Archive for June, 2018

Trump And Putin To Meet

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

As predicted by this blog, President Trump has followed up his success with Kim Jon Un with the news yesterday that he is to meet with President Putin. A strongman to strongman summit is to be a feature of Trump’s trip to Europe in July. This is very significant because it signals a change in the world order long overdue. The failure of Western post cold war diplomacy, especially since 9/11, with the launching of wars without end spawning a dismal line up of failed states, is stark evidence of this.

The truth is that nothing can be gained by continuing to shun Russia and exclude her from dialogue and inclusion, unless she submits to a string of demands, which in a million years we all know the Kremlin will never agree to. My guess is that Trump will seek to push the Democrats onto an island on the wrong side of events, by finessing their obsession with the Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. This he will do with a deal that brings Russia back to the G8 and to its  formal association with NATO, from which it is currently excluded, in return for a cyber security pact of some kind. No more election interference etc. They will agree to continue cooperation in the fight against what is left of IS. Difficult issues like Ukraine and Syria will be discussed but solutions will be further down the track. When they come they will concede that Assad has won the war in Syria with Russian help, the ethnic Russians in Eastern Ukraine will never agree to give up Russian protection and Crimea is, and has for centuries been, Russian.

Many people across the West, politicians, diplomats and generals, are unsettled by the dawn of an era for which they have no blueprint. Like all world orders of the past, the collective, pact driven, block system is crumbling, in part because it is no longer working and in part because people are tired of it. Whatever its merits before, now it breeds endless tension and solves no issues. Ahead is the more unpredictable world of strong leaders dealing with each other direct, rather than through armies of minders and negotiators sheltering under the broad umbrella of diplomacy.

The main players will be Trump, Putin and Xi Jinping. They will each have their red lines but they will be driven by their common interests in the new interdependent and inter-connected world which technology has empowered. This in turn may bring smaller players together to protect the interests of the majority of countries beneath the super-power strata. In other words instead of superpowers herding their followers, the superpowers will be a law unto themselves, leaving the rest to forage wherever they fancy. This may not be as bad as at first it sounds. Britain’s priority, especially post Brexit, will be to get along with all three. No prizes for guessing who, in the short term, will pose the biggest problem.

May: No Longer Governing

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Something different is happening. In the past Britain had a reputation for strong and reliable government. You may not like the policies of the party in power, but they were applied through due process and either worked well or not so well. The government was united in its endevours, supported by a majority in parliament and held together by Cabinet responsibility.

None of this is now happening. The governing party is at war within itself, the cabinet is split asunder by Brexit, austerity and many other issues. Nobody knows what kind of Brexit is coming, whether policies announced will ever come into effect, like £20 billion for the NHS, enough money to maintain our defence programme, a third runway at Heathrow, no hard borders, funding for social care, improvements in education, the list is long and growing. Yet in not a single case does the government seem able or even willing to deliver. The reason is that no party so riven by disagreement, with Cabinet ministers openly attacking each other across the media and rubbishing policies which they are supposed to be supporting, can actually govern. It becomes an un-government, which is what we have now.

How long the country can cope with being un-governed we do not know, because we have not been here before. However we can, all of us whatever our allegiances,  unite around one verity. This cannot go on for much longer.

Trump Blinks: Good News For Children

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

And it may be good news for Trump too. Aside from being a cruel and heartless policy inflicted upon vulnerable people who have committed no crime in the accepted sense, making seeking asylum a crime is no more a real crime than making drinking coke a crime and especially in a nation largely built out of asylum seekers and immigrants. It was also a political blunder. Assailed on all sides on Capitol Hill and especially among leading Republicans about which Trump was irritated rather than surprised, from his close family which disturbed him, and from the international community about which he cared not a jot, Trump has issued another executive order stopping the separation of families in the border drama now unfolding.

America allows Trump to do all sorts of things for which any other president would be censured, because he was elected to disrupt the established order. One of the reasons he will escape immediate poll drain, is that very few presidents, having screwed up, will do anything about it. Trump did. Of course he dressed it up in familiar Trump wrappings, but it was a climb down. Yet he is bigger for it. What effect this will have on future electoral prospects varies from none to ‘the moment when’. In other words nobody knows.

Melania Hits Out: Laura Bush Too

Monday, June 18th, 2018

It is surely unprecedented, certainly in recent times, for a First Lady to criticise an outcome of one of her husband’s policies, but Melania Trump has been forthright in her complaint about immigrant children being separated from their families. She has been supported by former First Lady, Laura Bush. This cruel and nasty practice is a direct result of pumping anti-Mexican prejudice and building walls.

This is America for goodness sake! It is a country built on immigration and breaking down prejudices and barriers. Treating migrants desperate to share in its opportunities as criminals and taking their children from them is an unforgivable behavior for any country and doubly so for America. If another 50 cities are needed in the United States to accommodate those who are willing to work hard  to become loyal Americans, then it can be done. Unlike Europe, there is no shortage of space or resources.

The Republican Party is rightly growing anxious and Trump needs to reign in his border authorities and the Justice Department. The Kim Jon Un votes dividend in November can easily be lost on videos of screaming toddlers being dragged away from their parents and herded into converted supermarket detention camps. That is the kind of thing America  is against. It is not what America does.

Parliamentary Insult To Women

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

Like millions of Brits I feel deeply disturbed that the country of which I am a citizen is governed by a legislature under standing orders which permit an entire law making process to be brought to a halt because one of its members shouts ‘object’. It is a childish tradition of secret societies, public schools and gentleman’s clubs to have words and practices which mystify outsiders but within the magic circle cast the spell of belonging. It is no way to govern a country.

When it turns out the law in question was to make the humiliating practice of upskirting, which causes women and young girls very real distress, unlawful, and that it was brought to a halt by a Thatcher era grandee who is reported to have admitted to not even knowing what upskirting actually was, there is a sense of national outrage. May is among the millions appalled and has promised to put the government’s weight behind the legislation to get it through. She should also withdraw the Tory whip from Sir Christoper Chope, his constituency party should deselect him and whatever authority supervises membership in this party of shrinking numbers, should expel him.

This insult to women across our country must not be allowed to go unchallenged.

A Split Parliament: The Case For Coalition.

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

At the start of WWII the Tory party was badly split between appeasers and those who wanted to confront Germany. As the blitzkrieg took hold and Churchill became prime minister, he was backed by a split and lukewarm Tory Party. Many in its ranks and in the War Cabinet wanted to open peace talks via Mussolini (Italy was not yet in the war) but Churchill wanted to fight on. His strength lay in his character, but his political power lay in the fact that he led a coalition. And the Labour and Liberal parties backed his fighting determination, together with enough Tories to see off the peace faction.

Brexit is the biggest test since WWII for the prosperity and strength of the United Kingdom. Whether you are for it or against it, the danger now lies in either course on terms which are structurally and financially hobbling to future growth, engagement, influence, opportunity and prosperity. Both the main political parties are split between Leave and Remain, and split again within those definitions as well. The government is itself so badly split it is unable to progress negotiations with the EU on all the key issues, because its warring ministers cannot agree what kind of Brexit it is they want. May is reduced to winning parliamentary votes by making promises which she cannot keep.

This is no way to run a country at the best of times but as of now it is the biggest threat the UK faces. Bigger than Russian hackers or IS terrorists. Because although malign attacks from without can damage and cause pain, it is conflict within which truly destroys. It is therefore the view of this blog that the nature of our government has at once to change. There is a substantial majority in the House of Commons for an intelligent Brexit, which puts the economy and jobs first and pays the price to achieve that. There is an even bigger majority in the Lords and polls predict that there is also a majority in the country.

Moreover there is now an existential threat to the integrity of the United Kingdom. If Brexit goes pear shaped, the SNP will get the support it needs to guarantee a win in a second independence referendum. And in Northern Ireland the obdurate power of the DUP will drain away and the North will unite with the South.

So Theresa May, Madame Fudge to this blog, can fudge no longer. It is imperative we have a united cabinet made up of ministers who put country before ideology and are willing to deliver an economically sound Brexit which protects jobs and business, preserves vital institutions and points the way to better times. This means relying on the majority in the Commons from across all parties for such a course, whether there is a formal coalition or not. The hard core Brexiteers, mostly rich and detached from ordinary lives, should be fired from the government and thrown onto the back benches. Here they can howl and shriek and cause a fuss but they will not have a majority there in the Commons, nor in the Lords, nor in the country. And, leaving the best bit till last, May needs to dump the DUP. Shacking up with them was the biggest mistake of all.

May: Madame Fudge Is At It Again

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

There was excitement last night as Tory rebels planning to vote against the arguing mob that their government has become, were bought off by promises from an anxious May, as they jammed into her office in the Commons not long before the vote. Afterwards they thought they could take her at her word and voted with the government, enabling it to claim a victory. However it was not long before official and unofficial denials were being issued across Whitehall that any meaningful concession had been made. So now there is said to be simmering anger. Wow.

The problem is not actually who voted for what last night, nor what they will vote for today. The problem is that the EU does not know, the country does not know, the worlds of business, law, medicine, money and science do not know, indeed nobody knows, where the government is trying to get to or what Brexit will actually mean in practice. We in fact know less than we did at the beginning in June 2016. The reason for this historic state of universal don’t know, is because the government, whose raison d’etre is to know, still has no idea and whenever it gets an idea, it is either unworkable or it produces so much shouting around the cabinet table that it has to be abandoned.

So today the only thing we can know pretty much for sure is this. It may not end well. Not for anyone. But especially not for the government.

Singapore Success? For Trump Yes.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Whether you like Trump or hate him, or whether you like him some days and hate him others depending on his whims, no other president could have pulled off such a meeting. The key was chemistry between two showmen who, after trading insults and a string of military provocations, both see that the road to oblivion is not very attractive for anybody. On the other hand peace after decades of technically a state of war will bring huge benefits to all and, important for showmen, will make them megastars of history.

Each has given ground. Kim has stopped firing missiles, testing H bombs and has blown up some probably past their usefulness testing facilities. His stock of nuclear bombs and missiles to carry them remains. Nobody knows how many of which. Trump has stopped military exercises, but retains the biggest nuclear battle fleet ever assembled on station in Korean waters.

So what is special about this? It has been this blog’s view that the art of western diplomacy has become obsessed with practice, but neglectful of outcome. Thus, since the end of the cold war practically nothing has been resolved and much of the benefit offered by the easing of east west tensions has been squandered. Since 9/11 everything has failed to deliver on the promise. An obsession with democracy as the answer to everything has prolonged civil war in Syria and turned Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan into failed states, demanding never ending involvement in trying to sort out the consequences. Perversely a refusal to accept democratic process as legitimate has prolonged the now unending division of Ukraine which looks set on a sixty year stint of its own.

So Trump promised he would do it differently. He bypassed professional diplomats, ignored protocols. He turned his back on regime change, fair elections and human rights as preconditions for even holding talks about talks. Instead he relied upon the chemistry of leader to leader contact to find common interest and mutual benefit. First it worked with China, now it has made a spectacular start with North Korea. Russia is next. This US President applies the same principles to deals he does not like and trade which is not balanced. His western allies have cried out in dismay and expressed disappointment and upset. He has told them to get stuffed.

The American people were at first unsure of what they had done in electing a maverick to the White house, but polls show increasing popularity as Trump puts America first. Many of his domestic policies are popular and appear to be offering economic growth, even if down the track, they bring new problems of their own. So everybody will have to get used to change in the way things happen, the way things are done and the way things are judged. because one thing is now for sure. Trump himself will not change.



Trump And The G7

Monday, June 11th, 2018

Trump is an unusual President for many different reasons. Normally it is the case with politicians that you either support them or you oppose them. It is the nature of democracy that there must be both government and opposition. Trump is different. First of all he is not a politician and he has little time for politics. His style of leadership is that of the dictator. It is all about me and what I say goes, even if I said the opposite yesterday. Thus he gets on rather well with other leaders whose systems verge on or are actual dictatorships. And he quarrels all the time with all his allies, who represent a more collective notion of leadership and a more collegiate system of governing. Put simply he admires his enemies whilst his allies annoy him.

This blog therefore does not broadly oppose Trump as it does May, or broadly support him, as it does Corbyn. It has to pick and mix. So on social issues we are opposed to Trump hook, line and sinker. But on foreign policy we see some refreshing innovation. No other President has, or would have, brought so much hope to the Korean peninsular, or been willing to take a chance and meet with Kim Jon Un more or less on spec.

On the G7 the view from here is more nuanced. Yes Putin should be back there and it should be the G8 again. The business about ‘annexing’ Crimea is tripe. It has been Russian for centuries and is inhabited by Russians, 90% of whom voted to rejoin Russia on an 85% turnout. Trump, a realist who does reality TV, knows that. Europe is doing itself more harm than good keeping Russia in the cold over everything and on this Crimea issue in particular.

The reasons behind the US rust belt are more to do with lack of investment and inferior products, in the case of cars, and much less to do with unfair tariffs. The average tariff suffered by American exports is 4.5% and the average for the EU is 3.5%, so across the board this stuff about robbing the piggy bank is a delusion. What is not nonsense is the cost of NATO. Europe is not a continent bankrupt and ravaged by war any longer. It is a major, united and prosperous economic power. It should bear the costs of its own defence. Trump is right to complain. Europe now can, and should, stand on its own feet. America bankrolling military expenses is not only wrong but bad for Europe.

In the end whatever Trump wants will be the way he goes. What is in question is who and how many will follow him. At the moment this does not appear to include the G remaining 6. Maybe it is better that way. Either have America and Russia both in the deal, or neither.


Rail Chaos: Enough is More Than Enough

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

What is taking place on the railways is unforgivable. People who have to travel to work face stress enough in the modern world. They also, if buying rail season tickets, face excessive prices for poor service. Now in several parts of the country the service is disintegrating causing anxiety, suffering and exhaustion to innocent people, whose lifestyle, especially when it comes to family life, is in ruins. The economic cost is yet to be measured but it is bad.

And what is the government doing? Well for a start Downing Street has declared full confidence in the Transport Secretary. That will thrill the crowded platforms and burstingly overloaded trains. And what is the Transport Secretary doing? He has set up an inquiry to discover what went wrong. The answer to that question is simple and can be answered in a trice. He went wrong. And not for the first time. Sooner or later he will have to go.

In point of fact, so will they all.