No Comfort fro Cameron from Juncker Vote in European Parliament

this article was published by EUreporter.co on 22 October

Juncker statement on EU free movement of people puts Cameron between rock and hard place

EU Reporter Correspondent | October 22, 2014 |
Any hopes that David Cameron might have that the new centre right dominated European Commission would help him on the question of EU citizens living and working in Britain evaporated when the new European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker said he “would not compromise on free movement of people as a fundamental principle of EU Treaties”.
Juncker was speaking after he won a comfortable majority to be installed as Commission president along with his new team of Commissioners. Juncker won the support of 423 MEPs with the hard left, the populist anti EU nationalist right like Ukip, and the Le Pens, father and daughter, voting against him along with assorted anti Jewish and neo Nazi MEPs. Conservative MEPs voted not to vote and abstained in the Juncker confirmation. Some of them voted explicitly against Juncker. A few confirmed the Commission to show support for the new UK Commissioner, Lord Hill. It is modest progress. Four months ago David Cameron, his entire party machine, British diplomats and much of the British press and EU experts in London were united in condemning Juncker sometimes in grotesque terms. Now as Downing Street realises they may need the skilful Luxembourg pro business and pro banking Europeanistafter all the Conservative government has shelved its Juncker bashing. But not to the point of actually voting for him. Juncker was curt with journalists trying to score political points at his confirmation news conference. Tory reticence to endorse him in a purely nominal vote will not have been unnoticed.
The Conservatives, from their point of view, may be right. Charles Bremner, the acute European editor of The Times, a paper that has been headlining the obsessive language Prime Minister Cameron is now using about controlling free movement of EU citizens asked Juncker if he could give London any comfort on the immigration question. Juncker was categorical in his ‘No’. “Freedom of movement is a basic principle of the European Union. If it goes so do other freedoms (of goods, capital, services). I am not prepared to change that. I am not prepared to compromise.” No other journalist in the packed press conference briefing room followed up on the question from the man from The Times.
What is a daily obsession of the British political and media class does not have the same traction across the Channel. Italy has 1 million Romanians, Germany has more Poles than the UK, and while populist parties in the model of Ukip play the card of too many foreigners arriving from new, poorer EU member states no party other than the out and out anti EU withdrawalist parties like the Front National of Mrs Le Pen in France shares the British Tory and Ukip view that the EU core principle of free movement must be completely changed. Juncker said that member states can take their own initiatives providing they do not challenge the core EU free movement principle.
He was talking about controlling access to benefits and welfare. But he added he had not seen any proposals from Downing Street on this. There was little comfort either for the widespread view of mainstream Conservatives and business groups like the CBI that Britain needs to opt out of the European social model as an essential reform if there is to be support for a referendum vote in 2017 to stay in the EU. Juncker told MEPs “It is up to us to ensure that the handwriting of the European Social Model is clearly visible in everything we do. Because Europe is the protective shielf for all of us who can call this magnificent continent their home.”
Finally, Juncker said that the new method of choosing a European Commission president, involving nominations by party groups, an open contest between candidates prior to European Parliament elections and then the person with the most votes for his political family being accepted by the Parliament and heads of government had worked well and was now dug in and would become a settled way of choosing future European Commission presidents. A smiling Martin Schultz, the pugnacious German social democrat who is president of the European Parliament and who was the candidate of the centre left for the Commisison post sat purring beside Juncker nodding in enthusiastic agreement at this symbolic transfer of power from national govenrment heads to MEPs.
Again, the Conservative Party is outside this loop ever since David Cameron quit the broad centre right alliance of parties in 2009 to form a new more nationalistic and anti Brussels political group, the ECR (European Conservatives for Reform). Many of the London writers and think tank commentators on Europe including the FT, the Economist and the Centre for European Reform were scornful of these new post Lisbon Treaty arrangements to chose the European Commission President. They may yet be proved right if the new Commission cannot live up to the grandiose assertion from Juncker that “Citizens are losing faith, extrremists on the left and right are nipping at our heels. It is time we breathed a new lease of life into the European project.”
For many in the Eurosceptic political, business and media elites in London far from giving a kiss of life to the “European project” they would like it sent to Dignitas in Zurich. After the Juncker language today the gap between the Britain of Tories, Ukip and Rupert Murdoch and the rest of the EU seems wider than ever and growing wider fast.
Denis MacShane is the UK’s former Europe minister.

France, UK

this article was published in Slate.fr 23 October 2014

Slate.fr 18 October 2014

La France doit-elle imiter l’Angleterre et redécouvrir les vertus de Keynes?

Alors que les conservateurs britanniques redécouvrent les vertus de leur économiste le plus célèbre, les socialistes français, eux, sont obligés d’appliquer une théorie et une pratique monétaire qui datent de l’époque de la République de Weimar.
Denis MacShane
S’il y a bien un pays de l’Union européenne qui semble afficher une santé économique resplendissante, c’est le Royaume-Uni. L’économie y paraît solide avec une croissance à plus de 3%, alors qu’en France et dans les autres pays de la zone euro, elle évolue autour de zéro. Pendant des décennies, sinon des siècles, la France et l’Angleterre n’ont cessé de se mesurer: à présent, les chiffres de la croissance semblent être en faveur de la seconde.
Outre-Manche, sous le gouvernement conservateur de David Cameron, le chômage s’élève à 6,5%, alors qu’il est de 10,2% sous le gouvernement socialiste de François Hollande.
Chiffres parfois trompeurs
Mais les chiffres peuvent être trompeurs. Pour la plupart des Britanniques occupant un emploi, la rémunération ou le pouvoir d’achat sont en baisse. Au Royaume-Uni, les statistiques nationales sont calculées sur la base des activités économiques de Londres et de sa région, où le taux de chômage s’élève à la moitié de ce qu’il est dans le nord du pays.
Nombreux sont les économistes britanniques qui craignent qu’une autre bulle immobilière n’éclate, étant donné que les prêts ont été accordés à des taux d’intérêt quasi-nuls, ce qui a encouragé les particuliers à s’endetter pour acheter des biens à des prix surévalués, créant ainsi une situation qui ne peut pas durer.
En dépit de cela, l’économie britannique semble se porter beaucoup mieux que l’économie française. Quelles en sont les raisons? Dans une étude intitulée «La France et le Royaume Uni face a la crise (2008-2014)» publiée par le Cercle d’Outre-Manche, un groupe de patrons, banquiers et professionnels basés à Londres font état d’un marché du travail flexible, du nombre d’emplois réduit dans le secteur public et d’une procédure aisée pour créer des entreprises.

Toutefois, tout n’est pas complètement négatif en France. Cette étude indique qu’au cours des dix dernières années, son PIB par habitant a été systématiquement plus élevé que celui du Royaume-Uni. Phil Collins, éditorialiste du Times, écrit que «la productivité horaire des Français, mesurée en dollars, est quasiment égale à celle des Américains et supérieure à celle des Britanniques et des Allemands. Ils n’ont pas de leçon à recevoir de nous, ni en matière de productivité ni en matière de dur labeur. Les Français font en moyenne des semaines de 39,5 heures de travail, ce qui est tout juste au-dessous de la moyenne de l’UE. » Le Cercle d’Outre-Manche fait remarquer qu’au Royaume-Uni, la semaine de travail est en moyenne de 37,1 heures.
Cameron, le dernier des keynésiens
Mais si le Royaume-Uni connaît aujourd’hui une croissance plus soutenue que la France, c’est parce que son Premier ministre David Cameron est le dernier des keynésiens.
La théorie et la pratique de John Maynard Keynes ont été officiellement interdites par les grands prêtres du libéralisme pur et dur qui contrôlent la politique économique de l’UE. Londres, toutefois, n’est pas soumise aux idéologues de la Banque centrale européenne.
En Grande-Bretagne, les déficits et la dette se sont aggravés. L’endettement public s’élève à 91% du PIB –bien au-delà du niveau autorisé par le traité de Maastricht. Les intérêts versés par le gouvernement britannique pour s’acquitter de sa dette sont passés de 40,5 milliards d’euros en 2010 à 62 milliards d’euros aujourd’hui. Depuis que le gouvernement conservateur est arrivé au pouvoir en 2010, l’endettement public par habitant a presque doublé.
L’année dernière, 14.000 fonctionnaires de plus ont été recrutés. La rémunération des cadres de la fonction publique a augmenté. 200 directeurs de villes et municipalités gagnent plus que le Premier ministre. Les salaires des directeurs des hôpitaux, des universités ou de la BBC peuvent monter jusqu’à 50.000 euros par mois. David Cameron a promis d’augmenter la retraite versée par l’État au rythme d’un taux quatre fois supérieur au taux d’inflation.
Faire marcher la planche à billets
Cette générosité de l’État est sous-tendue par la plus keynésienne des politiques. Depuis 2009, la Banque d’Angleterre a injecté 430 milliards d’euros dans l’économie britannique en ayant recours à la plus vieille astuce qui soit, c’est à dire en faisant marcher la planche à billets. Sous le nom technique d’assouplissement quantitatif, elle rachète l’endettement public et injecte ainsi de l’argent frais dans les veines de l’économie britannique.
Selon l’économiste de la Banque d’Angleterre Martin Weale, cette démarche keynésienne a permis d’augmenter le PIB britannique de 3%. Si la France en faisait autant, son économie connaîtrait une reprise beaucoup plus vigoureuse.
Mais la France ne peut pas revenir à la croissance en raison des limites placées sur la croissance européenne par les libéraux ultra-orthodoxes qui contrôlent la pensée économique à Berlin et à Francfort. Elle a besoin de réformes, mais mener des réformes sans croissance est une mission impossible. Les conservateurs britanniques ont redécouvert les vertus de la pensée du bon vieux lord Keynes. Les socialistes français, eux, sont obligés d’appliquer une théorie et une pratique monétaire qui datent de l’époque de la République de Weimar.

Immigration Debate

David Goodhart wrote an interesting article about immigration in the Financial Times 24 October. I wrote this letter below in reply. Checking some stats today I looked at official Swiss statistics. 34.8 per cent of the Swiss population has a ‘migrant background’ according to the CH government. Sorry, Ukip et all but migration is good for you.

David Goodhart (How to close the door to accidental migration Comment 24 October) offers an apparently neat solution to workers coming to Britain from elsewhere in Europe, namely that they should wait two years before claiming access to benefits like social housing. Leaving to one side the question of Irish citizens who have different legal rights to live and work in the UK it is unclear what counts as social benefits. Health-care? Schools? Housing seems obvious save that the state houses asylum seekers and economic immigrants from outside the EU on the basis that modern democracies do not like to see people living rough in parks or streets. Labour sold 495,000 council homes between 1997 and 2009 and built just 24 in Yorkshire so there isn’t much social housing for anyone anymore.
Britain from the mid-1990s enjoyed the strongest growth of any EU economy. As in America robust growth sucks in foreign workers. Goodhart is wrong to say mass immigration is new. In the 1950s and 1960s there was mass migrations from Italy and Spain to northern Europe. In the 1980s the largest immigrant group in France were 750,000 Portuguese just as there are 1 million Romanians in Italy today.. In my four decades of political life it has been the arrival of immigrants from non-European countries that have caused the most negative reaction exploited or if you prefer articulated by politicians like Enoch Powell, the BNP and now most recently Ukip.The easiest way to cut immigration is to exit the EU and see a boom turn to bust. Both may be on offer soon and then all the fretting about foreigners being in Britain will fade away.

How to Reform Prisons

Guardian Comment is Free 18 October 2014

 

Prisons shame Britain and are not fit for purpose

We incarcerate far too many people without considering whether it works. The result is despair and suicide

 

By Denis MacShane

 

Last Friday a 50-year-old man in Brixton prison tied bed sheets around his neck and hanged himself in despair. His death did not make a news story, nor did that of the prisoner who killed himself in Nottingham earlier this week. There has been a 64% increase in prison suicides this year, and 125 prisoners have committed suicide in the last 20 months. The death penalty has been abolished, yet too many people leave prison in a coffin.

Reforming prisons was once a great British cause. Can it become so again? Now that parliament is back and parties are hunting for policies to cut costs and modernise Britain here is one simple proposal that can save billions for taxpayers and go with the grain of British decency: cut the number of prisoners we have.

The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, admits that prisons are under pressure and have too many suicides but says there is no crisis. The chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, warns that the dramatic increase in prisoner suicides is a result of poor prison management. Prisoner suicides are “not acceptable in a civilised country” Hardwick says.

Criticising Chris Grayling, especially after his foolish ban on sending books to prisoners, is easy for liberals and the left. But in 2010, Labour home and justice secretaries handed their successors a prison system that was unfit for service and the root of the problem is that far too many people are incarcerated. It is time to call a party political ceasefire on the mutual denunciations that end up with too many people being decanted into prison without sufficient staff to oversee them or prevent suicides, let alone prepare prisoners for re-entry into society.

Under Margaret Thatcher – not known as a bleeding heart liberal – the prison population was kept well under 50,000. Under David Cameron it is approaching 100,000, far higher than comparable west European countries or Canada. Each year taxpayers pick up an enormous bill for the costs of running overcrowded prisons and the recidivism that arises because they are training centres for criminality.

Half of all adult prisoners are reconvicted within a year and three-quarters of prisoners under 18 leave prison and go straight back in. If our hospitals or schools had such a dreadful record there would be a public outcry.

As a former government minister who, on Christmas Eve last year was sent to Belmarsh – Britain’s hardest prison, supposedly reserved for murderers, terrorists and gunmen – then transferred to Brixton for the second half of my sentence, I saw the hidden face of prisons.

The filth and degradation were unbelievable. I was briefly imprisoned in a communist prison in Warsaw when arrested for running money to the, at the time, underground union Polish Solidarity in 1982. The food was better, the warders more humane and the cells cleaner than those in contemporary Britain.

Here, I met septuagenarians sent to rot for a minor white collar crimes, with no violence or financial loss to an individual. Prisoners who use wheelchairs and walking frames share the same space as men who scream and bang their heads against cell doors during the night. Men with serious hernias or colostomy bags walk around in agony; medical treatment is rudimentary. If you treat a man as less than a full human being do not be surprised if that is what he becomes.

The prison budget is £3bn a year more than the cost of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, or Defra. Recidivism costs a further £13bn. In Sweden and the Netherlands they are closing prisons. In France, there are just 68,000 prisoners compared to 97,000 here. The UK has more prisoners than the proposed 80,000 strong British army. Non-custodial sentences, community service, fines and electronic surveillance are all better than throwing people into prison.

What might be done? First, the political parties need to stop the childish auction about which minister – or his or her shadow – can be tougher in insisting on custodial sentences.

Second, our judges need to be weaned off their obsession with sending people to prison. The average sentence increased by 25% between 2003 and 2013. The president of the supreme court, Lord Neuberger, has said that sending people to prison for six months or less is pointless. Yet each year our judges send around 40,000 people to prison for such short periods. 35,000 people who are in prison awaiting trial end up either being cleared or given non-custodial sentences. Why do judges send them inside in the first place?

Third, the tabloid editors and journalists now doing time need to send a message back to their colleagues that the endless demands for more and more people to be sent to prison is not making society safer. Countries that have lower incarceration rates also have lower crime rates.

Making prisons work is possible with some clear thinking by politicians and judges. Right now, British prisons shame our society and are not fit for purpose.

 

Denis MacShane’s Prison Diaries are published by Biteback

Cameron discovers virtues in Lord Keynes

Slate.fr 18 October 2014

La France doit-elle imiter l’Angleterre et redécouvrir les vertus de Keynes?

Alors que les conservateurs britanniques redécouvrent les vertus de leur économiste le plus célèbre, les socialistes français, eux, sont obligés d’appliquer une théorie et une pratique monétaire qui datent de l’époque de la République de Weimar.
Denis MacShane
S’il y a bien un pays de l’Union européenne qui semble afficher une santé économique resplendissante, c’est le Royaume-Uni. L’économie y paraît solide avec une croissance à plus de 3%, alors qu’en France et dans les autres pays de la zone euro, elle évolue autour de zéro. Pendant des décennies, sinon des siècles, la France et l’Angleterre n’ont cessé de se mesurer: à présent, les chiffres de la croissance semblent être en faveur de la seconde.
Outre-Manche, sous le gouvernement conservateur de David Cameron, le chômage s’élève à 6,5%, alors qu’il est de 10,2% sous le gouvernement socialiste de François Hollande.
Chiffres parfois trompeurs
Mais les chiffres peuvent être trompeurs. Pour la plupart des Britanniques occupant un emploi, la rémunération ou le pouvoir d’achat sont en baisse. Au Royaume-Uni, les statistiques nationales sont calculées sur la base des activités économiques de Londres et de sa région, où le taux de chômage s’élève à la moitié de ce qu’il est dans le nord du pays.
Nombreux sont les économistes britanniques qui craignent qu’une autre bulle immobilière n’éclate, étant donné que les prêts ont été accordés à des taux d’intérêt quasi-nuls, ce qui a encouragé les particuliers à s’endetter pour acheter des biens à des prix surévalués, créant ainsi une situation qui ne peut pas durer.
En dépit de cela, l’économie britannique semble se porter beaucoup mieux que l’économie française. Quelles en sont les raisons? Dans une étude intitulée «La France et le Royaume Uni face a la crise (2008-2014)» publiée par le Cercle d’Outre-Manche, un groupe de patrons, banquiers et professionnels basés à Londres font état d’un marché du travail flexible, du nombre d’emplois réduit dans le secteur public et d’une procédure aisée pour créer des entreprises.

Toutefois, tout n’est pas complètement négatif en France. Cette étude indique qu’au cours des dix dernières années, son PIB par habitant a été systématiquement plus élevé que celui du Royaume-Uni. Phil Collins, éditorialiste du Times, écrit que «la productivité horaire des Français, mesurée en dollars, est quasiment égale à celle des Américains et supérieure à celle des Britanniques et des Allemands. Ils n’ont pas de leçon à recevoir de nous, ni en matière de productivité ni en matière de dur labeur. Les Français font en moyenne des semaines de 39,5 heures de travail, ce qui est tout juste au-dessous de la moyenne de l’UE. » Le Cercle d’Outre-Manche fait remarquer qu’au Royaume-Uni, la semaine de travail est en moyenne de 37,1 heures.
Cameron, le dernier des keynésiens
Mais si le Royaume-Uni connaît aujourd’hui une croissance plus soutenue que la France, c’est parce que son Premier ministre David Cameron est le dernier des keynésiens.
La théorie et la pratique de John Maynard Keynes ont été officiellement interdites par les grands prêtres du libéralisme pur et dur qui contrôlent la politique économique de l’UE. Londres, toutefois, n’est pas soumise aux idéologues de la Banque centrale européenne.
En Grande-Bretagne, les déficits et la dette se sont aggravés. L’endettement public s’élève à 91% du PIB –bien au-delà du niveau autorisé par le traité de Maastricht. Les intérêts versés par le gouvernement britannique pour s’acquitter de sa dette sont passés de 40,5 milliards d’euros en 2010 à 62 milliards d’euros aujourd’hui. Depuis que le gouvernement conservateur est arrivé au pouvoir en 2010, l’endettement public par habitant a presque doublé.
L’année dernière, 14.000 fonctionnaires de plus ont été recrutés. La rémunération des cadres de la fonction publique a augmenté. 200 directeurs de villes et municipalités gagnent plus que le Premier ministre. Les salaires des directeurs des hôpitaux, des universités ou de la BBC peuvent monter jusqu’à 50.000 euros par mois. David Cameron a promis d’augmenter la retraite versée par l’État au rythme d’un taux quatre fois supérieur au taux d’inflation.
Faire marcher la planche à billets
Cette générosité de l’État est sous-tendue par la plus keynésienne des politiques. Depuis 2009, la Banque d’Angleterre a injecté 430 milliards d’euros dans l’économie britannique en ayant recours à la plus vieille astuce qui soit, c’est à dire en faisant marcher la planche à billets. Sous le nom technique d’assouplissement quantitatif, elle rachète l’endettement public et injecte ainsi de l’argent frais dans les veines de l’économie britannique.
Selon l’économiste de la Banque d’Angleterre Martin Weale, cette démarche keynésienne a permis d’augmenter le PIB britannique de 3%. Si la France en faisait autant, son économie connaîtrait une reprise beaucoup plus vigoureuse.
Mais la France ne peut pas revenir à la croissance en raison des limites placées sur la croissance européenne par les libéraux ultra-orthodoxes qui contrôlent la pensée économique à Berlin et à Francfort. Elle a besoin de réformes, mais mener des réformes sans croissance est une mission impossible. Les conservateurs britanniques ont redécouvert les vertus de la pensée du bon vieux lord Keynes. Les socialistes français, eux, sont obligés d’appliquer une théorie et une pratique monétaire qui datent de l’époque de la République de Weimar.

Collapse of UKIP Group

Huffington Post UK 17 October 2014

Beware the Loyalty of Latvian Eurosceps
Posted: 17/10/2014 09:34 BST Updated: 12 minutes ago

Latvian MEPs have always caused problem for British politics. The decision of Iveta Grigule to quit the group set up by Nigel Farage means it has had to dissolve itself leaving Ukip MEPs floating around the European Parliament like lost souls. They are without the chance of presiding committees, leading parliamentary delegations or being rapporteurs – all posts of influence and purpose in what otherwise can be rather a tedious job.
Previously David Cameron suffered from negative publicity when it was found that a Latvian MEP in the Tory breakaway group from the EPP belonged to a party which was rather keen on commemorating Latvian collaborators in World War Two who had helped in the Holocaust elimination of Latvian Jews.
To form a political group in the European Parliament, at least 25 MEPs from seven countries are needed. That is not a problem for the big political formations, the centre-right EPP, the centre left Socialists and Democrats, the Liberals, the Greens, the hard left and so forth.
But the arrival over the last decade of populist, identity, usually xenophobic MEPs has changed the political architecture. There are now 100 MEPs who are non-inscrits in the official European Parliament terminology. In the House of Commons they might be called independent but in Strasbourg they tend to come from what Britain’s deputy prime minister Nick Clegg called the “nutters, homophobes and anti-semites” amongst MEPs.
Mr Clegg’s vivid language was used to describe the new nationalist, illiberal grouping that the British Conservatives formed in 2009 with like-minded MEPs mainly from Poland and the Czech Republic. Like British Tories these groups are often loud in criticism of Brussels. But in the case of PiS, the Polish sister party to the Conservatives, what the Poles want is more agricultural subsidies from a bigger EU budget and no climate change policy that challenges Poland’s burning of lignite (brown) coal.
France’s Marine Le Pen and the Netherlands Geert Wilders hoped to form a major Eurosceptic block with Nigel Farage in the European Parliament after the May elections. The British nationalist refused saying that “antisemitism was embedded” in the French Front National. This upset Mme Le Pen as it contradicted her policy of dédiabolisation – exorcising the anti-Jewish ideology that has always been present in the French hard right. Unfortunately for Mme Le Pen last month her father – still the president of honour of the FN – made a joke about sending a Jewish singer, Patrick Bruel, to the ovens, a reminder of what lies underneath the electoral success of the FN and why Farage wants nothing to do with the French party.
Nigel Farage’s refusal to join with Marine Le Pen left her and other parties with similar Europhobe, anti-foreigner, anti-Islam ideology as Ukip without a political group in the European Parliament. Now Farage’s balloon has emptied of air and it may be that some of the more extreme nationalists in his group will peel off to link with Le Pen and Wilders and thus allow the French extremist to increase prestige and status in the European Parliament.
Relying on the Latvian Iveta Girgule was always a risk for Farage. She seems to have had several political homes starting as a Latvian Green and then joining the Latvian Farmers’ Party. She won her seat as an MEP for the Latvian Farmers Party. She opposed Latvia entering the Euro which gives some link to Farage style Euroscepticism.
Farage and his followers remain untouchable for other MEPs across the political spectrum in Strasbourg. The Ukip leader has only himself to blame. He indulges in schoolboy antics in the chamber and in debates and never turns up to serve on committees he is paid handsomely to work on. In 2009, he boasted on British television about claiming £2million in expenses as an MEP – a figure which dwarfed all the expense claiming of British MPs.
Farage comes under no scrutiny from a British media which share his Euroscepticism so this break-up of his group will get a passing mention, little more. Similarly David Cameron’s alliance with politicians ready to gloss over the Holocaust never caused him much bother.
The fissiparous and often farcical nature of populist, identity MEPs is mirrored by the endless expulsions and resignations from Farage’s Ukip party as it attracts flakey rent-a-quote individuals who can never settle to the discipline of adult party politics.
Farage is endlessly indulged by most UK journalists, notably the increasingly Eurosceptic BBC. He will survive this latest manifestation of how rickety his political edifice really is. But for those who place hopes in the European Parliament as an institution of prestige and democratic importance, this latest comedy is not encouraging

The Brits and Germans. Postmaster – Merton College magazine 2014

A Marxist in Merton

Philip Oltermann
Keeping Up With the Germans by Philip Oltermann Faber £12.99

Does Merton still keep a book for comments and suggestions in the Porter’s Lodge? I remember a plangent entry in the late 1960s when David Jessel, later a distinguished BBC journalist, wrote an appeal for soft loo paper instead of the standard issue Bronco, hard shiny sheets of paper which the hardier bottoms of earlier generations had to put up with.
Now the Guardian journalist and writer, Philip Oltermann, who came to London as a 16 year old from Germany has been digging into the Merton comments books of the 1930s and discovered some early entries from Theodor Adorno, the luminary of the so-called Frankfurt School of German philosophers and critical theorists who had to be quit Nazi Germany because they were Jews.
In a wonderful book, Keeping up with the Germans, about how the Germans see England and vice versa Oltermann was guided by his tutor at St Peter’s to the treasure trove of the Merton comment books in the 1930s. One undergraduate protested about “females making themselves seen and heard in the college bar. Is this necessary?’
But then, in February 1935, a more sober entry from Adorno: ‘Sir, I suggest that we get further supply of those cards with the Merton blazon crest. They seemed tome to be much nicer than the present ones.’
A year later, July1936, and he urged: ‘What do you think of writing paper with a crest, like the cards you got again in such a kind way after my suggestion on the subject.’
The great Marxist left soon after for California where he wrote his Dialectics of the Enlightenment, one of the key works of post-1945 philosophy and critical theory. Adorno had come to Merton in 1934 on the recommendation of John Maynard Keynes and in the world before emails and mobile phones, the card or letter sent within the college or to other colleges was the way everyone stayed in touch or arranged a rendezvous.
The sensitive 30-year-old German who had completed a PhD aged 21 and was a musical prodigy clearly enjoyed writing his little notes and messages on elegant college cards and letterheads.
His fellow if younger undergraduates sent him up with a scrawl in the Porter’s Lodge book. ‘Oh, vere, oh vere, mein lieber Herr, are our leetle envelopes gone?’
Oltermann uses Adorno’s Merton stay as an introduction to a mini-essay on Adorno’s central presence in the mental furniture of the educated post-war German. His other chapters cover the importance of football or a truly unfunny British TV sketch ‘Are You Being Served’ about a Christmas dinner in an English country house. This sketch is shown every New Year’s Eve on German TV. I even saw it on a 31st December Lufthansa flight to Asia. It is weak slapstick from a bygone age but every German has to watch this odd English 5 minute comedy as a national ritual.
At a time when the German question is again rising to the fore – whether as Europe’s dominant economy, its best football team, as a nation edging away from its Atlanticist anchor to a semi-neutralist pacificism, with a foreign policy that excuses Russian aggression, and a EUpolitik that may encourage Brexit, Britain exiting the EU, Oltermann’s book is the best guide into what makes modern Germans tick.
Adorno did not enjoy Merton. To explain ‘the true basics of my philosophy (was) practically an impossibility’ as he had to talk at a ‘child’s level’ to fellow undergraduates. Dining in hall was ‘like going back to school, in short: an extension of the Third Reich.’ He denounced jazz using Merton letterheads to write to his fellow Jewish left philosopher exile, Max Horkheimer.
He left in 1937 for sunny California and future notoriety. Oh-so-English Merton was just a transit camp.

Dr Denis MacShane was a Labour MP and Minister for Europe. He was at Merton 1966-1969

Lib Dem U Turn on EU Plebiscite

Eureporter 7 October 2014

Brexit more likely as Lib Dems U-turn on Cameron’s ‘In-Out’ referendum?
EU Reporter Correspondent | October 7, 2014 | 0 Comments
Opinion by Denis MacShane
Up to now the dividing line on David Cameron’s proposed ‘In-Out’ referendum has been clear. The Conservatives and Ukip in favour: Labour and the Liberal Democrats against.
As The Guardian reported in July: “Nick Clegg has defeated an attempt by senior Liberal Democrats to match the Tories by guaranteeing to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership in the next parliament. The deputy prime minister… won the agreement of the Lib Dem parliamentary party to stand by the current policy. This is to hold a referendum only if UK sovereignty is passed to the EU.”
That is also Ed Miliband’s policy. He has sustained his opposition to the proposed 2017 Brexit referendum despite grumblings from some senior Labour people that Labour ought to match the Tory plebiscite pledge in order to neutralize it on the doorsteps as the hunt for votes in the May 2015 general election gets under way.
Tory ministers and spin doctors have been saying consistently that the only party offering a referendum – and, implicitly, a chance to quit the EU – are the Conservatives.
But now there are signs that the Lib Dem opposition to Cameron’s 2017 referendum may be disappearing. TheFinancial Times and Guardian both ran stories quoting ‘senior’ Lib Dem sources at the party’s annual conference in Glasgow that Nick Clegg was ready to do a U-turn and accept Cameron’s 2017 In-Out referendum if that was the price of staying in a coalition with the Tories.
Clegg’s closest lieutenant both in the party and government is Danny Alexander, once the European Movement’s press officer and at the time a keen Europhile. His four years of daily working with George Osborne and the ineradicably Eurosceptic Treasury seems to have changed him. He told the Daily Telegraph that in the event of post-election coalition talks the Lib Dems would ditch their commitment against a Brexit referendum and they would ‘be able to come to an agreement which was satisfactory to both parties’.
This produced a cross response from the veteran pro-European Vince Cable who responded to the briefing that Clegg was ready to endorse Cameron’s In-Out vote by telling The Times, ‘We have made it clear that the kind of referendum the Tories want is just not on offer as far as we are concerned.’
At one level this apparent contradiction is typical of the loose lips of the party conference season. But the briefing and Alexander’s kite-flying appears part of a concerted move to ditch the red line against the Cameron In-Out referendum.
All but one of the Lib Dem MEPs who are an important pro-EU force within the party lost their seats in the May European Parliament elections. Many LibDems hold what until 1992 or 1997 were essentially petty bourgeois Tory seats especially in the south west and the north where there is vehement hostility to Europe. The BNP in 2009 and UKIP in 2014 did very well in these areas with their virulent anti-EU line.
So LibDem MPs anxious to neutralize the Tory offer of a referendum may welcome a U-turn.
If this does happen it will leave Labour isolated as the only party saying ‘No’ to Cameron’s Brexit referendum. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls visiting London this week made clear that there would be no new Treaty to help Britain and no concesssions could be made on free movement of people which appears a key demand from the Conservatives if they are to argue that the UK should stay in Europe.
2017 is the year of elections in Germany and France as well as Mr Cameron’s proposed referendum following his supposed renegotiation of Britain’s place in the EU with a major repatriation of powers to London.
Everyone in Europe wants the UK to stay an EU member. No-one in Europe knows how to make this happen on Conservative terms by 2017.
If the Lib Dems have changed their position and aligned themselves with the Conservatives it will be an major dividing line in the UK general election. Labour will be the only party that agrees with those business leaders who shudder at the thought of May 2015 opening two or more years of endlessly pro and anti-EU political infighting in Britain as well as the entire pro-growth agenda of the Juncker Commission being put on hold while the Brexit issue dominates the agenda.
But if the question of an In-Out referendum is vital to citizens’ concerns then the LibDem ditching of their opposition to Cameron’s Brexit vote may ensure the plebiscite does happen in 2017. And when voters get a chance to express their discontent with Europe in an In-Out plebiscite Brexit can very well happen. Nick Clegg has a chance to clear all this up. But otherwise his U-turn of October 2014 may signal the moment when Britain left Europe.
Denis MacShane is a former UK minister of Europe.