Monday, November 27, 2017

THE DOWNFALL OF DAVID CAMERON: A CONSIDERED VIEW NINETEEN MONTHS LATER

"David Cameron listed many of the achievements of his six years in office as he stood in Downing Street on the day after June’s historic EU referendum. These included rebuilding the economy after the financial crisis and legislating to allow gay marriage. But the grim reality for the departing British prime minister is that he will forever be remembered as the man who took his country out of the EU. It is an ironic epitaph for a politician who once vowed to stop his party from “banging on about Europe”, the issue that has haunted the Conservatives since Margaret Thatcher’s reign. It is an unfortunate one, too, given that he is the most successful leader of the Tories in decades, returning them to power in 2010 after a long spell in the wilderness. But as with the ill-fated Anthony Eden, who resigned after the 1956 Suez crisis, the manner of Mr Cameron’s going is likely to be remembered far more than any other aspect of his time in office. In many ways, it is right this should be the case: for Europe is the issue that has dogged his premiership above all others and on which he has failed to master his party."
James Blitz, "David Cameron pays the price of tactical failure: The PM’s biggest challenge was always going to be Europe". The Financial Times. 12 July 2016, in www.ft.com.
"The key reason why Cameron's premiership becomes so dominated by Europe is down to the Conservative Party itself and the rise of UKIP. Hague anticipates how difficult the party might be, but Cameron is caught off guard by the strength of feeling on the issue....Cameron is infuriated with his backbench Eurosceptics. They gave him no credit earlier in the year for negotiating Britain out of the European Financial Stability Mechanism....The chief whip Patrick McLoughlin is confronted by a spectrum of opponents, from ultras like Cash to those who have said in their election literature they favored a referendum."
Anthony Seldon & Peter Snowdon. Cameron at 10: The inside Story, 2010-2015. (2015), pp. 168-169.
The Tory party is run by five people….And they all treat their followers with disdain, they are mostly Etonians and Eton is good for disdain”.
Anthony Sampson. Anatomy of Britain. (1962), p. 89.
Reading the Seldon & Snowdon book (hereafter 'Seldon') is a very strange experience. The book itself was completed in August 2015, which places it a few months after the Tory Party's election victory in the May 2015 elections and of course ten-months prior to the British electorate's self-immolation via way of Brexit. Reading the book now, has the odd aspect of looking at the journal entries of a martial couple's salad days prior to said couple's unexpected and immediate breakup. The authors and those who the authors interviewed (all of the major personages it seems), are all of course oblivious of the coming debacle of late June 2016. And while there are glimpses here and there that the upcoming European Union referendum will be a less than pleasant hurdle to climb for then Prime Minister Cameron, et. al., it is readily assumed that having won the AV referendum of 2012 and the Scottish referendum of 2014, that there is no possible reason why Cameron will not emerge once again on top. The book does delve a great deal into the tensions in the Tory Party over Europe. A topic that it is fairly clear, that then Prime Minister Cameron had a limited amount of interest in. It is certainly apparent that Cameron's de haut en bas view of the United Kingdom Independence Party, was easily transferable to the 'Euro-skeptics' in the Tory Party as well. "Swivel-eyed loons" just about does it for both groups from Cameron's perspective 1. Which is not to gainsay the fact (which the book discusses at length) that Cameron was uneasy with aspects of the European Union and the EU project. It is merely the case, that Cameron feels (correctly in my opinion) that: a) the European Union was and is to a limited extent reformable from the 'inside'; b) that the United Kingdom exiting the European Union at that stage of the game (after 43 years of membership) is a 'cure' which is worse than the disease that said cure is supposed to remedy. Something which the subsequent negotiations between the European Union and the Theresa May government are showing more and more to be very much the case 2. Reading this book carefully provides readers (or at least this reader) with the whys of David Cameron's defenestration in June of 2016: au fond Cameron was politically speaking a 'trimmer' in the sense that Stanley Baldwin or (to a degree) Harold Macmillan could be said to be trimmers. The difference being that while Baldwin and Macmillan were highly experienced politicians when they became Prime Ministers, this was hardly the case with Cameron. Also, unlike these two and in particular Baldwin, Cameron failed to effectively hide his distaste for his parliamentary back benchers. Whatever Baldwin's dislike for the Tory Right-wingers in his Conservative Party, he (mostly) kept his opinion to himself. Something that Cameron for a variety of reasons was never able to do. But then again Baldwin was a Harrovian (like Churchill) rather than an Etonian. Also neither Baldwin or Macmillan ever made the mistake of informing the electorate that he was going to retire three to four years prior to doing so `a la Cameron in the Spring of 2015. Indeed, if nothing else this horrible promise provides every explanation as to why Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would jump ship and come out for Brexit when they did in the late winter of 2015-2016. And sans Johnson and Gove it is difficult to imagine that Brexit would ever have a chance in winning the referendum. In short, Cameron's ultimate failure in office is that as a politician, he was a pure tactician whose tactical skills failed him on his last try (or in fact referendum). Which in retrospect is a great pity, since notwithstanding all my disagreements with some of his policies (such as homosexual marriage), David Cameron was by any measurement a first-class politician and a very good Prime Minister. Certainly head and shoulders above his benighted successor.
1. "David Cameron ally: Tory activists are mad, swivel-eyed loons". The Guardian. 17 May 2013. In www.guardian.com.
2. Andrew Lilico, "Get ready for a no deal Brexit". Reaction. 12 October 2017, in www.reaction.life.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

THE COMING BREXIT DEBACLE: A COMMENT.

"It is highly likely that the Brexit negotiations will fail, imposing an abrupt shock on the UK economy and ruining relations with its neighbours. This view is condemned by those who insist we must be more positive. That is like advising someone who has just jumped off a building that, if only he thought positively, he could fly. To understand the state we are now in we need to understand the zombie ideas that hold so many Brexiters in their grip. The first such idea is that the EU is being unreasonable in insisting that the broad terms of the divorce (if not the details) are settled before moving on to transitional arrangements. David Davis, who is in charge of the negotiations for the UK, complained to the House of Commons that “they are using time pressure to see if they can get more money out of us. Bluntly that’s what is going on — it’s obvious to anybody.” Indeed, it is. Stop complaining: that is what strong parties do. A linked zombie idea is that the UK is really in a stronger position than the EU, because it runs a trade deficit with it. But, even in goods, UK exports to the EU are three times more important to the UK’s economy than vice versa (7.5 per cent of gross domestic product against 2.5 per cent). Even without the UK, the EU remains the second-largest economy in the world, with an economy almost six times bigger, at market prices, in 2016. The UK is negotiating with an economic superpower. How does that feel? Just ask the Canadians, now negotiating with the US over the North American Free Trade Agreement".
Martin Wolf, "Zombie ideas about Brexit that refuse to die". The Financial Times. 19 October 2017, in www.ft.com.
"Even “no deal” would not mean no trade with EU countries. We have lots of options – even without a formal trade deal with the EU. Business, industry, and people’s livelihoods are at stake here, but unfortunately this bunch do not seem to care about any of this. They care just about making ridiculous headlines. The latest comments from Tusk come on the heels of the European Council summit, where it seemed tentative steps were made towards progressing negotiations onto trade talks. Now we have the use of words like defeat and victory, which have been studiously avoided in negotiations so far. This inflammatory and contradictory language displays just how fickle the EU leaders can be – and how far negotiations have to go. There is plenty of time for EU leaders to delay and frustrate these talks and return to their more usual belligerent tone. The EU needs to stop playing games with the livelihoods of millions on either side of the Channel. Unless the EU gets real’, they risk creating a no deal scenario which will do far more damage to them than to us".
Jayne Adye, "The EU must stop playing games over Brexit". Reaction. 24 October 2017, in www.reaction.life
The chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, Mr. Martin Wolf is of course correct. And the egregiously naive or ill-informed Mrs. Adye is incorrect in assuming that (in her words): "a no deal scenario...will do far more damage to them [the European Union] than to us" 1. As Mr. Wolf cogently and ably points out, the statistics clearly show that the United Kingdom depends three-times as much on trade with the European Union than the European Union does with the United Kingdom. Already there have been plenty of noises coming out from the big Banks and other large companies who use their UK businesses as a platform to export to the rest of the European Union, that sans some sort of mutually agreed road map in place by no later than late this year or early next (say April 2018), then these businesses will commence making plans to move operations out of the United Kingdom rather than take the risk of a 'hard Brexit' or a no-deal Brexit occurring 2. As the pro-Brexit, but realistic Spectator columnist James Forsyth recently commented: "The EU knows that time is on its side. The two-year Article 50 clock strengthen its hand so it is happy to see it tick down" 3. The fact of the matter is that unless and until Prime Minister May makes a firm decision to seek the very best agreement with Brussels that will inevitably involve compromises that not everyone will like in her party, then there is a great risk of there not being an agreement in time to meet the deadline of the end of March 2019. And leave no doubt, for that deadline to be anywhere near approaching without the United Kingdom securing an agreement with the European Union will result in a catastrophic economic slide in the United Kingdom economy, based merely on the uncertainty. The fact is as the commentator Allan Massie recently & correctly noted:
"Mrs May became Prime Minister for an honourable reason : the Queen’s Government must be carried on. It may be also that she is, honourably again, attempting to secure a compromise: a soft Brexit which will enable us to retain many of the advantages of membership of the EU while freeing us of some of the unwelcome burdens. Such a compromise might well be in the national interest, but it will not satisfy the nationalist zealots. She cannot however draw back because even to hint at doing so would inflame the passions of those who believed that “Leave means Leave”. Yet to satisfy these passions and make the clean break – taking the “No Deal” option – will leave the 48 percent who voted Remain variously dismayed, aggrieved and angry. The truth is that there is no General Will. No outcome will please everybody. Every outcome will be felt as a betrayal by millions. We cannot go back to where we were before the politicians supinely chose not to abide by the principles of representative democracy and surrendered their judgement to the people who had elected them to exercise that judgement. So we are in a mess, confusion worse confounded. The best we can hope for is a very British fudge, a Brexit that satisfies nobody, but one that fools most of the people long enough to allow passions to subside 4."
A 'very British fudge' will be infinitely better than a no-deal or hard Brexit. That is a mere fact of life.
1. Jayne Adye, op. cit.
2. See a statement last week from Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, in: Martin Arnold & George Packard, "Blankfein heaps pressure on May over Brexit as he praises Frankfurt". The Financial Times. 19 October 2017, in www.ft.com.
3.James Forsyth, "The plots thicken". The Spectator. 14 October 2017, in www.spectator.co.uk.
4. Allan Massie, "A Brexit to please nobody". Reaction. 25 November 2017, in www.reaction.life.

Friday, October 06, 2017

'HOMAGE TO CATALONIA' REDIVIVUS?

"This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workman. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Sen~or' or 'Don' ort even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' or 'Thou', and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos dias'. Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no 'well-dressed' people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some ways I did not not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also, I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers' State and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed or voluntarily come over to the workers' side; I did not realise that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being".
George Orwell. Homage to Catalonia. Revised Edition. (2010), pp. 6-7.
"Catalonia’s referendum belongs to a very different category. It lacks legal validity and political legitimacy. In their response to the gathering storm, Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, and his ruling Popular party have been cack-handed at best. They have unnecessarily alienated many Catalans and been sluggish and unimaginative. After the crisis erupted in 2010, when Spain’s constitutional court struck down parts of a new statute of autonomy for Catalonia, Madrid let several opportunities for talks go to waste. However, none of this makes the Spanish state the tyrannical ogre that inhabits the fantasies of Catalan separatists. There is a world of difference between the abuses committed against Catalonia under Francisco Franco, the dictator who died in 1975, and the extensive self-government and individual freedom that the region and its people have enjoyed for the past four decades. Catalan nationalists purport to speak in the name of the whole people. It is a baseless claim. In truth, the separatists are driving forward a radical agenda that deeply divides Catalonian society. This will be evident on Sunday. Large numbers of voters will refuse to take part in the referendum because they regard it, correctly, as illegal and because they do not support secession from Spain. Mr Rajoy has the right, indeed the absolute duty, to uphold the law. But his government would be wise to display restraint in coming days, so as not to play into the secessionists’ hands and create a roll-call of martyrs. At some stage, a fresh dialogue must start between Madrid and the Catalan authorities. Yet it must be on the basis of the rule of law. The separatists are treating this principle in the most flagrantly high-handed manner."
Leader. "Catalan secessionism is bad for Spain and Europe". The Financial Times. 29 September 2017, in www.ft.com.
One does not have to be a sympathizer with the idiocy of Catalan nationalism: the ultimate in a cause in search of a country, to realize that Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy made a fundamental mistaken, an erratum by sending in the police to endeavor to stop last week's referendum from taking place. Instead of giving the appearance of masterly inactivity by studiously ignoring the 'referendum' and its 'results', Rajoy played in to the worst fantasies of arch-Catalan nationalists by trying by the employment of force to stop the idiotic voting exercise. Once again: one does not have to be an adherent of Catalan nationalism or small nation nationalism per se, to make the determination that the employment of even a limited amount of force to stop a peaceful if wrong-headed political farce was absolutely the wrong way to proceed in this matter by the authorities in Madrid. Now of course the fat is really in the fire and now the ball is most definitely in the court of the authorities in Barcelona unfortunately. As the British commentator Allan Massie (no friend to Catalan Nationalism) stated earlier this week, that Rajoy would have been well advised to have borrowed the script employed by the former British Prime Minister David Cameron when the latter had to deal with the equally idiotic Scottish referendum three years ago:
"The Unionist case during the campaign was led by Scottish politicians. Mr Cameron made it clear that he hoped Scotland would vote “no”, and his Government pointed out that an independent Scotland would not get everything the Nationalists wanted. In particular It could not share a common currency with the rest of the UK. By and large however the argument was conducted within Scotland by Scottish politicians on Scottish terms. In short no legal obstacles were erected against the Nationalists.They were given their head, conducting the Referendum on their own terms; and they lost. If Mr Cameron had been less accommodating, they might have won. If he had acted as Mr Rajoy has, tens, perhaps hundreds,of thousands of Scots would have been converted to the cause of Independence. So if Mr Rajoy had called him, Mr Cameron might have said, “cool down – give them enough rope and let them hang themselves" 1.
1. Allan Massie, "Mr Rajoy needs some referendum lessons from David Cameron". Reaction. 3 October 2017 in www.reaction.life.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

MERKEL'S DEBACLE: A COMMENT

"Angela Merkel has won her fourth term as German chancellor but saw a sharp fall in support for her conservative Christian Democrat-led alliance and advances by the country’s far-right populist party. Her win was marred by her party’s worst election result since 1949 and a bigger-than-expected success for her nationalist opponents — the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany. The AfD capitalised on Germany’s refugee crisis and will surge into the Bundestag as the first substantial rightwing populist party since the second world war. Turnout was more than 76 per cent compared with 71.5 per cent in 2013. Ms Merkel put a brave face on the result, saying she had wanted “a better” outcome but that her CDU bloc remained “the strongest force” and would lead the next government. AfD supporters were jubilant. Alexander Gauland, a party leader, pledged to “hunt” Ms Merkel in parliament and said: “We will take our people and our country back.” The Social Democrats, Ms Merkel’s coalition partner, suffered their worst defeat and said they would go into opposition. Martin Schulz, the SPD leader, said it was “a difficult and bitter day for German social democracy”. Official results published on Monday by the federal returning officer gave Ms Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc 33 per cent of the vote. The Social Democrats won just 20.5 per cent. The AfD secured 12.6 per cent. Under Germany’s election system, the parliament will have 709 members compared with 631 during the last session. The AfD is set for 94 seats".
Stefan Wagstyl, Guy Chazan & Tobias Buck, "Merkel wins fourth term but far-right populists make gains". The Financial Times. 25 September 2017, in www.ft.com
"For you, Frau Merkel, ze war is over. Or, to put it another way, the endgame is just beginning. The most crassly inflated reputation in global politics took a beating in the German elections just concluded, as Angela Merkel’s CDU/SPD was punished by voters. Merkel is now so toxic that Martin Schulz, leader of the spectacularly humiliated SPD, claims he wants to go into opposition rather than rejoin the Grand Coalition that led Germany into cultural and demographic meltdown".
Gerald Warner, "Even Germany has now joined the populist revolt against the political class". Reaction. 25 September 2017, in www.reaction.life
As predicted and written up here back in 2015, Angela Merkel's folly in re the refugee crisis has been (inevitably) followed by Merkel's electoral debacle. Pur et simple. That of course and in general her noticeable drift to the left of the ideological prism in the past four years. However it is doubtful that the CDU-CSU bloc would have suffered its greatest electoral results in the history of the Federal Republic sans Merkel's insane refugee policy 1. A policy which was and is completely senseless and illogical. And which the German Chancellor still defends against all reason and rationality 2. Au fond, Merkel of course is not a conservative and that fact explains her flight of fancy which lead to her disaster of a refugee policy. What seemed both at the time and in retrospect particularly egregious is that while she has for the most part been willing to keep in step with German public opinion as per how to resolve the financial crisis. Something which has been millstone around the necks of most countries in the Eurozone, she has been as we see completely willing to buck German public opinion as per her refugee policy. Were that it were otherwise: courage in combating the financial crisis and realism and intelligence in handling the refugee crisis. As per the latter: to argue (as many of our bien-pensant commentators would have us believe), that German (or British or American) public opinion on such highly emotional matters can be ignored is the height of irrealism. As Ludwig von Rochau, the inventor of the concept of Realpolitik once aptly put it in his opus:
"Even if stupid prejudice or blindfold error weigh heavier than truth in the stable of public opinion [government], may if it is reasonable, not exactly follow prejudice and error blindfold, but give in at least a little and as much as possible so as to not make enemies of these forces" 3.
1. Judy Dempsey, "Merkel’s Bittersweet Victory". Carnegie Europe. 25 September 2017, in www.carnegieeurope.eu
2. For this see: Stefan Wagstyl,"Merkel admits she has ‘polarised’ Germany as grip on power weakens". The Financial Times. 25 September 2017, in www.ft.com.
2. Rochau quoted in: John Bew. Realpolitik: A history. (2016), pp. 40-41.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WHAT TO DO ABOUT 'THE LAST DICTATORSHIP IN EUROPE'?

"Mr. Lukashenka has created a repressive dictatorship on the doorstep of the European Union (EU) and NATO. Unlike any other leader in Europe, his actions impede realization of a Europe whole, free and at peace, and introduce an element of unpredictability and potential instability and insecurity in Europe. Through his track record of fraudulent elections; state-orchestrated "disappearances" of opponents; imprisonment of peaceful, democratic political figures on spurious charges; and repressive tactics to intimidate civil society, Lukashenka has demonstrated that he is incapable of leading Belarus toward a democratic future. Furthermore, as Belarus’ self-imposed isolation intensifies, Lukashenka is increasingly seeking partners from other states of concern".
Department of State, "Report on Belarus, the Last Dictatorship in Europe, Including Arms Sales and Leadership Assets". 16 March 2006, in www.state.gov
"Minsk has been testing the limits of how far it can distance itself from Moscow and rebuild relations with the West, which were frozen between 2010 and 2016. Belarus has released its political prisoners and sought to engage with the European Union, while rejecting Russian demands for an airbase and staying neutral in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. However, Lukashenka and Vladimir Putin seemed to patch up most of their differences at a summit in St Petersburg in April 2017. So how much has really changed between Belarus and Russia? How real have the tensions been? How far is Lukashenka able to turn to the West, and is he really interested in doing so? The key to answering all of these questions is to understand that Lukashenka is still a dictator and his priority is his own survival....There is a modest opportunity for Europe to bring Belarus closer, both in terms of strategic alignment and in pushing for democratisation. Europe should embrace Belarus’s efforts to strengthen its external sovereignty and to pursue a policy of ‘strategic hedging’ and avoid steps that would increase its dependence on Russia. There are constituencies within the administration that see the advantages of moving towards the West, but which also recognise the realities of how far Belarus can go. European states should accept Minsk’s invitation to send military observers to Belarus for Zapad 2017. The invitation provides a degree of transparency but is also a manifestation of Belarus’s sovereignty (given Moscow’s displeasure with this move). An overall deepening of military ties, through military-to-military cooperation and exchange programmes, would also be beneficial. The EU should also further support Lukashenka’s balancing act of maintaining a neutral stance with regard to Russia’s conflicts with its neighbours. The hosting of talks in Minsk has proven useful for the West as well as an effective insurance policy for Belarus. It has allowed Belarus to deflect pressure by Russia and not follow it on crucial foreign policy issues. The net effect of this neutrality has been greater alignment with the EU".
Fredrik Wesslau & Andrew Wilson, "So far from god, so close to Russia: Belarus and the Zapad military exercise". European Council on Foreign Relations. 11 September 2017, in www.ecfr.eu
The military exercises on Belorussian soil have come and gone. Without it appears Belarus being occupied or annexed by Russian forces. So much for the more extreme concerns of some diplomats and commentators a few weeks ago. With that being said, the advice pro-offered by the European Council on Foreign Relations is indeed correct. The only way or means of assisting Minsk to distance itself from Moskva's embrace and to come closer to the European Union, AKA the Western bloc is by the latter exercising its diplomatic arts to the full. To ignore as much as is humanly possible the contretemps that the Lukashenka regime provides by way of its human rights record (egregious as that is). And to endeavor in a sotto voce fashion to fund, support and nurture Belorussian civil society. In short endeavor to grow in a quiet a manner as is possible another color revolution in Belarus. With of course the proper preparation for the very same. That is unfortunately, the only means of trying to maneuver Minsk from Moskva's putative sphere of influence. In the words of the former diplomat and historian Sir Harold Nicolson, what is needed by the West in its dealing with Minsk is the ultra-subtle art of diplomatic patience:
"Patience is an indispensable quality for he successful negotiator. The wind is bound to be contrary at times, and then one has to tack to get into port" 1.
1. Sir Harold Nicolson. Diplomacy. (1939), p. 118.

Monday, September 11, 2017

IS DAME JUDI DENCH TALKING NONSENSE OR IS BREXIT THE RETURN TO 'SPLENDID ISOLATION' ?

"The Dench publicity train arrived at BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, and inevitably one of the questions was about Brexit. Dame Judi is not in favour. Are there any people in the theatre or film in favour of it? Would they dare admit this if they had voted for Brexit? Presumably the actor’s union Equity would be right on their case with sanctions (“it’s Midsomer Murders for you, for five series”) if anyone dared try to say Brexit might not be a disaster. “I shouldn’t even open this bag of worms,” Dame Judi told the BBC. “But the whole business of leaving Europe… There’s something about being inclusive that is more important than being exclusive.” She recalled a celebratory performance when Britain joined the Common Market (if only it had stayed as a Common Market rather than morphing into an integrationist behemoth) in 1973, with an evening of performance with Sir Lawrence Olivier (Larry, lovely Larry) and fellow actor Max Adrian. “There was opera from Italy and the ballet, there was everybody,” said Dame Judy. “Everybody was represented in Europe that evening. There was something so glorious about it"'.
Iain Martin, "Dame Judi Dench and the luvvie myth of British isolation from Europe". Reaction. 11 September 2017, in www.reaction.life.
"Ever since the 1990s, the number of young people in England choosing a language as part of their sixth-form studies has been going down. However, since 2012, the rate of decline has sped up, with French dropping by 17 per cent and German by 12 per cent over a period of just two years".
Teresa Tinsley & Kathyrn Board, "Why aren’t England's A-level students learning languages?" British Council. 14 April 2015, in www.britishcouncil.org
I am afraid that however much I am enamoured of the acting talents of Dame Judi Dench (especially pre-1990's, when she started, Maggie Smith-like to play herself), the fact is that she is talking bogus nonsense or in fact absolute unadulterated rubbish. As the above referenced statistics clearly show, regardless of British membership of the European Union, and one to two million European immigrants migrating to the United Kingdom since the 2004, that has not prevented a very noticeable down-ward shift in the number of British students who study and can reasonably speak a foreign language. Statistics which parallel the decline in language abilities in the general British population overall. Especially, it would appear the two chief European ones, German and French. So whatever is meant (pace Dame Dench), about that very over-used mot 'inclusive', apparently learning continental languages (and the culture that goes with it one presumes) is not meant to apply. And to belabor a point perhaps in the same vein, is it not too surprising, that of all the Prime Ministers who have governed the United Kingdom since it joined the European Union in 1973, only one (Tony Blair) spoke with some level of confidence, a European language (in Blair's case French)? Whereas pre-British membership of the European Union it was not unheard of to have (three in a row actually) Prime Ministers who spoke some level of French (Macmillan and Churchill) and in the case of Sir Anthony Eden, German and Arabic as well. The larger point that I am making herein is that whether or not one is in favor of Brexit (and I am assuredly not - I thought in June of last year and still to-day think it was and is a mistake), is one made by Iain Martin when he concluded his piece on this issue and this piece:
"The idea that we were ever somehow in splendid isolation from the 18th century onwards, restricting ourselves to English lute music and grim plays about coal-mining deaths in the industrial revolution, until we joined the EEC and “became part of Europe” is just not how it was. We have long been European in cultural terms. It is a shame to see otherwise well-intentioned people become so anti-Brexit that they deal in luvvie myths rather than the more interesting historical reality" 1.
1.) Iain Martin, "Dame Judi Dench and the luvvie myth of British isolation from Europe". Reaction. 11 September 2017, in www.reaction.life.

Friday, September 08, 2017

BRITAIN AS A WORLD POWER: DOES IT STILL HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

"The British Army has been in a state of transition since SDSR 2010, on top of having to contend with continuing operations in Iraq (until 2011) and Afghanistan (until 2014) as well as pressure on the defence budget. This state of affairs does not seem to be ending anytime soon. This was confirmed with the publication of a new SDSR in late 2015, which announced more changes to the structure of the field army, including the formation of two new strike brigades. However, there has been little detail to accompany any of these announcements and it is vital for both UK defence policy and the British Army that the uncertainty surrounding the implementation and eventual impact of SDSR 2015 – the creation of the new formations, including questions about their place in doctrine; and their structure, role, equipment and logistics support requirements – be cleared up as soon as possible. A complicating factor to the army’s work is that ‘defence expenditure has fallen to an unacceptably low level in GDP percentage terms, bearing in mind that, until the mid-1990s, the UK never spent less than 3% of GDP on defence".
Peter Antill & Jeremy Smith, "The British Army in Transition". RUSI Journal. (June / July 2017), p. 56.
On global power rankings, the UK is somewhere between the second and sixth most powerful country in the world. For example, European Geostrategy’s “Audit of major powers” places the UK comfortably second in the world, the only “global power” apart from the US (France, China, and Russia are the next three, all with “regional power” status). (Those favouring a new post-Brexit partnership with Canada and Australia might note that the three of us together would have a power of around 70 per cent of the US’). We have the world’s third largest military budget, behind the US and China but comfortably ahead of Russia, France or India. In 2016 we were the fifth largest economy in the world, and set to overtake Germany (currently fourth) in the mid-2020s. Britain is not the US. Neither are we a serious challenger to the US. Dropping from being the world’s dominant power in the early twentieth century to being decisively not dominant has indeed involved some psychological adjustment. But there is a lot in between being No. 1 and being no-one. We do not “have to accept” that we are small and irrelevant and cannot have a global role. If we cannot have a global role, no-one other than the US can, and the US doesn’t want to do everything and the US isn’t always right. And Britain’s relative power isn’t going ever-downwards. In recent decades it has, if anything, gone up — particularly as Russia’s has declined.
Andrew Lilico, "The world needs Britain today more than ever". Reaction. 24 January 2017, in www.reaction.life.
There are many responses that one can offer up to the remarks of Mr. Lilico. The best one however is the Anthill & Smith article. As they make quite plain, British governments since the mid-1990's, if not earlier have been taking a hacksaw to the British defense budget. As was noted in the article, for the first time since perhaps the mid-19th century (if not earlier), Britain commenced spending less than three-percent of Gross Domestic Product on Defence. Now the figures are barely north of two-percent (and depending upon how you count it, even less than two-percent). The fact of the matter is that the once highly valued British Defense forces are not, 'fit for purpose', in the sense of fighting a war on any sustained and lengthly level. The army that did so badly in Iraq circa 2004-2006, is no more. It is in fact weaker in terms of equipment, force project capability and numbers. In short the fact is that Britain if it does not change and change greatly its defense expenditure it will soon little more than (in the prescient words of a Cabinet paper from 1958): "that of a European Power with a standing similar to that of the Netherlands or Sweden" 1. The end of Empire indeed.
1. Remarks found in 'conclusions' to "The Position of the UK in world affairs: a report by Officials". 9 June 1958, in The Conservative Government and the End of Empire: Series A. Volume I. Part I. Edited by William Roger Louis & Ronald Hyam. (2000), p. 43.