-search because it routinely discriminates against young black men, for example – and hardline on immigration, baldly stating in a speech to last year’s party conference that current levels were not in the national interest. Many MPs do wonder how she can honestly reconcile such apparently conflicting beliefs”.

It ends “But Pickles, who worked with her for years on community cohesion, argues that she has merely been quicker than most to recognise what a toxic issue immigration has become. “I’ve always been of the view that if you let the genie out of the bottle, it’s very difficult, but I think she got the early warning signs,” he says. “I think [that speech] was a genuine attempt to try and pull us back before the great chasm we descended into.” Whatever the truth, the Conservatives are in that chasm now. It now falls to Theresa May to drag them out”.

 

“Little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council”

15/07/2016

A report from Foreign Policy notes the consequences of Brexit for the UK on the Security Council, “Post-Brexit Britain may lose Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose voters overwhelmingly favour remaining in the European Union. But they run little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council, a key source of London’s claim to be a true world power”.

It adds “That doesn’t mean it will be business as usual for British diplomats at the United Nations. Emotions remain raw over Britain’s Brexit vote, which has sent stock markets plummeting to historic lows, and injected an unwelcome degree of uncertainty into world affairs. Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations”.

The report notes that “Britain’s departure from the EU is also virtually certain to give new momentum to efforts to change the makeup of the U.N. Security Council, whose five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain — still reflect the balance of global power at the end of World War II. For two decades, rising powers like Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan have pushed to receive permanent seats of their own. Those efforts have been blocked by regional rivals like Algeria, Argentina, Pakistan, and Italy, which fear for their own standing at the U.N. if their more powerful neighbours make their way onto the world body’s most powerful arm”.

It makes the point that “For the moment, British diplomats are trying to walk the narrow line between stressing that they will abide by the will of their voters while insisting they’ll still find ways of cooperating with allies — and EU members — like France and Germany. During a closed-door meeting of European Union diplomats Tuesday morning in New York, Britain’s U.N. envoy, Matthew Rycroft, told his European colleagues there was no turning back from the decision to leave the EU. But he sought to assure them that his government would remain engaged on key international matters, and that it would actually intensify its activities on the Security Council, according to several European diplomats. “They say they will stay the course, not diminish their efforts,” said one diplomat. French, German, Spanish, and other European diplomats told Rycroft that they were shocked by the British decision to withdraw from the EU and that relations would never be the same. At the same time, however, they assured him that they would strive to find ways of collaborating”.

It mentions that “A senior French official at the meeting told Rycroft that Paris, which holds the other European seat on the Security Council, would continue to closely coordinate its diplomatic activities with Britain, citing a history of “friendship and solidarity.” Though diplomats said that France would probably take on a greater share of responsibilities once Britain leaves the EU. Rycroft, for his part, told the gathering that Britain would remain a full-fledged member of the European community — with a seat at the table in NATO, the G-7, and the G-20, and a robust military — until its departure is finalised. Ironically, Rycroft’s assurances that Brexit would have limited impact on Britain’s diplomacy echo claims by proponents of the “Leave” campaign, which issued a statement earlier this year”.

The report ends “For decades, Britain’s influence was derived from its ability to leverage other people’s power — the United States and the European Union — in pursuit of its interests. In Somalia, for example, Britain typically takes the lead in drafting the U.N. resolutions that define international policy. But it’s the wider European Union that foots the bill for African peacekeepers there. In Libya, British diplomats have overseen negotiations on a resolution authorizing the seizure of people smugglers and arms traffickers. While the EU may decide to maintain support for such operations, it is far less likely to want to take its lead from the United Kingdom. London is the lead policymaker — or penholder — on the council on about a dozen international crises, from Darfur to Libya to Yemen. In recent months, it has returned for the first time in 20 years to U.N. peacekeeping missions, pledging to send more than 250 blue helmets to South Sudan and an additional 70 or so to Somalia. U.N. supporters said they hoped this was the first step in a broader re-engagement in U.N. peacekeeping. But Samarasinghe said Brexit might stall any expansion of a British peacekeeping role. “I don’t think they will pull back” from their commitment, she said. “But I don’t think this is the start of something new, which is what we had previously expected.”

“The UK’s new prime minister Theresa May”

13/07/2016

The UK’s new prime minister Theresa May has vowed to lead a “one nation” government that works for all not just the “privileged few”. Speaking outside 10 Downing Street after being appointed by the Queen, she said it would be her mission to “build a better Britain”. She promised to give people who were “just managing” and “working around the clock” more control over their lives. Mrs May is the UK’s second female prime minister, after Margaret Thatcher. Mrs May later began appointing Cabinet members, with Philip Hammond – foreign secretary under Mr Cameron – becoming chancellor and Boris Johnson becoming the new foreign secretary”.

“Backstage, he was sufficiently insecure and calculating”

13/07/2016

An opinion piece from the Guardian notes that Boris Johnson refuses to tidy up the mess he made after the UK vote to leave the EU, “Standing at a podium bearing not a soaring campaign slogan, but the rather more prosaic “ST ERMIN’S HOTEL”, the leading political bounder of the age announced that he had thought about the individual needed to take the country out of the mess he’s dumped it in (I paraphrase), and “concluded that person cannot be me”. Where did it all go right? Normally Johnson is so smart he doesn’t even fly by the seat of his own pants. Unfortunately for him, his wingman recently decided he isn’t willing to offer up his undergarments any longer. Michael Gove, fresh from destroying his friend David Cameron, is going for the accumulator by announcing his surprise Tory leadership bid. As Gove put it this morning: “I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that Boris cannot provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead.” It sounds like a tragic conflict of disloyalties, with which Gove has wrestled for perhaps 24 hours. Even before Johnson took to his hotel podium, you could hear the offstage crash of defections to Gove. Dominic Raab was now off, having literally written a piece for this morning’s Sun headlined: Why Boris Has the Heineken Effect. To which the only rejoinder can be: If Carlsberg Did Political U-turns … Even so, and however inevitable it might feel after some reflection, this was a shock”.

She goes on to opine “We did know a schism might be on the House of Cards, as it were, thanks to yesterday’s accidentally leaked email from Gove’s wife Sarah Vine. Think of her as Claire Blunderwood. The pisser for Boris is that he now can’t even contemplate having Michael beaten up, like he did that troublesome little journalist back in the day, because many people have one eye on the news at the mo and would probably notice. Perhaps there were other signs of uncertainty. Friends of Johnson have spent much of the week briefing that his “private polling” shows he is “the only Tory leadership candidate with enough public support to ensure the Conservatives win the next general election”. Herein, perhaps, lies the paradox of Boris”.

Perceptively she writes that “Front of house, his brand has him as the era’s most off-the-cuff and confidently charismatic politician. Backstage, he was sufficiently insecure and calculating to be running up private polling bills. Alan Clark once remarked snobbishly that the trouble with one colleague “is that he had to buy all his furniture”. I can’t help feeling there is something rather nouveau frit about Johnson having to buy his own polling”.

She makes the point that “So we will now not discover how much of a #massivelegend Johnson is outside his London and Home Counties heartlands. Quite how he’d go over in Sunderland in the event of Hitachi pulling out of the area, for example, must remain a known unknown. His surprise non-running speech played much on the need for unity, for uniting those who came from opposing sides. I don’t know if you’ve read Team of Rivals, but try and picture it with Johnson in the chair instead of Abraham Lincoln. Gove’s statement could scarcely have been more pointed about Johnson’s weakness in this area: “I respect and admire all the candidates running for the leadership. In particular, I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future. But …” Cos you know Michael loves the players. And Boris loves the game. Reading the writing on the wall, perhaps the former London mayor decided he was damned if he was going to play Monopoly to settle for the Community Chest reading: “You have won second prize in a beauty contest.” It remains to be seen how his public – all those wonderful people out there in the dark as to his real nature – will take Johnson’s decision”.

She ends “Where does this leave them? On spying Baldrick, Lord Flashheart declares: “You look like a decent British bloke. I’ll park the old booties on you if that’s OK.” “It would be an honour, my Lord,” replies Baldrick. Hard lines for Britain, then, which will now not be offered the golden opportunity to be Johnson’s bootrest”.

Boris absents himself

13/07/2016

In a dramatic move a report notes that Boris Johnson removed himself from the race to become the future Tory leader and next prime minister, “Boris Johnson has unexpectedly ruled himself out as a candidate for Britain’s next prime minister, after the justice secretary, Michael Gove, sent shockwaves through Westminster with a last-minute bid for the Conservative leadership. Gove had been chairing Johnson’s leadership campaign, after the two men worked shoulder to shoulder in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. But with just hours to go before formal nominations closed at noon on Thursday, Gove announced that he no longer believed Johnson was the right man for the job, and that he would launch his own bid to be the next prime minister. Despite having been the leading public face in the victorious Vote Leave campaign, Johnson quickly concluded he could not command enough support from his party, after a series of key lieutenants, including the business minister Nick Boles and the pro-Brexit MP Dominic Raab, defected to the Gove camp”.

The report notes that “He stuck to plans to hold a mid-morning press conference at a London hotel, and delivered a defiant speech saying Britain should take last week’s Brexit vote as an opportunity to “think globally”, and “lift our eyes to the horizon”. But he concluded by saying he would no longer put his name forward. “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me,” he said, stunning MPs who had assembled to show their support. Johnson’s backers, who had gathered in the hotel to lend their support to the former mayor, appeared shocked by his announcement, after he spent much of his speech setting out a pitch to be a one-nation Tory.“This is not a time to quail, it is not a crisis, nor should we see it as an excuse for wobbling or self-doubt,” Johnson said of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, before he announced he was not planning to stand”.

The report goes on to mention “Gove is now widely regarded as the main rival to Theresa May, the home secretary, who had launched her own campaign earlier on Thursday with a pledge that “Brexit means Brexit”, and that there would be no general election until 2020. The other contenders are the work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, the former defence secretary Liam Fox, and the pro-Brexit energy minister Andrea Leadsom. The first round of voting will take place on 5 July, with the weakest candidate eliminated in successive rounds, until the field is whittled down to two candidates, who will be presented to the Conservatives’ grassroots members. The result will be announced on 9 September. A source close to Johnson said: “He’s proud to have been one of those who led the campaign for Brexit, and he’s absolutely proud that it’s given voice to millions of Britons who have previously felt ignored”.

It adds later that “Gove’s allies said he had had growing doubts about Johnson’s ability to build a future government in recent days, and over how he would manage the complex negotiations that will be required to extricate Britain from the EU. They suggested he lacked the “focus and grip”, to succeed in No 10. Johnson’s backers in parliament suggested the late timing of Gove’s intervention was a long-planned act of treachery. “Anyone can see who has wielded the knife, and how it has been wielded,” a source said. Gove’s statement said: “I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be prime minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me.” He added: “I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.” Ed Vaizey, one of the MPs who attended a meeting with Gove on Thursday morning, said: “He was ready to back Boris; but the closer it got, the harder he thought about it, he thought, it’s not the right person. Follow that through to its conclusion: the logic is, if he doesn’t think Boris can do it, he has to step up to the plate and do it.”

Leadsom pulls out

11/07/2016

Andrea Leadsom has pulled out of the contest to become the next Conservative Party leader and UK PM – with Theresa May now set to succeed David Cameron. Mrs Leadsom said she did not believe she had sufficient support to lead a “strong and stable government”. She also said a nine-week leadership campaign at such a “critical time” for the UK would be “highly undesirable”. The energy minister said Mrs May was “ideally placed” to implement Brexit, and wished her the “greatest success”. A source close to the energy minister told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg “the abuse has been too great” for Mrs Leadsom during the contest”.

“Blair defended his case for going to war in Iraq”

11/07/2016

Former British prime minister Tony Blair defended his case for going to war in Iraq, after a long-awaited report found the 2003 invasion was based on flawed evidence and woefully executed. The hugely anticipated Chilcot report offered a damning verdict on Britain’s role in the US-led war, detailing the flawed intelligence, questionable legal basis and inadequate preparation for the occupation. Britain deployed troops before diplomatic options had been exhausted and at a time when “there was no imminent threat from Saddam Hussein”, the Iraqi leader, the report found. It also highlighted how Blair wrote to US president George W. Bush in July 2002, the year before the invasion, saying: “I will be with you, whatever.”

Francis ducks and dodges

09/07/2016

A piece notes how Francis reaches out to margalised gays but without altering Church teaching, “Pope Francis on Sunday essentially backed a cardinal’s suggestion that Christians owe LGBT persons an apology for past mistreatment or neglect, but suggested apologies are probably in order to other constituencies as well, including the poor, exploited women and divorced families. Francis was speaking in response to a question that linked the call for an LGBT apology to the recent massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub”.

The article adds “The pontiff said gay persons must not be discriminated against, conceding that there are “some traditions and cultures that have a different mentality,” and said apologies are in order whenever there are “people we could have defended and we didn’t.” The suggestion for a mea culpa came from German Cardinal Reinhard Marx, who in a recent speech in Ireland said that both Church and society have treated gay persons poorly and that the Church should say it’s sorry”.

It goes onto mention “On other matters, Pope Francis said on Sunday:

  • Despite a senior Vatican official’s recent suggestion that retired Pope Benedict XVI might be part of an “expanded papacy,” in fact “there’s only one pope,” while praising his predecessor’s “courage” and “intelligence.”
  • On the recent Brexit result, while not directly criticizing the U.K.’s decision to withdraw from the EU, Francis did insist that “brotherhood is better than being enemies or distant” and that “bridges are better than walls.”
  • The pope denied that his recent agreement to create a study commission on women deacons means the Church has “opened the door” to the idea, and said that more important than the “functions” women hold is the Church’s determination to hear their voice.
  • He said that he felt that he used the term “genocide” to describe massacres of Armenians by Turks in 1915 because it’s the term widely used in Argentina, and since he’s used it before, it would be “very strange” not to have done so in Armenia.

Francis made the remarks during a roughly hour-long news conference on the plane flying back to Rome Sunday after a June 24-26 trip to Armenia. During the trip, Francis earned strong applause from Armenians and swift blowback from Turkish officials for using the word “genocide” to describe the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians, in what they claim was a deliberate campaign and Turkey sees as the fallout of a broader war”.

The report notes “The pontiff insisted, however, that he doesn’t use it with “offensive intent” but rather “objectively.” The idea of an expanded papacy came from German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, the personal aide of Benedict XVI, who recently suggested that the papal ministry now includes both an “active” and a “contemplative” dimension in Francis and Benedict. Insisting “there is only one pope,” Francis said that Benedict had promised to be obedient to his successor and “he’s done it.” Laughing, Francis then said he’s heard, without being absolutely sure if it’s true, that some people have gone to Benedict to try to complain about his own leadership, “and in great Bavarian style, he kicked them out!” Noting that he plans to take part in a small event on June 28 marking the 65thanniversary of Benedict’s ordination as a priest, Francis called him a “man of prayer,” “courageous” and “intelligent.” On Brexit, Francis had spoken briefly about the results at the outset of his Armenia trip on Friday, saying only that they reflected the “will of the people” and represented a call to “great responsibility” to work for both the good of the U.K. and the coexistence of European peoples”.

The article mentions that “On Sunday Francis went further, making a distinction between the sort of decolonization that occurred in Latin America and Africa earlier in the century and secessionist movements in Europe today, such as those in Catalonia and Scotland, suggesting that the latter risks becoming a kind of “Balkanization.” While saying he doesn’t know “what the reasons are for which the U.K. wanted to make this choice,” he said that in general he believes “bridges are better than walls.” Francis also said the outcome represents a challenge to the EU to become “more creative and flexible,” including by allowing greater independence to its individual members, and also overcoming problems such as widespread youth unemployment”.

 

“Cameron is the captain who drove HMS Britain onto the rocks”

05/07/2016

A piece argues that Cameron has been able to change the Conservative Party, “This is how a political life ends: with a crash, not a whimper. David Cameron’s place in history is now assured. He is the man who took the United Kingdom out of the European Union. As we wait for the full impact of Thursday’s referendum to be felt, he may be remembered as the prime minister who presided over the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, too. Scottish independence, defeated as an idea just two years ago, is back on the table. Cameron’s ten years as leader of the Conservative party and six as prime minister now boil down to these solitary facts. Nothing else matters; nothing else will be remembered. Cameron gambled everything on one roll of the dice and lost it all”.

The writer goes on to mention “No prime minister in living memory has suffered a defeat of such cataclysmic proportions; none has been so thoroughly humiliated by his own electorate. Cameron lost control of his party and then his country. The consequences of that carelessness will be felt, in Britain and internationally, for years to come. Future political historians will ponder a melancholy question: what was the point of David Cameron? And their judgment is likely to be severe. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Cameron was to be a different kind of Tory, one comfortable with the face and reality of modern Britain. He was elected leader on a modernising platform that stressed the party’s need to change. He would lead a gentler, more inclusive, Conservative party that would be economically conservative but socially liberal. Tax cuts and gay marriage; welfare reform and a marked increase in spending on international aid for the world’s poorest countries. Above all, he insisted, the Tory party would have to stop “banging on” about Europe. The EU, he recognised, was a distraction from more immediate and pressing concerns. Besides, Cameron appreciated that Tory divisions over Europe helped bring about Margaret Thatcher’s demise and crippled John Major’s premiership”.

Pointedly the piece notes “A year ago, Cameron didn’t even expect he would have to honour his party’s platform promise to hold a referendum on EU membership. But that was before he won a surprising majority in last year’s general election. Suddenly he found himself trapped by his own manifesto promises — promises made to placate the Eurosceptics in his own party and see off the threat posed to his right flank by the virulently anti-European UK Independence Party. A referendum would have to be held. Even so, Cameron was confident — or complacent — enough to think winning it would be an easy task. After all, most of the British establishment was firmly in the pro-Europe camp and so, overwhelmingly, was British business. Economic self-interest would surely persuade voters to set aside their concerns about the EU and endorse the status quo. They might not do so with any great measure of enthusiasm but a reluctant vote Remain was all Cameron, and his government, needed”.

Correctly the author makes the point that “if Cameron understood that there was anti-establishment sentiment in his country, he was entirely too confident he could placate it. Cameron’s attempt to win over Euroskeptics by renegotiating the terms of British membership was an embarrassing, even humiliating, flop. He had disastrously misjudged his room to maneuver. Britain was already a semi-detached member of the EU, granted exemptions from the single currency and the common Schengen travel area; there was not much further autonomy for Britain to win within the confines of the EU. Cameron’s attempt to do so was an inevitable failure, and an unforced strategic blunder”.

Centrally he argues “Any remaining hope the Remain side might cruise to a comfortable victory evaporated when Boris Johnson, Cameron’s most probable successor and arguably the most charismatic and popular politician in Britain, declared he would campaign for Leave. Worse still, the temper and character of the times offered Cameron little encouragement. Populism is the currency of the age and “elites” are fair game everywhere. The EU, which has never inspired much enthusiasm in Britain, was easily depicted as an unaccountable undemocratic, and out of touch. More relevantly, though perhaps less fairly, the same held true Cameron, with his privileged background and aristocratic manner. The would-be “One Nation conservative” came to be dismissed by his countrymen as a hapless toff. It did not help matter that all Cameron could offer, in response to the Leave campaign’s promise to “take back control” and restore British parliamentary sovereignty, was a parade of “experts” — ranging from the World Bank and the IMF to Barack Obama — all of whom warned against leaving the EU. Experts, too, are out of fashion in Britain. “We are about democracy, they are about economics” said Johnson, while Michael Gove, a former key Cameron ally turned impassioned Leave campaigner, remarked that “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”. Above all, the Leave campaign concentrated its fire on the issue of immigration. Cameron once promised to cut net inward migration to Britain to less than 100,000 people a year”.

The report notes “Cameron finds himself the laughing-stock of Europe. His reinvention of the Conservative party, reviving it in the aftermath of three shattering election defeats at the hands of Tony Blair, counts for nothing. His party is split in two; his country faces an impossibly uncertain future as the full impact of Thursday’s extraordinary vote begins to be felt. Most of all, Cameron must reflect on the manner in which he lost the confidence of the British people. The roots of this crisis run long and deep but they are connected to the ongoing impact of 2008’s financial crash. The British people have put up with six years of “austerity” government but have never done so enthusiastically”.

Yet this would be true if the Tories had not been re-elected last year. Had they rejected the level of austerity they should have voted for Labour who would have dramatically slowed, if not reduced it. Some mistakenly were enable to see past Ed Miliband’s personality instead of his competence at the job.

The report adds “We used to think Cameron was a lucky politician at his best in a crisis. He had the good fortune to face two Labour leaders — Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband — who were in their different ways almost heroically unpopular. In 2014 he saw off the threat of Scottish independence and, until just a few weeks ago, looked like seeing off the threat of Brexit too. That analysis no longer holds. This plebiscite was a revolt against Westminster just as much as it was an expression of anti-European animus. The British people have tired of the governing officer class and gleefully took the opportunity of kicking Cameron in the shins”.

It ends “The referendum result revealed a picture of a sharply polarized Britain. Older voters voted to Leave while their grandchildren overwhelmingly voted to Remain. Middle-class university graduates voted to Remain but working-class high-school graduates voted to Leave. London and Scotland endorsed the EU, the so-called “heartlands” of “middle England” backed Leave. Britain this morning is a country divided by class and geography as almost never before. That too is part of Cameron’s legacy; the proof of a failed premiership. At some point and eventually, even lucky generals find their good fortune runs out. Cameron has proved no exception to that immutable law of politics. Almost all political lives end in failure but few in quite such a devastating fashion as this. This is a shipwreck and Cameron is the captain who drove HMS Britain onto the rocks. That is his legacy; that is what he will be remembered for. And deservedly so.

Consequences of Brexit

03/07/2016

Long term consequences of Brexit is examined, “The unexpected decision by British voters to leave the European Union in Thursday’s historic referendum is tumbling dominoes around the world, with dire implications for everything from Britain’s political future to Europe’s fragile unity to the retirement plans of older Americans. And with all the uncertainty over just how the crumbling United Kingdom will extricate itself from a 43-year marriage with Brussels, the global contagion looks set to continue for at least two years. The fallout from the referendum — which the “Leave” campaign won by a 52-percent-to-48-percent margin thanks to a surprisingly robust turnout in eurosceptic parts of England — has implications for the U.S. presidential race, the global economy, and the balance of power among the United States, Europe, and Russia”.

The author rightly points out, “In the United States, Donald Trump’s campaign largely mirrors that of the “Leave” proponents, with an emphasis on nativist concerns and working-class angst — and the shocking U.K. result is already acting as a wake-up call to Democrats in the United States. The economic ripples from the vote have battered the British pound and the euro and poleaxed stock markets from Frankfurt to New York. Oil prices are reeling, thanks to fears the exit will usher in a prolonged recession. And key elements of U.S. foreign policy, such as closer trade relationships with the European Union, as well as a unified, trans-Atlantic response to Russian aggression, have now all been thrown by the wayside. “This is the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom,” said Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. British Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum thinking that he could defuse popular anger at Brussels, settle a long-running intra-party feud over Europe, and bolster the Tories’ electoral chances, said Friday that he would step down in the wake of the vote”.

The piece notes “Cameron’s ultimately fatal misjudgment could be good news for Trump, confirming that working-class unhappiness at what they see as a rigged economy and a broken immigration system can fuel a ballot-box revolution. Before Thursday’s vote, polls, betting shops, and talking heads all confidently predicted that British voters would choose to stay in the EU — not unlike nationwide polls confidently predicting that Trump will be demolished in November by Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. “We better get a whole lot better about thinking about the unthinkable,” Heather Conley, the director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said when asked about the possibility of a Trump presidency in the aftermath of the Brexit vote”.

Correctly the writer adds “For Democrats, there are other worrying parallels. The proponents of the “Leave” campaign openly derided expert opinion and indisputable facts about Britain’s economic relationship to Brussels; “Leave” campaigners infamously repeated much-debunked claims about how much money the U.K. sends to Europe, for example, but voters proved impervious to facts. In the United States, Democrats have become increasingly frustrated that Trump’s propensity to exaggerate, falsify, and lie has little or no impact on his appeal to certain parts of the electorate. Demographically, British voters who opted to leave the EU were older and whiter than those who voted to remain; “Little England” voters in the shires of the Midlands and other parts of England outside London voted overwhelmingly to ditch Brussels. That kind of electorate is similar to the older, whiter U.S. voters enthralled by Trump’s nostalgic calls to “Make America Great Again.” Trump himself, on a lightning visit to one of his golf courses in Scotland, cheered the results of the referendum Friday, even though Scottish voters overwhelmingly sought to stay inside the EU”.

The piece mentions “The decision to leave the EU, said Jake Sullivan, Clinton’s senior policy advisor, will hurt American working families. Trump’s cheering the pound’s collapse as good for business merely shows his own self-interest, Sullivan said. But the same forces that propelled the U.K. to leave the EU — the brutalisation of the working class by globalisation; immigration and the migrant crisis; and growing anti-elite sentiment have also propelled Trump to the GOP nomination. Asked whether the Brexit vote might foreshadow a Trump victory, Clinton’s advisers argued on Friday that a U.S. presidential election is very different from a U.K. referendum on EU membership, and that the instability caused by the Brexit will cause voters to seek what Sullivan called Clinton’s “steady hand.” The Clinton campaign’s argument going into November is that the vote will offer a choice between stability and chaos — and that voters will naturally prefer the former and pull the lever for Hillary”.

The writer correctly points out that voters in the US are not certain to vote for Clinton just because of Brexit. He notes under the “economic” heading, “The pound’s bloodletting was matched by a plunging euro, thanks to fears that the Brexit vote will set off a cascade of similar secession moves and further weaken the already reeling economic union. That will make everything that Britain imports — from food to fuel — more expensive than it was Thursday morning. By midday Friday, both currencies had made up some of their losses, though they remained in the red even after British officials pledged to intervene in currency markets. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also urged the Group of 7 industrialized countries to take “whatever steps necessary” to stabilize the key international currencies. Around the world, global stock indices got hammered. In London, the blue-chip FTSE 100 fell 3 percent; other British indices fell twice that. The Dow fell off a cliff in the morning, down 500 points, and remained there in midday trading. The German DAX dropped almost 7 percent, Japan’s Nikkei fell almost 8, and Shanghai shed more than 1 percent”.

One of the few upsides, the writer points out is that “One of the key objectives of the administration of President Barack Obama, an ambitious trade pact with what was a 28-nation economic bloc, is now up in the air. And that goes double for any U.S.-U.K. trade deal. In April, during a visit to London, Obama said the U.K. would move to the “back of the queue” in any trade deal if the Brexit occurred”.

He makes the valid point that, “Even with an eventual trade deal, Britain’s economic prospects look bleaker. Scotland won’t likely remain part of the British economy, for starters: Scottish nationalist leaders said Friday that they will call another referendum on Scottish independence in the wake of the EU vote, since Scots overwhelmingly wanted to remain in the 28-nation body. Northern Ireland, which also voted to remain, has hinted at a similar move. Even some in the city of London itself, the bastion of the “Remain” vote inside England, are toying with the idea of seceding from the U.K. And there are knock-on effects for plenty of countries in the EU. About 1 million Poles live and work in the U.K., for example, and it’s not clear if they’ll need to return home and try to find new jobs if the British decision ultimately ends free movement of European citizens across borders. Hundreds of thousands of other EU citizens, from Lithuanians to Spaniards, also live and work in the U.K. and may have to pack up as well”.

On the point of EU and Russia foreign policy implications he posits, “For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth from Lambeth to Leith, plenty of people were openly celebrating Britain’s farewell to Europe: authoritarians of all stripes. Sergey Sobyanin, the mayor of Moscow, said that “without Great Britain in the EU, no one will so zealously defend the sanctions against us.” Others, like the Kremlin’s small-business ombudsman Boris Titov, enthused over the “Leave” victory. “It seems it has happened — UK out!!!” he wrote on Facebook. Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, underscored how the vote weakens the European Union, especially as it tries to come to grips with an expansionist Russia. “Putin benefits from a weaker Europe. UK vote makes EU weaker. It’s just that simple,” McFaul wrote on Twitter. For Washington, the U.K. has long offered a like-minded state inside the European Union that could help advance its own foreign policy goals. Even after Thursday’s vote, U.S. politicians vowed that the special ties forged between Britain and the United States in World War II will continue. Speaking in Ireland on Friday, Vice President Joe Biden conceded that the United States hoped for a different outcome, but he said that the “special relationship” between London and Washington would continue”.

He ends “Conley, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Washington’s gaze will now increasingly shift to the real center of power inside Europe, Germany, to the growing detriment of Britain’s global role. “When it comes to matters of Europe, we have looked to Berlin with increasing frequency,” she said. “When the president wants something, he calls Berlin.”

The party of Brexit

01/07/2016

Following the vote of the UK to leave the EU, Brexit, an article in the Guardian reports that the Conservative Party is now the party of Brexit, “ow different defeat feels in practice. Before the referendum David Cameron was consistent in his formula: the vote was not a test of his leadership or of his tenancy of No 10. Should he lose, he would continue to govern, providing the continuity and experience that the nation would require as it exited from the maze of the EU. There was a cool rationality to this argument, typical of the man and his distaste for drama. Those around him were ready to fight a confidence vote and believed they had sufficient numbers to prevail in such a test of his position. As collateral, they already had a letter to the PM signed by more than 80 Tory Brexiters urging him to stay on, even if he lost the referendum. At the very least, this would give Cameron – and his party – a breathing space to consider their options”.

The author writes “in the pitiless light of day, the plan collapsed like Dracula turning to ash in a sunbeam. In December 2005, the new Tory leader rebranded his party as “Cameron Conservatives”: compassionate, modernising, no longer “banging on” about Europe, green by inclination (Steve Hilton replaced the party’s torch logo with a tree), and supposedly at ease in contemporary Britain. This morning it became overwhelmingly clear that the party now belongs to the Brexiters and that the era of Cameron Conservatives is over. For now, the voters do not want to hear about pluralism, global interdependence, the complexity of modern society, or the difficulty of striking the right balance in migration policy”.

The writer goes on to make the point that people “want “control” – which is another way of saying that they want, and expect, the results that, in their opinion, the political elite has woefully failed to provide. How, to put it more crudely, could the defeated leader of the remain campaign preside over the negotiations to get out of Europe, and what would the leading Brexiters be doing while he got on with it? David Davis and others had tried to negotiate potential compromises in the past month. But there was no sense in a new government in which all the kinetic energy belonged to the victorious leave camp but the crucial actions were delegated to the very man it had defeated. Cameron had fought, as he admitted in Downing Street, with “head, heart and soul” to stay in the EU but been answered with “an instruction that must be delivered” to bring about precisely the opposite. There would have been no dignity in this – effectively, a return to coalition government but, in this case, an alliance between two wings of the same party”.

The piece ends with the writer noting “I will not say of Cameron that nothing became his career like the ending of it. More than Gordon Brown, he was the first prime minister to feel the unmitigated wrath of the electorate post-crash, amplified by social media, oxygenated by a broader contempt for elites of all kinds. The Brexiters will soon discover that the flames they fanned are not easily controlled. But that is a theme we shall address fully in due course. For now, let us say that Cameron made errors, but his record is not the litany of disaster that some obituarists are already claiming. He held the coalition together for five years and returned his party to government with a majority for the first time in 23 years. He pursued the austerity in practice that Alistair Darling had promised in theory: such decisions, by definition, are harsh and unpopular. Does anyone imagine that the Brexiters will be kinder? No government can sustain a rival government in its ranks. It must concede defeat, or destroy the pretender. Cameron knew the latter option was not open to him, and had the guts to follow where the implacable logic led. Better than most, he knows what lies ahead and how expectations of change, unmet by those who promise it, can compound anger faster than we imagine. As he reached the end of his speech, his voice broke. He yearned to weep, but I do not think his tears were principally for himself”.

Trying to oust Corbyn as Labour disintegrates

01/07/2016

After the UK vote to leave the EU, the leader of the Labour Party is rightly being blamed for the disaster, “Labour MPs are preparing to launch a bruising leadership contest that will aim to topple leader Jeremy Corbyn after he reacted to an overwhelming vote of no confidence by declaring he had no intention to resign. Politicians want Angela Eagle, who has stepped down as shadow business secretary, or Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, to agree about which of them will trigger the challenge if their leader continues to hold on in the face of massive hostility. MPs backing Eagle were on Tuesday night collecting names of colleagues who were prepared to nominate her in order to start a contest, but Watson supporters were calling for calm, insisting that Corbyn could yet stand down”.

The report mentions “The Labour leader has so far held on despite a dramatic and destabilising coup attempt, started at the weekend, which has now seen two-thirds of his shadow cabinet step down, as well as 28 shadow ministers and 11 private parliamentary secretaries. More than three-quarters of Labour MPs – 172 – voted to show that they had no confidence in his leadership, while 40 voted for him. Corbyn responded by issuing a warning that he had the support of Labour members, and that he was going nowhere. “I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60% of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning. Today’s vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy,” he said”.

The report goes on to mention “His allies said the only way to take Corbyn on would be for another MP to collect the 51 nominations of MPs and MEPs needed to start a contest, warning that he would stand and that they believed he would win. The standoff marks the start of a potentially bitter battle for the heart of the Labour party that will pitch MPs and local government leaders against pro-Corbyn members and trade unionists. David Ward said John Smith, the previous leader for whom he was chief of staff, had told him that any leader would have to resign after a vote of no confidence. “You cannot survive,” he said, arguing that it was the only mechanism in the party to force a leader out. Corbyn’s support among members is the reason that Labour MPs, desperate to oust him, want just one candidate to stand against him. People who were being talked about as potential contenders, including Dan Jarvis and Lisa Nandy, have now ruled themselves out of the contest”.

It adds “Eagle and Watson are now seen as the only two realistic possibilities. Jess Phillips MP echoed the view of dozens of her colleagues that the pair had to make a decision about who would run. “The party has to agree on one person. Just like Jeremy, people in the PLP should put aside any personal ambition and instead agree on one candidate who can save the party for the sake of the country,” she said. The former shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, who was one of the first major resignations, urged Corbyn to give up: “This is a very clear result and if Jeremy is to show any leadership quality at all he must now reflect and respond to this overwhelming and unprecedented indication from the parliamentary labour party which includes all wings and all groupings.” Sources suggested that while Eagle’s team had been busily collecting names, Watson’s preferred action was to hold tight and wait for Corbyn to step down voluntarily after experiencing the reality of running an opposition with such a thin frontbench”.

It goes on to note that “Although the Labour leader has replaced most shadow cabinet positions, it will struggle to fill many of the vacancies, while he will have to face a parliamentary committee on Wednesday to discuss the confidence vote. On Tuesday night he emailed members of his party’s national policy forum to cancel a meeting in Nottingham this weekend, arguing that the result of the EU referendum meant it would be undemocratic to discuss policy options. He promised to put the party on a “war footing” in case of an early general election after the Tory leadership contest is decided in September. The prospect of an election is what has triggered the action against Corbyn and comes as a leaked poll commissioned by the party revealed that over one in four (27%) of Labour voters was less likely to vote for the party following the referendum campaign in which 214 Labour MPs called on people to vote to remain in the EU. The YouGov survey said 11% were more likely to back Labour. Corbyn is determined to keep going because of a philosophical belief that it is Labour members that should control the party and not its MPs. On Monday he weathered an explosive meeting of the PLP in which he was repeatedly begged to resign, and told by his former Scottish secretary to “call off the dogs” after pro-Corbyn supporters began protesting outside his constituency office”.

It concludes “The Labour leader left the meeting and then headed into Parliament Square to address thousands of supporters, organised by the grassroots movement Momentum, in a move that infuriated MPs. One told the Guardian that the move had increased the scale of the no-confidence vote, which was followed by further resignations, including that of shadow communities minister Liz McInnes, who had spoken up for Corbyn in the meeting.“It is clear his behaviour last night in whipping up a rally of largely non-Labour members and his refusal to accept any blame for the referendum defeat turned off a number of colleagues from the left who were considering abstaining or voting for him,” said the politician, who also argued that there was deep anger about the perception that Corbyn had not tried hard enough to mobilise Labour voters during the referendum campaign. Corbyn’s team strongly deny that charge, pointing to several speeches and regular media appearances. MPs have argued that Corbyn would struggle to secure enough nominations, but the leader’s advisers believe that he would be automatically placed on the ballot. Legal advice leaked to the Guardian does conclude that he would be able to run again without any set number of MPs backing him, but sources say that the party’s national executive committee has commissioned a separate piece of work that has the opposite finding”.

“European leaders are likely to favour as amicable a settlement as possible”

29/06/2016

A piece notes that after Brexit, the talks, despite minor tensions will be resolved cordially in the interests of all, “There has been no single official response by the European Union to the U.K.’s decision last week to vote in favour of leaving the bloc. Instead, we’ve seen a flurry of mixed and competing messages – a sort of good cop-bad cop routine, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pounding on the table and German Chancellor Angela Merkel asking Britain to take a few deep breaths and think. Toughest of all have been leaders of the EU’s institutions. Negotiations for exit must start immediately, argued Juncker, alongside European Parliament President Martin Schulz – Europe can’t be held hostage to an equivocating Britain. Seeing a chance to make a power grab, high-profile European parliamentarians – such as former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt – have, too, demanded a speedy departure and pressed for a seat at the Brexit negotiating table alongside representatives from the 27 EU member states”.

The author mentions that “By contrast, the member states themselves, and their leaders in particular, have been much more guarded. Belgian and Italian officials argued for speeding up divorce proceedings at a meeting of national diplomats last weekend, but they were in a minority. Most agreed to proceed with caution. Merkel, in particular, has warned against any anti-British backlash. Europe’s pragmatic national leaders are likely to prevail over the EU true believers in Brussels. All may have been irritated over the years at the U.K.’s prickly relationship with the EU, and its departure from the union will force all remaining member states to think long and hard about how they can renew their cooperation. But none of that’s a reason to expect an ugly divorce. A popular view in Brussels, and in some national capitals, is that ever since the U.K. joined the Common Market in 1973 it has vetoed ambitious projects of continental integration, leaving the EU weaker and more divided. The U.K.’s exit is, for these Machiavellian federalists, a golden opportunity to take the EU in a different direction, to advance their project of “ever closer union,” involving deeper fiscal union and the launching of new pan-European institutions like a European army. But to take advantage of this chance, they believe, they must move quickly – hence the hostility to Britain’s dallying”.

The writer makes the point, “There is also the fear that the referendum result may not stick, and so negotiations on Brexit must start before the U.K. has a chance to change its mind. Options for backing out are already being floated by some from the “Remain” camp. And a cold-feet reversal wouldn’t be as radical as it appears. After all, the EU has ignored referendums in the past: The Irish were asked to vote again after rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and the French and Dutch voted against the constitutional treaty in 2005, only to see it reappear virtually unchanged in the form of the Lisbon Treaty a few years later. Most recently, Greeks overwhelmingly rejected a bailout deal in 2015, but their prime minister signed off on a worse one shortly afterward. But this attitude falls on deaf ears in many national capitals, and member states will have the final say on how to deal with the U.K. Among national leaders, the prevailing belief is that the block must proceed with caution when formulating its response to the U.K. referendum. This stems from the realization that the U.K.’s vote is not an isolated event, but connected with wider European politics”.

Crucially he makes the point that “Experienced politicians, such as Merkel, view the political meltdown taking place in the U.K. with great concern. The fallout from the Brexit vote has revealed the fragility of the British government’s authority and how weak mainstream political parties in the U.K. have become. For Merkel, who has made the center-ground in German politics her own, or for embattled leaders like Matteo Renzi in Italy and François Hollande in France, events in Britain are a sobering reminder of their own domestic political struggles. Renzi recently lost mayoral elections in Rome and Turin to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, and his political future looks more uncertain than ever. Hollande leads a Socialist Party that has lost much of its support among working-class French voters, just like the British Labour Party has. The French political establishment will take the success of the U.K. Independence Party in the EU referendum as a warning about the chances of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in next year’s presidential elections”.

He concludes “In some ways, other EU member states are in more of a bind than the U.K. Since the U.K. does not use the single currency, its vote to leave the EU is complicated but achievable. For eurozone countries, exit is almost unimaginable. Faced as they are with deep domestic discontent, governments in the eurozone share many of the U.K.’s problems but have fewer options available to deal with them. And the already fragile and stagnant eurozone is hardly in a fit state to withstand the economic shock of Brexit. Shares of Southern European banks, for instance, took a dramatic hit after the Brexit result was announced and many eyes are on Portugal and Italy”.

Correctly he ends “For these reasons, the good cops are likely to win out: When negotiations around Brexit do begin, they are likely to be orderly and reasonable. There will be no excessive generosity, given that the remaining EU member states want to discourage their populations from arguing for a similar in/out referendum. But a hostile set of negotiations driven by a desire to punish the U.K. are also very unlikely. After all, voters in France, Germany, Italy, and elsewhere across Europe are angry with their own politicians, whom they consider remote and self-serving. They are far less preoccupied with punishing the U.K., a sentiment that belongs to disappointed Eurocrats more than it does to European citizens. What these citizens are concerned about is the dire economic performance of their economies, one which acrimonious negotiations with the U.K. would not help. Concerned about the impact of Brexit on the eurozone, European leaders are likely to favour as amicable a settlement as possible, where the economic interests of all concerned are accommodated”.

He finishes “As befits a bloc made up of national governments whose politicians are acutely aware of the fragility of their own authority, the response to the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU has so far been muted. The nastier and more jubilant responses have come from those parts of the EU that are more isolated from the realities of national politics – from the European Commission and the European Parliament. The sense of opportunity felt by Euro-federalists does not extend much beyond the Brussels bubble, and it is certainly not shared by governments in national capitals. There, the feeling is more one of a generalised political crisis that needs to be managed carefully if it is not to engulf the EU as a whole. The EU’s future rests upon its national governments being able to contain growing voter dissatisfaction with mainstream political establishments. This is the greatest challenge for the EU, and one that means European leaders will continue to tread very carefully over the next few weeks”.