The British general election of 2016, held after the collapse of the minority Cameron government of 2015-2016, is recorded in history alongside the 1945, 1979 and 1997 general elections as an election of major historical significance. In short, a key turning point in the politics of Britain.
Not only was it noticeable for the radical overturning of conventional politics with UKIP’s emergence as the largest party in the House of Commons, but also for the election when Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system finally suffered a major malfunction.
Following UKIP’s modest entry into the Commons in the 2015 general election, and the hung result of that election with the Conservatives remaining the largest party but just barely ahead of Labour, it was not surprising that a second election was to occur within a year. This was triggered primarily by the inability of either David Cameron or Nick Clegg to convince their respective parliamentary parties to consider a second coalition, and the fact that a Labour/Lib pact would just narrowly miss a majority.
The following months were hellish for Cameron, with UKIP, the Conservatives and Labour all level pegging in opinion polls in the early twenties, and with the Lib Dems, now freed from the shackles of government, stabilising at mid-teen level. The Conservative party was now engaged in open civil war between the minority Cameron modernisers and the majority who wished for an open pact with UKIP for the expected next ballot. Cameron and Hague, his foreign secretary, both openly opposed such a pact. It eventually resulted in a vote of no confidence passed by his own parliamentary party, followed by his resignation as both Conservative leader and Prime Minister a mere eleven months after the last election. Read more…
Supposing you wanted to secretly take over Britain? How would you go about it? Well, one step you’d almost certainly take would be to disarm Britain’s ability to prevent you carrying out your diabolical plot. That could involve eliminating Britain’s most famous secret agent, of course, but it could also involve depriving the UK of its direct ability to control or influence events. In short, tricking the British into withdrawing from the European Union would be a masterstroke.
Think about it: of course Britain will still trade with the EU after withdrawal. But the reality is that many British companies, with an eye to the continental market, will lobby their home government to effectively copy EU regulations because it’ll allow them to save money by having the same manufacturing and compliance regime for both the EU and UK markets. Regulations which, after withdrawal, Britain will have no say in creating or amending.
It’s true, Britain will not be LEGALLY bound to obey or implement these regulations, but the sheer economic gravity of the vast EU monolith beside it will just make it easier. Especially given that the British withdrawal deprives moderate eurosceptics or reformers within the EU of their strongest ally.
In short, Britain will have been reduced from the second most important nation in the EU to a de facto EU protectorate, a dominion state, nominally independent but behind closed doors still caught in the EU regulatory web. But with no British voice at the table. No commissioner, no ministers, no MEPs representing the British view. Even better, the British people will never know, seeing the blue flags vanishing but not knowing that the EU influence remains.
As coups go, it’s a very British one. If Blofeld were a European Federalist, he’d be very pleased with Agent Farage. Very pleased indeed.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 23, 2014 in British Politics
, European Union
The UK Tories quit the European People’s Party, and their allies in Irish Fine Gael, the German CDU, French UMP and most of the EU’s centre-right parties because they alleged they didn’t share their values.
Instead, they joined an alliance with the Polish “the gays are coming!” Law and Justice Party, and the Turkish “Twitter must be banned because it keeps revealing corruption in Turkey” AK party of Prime Minister Erdogan.
Seriously, Dave? You find Angela Merkel and Enda Kenny more objectionable than Erdogan? Really?
Posted by Jason O on Mar 4, 2014 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
The White House.
President Frank Underwood rises from his seat to greet EU Council President and former Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg Christensen.
Frank: ”Birgitte, my God, look at you, it’s youngah you’re gettin’!”
Birgitte: “Thank you Frank, you can take the syrup as poured,”
The President smiles at his EU counterpart, and directs her to a sofa.
Frank: “Would you like a snack, Birgitte? Perhaps some ribs, or maybe I could tempt you to join me in an iced tea?”
Birgitte: ”Actually, I would like an apple, if that’s possible?”
Frank: “An apple? How sensible of you.” (sotto voce to camera: “An apple! How European!”)
Frank presses a button on his desk.
Frank: “Maria, can we get President of the European Council of the European Union Nyborg (glance to camera) one of our delicious South Carolina apples?”
He then sits across from Birgitte.
Frank: ”Birgitte, I don’t mind telling you, It’s hard enough tryin’ to keep the Kremlin from spoiling the front patio when you guys over there in the European Union can’t agree on lunch, never mind a position on the Ukraine. I’ve seen better organised herds of arthritic cats.”
Birgitte: “I agree, but I think we can come to a common position…”
Frank: ”When? When he’s in Kiev? Riga? Warsaw? Birgitte, I grew up with guys like our friend Vladimir. He’s a pretty straight guy, but he’ll only be straight with people he regards as equals. Whilst you guys are debating whether to cancel his subscription to G20 magazine, this guy is gonna keep helpin’ himself to your lunch money. You can win his respect alright: (Frank raps his heavy ring on the coffee table). With the stick. Maybe not used, but ready to be used.”
Birgitte: ”I agree Frank. I’m a nice caring European liberal, but I know a fascist when I see one. I just think we need a little outside the box thinking.”
Frank: “Go on.”
Birgitte: ”I’ve spent two days assembling a peacekeeping force. Denmark, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg for a start…”
Frank: ”Luxembourg? Does Luxembourg even have tanks?”
Birgitte: ”They have anti-tank missiles and professional well-trained soldiers who know how to use them, Frank, and a Luxembourgish missile will take the turret off a Russian tank just as effectively as an American one. It’s a small force, Frank, just 160 vehicles. But I also have been studying this…”
Birgitte handed a file to the President. He opened it.
Frank: ”Public tenders for various building projects across Europe and the US. I don’t…”
Birgitte: “Look at who is bidding on them.”
Frank reads on, smiles to himself, then turns to the camera: (“The Chinese are bidding on all these. Two Chinese firms in particular, both owned by members of the Chinese Military Commission. I Like the way her Nordic mind works!”)
Frank: ”You’re thinking of a pincer movement, aren’t you madame President?”
Birgitte smiles slightly.
Birgitte: “NATO command tell me that the Chinese have a major exercise planned for the Russian border for three weeks from now. Of course, if they were to suddenly mobilise and bring the exercise forward.”
Frank: ”Even the Kremlin doesn’t want to be worrying about an EU force entering the Ukraine…”
Birgitte: “A small but well-equipped peacekeeping force with US support available if needed, at the invitation of the Ukraine government,”
Frank: ”Of course. At the same time a million heavily armed Chinese are testing their shiny new armoured personnel carriers and fighter bombers on their Eastern flank.”
Birgitte: “We’ll have to convince the Ukrainians to respect the Russian minority, of course, and perhaps devolve some autonomy to the Crimea and some other regions, but we leave the Kremlin very clear as to our lunch money.”
Frank: ”That we do, madame President. Let me see what happened to your apple. I wonder did they send someone to South Carolina to pick it!”
Posted by Jason O on Mar 4, 2014 in European Union
, Not quite serious.
Clinking of glass.
Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council: Good morning colleagues, welcome to our beautiful new European External Action Service Headquarters, to this crisis meeting on the Ukraine. As you can see, we have everything we need, including WiFi and a really big screen…
Belgium: What’s the code for the WiFI?
Herman: J-a-c-q-u-e-s-d-e-l-o-r-s. Now, watch this.
The President pulls out a remote control, and activates the giant screen. It lights up with very
impressive maps and moving icons. Collective oohs and awws from around the room.
Herman: Good, isn’t it? We got a great price too. And this Japanese guy installed it for us. Now, you can see here the disposition of every Russian tank division facing Europe, live by satellite feed.
Sweden: Where are our tanks?
Netherlands: We have tanks?
Herman: Most of them are on blocks in a garage outside Leipzig. Something about their carbon emissions.
France: Why aren’t our tanks on the map?
Herman: The Americans won’t show us. They say it’s need to know only. Anyway, now, we all agree that we need to do something about the Ukraine.
Ireland: Sorry, Herman, is there any chance there’s some money in this for Ireland?
Ireland: Right, well in that case I have to get to a funeral in Loughlinstown. Let us know how you get on. Oh, if you need to know Ireland’s position on any of this defence stuff (slides iPhone across the table) just press that button there. We’ve an app now. See yez lads!
Herman presses the button on the iPhone.
Pierce Brosnan’s voice says, with very clear
diction: War is bad. The United Nations is lovely. Kittens are lovely. Have you ever considered visiting Ireland? Or perhaps investing in Ireland?
Herman: Right, now, we need to consider economic sanctions.
United Kingdom: Now, let’s not be too hasty. Alexander Ivanovich, the young man who brings me my instruct…my coffee every morning says that we have to be very careful. If we impose sanctions it could affect house prices in Central London. Londoners might be able to afford some of them.
Belgium (as he changes his shirt,
showing of his smooth tanned,
lithe body): Surely there’s more to the British economy than Central London?
United Kingdom: Doctor Who?
Luxembourg: Should we consider…
Herman: I’m sorry, who are you?
Luxembourg: I’m the Prime Minister of Luxembourg.
Herman: Where’s Jean-Claude?
Luxembourg: Over there, trying to look in the window.
Herman: That’s Alex Salmond.
Luxembourg: No, beside him.
Herman: Oh, I see. Hi Jean Claude!
The Council waves at Jean Claude Juncker.
He waves back. Alex Salmond waves too, slightly over enthusiastically.
Herman: Right, so we’ve no consensus on economic sanctions. What about diplomatic sanctions? Freeze Visas?
Finland: Given that we have to live beside them, and you lot are who we have to rely on if it all kicks off, I’d prefer not to poke them with a stick.
Poland: We have to do something. It’s the Crimea today. It’ll be Talinn tomorrow.
Estonia screams and runs from the room.
Herman: We could kick them out of the G8?
France: Maybe cancel their Netflix subscription. The NSA say that Putin hasn’t got to the last episode of House of Cards yet.
Germany: How do you know?
France: We…have our ways. The Americans are very nice to us now since we started chasing crazies around Africa.
Herman: Is the Netflix account in Putin’s name?
France: Eh, no.
Germany: Whose name is on the credit card then?
France: David Cameron.
United Kingdom: They made me!
Herman: What about sending the Kremlin a very sternly worded letter? How do we get a letter to them anyway? Does anyone know any Russians?
Germany: Does Gerhard Schroeder count?
United Kingdom: When you say sternly…
Ireland: War! Booooooooooo! Did you know Ryanair flies from every major….
And so on.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 3, 2014 in European Union
If you want an idea as to how pathetic the Ukraine crisis is making the EU look, consider the following two figures. €90 billion, and €274 billion. These are defence spending figures from 2012 of the Russian Federation and the combined European Union. In that order. Yeah, that’s right: in 2012 the EU spent over three times on defence what Russia spent. Yet is there anyone who believes that the EU has anything more than a fraction of Russia’s military capability?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not some sort of chickenhawk that thinks everything is solved by sending in the marines. But if there is one thing history has thought us, it’s that Russia will negotiate in good faith with forces it regards as its equal, and it does not regard the EU as an equal.
The problem is that Russia may indeed have our measure, and realise that this generation of European leaders can pretty much have sand kicked in their faces as long as the Russians don’t invade Poland (no, not the Baltics. I think we’d actually cede them. And probably Finland too. Maybe not a direct invasion, but certainly airspace incursions and cyber attacks.)
I’m not talking about defence free-loaders like Ireland who don’t actually matter when things get this serious anyway. After all, how many times was the Ukraine crisis mentioned at the Ard Fheis of our governing party this week? This is a matter for the grown ups.
By the grown ups, I mean the Americans, and even they can’t be relied upon to defend a continent with little interest in defending itself.
Europe needs a leader who can stand up and say what needs to be said: Europe needs a de facto army, and it needs it now, and if that means something as theatrically dramatic as moving a Polish, German and French armour division to the Ukraine border, if only to show that Europe still have some claws, so be it. It’ll come as a surprise to many Europeans that Europe actually has tanks, so no harm reminding the Kremlin. I’m not an armchair general, by the way. There may be an easier way of sending a signal to Moscow, but it has to be said, and it has to be clear: Europe will not roll over.
As for that leader? Poland’s foreign minister Radek Sikorski could be the man.
One thing is certain: if Europe is not willing to stand up to Russia as an equal, we might as well ask Putin for his Swiss bank account number. I’m not convinced that that’s not the most likely outcome, either.
Posted by Jason O on Mar 2, 2014 in European Union
A piece I wrote here last November for Atlantic-Community.org about European defence. Seems a bit relevant these days.
Posted by Jason O on Feb 12, 2014 in European Union
Mr Spock, the USS Enterprise’s science officer in “Star Trek”, used to play 3D chess, a game which always looked challenging because a move on one board could have unforeseen effects on another board. This popped into my head in recent days as I was taking in the general air of complaint and grievance about the European Union that seems to permeate the member states of late. In short, everybody seems to be bitching about something, and it’s all them fellas in Brussels fault.
Take the Swiss vote on restricting EU immigration into Switzerland. The Swiss people have every right to say, for example, that only 20,000 new EU citizens can live in their country every year. Fine. It’s their country. But what happens when the EU, which has to stand up for its citizens, says “OK. Well, we’ll apply the same rule too. Only 20,000 Swiss can move to the EU every year.”
Suddenly, the Swiss are outraged, complaining that the EU can easily take more than 20,000 Swiss students and businesspeople and retired people every year, but that’s not the point. The Swiss moved their piece on the board. They can’t be shocked that it effects other pieces, and whilst they can decide what to do in Switzerland, they can ignore the EU moving its (much bigger) pieces at their peril. Remember: you can only move your own pieces.
But let’s go further: Eurosceptics like Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders have welcomed the Swiss decision, perhaps believing that their own respective countries should attempt the same move. But again, there’s the issue. The British and the Dutch have a sovereign right to move their pieces, but so do the Poles and the Germans and the French. Supposing a future British government does present a watering down of free movement at a future summit. And supposing, say, the French grudgingly agree. Delight in the British camp. Then the French president clears his throat: “As we are looking at core competences here, France would like to discuss the possibility of tariffs to protect key strategic industries…” Cue shock in the British and Dutch delegations. “Absolutely not. Free movement is one thing, but free trade is sacrosanct…” The French president shrugs. “Perhaps to you, but as we are now discussing one core principle we can discuss another…” he says, as he moves his queen across the board.
This is the most curious aspect of modern European integration, the belief that the benefits of the European Union are now some sort of natural phenomenon which will remain and flower without the EU. But they are not. Marine Le Pen agrees with many in Britain on the need for immigration controls. But not on free trade. The Poles agree with Britain on free trade, but not on immigration.
What happens, then, if you remove the EU framework. What if the Berlaymont stands empty, the blue flags long gone?
It’s not the end of the world, as some of the more hysterical federalists will tell you. European countries will learn to get on. But the temptation of national governments in a post-EU Europe to give into the short-term orgasmic pleasure of populism and ignore the long-term costs will be almost unavoidable. With the euro gone, the temptation of Italy, Greece and Spain to devalue would be almost irresistible. Spain devaluing beside France would force France to either devalue itself, which would cause Germany problems, or introduce tariffs on Spanish and Italian goods to protect home producers, causing retaliation from Madrid and Rome. I’m old enough to remember French farmers attacking trucks carrying British and Irish lamb to the French market, so this isn’t fantasy stuff.
How would Britain or Spain or Poland be better off kicking each others citizens out in populist retaliation? How is that a better Europe than what we have now, where the single market would once again become a hotch-potch of currencies and vested interests demanding import levies on X or Y. Does anyone imagine that Irish consumers would be better served if ALDI or LIDL were sent packing, so we can “look after our own” or protect them from “unfair competition”, the argument that was used for decades to keep RTE, Eircom and Aer Lingus monopolies? Would Irish passengers be better off if only Aer Lingus could operate in Ireland, or not be legally undercut? What about roaming charges? Could the Portuguese government force Vodafone to give its citizens cheaper calls when they’re in Poland? This isn’t fantasy. We have been here before.
And let’s not forget the giant big unspoken German elephant in the room. Should we fear Germany? Of course not. Germany is a democracy, solid as any. But for all those people who shriek about German domination of the EU, ask them what Germany does in an EU free Europe? The answer is, quite simply, nothing. It just sits there, and its sheer economic heft becomes the gravitational centre of Europe. Standards don’t get set in Brussels by Finns and Czechs and Croats and yes, Germans, in respectful committees. They get set in Berlin by Germans for 82 million Germans, and the rest of us just sign up if we want to sell them stuff. Eurosceptics think this is progress?
And don’t think Google or Microsoft or Facebook will want to set up in a country of 4.5 million people which is outside the tariff barriers of the larger countries. Ireland won’t have to worry about the morality of levying low taxes on companies that won’t be there.
Europe is a free continent, and European countries can move their pieces whatever way their people demand. But don’t think that other people can’t, or won’t move their pieces too. Europe only works if everybody pretty much has a say over how every piece moves.
The EU: like the water supply, taken for granted, but would be missed if it weren’t there.
1. Pro-Europeans believe in European unity for the same moral reasons you don’t.
2. If you succeed in dismantling the EU, you’ll have to find something/someone else to blame for your problems. Europe isn’t what bugs you. Modern life is.
3. Everything isn’t a conspiracy. I’ve met EU commissioners. They complain about how they’ve no power.
4. Every country in the EU complains that other countries are calling the shots. Even the Germans.
5. European countries have to choose between living in a world dominated by China or Russia, or standing together. Brits have more in common with Belgians than Beijing.
6. If we didn’t have the EU, we’d have to come up with something that pretty much does what it does anyway. The world is just too integrated to manage inside national borders. The EU is a tool for helping small countries manage a complicated world of 7 billion people.
Posted by Jason O on Jan 8, 2014 in European Union
, Irish Politics
TO THE BERLAYMONT!
Given that a new European Commission will take office later in 2014, I thought I’d throw out a few thoughts, some from far left field, as to who might be the next Irish commissioner.
Phil Hogan is the name being bandied about most. He’s been loyal to Enda, and word has it that he actually enjoyed the EU presidency and chairing the Environment Council. Downside is that Enda loses one of his closest henchmen, probably loses the by-election, and let us not forget that the new Commission President will almost certainly be telling all the national leaders that nominating a female commissioner will get them a better portfolio.
Simon Coveney had a good EU presidency, was apparently liked by his EU colleagues, and could be well suited to be Agriculture commissioner. The problem for him is that he has a fair chance of being the next leader of FG. If Enda is re-elected in 2016, and runs for the park soon after, thus completing the hat-trick of making FG the largest party, getting an FG govt re-elected, and being the first FG president, Coveney will not be in the Dail. And he has testicles. Actual testicles, as opposed to metaphorical ones.
Similar situation for Brian Hayes, whom the party may require on the ballot paper in May for the European Elections.
Ruairi Quinn would be a fine European Commissioner, and a fair chance as a political pal of likely President Martin Schulz, a fellow Social Democrat. Big plum for FG to give to Labour though, especially as Labour got the AG. It would allow for Gilmore to reshuffle and reward a backbencher or two for not going all Keaveney. However, surely FG would demand in the reshuffle that Labour take a lesser cabinet job in return, allowing for a FGer to be promoted?
The wild card…Lucinda. I know, the conventional rules say no way, but consider the benefits: she’s exceptionally capable, from the right party (an EPP vice president), a true believer, and as a young woman exactly what a new President will want to appoint. And imagine the effect her Dail departure would have on the Rebel Alliance. The who? Exactly. Would show Enda putting the country first too. If he announced her before the reshuffle, I suspect the whingers would keep their mouths shut, for fear of whinging themselves out of a junior minister job. Of course, Lucinda is expecting a baby. Will she take maternity leave, as is her right? Will that matter? Should it?
Finally, there’s Enda himself, as President. I don’t believe it for a minute. Every five years we get this story that the Irish Taoiseach is being begged to take over. It’s bull.