Guardian Comment is Free 5th May 2015

The political conspiracy of silence over British exit from Europe
Denis MacShane
David Cameron does not see his referendum pledge on as an election winner and Ed Miliband will not remind voters he is

he dog that hasn’t barked so far in this election is Europe. The hopes, on one side, and fears, on the other, that the 2015 election would be a High Noon showdown on the European Union have just not happened.
Arguably there is a bigger divide between the Conservatives and Labour on Europe than on any other issue. In contrast to David Cameron, Ed Miliband, against the urging of Labour shadow ministers and senior MPs, flatly ruled out a referendum that might risk a British exit.
Ukip exists for two reasons – to obtain a referendum and then to vote Britain out of Europe. David Cameron conceded half the Ukip demand in January 2013. Logically, Ukip voters who want to power forward to a Brexit vote with the help of the Europhobe offshore-owned press should vote Tory to get their plebiscite. But neither the prime minister nor his Labour challenger have made the Brexit referendum question central to their campaign.
The Liberal Democrats have hummed and hawed but quietly parked their once proudly proclaimed Europhile principles. Nick Clegg now makes clear he would accept a plebiscite with the risk of an out vote if that were the price of continuing the coalition. The lure of a red box trumps a red-line principle against risking Brexit.
Labour tried to launch its campaign by highlighting its opposition to a referendum on the grounds that it would cause business and investor uncertainty. Miliband chose an extremely expensive advertisement in the Financial Times to make his pitch, but it came unstuck as business leaders who were quoted in the advert protested that their names should not be used for party political ends.
Tony Blair got stuck in a week later with a powerful speech in favour of staying in the EU and against the in-out referendum. Two hours later, Labour announced its dramatic policy of ending non-dom status and Blair’s intervention was wiped off the news agenda.
Since then nothing. Candidates from both main parties report that neither the referendum nor the EU are much raised on the doorstep. The idea that the referendum promise would be an election winner for Cameron or cost Miliband votes does not seem to have materialised. The Conservatives have reduced the volume about the referendum because they know that the fears of leaving the EU are real and that business, while it has no love for EU regulation and Brussels, will not take kindly to Britain leaving a market of 500 million consumers.
Labour does not want to remind voters that a Miliband government is not going to give people a specific say on EU membership via an in-out plebiscite. So, starting from different ends, both parties meet in the middle with an unspoken concordat to keep Europe out of the election.
Across the Channel, however, there is fear and anger that Britain may be heading towards a vote that will tear Europe apart. Le Monde’s headline on Sunday was “Europe: the crucial issue in the British election”. Its editorial argued: “Everything is in place for a catastrophic scenario – the UK slipping out of the EU, perhaps even by accident.” Der Spiegel on Sunday wrote: “Rarely was so much at stake in Europe as in the British election with, in the worst case, a withdrawal from Europe.” Similar headlines are all over the continental press, but in the UK there is a conspiracy of silence to make Europe and Brexit a non-issue.
I should declare an interest: I wrote a book published two months ago analysing pro-Brexit forces. If Miliband becomes prime minister, it will have to be remaindered, if not pulped, on 8 May. As a pro-European, that’s just fine. If Cameron and Clegg stay in charge, we should prepare for two ugly years as populist anti-EU forces are marshalled by Rupert Murdoch. It will be his last great fight against the Europe he loathes. The 60th anniversary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome may be celebrated by the isolation of Britain from Europe.
The EU should focus on jobs, its projects for infrastructure investment, capital markets and energy union, sorting out Greece and facing down Putin’s aggression. Instead it may be la question anglaise that dominates the European agenda until 2017. The self-regarding vanity of eurosceptics that only their point of view matters will be tested on Thursday. If they get their Brexit plebiscite, the Disunited Kingdom will become more centrifugal and the potential damage to Europe will be immense.
But it is too late to insert these worries and arguments into an election that has avoided discussing Europe with a determination that our friends across the Channel, the Irish Sea and even the Atlantic find disturbing, indeed shocking.

UK Election

10 Things They Won’t Tell You about the British Election
Today’s election is the strangest in recent British political history.
By Denis MacShane, May 7, 2015

1. Britain has finally become European. After a century of red or blue majority governments headed by either the Conservatives or Labour, Britain is becoming continental, more like the Netherlands, Denmark or, perish the thought, Greece! –- with multi-party elections, coalitions and no single party able to win a majority.
British electors no longer trust any single party to govern well or fairly and neither Prime Minister David Cameron nor his challenger, Labour leader Ed Miliband,has inspired or impressed.
2. Opinion polls are close to useless in the new electoral landscape. They survey 1,000-1,300 people to announce that the two main parties are stuck around 32, 33 or 34%. But each of the UK’s 650 constituencies is now its own election battlefield and a nationwide opinion poll talking to two people per constituency tells very little.

3. The Ross Perot effect. For the Conservatives, Ross Perot is the populist anti-European UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) which is sucking away Tory votes in England. Polling at between 10 and 15% of voting intentions means some small-majority Tory seats can be lost.
In Scotland, a tartan Ross Perot effect can be seen by the SNP (Scottish Nationalist Party) now expected to win a good number, if not all, Labour seats in Scotland, which will destroy Labour’s hopes of forming a government without help from other parties. But Scotland is now Britain’s Quebec.
4. Quebec. The Scottish parliament and devolved government set up by Tony Blair has turned into a full-flung independence movement. Not enough (as in Quebec) to win a referendum but enough to support separatist politics strong enough to tilt the balance of power in the House of Commons.
The Scottish nationalist leader, Nicola Sturgeon, is incisive, good on TV and sounds radical. She may hold the balance of power after election day on May 7th, even if no other party leader wants to be in bed with her.
5. Only domestic politics matter. Despite huge global problems – Putin in Ukraine, IS in Middle East, the disaster of the intervention by David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in Libya, there is no place for foreign or defense policy issues in the campaign. Labour leader Ed Miliband tried to attack David Cameron over Libya, but came close to blaming Cameron for the tragic Mediterranean migrant drownings.
Britain is giving up on being a geo-political player. The proposed size of the British Army – a tiny 50,000 soldiers – is half the number of prisoners in UK prisons. Neither party will commit to meeting the 2% of GDP on defense set by NATO as the minimum target.
6. The end of ideas. This is an election without ideology. No-one mentions capitalism or socialism. The press is full of what kind of wives and home life the party leaders have. Ed Miliband offers to freeze electricity bills or link rent hikes to inflation.
David Cameron promises to hold down railway ticket prices. The nation yawns. This is a big-idea-free contest as the broad offers on managing Britain of the two potential Prime Ministers are more or less the same.
7. Where’s Social Media? Party loyalists tweet blah-blah and post pictures of candidates talking to a few people. No-one comes to meetings unless bussed in. Both camps produce ersatz pictures of teenage girls rah-rahing for Ed or Dave. But no-one is fooled. The argument that Social Media would dominate politics and make a difference to how people vote is not holding up in the British election maybe because of politics without personalities.

8. Politics without personalities. There are no stars who turn voters’ heads. The entire British political class – right, left, center – seems to have been to Oxford or Cambridge, done only politics for a living and sounds like salesmen for a product they don’t believe in passionately.
Tony Blair briefly flared with a powerful speech on Europe. For a few hours, there was a sense that a master politician was back, but the impact was quickly dissipated as fustian party leaders made new announcements that took over the day’s election news agenda.
9. Words no longer matter. This is an election without words, rhetoric or even half-decent sound bites. Labor leader Ed Miliband reprised Ronald Reagan when he turned to Prime Minister David Cameron and said, “There you go again” in the one TV debate where they met face to face. But the debate was farcical, as it involved seven party leaders – Tory, Labor, Liberal Democrats, UKIP as well as Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties.
Each leader had just two minutes to make a pitch and could not directly challenge each other as they answered questions from the moderator and the audience. No one learned anything from this stunted parody of an election debate. Since then, party leaders have answered questions separately and avoided direct debates with each other.
10. The unspoken issue. There is one monumental choice which will be determined by whether David Cameron stays in Downing Street or is replaced by Ed Miliband. If the former, Mr. Cameron has pledged to hold an In-Out referendum to allow Britain to quit the European Union at the polls in 2017.
Mr. Miliband has rejected this Brexit plebiscite, arguing that to spend two years of negotiating new terms for British membership of the EU will create global, not just European and British, uncertainty for investors and strategic partners like the United States.
So if Brits vote Cameron back into power, a Brexit referendum is held with the high risk of a vote to quit the EU. Vote Miliband and the UK stays in Europe, no question. This is by far the biggest issue that divides the Conservatives and UKIP from their liberal-left and nationalist opponents.
Yet the press and TV have had no discussion of the merits or demerits of Britain and Europe being dominated by a Brexit referendum debate between now and 2017, when Mr. Cameron proposes to hold his plebiscite.
Thus the one big difference between Cameron and Miliband has yet to become a major issue. The election is the strangest in recent British political history. With only a few days to go, it is refusing to come to life.
And whoever enters 10 Downing Street will face a surly unsettled Commons without a majority so the chances of a fresh election well before the end of the five year parliamentary term remain high.

John Kampfner’s book “The Rich”

Tribune 1 May 2015

Here is the problem, but what exactly is the answer?
Written By: Denis MacShane
Published: May 1, 2015 Last modified: April 28, 2015
All politics now depends on the rich. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg all appoint rich donors to be legislators in parliament – a profoundly corrupt practice not permitted anywhere else in the democratic world. But we don’t care.
John Kampfner, a high-quality journalist, who went into cam¬paigning with Index on Censorship and is now trying to coalesce our creative industries into a properly coordinated outfit, has written an enjoyable two millennium account of ultra-rich people from the Romans to Roman Abramovich.
Politically motivated readers hoping to find a manual on how the rich can pay their share will be disappointed, though. This a fine series of
mini-biographies of Medicis and Krupps, as well as infinitely corrupt Brits such as Clive of India, but as a political manifesto there isn’t much that will worry the rich, and given the dependence of all three main parties and UKIP on wealthy donors, the rich are right to relax.
Kampfner cites US Senator Carl Levin for grandstanding in a 2010 Senate Committee hearing about the “‘shitty deals” done by Goldman Sachs and the other banksters in New York, London and elsewhere who destroyed the world economy at the end of the century’s first decade.
But as he points out, the Senate Committee’s 10 members had received more than $500,000 in payments from the bank for their re-election.
It is slighty different here, where top civil servants who would never dream of taking a bribe when in gov¬ernment service would never dream of turning down a lucrative job once they take their handsome pensions.
Our finest QCs at the CPS turn a blind eye to the crimes that have laid waste the economy while chasing a few journalists or marijuana traders as if they were the real problem.
Look at BBC execs, univ¬ersity vice-chancellors, the editor of The Guardian, town hall chiefs or school heads. What RH Tawney called “the reverence for riches, the lues Angli-cana, the hereditary disease of the English nation” now has us in an iron grip going well beyond the vulgar tax-dodging wealthy. It infects all who can boost income at the expense of fairness and justice in the public as much as the private sphere.
Kampfner describes the problem. What is the solution?

Article in Le Temps – French Swiss daily

IL ÉTAIT UNE FOIS Samedi 02 mai 2015
L’Europe, un fantôme dans la maison britannique
Joëlle Kuntz
La Grande-Bretagne, entre terre et mer. (AKGS0)

Les élections du week-end prochain décideront si un référendum aura lieu sur l’appartenance de la Grande-Bretagne à l’Union européenne. La question européenne décidera ainsi de la carrière de David Cameron, comme elle avait déjà décidé de la carrière de la plupart de ses prédécesseurs

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La marche des électeurs britanniques vers les urnes se déroule dans l’ambiance lancinante des fins de partie quand les pions ont été joués au prix fort: que les conservateurs gardent une majorité aux Communes et il y aura un référendum en 2017 sur l’appartenance du Royaume-Uni à l’Union européenne; qu’ils la perdent en faveur des travaillistes et la question européenne restera provisoirement sous le tapis; qu’il n’y ait pas de majorité du fait de l’éclatement progressif du système bipartisan et l’Europe sera l’enjeu empoisonné d’une coalition forcée, promise au plus grand stress. A en croire Denis Mac¬Shane, l’ancien ministre de Tony Blair pour les Affaires européennes, il n’y a aucun signe probant de la volonté des Britanniques de continuer à participer à l’organisation politique et économique du Vieux Continent. Tout indique au contraire que le référendum promis par le premier ministre, David Cameron, se soldera, s’il a lieu, par un oui de sortie, un «Brexit», formule choc réservée au moment final d’une entente épuisée: exit la Grande-Bretagne.
Y a-t-il d’ailleurs jamais eu entente entre la Grande-Bretagne et l’Union européenne? MacShane dresse le portrait à charge d’une relation perverse dominée depuis le début par les impératifs de politique intérieure. L’Europe, dit-il, n’a jamais été pour les Britanniques un projet mais tout au plus un instrument de pouvoir utilisé par les partis au gré des vents. Minimisée comme contenu et comme fin, elle a cependant hanté la politique britannique depuis soixante ans, elle a fait et défait des gouvernements, construit ou brisé des carrières. Elle a marqué les plus grands moments de la politique étrangère britannique et risque de la marquer en 2017 d’un événement plus grand encore, le «Brexit», comparable, dit MacShane, à l’exécution d’un roi, à l’indépendance de l’Irlande ou au démantèlement de l’empire.
Churchill avait été européen, oui, mais pour les autres. Son europhilie avait servi de repoussoir au Parti travailliste, qui avait interdit à ses membres de participer au congrès de fondation du mouvement européen à La Haye, en 1948. Le même parti avait également dit non à la Communauté européenne du charbon et de l’acier en 1952, les mineurs craignant pour leurs salaires. Non encore au Traité de Rome en 1957, en accord sur ce point avec le Parti conservateur, dont un délégué à la conférence préparatoire de Messine avait déclaré en 1956: «Messieurs, vous êtes en train de négocier quelque chose que vous ne pourrez jamais négocier. Si vous réussissez, il n’y aura pas de ratification. Et si ratification il y a, ça ne marchera jamais.»
La timide tentative du conservateur Harold Macmillan d’approcher le Marché commun, en 1961, puis celle de son successeur travailliste, Harold Wilson, en 1967, s’étaient soldées par deux refus humiliants du général de Gaulle, conscient jusqu’à l’extrême de l’indétermination britannique: les motifs économiques parlaient en faveur d’une adhésion, mais les motifs politiques manquaient.
Ils manquaient toujours la décennie suivante, mais le général n’était plus là et les urgences urgeaient: choc pétrolier, inflation à 25%, fin du système monétaire de Bretton Woods. Le Royaume-Uni trouverait-il un refuge en Europe? Une fraction des conservateurs, menée par le premier ministre Edward Heath, le pensait. Une fraction du Labour le pensait aussi. A elles deux, elles votèrent en 1973 en faveur de l’adhésion aux Communautés européennes, laissant le reste de leur parti fâché quoique momentanément impuissant. Le Labour exigea une renégociation du traité, suivie d’un référendum. La proposition plut assez pour qu’Edward Heath perde les élections de 1974, convoquées en pleine grève des mineurs. Les partisans du référendum espéraient un non. Ce fut pourtant, en 1975, un oui à 67%, poussé par toutes les élites du business et des médias. Cette année-là, Margaret Thatcher devenait leader du Parti conservateur, qu’elle amènerait au pouvoir en 1979.
En travailliste pro-européen sévère sur son parti, Denis MacShane traite Margaret Thatcher et Tony Blair à l’inverse des idées reçues: quoique limitée dans ses intentions, la Dame de fer a un bon bilan européen. Elle est réélue en 1983 comme une dirigeante loyale envers l’Union, contre le Parti travailliste, qui demande le retrait. Elle milite pour une politique étrangère et de défense commune. Elle appuie l’Acte unique et les symboles de l’unification, comme le passeport européen et l’élection au suffrage direct du Parlement de Strasbourg. Elle appuie aussi le principe de l’intégration des économies plus pauvres du Sud. Ce n’est qu’à partir de 1988 qu’elle se rebiffe, quand elle croit voir en l’Union un cheval de Troie contre sa politique intérieure anti-syndicale. Elle prend alors Jacques Delors en grippe et, avec lui, tout le projet d’une Europe politiquement organisée. Elle devient intraitable, au point qu’une fraction plus modérée du Parti conservateur la pousse à la démission. Dans son dernier discours aux Communes, elle lance, contre cette Europe-là, le fameux «No, No, No!» qui occupera ses derniers 23 ans de vie et justifiera le retour des conservateurs à l’euroscepticisme.
Blair arrive au contraire en pro-européen, favorable à l’euro jusqu’à envisager le sacrifice de la livre sterling. Mais son bilan, au bout du compte, est maigre. L’Europe, pendant son temps, n’est pas en forme. Elle est un fait plus qu’une solution. Un fait mal-aimé de l’administration, mal-aimé des Britanniques, qui ne comprennent pas la libre circulation. Blair quitte le sujet sur la pointe des pieds. Et Cameron promet depuis 2013 ce que le Labour promettait trente ans plus tôt: un référendum. La réalité, dit MacShane, est que ni les conservateurs ni les travaillistes ne savent aujourd’hui trouver un rôle et une place pour la Grande-Bretagne.
Denis MacShane, «Brexit, How Britain will leave Europe», I.B. Tauris, 2015

Britain’s Place in World

Britain’s weight in world under threat

OMFIF Advisory Board members on UK politics ahead of election

The probability of a weak government in the UK hamstrung by political infighting, including on Scotland, is reducing Britain’s weight in the world at a vital time for Europe. That appears the majority view of members of the OMFIF Advisory Board, commenting on the OMFIF Briefing 29 April in which veteran Anglo-German commentator Thomas Kielinger said a Britain beset by pre-election uncertainty was becoming unrecognisable.


European political patterns are shaping the UK’s future by stealth. It is fascinating to see how a Union may willingly sleep-walk into dissolution.

– Antonio Armellini, former Italian Ambassador


Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are wedded to the Social Market Economy or stakeholder model, which is in British terms way more left of centre than Labour’s policies would ever dare to be. So, if Labour wins, she wouldn’t have a problem with Red Ed [Miliband] at all.

– Bob Bischof, vice president, German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce


The sight of growing British irrelevance on the international scene is deeply worrying. For the European continent in particular, being taken hostage by the UK for the next two years on a possible Brexit is becoming unpalatable, given the multiple real crises issues which confront the European Union.

– Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, former Dutch deputy prime minister


It is puzzling that one of the most stable democracies in Europe is looking fractured as we go to the polls. Each of the two main parties has gone through a parallel process of getting rid of its most successful leader and disowning their philosophy. It would be a dream outcome if the two Parties come together in a Grand Coalition.

– Meghnad Desai, emeritus professor of economics, London School of Economics, chairman of the OMFIF Advisory Board


Coalition government appears to be taking roots in the UK with the most uncertain general election contest since the 1970s. Coalition politics throws up its own problems in terms of the need for compromise. Is not high time for the UK to adopt some dose of proportional represen-tation as part of an electoral reform for future elections? The first-past-the-post system may have outlived its usefulness.

– Hemraz Jankee, former chief economist, Bank of Mauritius


What seems most striking is the fact that the UK might actually leave the EU. The Tories, and some voters, were always of two minds about the EU. But this time it’s different. We wonder whether this is a simple yet serious miscalculation on the part of the governing party, or reflection of a fundamental shift in public sentiment.

– Sahoko Kaji, professor of economics, Keio University, Japan


The fear about Brexit may be exaggerated but cannot be dismissed completely. Ironically the UK is becoming more like a continental European country. It has had five years of (relatively successful) coalition government. The centralising character of the British government has been giving way to a more federal reality. The armed forces have been run down to the bare minimum. Britain seems to have lost any appetite for foreign missions or military interventions. Britain is no longer a ‘heroic nation’ punching above her weight. There has been a complete lack of any electoral emphasis on foreign policy.

– Jürgen Kronig, UK-based German commentator


The Conservatives will win most votes, and probably most seats. However Cameron may be gone by the end of the year, even if he is prime minister. If he’s not, he may be gone by the end of May. If the Conservatives end up as the biggest party, but do not form a government, that could cause constitutional tensions, compounded if the Scottish Nationalist gain influence in the governing of England. The next election (either later this year, especially if in 2020) may take place against a growing English backlash against SNP influence, perhaps with the Conservatives (under Boris Johnson?) campaigning explicitly as the party for England.

– London-based sovereign wealth fund specialist


Whoever wins, there is a high likelihood of a second referendum on Scotland within five years. If Labour forms the next government with SNP support (formal or informal), this will drive the UK further to the left. Since Labour is unlikely to deliver the SNP demands in full, this could jus-tify another referendum. If the Tories (perhaps with Lib Dem support) form a government, this could be a signal for the SNP to declare that a further referendum is justified on account of the Tories’ toxicity for Scotland.

– Andrew Large, former deputy governor, Bank of England


If the result is another hung parliament it would be indicative of the failure of the first-past-the-post system, a rejection of two party allegiances. A proper democratic response would be for the parties to enact reforms to the UK voting system to reflect newly diverse voting preferences; a proportional system not unlike that seen in Scotland, Northern England, and in much of Europe.

– Stuart P. M. Mackintosh, executive director of Group of Thirty


For 70 years since 1945 Britain has been self-assured, calm, able to move from Conservative to Labour governments without too much passion, and looking down its nose at the mess of Euro-pean politics. Now suddenly we have continentalised ourselves. We live by coalition and multi-party politics. We don’t want to spend money on defence. We want to find someone else to blame for current ills: in our case the EU. Scotland has become Quebec. Xenophobic politics are acceptable. Little wonder foreign observers ask: What happened to Great Britain?

– Denis MacShane, former UK Minister for Europe