Posts tagged ‘Gordon Brown’
There’s never been a British general election campaign like this one! With just over a week to go before the May 6 election day it seems from the opinion polls that big changes could be on the way.
Here the Brits stand, midway between a Continental tradition of coalition government with multiple parties, and a US-style presidential battle between party leaders. The talk in Britain is of a hung parliament with no clear majority, of coalitions and of new voting systems. For some this is a threat (“look at Belgium!”), for some a promise (“look at Germany!”).
It’s the televised debates between the party leaders which have transformed this election. Nick Clegg, relatively unknown in Britain, former member of the European Parliament, member of Leon Brittan’s cabinet in the 1990s and now leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, was given his chance to shine. In an electorate still bitter at the parliamentary expenses scandal Clegg was able to distance himself and his party from the two parties which have dominated British politics for the last 60 years and to channel some of the indignation of the public in his favour.
His appeal to younger and sceptical voters seems to be particularly telling. We’ll see after the third debate next Thursday April 29 whether the Liberal Democrats can sustain their poll rating which puts them on level pegging with the Conservatives!
Britain’s relations with the EU have played a curious role in the debate so far. For both Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown the Conservatives’ secession from the European People’s Party was a stick to beat David Cameron. “Joining with a bunch of nutters” said Clegg. Cameron refused to be drawn in response other than to refer to the Polish president’s tragic death. Cameron might after all be prime minister in two weeks’ time and need all the friends he can get.
Cameron was also circumspect on EU policy issues, providing just enough to feed the appetite of a sceptical party (“in Europe, but not run by Europe”) and attacking the failure to hold a referendum on Lisbon, but giving no hostages to fortune. Take immigration for instance, which is one of the most emotive issues in this election. David Cameron, as well as Brown and Clegg, repeatedly stressed that Conservative policies would be directed at controlling the flow of “non-EU” immigrants, with passing reference to future accessions but not even a token threat to migration within the Union.
The catch phrase of the first of the debates was “I agree with Nick”, which did Mr Clegg no harm, but Gordon Brown did attack him for being anti-American – a clear confirmation of the British prime minister’s foreign policy instincts which give as much weight to the trans-Atlantic relationship as to Europe. Given his party’s opposition to the invasion of Iraq, it was an accusation that Clegg could live with.
It is impossible to predict how the euro-sceptic UK Independence Party will do on May 6. There is little sign that Europe is playing a major part in the general campaign, but any revolt against the main parties could translate into votes for UKIP and there are parts of the country such as Cornwall where anti-EU feeling runs strongly.
No one is counting their chickens. There’s little doubt that the Liberal Democrats will do well in terms of total votes in next month’s vote, but this could well translate into second place in many constituencies – the consequence of the first-past-the-post electoral system. My own prediction, or rather guess, is that the demand for change and poor turnout will hit the Labour vote, that the Conservatives will secure a small overall majority and that the Liberals will strengthen their position in the House of Commons.
This would not be a comfortable outcome if it put a newly elected prime minister David Cameron in hock to an anti-EU fringe in his own party.
I see that the EU Council of Ministers has asked the European Commission to deliver an opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU, just 10 days after Reykjavik submitted its formal request for membership. The Swedish presidency wants the report by the end of the year, and foreign minister Carl Bildt has implied that Iceland’s status as an EEA country could speed the process of the application, in contrast to the slow progress for the Balkan applicants.
The Icelanders no doubt remain shell-shocked by the collapse of their banking system and the consequent halving in the value of the krona, and crave the stability of the eurozone, but it strikes me that the path to membership may be far from smooth. At the end of the process – say in 2011 – lurks a referendum: by then the mood of the country may have changed.
Fisheries could be a major stumbling block. Seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland’s exports and 10 per cent of its gross domestic product, which is quite something when another chunk of the country’s economy – the banking system – has disintegrated. The cod wars of the 1970s, when Iceland extended its territorial limits to 200 miles and the Royal Navy sent frigates to protect British fishing vessels, showed the depth of national feeling on this issue.
Even now international relations on fisheries policy remain poor. I gather for instance that Iceland has been excluded from negotiations on the management of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic and has therefore opted out of catch allocations. The country is very concerned to rebuild cod stocks, which is a key economic asset. Stocks may be recovering but there will be intense opposition to surrendering quota to EU fishermen under the common fisheries policy. Just to add to the sensitivities, Iceland still has a whaling industry.
At least the review of the EU common fisheries policy is timely, with signs that ministers have accepted the need for fundamental change (just as well, as many fish stocks in European waters are on the point of collapse – and see Sarkozy’s change of heart). However, the fisheries chapter in the Commission’s Iceland report will be one of the most difficult to compose. Could it be the catalyst for the creation of a new fisheries policy, or will it hark back to the disastrous EU policy which has been pursued since 1973?
Becoming part of the eurozone is the big driver for Iceland, but there could be difficult issues here as well, given the level of Iceland’s public debt (about 100 per cent of gdp). For Iceland to qualify for eurozone membership could be an even greater challenge than is faced by the Baltic states and Hungary.
The vote in the Althing to apply for membership was a close run thing – 33 in favour, 28 against – and it would certainly be wrong to underestimate the negotiating difficulties which lie ahead. If the Irish vote “no” on Lisbon then the prospects for any enlargement would be gloomier still.
Meanwhile Britain’s Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague continues to inveigh against Lisbon. But whatever you think of his views, he is a consummate speaker. You may like to savour his recent performance in the House of Commons on the possibility of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council under a ratified Lisbon Treaty. No wonder Gordon Brown needs a holiday!
Related articles by Zemanta
- European Union Puts Out the Welcome Mat for Once-Aloof Iceland (nytimes.com)
- Iceland’s pain moves closer to EU gain (telegraph.co.uk)
A group of Icelanders have got together and made a website www.indefence.is that criticises British PM Gordon Brown for having used (or abused…) anti-terror legislation to freeze Icelandic assets.
The website’s key message is the simple and not entirely unreasonable “Icelanders are not terrorists”. The title tag of the website is “Darling I’m not a terrorist”, which is a dig at British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) Alistair Darling.
In the first 12 hours of the website’s existence, 20,000 Icelanders had signed the on-line petition (that’s 7% of the population!). Bear in mind that Iceland has one of the highest rates of internet use in the world with around 84% of Icelanders using the web.
The website also contains a series of “postcards” which are in effect photos of ordinary Icelanders with signs saying things like “I am not a terrorist Mr Brown” and “Who are you calling a terrorist? Look what you’ve done!”.
Anyone who has been following the financial crisis will know that Mr Brown has justified his freezing of Icelandic assets on the grounds that the Icelandic government was not doing enough to prevent its struggling banks from collapsing and taking with them the deposits of thousands of British investors.
No-one would argue that Iceland had a problem with its banks; they had foreign liabilities of $100 billion in a country with a GDP of only $14 billion. But using anti-terror legislation against a peaceful Nordic country that doesn’t even have an army? It does sound a bit far-fetched and certainly not the purpose for which the legislation was created.
It will be interesting to see how far this web campaign gets, in particular:
- How many Icelanders sign the petition
- What media coverage the website gets outside of Iceland, particularly in the UK
- Whether any NGOs/human rights activists or opposition politicians in the UK take up the case of the clearly mis-labelled Icelandic people
- Whether any lawyers work out how Iceland can sue Gordon Brown for defamation of national character
Browsing YouTube this lunch, we note that that embattled UK PM Gordon Brown is seeking to both reconnect with the voters after a trouncing in Crewe with the use of a US style YouTube Q&A session. You’ve got until the 21 June to submit your questions to him via the Downing Street YouTube channel. Questions about his future career plans are presumably not likely to get answered. All part of a strategy to make him look modern, in touch with the YouTube generation and dare we say it electable once again? We shall be only too happy to ask our charming new team member Tim Nuttall, formerly of Labour Party’s press team in London, when arrives for work here in Brussels on Monday morning.
Browsing the 27 questions so far posted, we particularly liked the one below for the oversized armchair and the swords and axes in the background. Images more powerful than words and all that.