The British Conservatives — also known as the Tories — are one of the world’s most enduring political parties. However, this long life is built on its cultural attractiveness to parts of the English middle class, especially in the home counties near London, rather than on its political judgments, which have, over the centuries, been almost continuously wrong, especially in foreign policy.
It was wrong to resist revolutions in France and the US; wrong to go slow over abolishing the slave trade; wrong to champion the protectionist Corn Laws; wrong to embrace appeasement in the 1930s; wrong to contest the decolonization of India. The British right’s instincts — jingoistic, imperialistic, anti-progressive and isolationist — have consistently led the country into calamities. Today, once again, the Conservative right, indulging its atavistic instincts and egged on by a no less atavistic right-of-center press, is landing the country in the soup.
There might have been a case for British Prime Minister David Cameron to veto the use of the EU treaties for the eurozone bailout if Britain’s national interests had really been threatened last week, but they were not. Much of British finance, in whose name Cameron exercised his veto — routine banking, insurance and accounting — was wholly unaffected by any treaty change. The financial services industry in Britain constitutes 7.5 percent of GDP and employs 1 million people; the City, London’s financial district, represents perhaps a third of that and, in turn, that part threatened — if it was threatened at all — some fraction of that. This is a tiny economic interest. If the coalition government is serious about rebalancing the British economy, it is preposterous to place a fragment of the City at the forefront of the UK’s national priorities.
Moreover, any tax, such as the financial transaction tax about which Cameron was so exercised (and which is, in any case, a good idea if done right as recommended by the IMF), has to be agreed by all. Which means that the threat was nil. Even regulatory proposals, although proceeding by qualified majority voting, have in financial services proceeded, in reality, by unanimity.
There was no threat that could not have been resisted if Britain really was committed to defending the casino dimension of the City. The UK’s entire relationship with the member states of the EU, along with its capacity to shape policies that may influence a far higher share of the national GDP, has been put at risk for nothing. At worst, a dozen foreign investment banks and a couple of dozen hedge funds, along with their bonuses, might have been affected. However, now the capacity to defend them, even if we wanted to, has been thrown away. As an act of self-defeating, crass stupidity, this has rarely been equaled in British foreign policy.
Worse, the UK has made it significantly harder for the 17 members of the eurozone rapidly to put in place the cluster of policies needed to save the euro. German Chancellor Merkel said the compromise was workable — to widespread German skepticism; the European Central Bank warmly welcomed the progress, but announced no new measures. If the euro breaks up because its members have to move clumsily and slowly outside the formal EU treaties and institutions because of Cameron’s veto, the resulting series of bank collapses and consequent depression will hurt Britain badly. What is more, fellow Europeans will not forgive the UK for a generation. This is a catastrophic moment in British and European affairs.
Cameron is the best and worst of upper-middle class, home counties England — decent enough, but saturated with prejudices he has never cared to challenge. He understands his own party and its instincts, but beyond that his touch is uncertain and his capacity to empathize with others close to non-existent. Doubtless, he thought his demand for Britain to be exempted from any measure on financial services to be reasonable, but he completely underestimated how it would be understood by a eurozone member in an existential fight to defend their currency. His circle is the hedge fund managers who payroll his party, right-wing media executives and the demi-monde of Tory dining clubs, Notting Hill, London salons and country house weekends, all of whom he knew could be relied on to cheer him for his alleged bulldog spirit and Thatcher-like courage in saying “No” to European “plots.”
For him, politics is not about statecraft in the pursuit of a national vision that embraces all the British. It is an enjoyable game to be played for a few years, in which the task is to get his set in and look after them and hand the baton on to the next chap who will do the same.
The overriding preoccupation was to manage his tribe, now in thrall to the worst of ancient Tory instincts that have been so consistently wrong. In no circumstance could he risk having to take a treaty change through the British House of Commons relying on the Liberal Democrats, Labour and a minority of Tory votes, accompanied by an ever-more hysterical insistence that there should be a referendum on Britain’s relationship with Europe. The paradox of referendums is that they are anti-democratic devices, only ever deployed by politicians and commentators if they are certain about the result; this is why they are the favorite device of despots and dictators. The Tory right, certain of the result, given overwhelming press support, smells blood; if they can engineer a referendum, Britain can leave the detested EU.
The detestation of the EU is largely irrational — even if very real. Britain enhances its power and de facto sovereignty through membership; it loses it by becoming the creature of the financial markets and the City of London so beloved by Conservatives. If the EU suggests policies the UK does not like, there are opt-outs and compromises galore, hardly the anti-democratic monster of euroskeptic imagination.
None of the euroskeptics baying for a referendum objects to Mayfair, Kensington and Knightsbridge — the smartest parts of central London — becoming ghost towns owned by foreigners, nor to swaths of great UK companies and brands falling into foreign ownership. This loss of control and autonomy is fine, but to make common cause with its European neighbors to enlarge its capacity to act in the world causes collective heart failure.
The objection is less rational than cultural. Europe is the victim of the same journalistic standards exposed by the Leveson inquiry in media ethics — and if it were a person, it would be one of the most compelling witnesses. Stories about the EU have been distorted and fabricated for 30 years; it is depicted as a foreign leviathan aiming to rob free-born Englishmen of their liberties. Tales are shoehorned into conforming with that predetermined template.
Corrupt journalism is not consequence-free: It impacts on our culture and, ultimately, on our political choices. Of course the EU makes mistakes, but the attempt to recognize European interdependencies, create common minimum economic and social standards and cement friendships hardly deserves the treatment it receives in Britain and our press.
What now? This is a watershed moment. For some Lib Dems, it is close to breaking point. British Business Secretary Vince Cable spoke passionately in Cabinet on Monday last week against making the small casino part of the City a vital national interest; why, he asked his colleagues, protect financial engineers and tax-evaders? He was ignored and furious when he learned what had happened. He will speak out aggressively against Cameron’s veto; his decision is whether to resign to do so or say so in office, courting his firing.
The coalition is engineering stagnation at home and isolation abroad and all to serve a tiny and imagined economic interest. If Cable resigns or is fired, it cannot hold, even if Clegg wants to limit the fallout inside rather than outside government. A new political dynamic has been launched that politicians will find hard to control.
Does the UK really want to live in a country designed solely for Cameron’s tribe? Do even bankers believe the sole purpose of national policy should be to protect their trading desks’ capacity to do anything they want? On what terms do we want to live with our neighbors?
On these issues, the Tories are wrong and in a democracy, at a time like this, must be confronted. A general election before 2015 is now certain. Cameron and his party should not be so cocksure they will win it.
During the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum’s third leadership summit on Aug. 31, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US wants to partner with the other members of the Quadrilaterial Security Dialogue — Australia, India and Japan — to establish an organization similar to NATO, to “respond to ... any potential challenge from China.” He said that the US’ purpose is to work with these nations and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region to “create a critical mass around the shared values and interest of those parties,” and possibly attract more countries to establish an alliance comparable to
On August 24, 2020, the US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, made an important statement: “The Pentagon is Prepared for China.” Going forward, how might the Department of Defense team up with Taiwan to make itself even more prepared? No American wants to deter the next war by a paper-thin margin, and no one appreciates the value of strategic overmatch more than the war planners at the Pentagon. When the stakes are this high, you can bet they want to be super ready. In recent months, we have witnessed a veritable flood of high-level statements from US government leaders on
Over the past year, the world has observed what many of us in the US Congress have warned about for years: The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is an unreliable partner intent on chasing its ambitions to be the world’s superpower at the expense of its people, its partners and the international community at large. In December last year, the CCP had evidence that a new strain of the coronavirus was infecting and killing Chinese citizens at an alarming rate. Their response was to censor medical professionals and lie to their own people out of fear of tarnishing China’s global image, and
China has long sought shortcuts to developing semiconductor technologies and local supply chains by poaching engineers and experts from Taiwan and other nations. It is also suspected of stealing trade secrets from Taiwanese and US firms to fulfill its ambition of becoming a major player in the global semiconductor industry in the next decade. However, it takes more than just money and talent to build a semiconductor supply chain like the one which Taiwan and the US started to cultivate more than 30 years ago. Amid rising trade and technology tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, Beijing has become