Archive for mars, 2013

The PM’s Speech on Europe - A Commentary by Author & Historian Gregor Dallas.

Mercredi, mars 27th, 2013

The recent speech on Europe by the Prime Minister, David Cameron, delivered early in the morning so that nobody would hear it, contains numerous historical errors and it omits so many important aspects of British politics that I feel obliged to write a brief separate commentary here. The questions posed at the end of the paper are framed within the narrow context of the speech and do not allow one to point out its principal flaws. Presumably one can forward my comments to Central Office along with our group’s reactions.
http://www.conservativepolicyforum.com/policy/europe
The European Union, it is true, was first and foremost a product of the Second World War, hence the stated aim in the Treaty of Rome’s preamble to draw Europe into ‘ever closer union’. This is a Christian aim and it is built on the fact that Europe once was ‘Christendom’. It is based on the idea that the nations will be so drawn together that no member state will have the space to stretch out and smite its neighbour.

Mr Cameron is entirely wrong to think that this principle can today be abandoned. ‘Today the main, over-riding purpose of the European Union is… not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.’ No, it is both. That ‘ever closer union’ is an almost sacred principle of the EU. A war situation can develop overnight, as illustrated in the Balkans in the 1990s.

Parallel to this is another post-war development: practically every major Western European country lost an overseas empire in the decades following the Second World War. This was followed by the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe. The two phenomena are obviously related. The collapse of empire led, in every nation concerned, with an immediate commitment to Europe, sometimes within days and even within hours of the loss of empire.

The one exception was Britain. Britain never really abandoned the idea of Empire and Commonwealth. It remains a part of British identity today in the widespread idea that Britain’s essential future lies overseas rather than on the Continent.

The loss of empire was, none the less, traumatic. That traumatism has found expression in the development of an increasingly virulent form of English nationalism (politely misnamed ‘Euroscepticism’) that has never been witnessed in Britain before. Mr Cameron is very wrong to claim that Britain is characterized today by her openness. This was true in the first half of the twentieth century, when nearly every European country was subject to the poison of nationalism. But today the situation has reversed: Britain, and particularly England, is a closed, narrow and angry country. And it is getting worse.

How else does one explain the emergence of two simultaneous catastrophes that could happen with-in the next few years: the breakup of the United Kingdom and departure from the European Union? A rump United Kingdom would have difficulty surviving alone. And no one should underestimate how dire Britain’s economic situation is. Real incomes are declining, her manufacturing sector is very weak, and the pound is doing what it has done since the 1940s - dropping.

Mr Cameron woould like us to abandon the image of a fast track and slow track Europe. Yet this does correspond to a certain reality. He dwells on the Euro crisis. But he forgets, probably because English media give such a distorted image of the world, that except for this last year of crisis, the Eurozone has out-performed Britain in GNP. No doubt the Euro crisis will one day be resolved, for the necessary collective political will — the essential ingredient — is there. One has reason to doubt the same success in the world sterling area: since the Second World War the results have been poor; a disunited UK, independent of the EU, would have difficulty keeping her head out of the water.

The current Parliament is not the most brilliant we have had in the last few hundred years. It was brought in in the wake of an MPs’ expense scandal which saw experienced MPs lose their jobs for scandals involving sometimes less than £100. Many of those MPs were fervent Europeans. The new intake was young and inexperienced. Their idea about national sovereignty is not faithful to the traditional British notion of sovereignty going back at least as far Bagehot and Dicey: the notion of parliamentary sovereignty: Britain used to have an Unwritten Constitution. It was an ordered constitution and up until the 1960s it worked. Then they started chipping away at it. The greatest threat to Britain is not Europe’s constitution but the lack of a constitution in Britain which, combined with a generation of English nationalism, could lead the country into crisis.

Mr Cameron suggests we abandon the European Court of Human Rights, one of whose founding nations was Britain. No civilised nation in the world can afford to abandon Human Rights.

Mr Cameron seems to believe the Euro hinders the economic competitivity of the member states. On the contrary, the Euro enforces a discipline on the member states that encourages fiscal discipline and controls inflation that leads the way to a more competitive economy: witness Germany. And compare Germany to Britain, an inflationary economy, or Italy — remember the ‘years of lead’?

But worst of all, Mr Cameron wants to introduce a referendum which flies in the face of British parliamentary sovereignty.

Gregor Dallas
Author and Historian
19 March 2013

Fall in Output from Construction Sector

Mardi, mars 12th, 2013

An opposition Labour party press release on Twitter says “Shocking Construction output figures from the ONS, shows that Cameron and Osborne’s economic plan isn’t working“.
To describe this as “shocking” is to use rather over-blown language on the electorate for effect before examining the detail, but output from the British construction sector fell 6.3% in January, 2013 and is still 7.9% lower than a year ago. The major contributor to this overall decline was the private (and largest) sector with 22% of construction output and over which investment government has less control, but this contributed an even larger 14% decline compared with a year ago.
The challenge for this government with its severe budget constraints is then how to balance limited funding of major public projects (over which it has more control), with also encouraging the important private sector (over which it has less control) to take more risk, in order to develop overall growth in the construction sector.
Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is already calling for more borrowing to invest in schools, transport and homes, while the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) wants the government/Bank of England to underwrite private investment in infrastructure projects to lower the costs of funding.
Taken together with the tightening regulation and deleveraging of the financial sector which is driving up costs, adding to the uncertainty and restricting the flow of credit , there is a current risk-averse culture in the private sector of the economy which is difficult for the government to offset, without accepting too much of the risk (cost).
One of the most challenging future construction projects is for new nuclear power stations which both the present government and the previous Labour one have pledged to build without public subsidy. In the final negotiations with EDF (which is 84% owned by the French state) for support in building the first new reactor in Britain in two decades at Hinkley Point in Somerset, EDF is asking the government to underwrite part of the project to reduce finance costs, as well as for “change of law” protections against policy changes by future governments. EDF and its possible future investing partner in the project China Guangdong Nuclear Power, are also expecting a minimum electricity supply price to be legislated by the government, to be able to recover the £14 billion construction cost over the project operating cycle. This minimum supply price is likely to come out at around twice the current market rate for power meaning that the British consumer will also have to contend with significantly higher electricity bills.
If the British government to meet its low carbon targets finally underwrites the financing and subsidises the output price, it needs to negotiate in exchange a maximum transfer of technology know-how and project content to British companies such as Rolls Royce, to re-build local capability in the nuclear industry and reduce the outflow of billions of pounds to such foreign suppliers in the future.
Reference: Business Section of Sunday Times 10th March, 2013.

YouGov Poll Preferences: Labour Majority 30% Conservative Majority 29%

Vendredi, mars 1st, 2013

Despite Labour currently holding a leading 40% or more share of popular opinion in the polls, why is it that just 30% of those most recently sampled by YouGov in their preferred election outcome tracker, would prefer a Labour majority, only 1% ahead of the Conservatives at 29%?
Is this just a further example of a similar problem with an EU referendum, that the outcome can be heavily influenced by the actual question posed and intervening events? The current experience with coalition government results in majorities for Labour-Liberal Democrat or Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalitions, being less than half as popular with the public.