This note on Greece using the drachma and euro was written in response to an FT comment piece by Gideon Rachman arguing the Euro was a “failed economic experiment”

According to World Bank figures Greek GDP per capita in US$ ppp terms rose from $9320 in 1981 to $18,077 in 1999 when Greece joined the Euro. It thus took 20 years using the drachma for Greece to double its GDP despite major drachma devaluations in the 1980s. Between 1999 and 2009 using the Euro, Greek GDP per capita rose from $18,077 to $29,467 a  much faster rate of growth than using the drachma. So Gideon Rachman’s assertion that  ‘EU is destroying wealth and stability by locking the nation into a failed economic experiment’ would have made no sense five years ago.

It is true the US initiated banking crisis brought that growth to a dead stop and Greece’s GDP per capita in 2014 was $25,752, a $4000 drop from 2009. It is equally true that unimaginative orthodox leadership in Brussels and at the IMF and a succession of governments in Greece unwilling to challenge their clientalist base – and Syriza is no exception – has brought Greece to the present crisis.

But there is no evidence that had Greece reverted to the drachma at any stage in the last five years it would have found the philosopher’s stone of growth, exports, tax revenues, good public administration, sensible pensions, opening up oligopolies to competition and non-populist politics.

The democratic will of the Greek people as expressed in all opinion polls and in repeated elections is that they wish to keep the Euro. Syriza did not propose leaving the Euro in January and the Greek people may well vote Yes to Europe and reject the populism of Syriza, Golden Dawn and others who want a No vote. If we respect democracy we should respect the will of the Greeks to stay part of the Eurozone.

Reading the FT and other British papers in Greece, the Schadenfreude of the London commentariat who have been dooming the Euro to failure for years is depressing. Here in Greece I will urge all Greek friend to vote Yes on Sunday in the hope that a compromise can be reached. But anyone who thinks the drachma (or lire, peseta, or punt)  will help EU find a way out of its present stasis is dreaming.growth than using the drachma. So Gideon Rachman’s assertion that  ‘EU is destroying wealth and stability by locking the nation into a failed economic experiment’ would have made no sense five years ago.


The Greek Referendum of 2012

What is the Greek for Schadenfreude? One person who is saying nothing in the current Greek drama is George Papandreou. His socialist Pasok government tried desperately to keep Greece afloat after the bankers’ crash on 2008. But northern European banks especially German and French had flooded Greece with low interest Euros after Greece joined the single currency. The level of government and personal debt was so high that Greece was de facto bankrupt five years ago.
Greeks were also keen followers of the US corporate law firm, Baker & McKenzie, which advises Starbucks and many other firms on how to avoid taxes. The Chicago based legal behemoth had a slick European corporate lawyer who became head of their western European division. Her name is Christine Lagarde.
If it was good enough for Baker and McKenzie reasoned many a Greek it is good enough for me as they simply avoided paying taxes as much as any properly advised global firm.
The two ruling parties in Greece – Pasok and New Democracy – all failed to cull tax evasion and all took money from the EU or from German and French banks without any real plan on how to pay it back.
Papandreou had been a brilliant foreign minister in an earlier Pasok government and took over as Greece’s Prime Minister in 2009 as Greeks rejected the clientalism and tax avoidance culture of the right-wing New Democracy party which by then had reached epic heights.
Papandreou with his LSE and American university education, his fluent Swedish from his time as a child in exile in Sweden during the Colonel’s rule in Greece 1967-1974, promised a process of modernisation based on northern European standards of government administration.
But the deep conservatisms of the Greek political system blocked him, including from many old guard Bourbons in his Pasok party. Their resistence to reform was too great to overcome using normal parliamentary means.
So in 2011 he proposed holding a referendum in order to go over the heads of the Greek tax-avoiding elites and the politicans unable to break free of clientalism. The question would be a blunt one. Should Greece stay in the Eurozone and accept a period of reform including harsh austerity to relaunch the nation on a path of EU modernisation?
The old guard politicians hated their idea in Greece. But as Arnaud Leparmentier of Le Monde wrote in his award-winning book, Ces français, fossoyeurs de ‘L’Euro (‘The French – gravediggers of the Euro’) Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy and Christine Lagarde were horrified at the idea of a referendum which could lead Greece to reject the orthodox austerity ideology which the Eurozone and the European Commission then controlled by EPP politicians like José-Manuel Barroso, Jean-Claude Juncker, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel were imposing across Europe.
Merkel and Sarkozy browbeat and bullied Papandreou into withdrawing his referendum proposal. Now four years too late the referendum will be held but not as a bold move to force Greeks to accept their responsibilities but as a mechanism to cover up the disastrous negotiating failures of the hard-left oppositionist party, Syriza, which has not been able to make the move to government responsibility since taking office in January.
European and Eurozone politics remains deeply partisan and political and Merkel and Sarkozy used the failed Papandreou referendum to secure his ouster and the arrival in power of their EPP comrade, New Democracy’s Antonis Samaras.
However having propelled him into office, the dominant EPP rulers in the EU refused to help him with any serious measures to reduce the crushing debt burden on Greek shoulders. Samaras dutifully obeyed orders from Merkel, Juncker and Lagarde. But their belief that bleeding the Greek patient to near death would restore health failed as any sensible economist could have told them.
Enter thus Tspiras, Varoufakis and a Syriza consisting of old Trotskyites, older Communist, and a handful of academics who had waited 30 or 40 years to play at being ministers.
The disaster of the Tsipras-Varoufakis arrogant, get-stuffed, we’re right and you’re wrong negotiating style alienated everyone in Brussels including all natural sympathisers for Greece on the social democratic left.
The surreal referendum for next Sunday has its 90-word long question based on an EU document which is now withdrawn. To call a referendum without a public information campaign and with most Greeks bewildered what it means as they queue to get Euros out of ATM which are being shut down is the height of anti-democratic cynicism. If it produces a No vote can easily lead Greece out of the Euro, perhaps even the EU.
And with Greece gone, other weaker Eurozone members like Portugal, Italy, Ireland and Spain will be next in line.
Tsipras and Varoufakis are urging a No vote and anti-Europeans from London and Paris are flocking to Athens to urge a big No vote to help weaken the EU.
The referendum stunt has provoked anger all over Europe as Tsipras treats the business of government as a students’ union debate.
If there is a Yes vote and Syriza’s call for a No is defeated he should in honour resign. Fresh elections are needed to get a consensus government that can reform Greece and stop its drift away from Europe.
But history will judge that the right time to hold a referendum in Greece was in 2011 as George Papandreou proposed. It would have cut the Gordian knot of Greek rejection of facing up to the need for reform and an end to the tax dodging clientalism that disfigured Greece after it entered the European Community in 1981.
Papandreou has all but withdrawn from Greek national politics and devotes most time to global centre-left politics and teaching. But he might be allowed a smile today as the error of Merkel and Sarkozy in rejecting a referendum at the right time in 2011 comes home to roost and instead Greece faces a plebiscite that may mark the first step in the Euro being unwound.


Last week the Economist published an article about the special court set up to try Kosovo war crimes. As someone who takes a special interest in Kosovo I wrote this letter to the paper. It was not published which is no problem as I am sure the Economist like all papers received far more letters than it can publish.

But for those interested in Western Balkan issues it may be of interest

“It would indeed be good if the proposed special court for Kosovo could put to rest the ghosts of the 1998-1999 short war of independence. (Economist 19 June) Terrible things did happen and men with blood on their hands undoubtedly went into politics. There has been little justice for the all the dead Muslim Kosovans shot, usually on the same day to judge by their grave-stones, by Serb gunmen acting under Belgrade’s supervision.
On Saturday (20 June) in London I caught Martin McGuinness, the Ulster political leader, speaking in Parliament Square. There are grave allegations laid against him from his time as an IRA leader but sensibly Britain moved to a so-called peace process rather than remain locked and blocked by the allegations of the murders and tortures carried out in the Northern Irish conflict.
As a FCO minister I urged Ramush Haradinaj, a former Kosovan Liberation Army leader, later prime minister, to surrender himself to the Hague. He did so and was acquitted. The allegations of organ harvesting made by the Swiss politician, Dick Marty, in his rambling highly personal Council of Europe report against Hasim Thaci, another KLA leader turned politician, have never been substantiated despite major UN and journalist inquiries. That bad, evil things happened Yes. That in the middle of rough terrain under attack it was possible to set up sterile operating units with expert surgeons to extract human organs for sale is not credible.
Mr Marty’s report had few sources and some of those were anonymous quotes from intelligence agencies with axes to grind and scores to settle. Belgrade continues to pump out its line that Kosovo still belongs to Serbia and the discrediting of all Kosovan leaders is a priority for Belgrade and its friends, notably Mr Putin.
Right now Hungary is building a new security wall on its 109 mile border with Serbia. The longer Serbia refuses to make peace with Kosovo the more the rest of Europe will just want to shut down all contact with the entire region.
The court hearings will last years and bring no justice, no peace, no reconciliation. There ought to be a better way.”

Islamists -Why UK Establishment Refuses to Deal with Problem

Haaretz  24 June 2015

David Cameron’s speech on dangers of Islamism is welcome, but 20 years too late

Former MP who got in trouble in 2003 for urging support for British values says U.K. politicians have long failed to call out ideology behind Muslim terrorism, for fear of being accused of Islamophobia.

By Denis MacShane | Jun. 24, 2015 | 10:05 AM

At last. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech in Slovakia on the dangers of Islamism lurking in the hearts and minds of too many U.K. citizens is welcome, if long overdue. Cameron has bravely broken the omerta that infects all the British political class.

He has been pushed into his important declaration as once again Britain wrings its hands in agony as our youngsters slip from hearth and home in the Yorkshire towns of Dewsbury and Bradford to do evil things in the name of what they see as a religious calling. They are wrong, but for too long we have been complicit in not calling time on the ideology of Islamism, for fear of being accused of Islamophobia or of being anti-Muslim.

The Islamic State is but one of many offshoots of Islamism that takes the power of faith and transforms it into political organization, belief and action. But out of respect for the faith of Islam, Britain has refused to confront the ideology of Islamism.

Ministers, MPs, policy shapers and law officers cower and refuse to face the truth of the evil ideology that is being nurtured in our midst and used to justify the murder of any opponent that stands in its way. They just have to hear the word “Islamophobe” or “anti-Muslim” spoken to their face and they go weak at the knees for fear of being branded.

For politicians seeking election with the help of Muslim citizens, the chances of standing up and telling the truth are as high as those of an Irish MP supporting abortion and gay rights in provincial Ireland in the 1950s. The British establishment has never been prepared to tackle Islamism as an ideology.

One of the chief proponents of that ideology is a loathsome Qatari loudmouth called Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi. He is a top Muslim theologian and has reinterpreted the Koran, which, like other books of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism and Christianity – bans and makes a mortal sin the act of suicide, destroying God’s creation. Al-Qaradawi said it was perfectly okay to kill yourself as long as you killed Jews at the same time.

The hate of Islamists for Jews runs like a cancer throughout their belief system. Not even the worst of the Nazis spoke language about Jews that remotely matches that of modern Islamists. Yet when Michael Howard was home secretary, with David Cameron as his special advisor, this evangelist for suicide bombing was allowed into the U.K. to preach his messages of hate four times before 1997.

Howard and Cameron are not to blame. They would not have read any Islamist texts because then Islamism was unknown as an ideology outside the circles of its adepts and specialist academics. Even today it is remarkable the number of well-informed politicians, journalists and diplomats who do not know that the charter of Hamas, one of the main Islamist political parties, quotes the Prophet Mohammed as saying: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews),” and the first line of the charter after a citation from the Koran states: “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it.”

None of this was challenged until now because any such challenge was condemned as either racist or an assault on multicultural values. As a Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister in November 2003, I had to deal with an Islamist attack on the British consulate in Istanbul that killed about 30 people, including a young diplomat from Manchester. Earlier the same year, two British Muslims in their 20s, one from London and one from Derby, went to Tel Aviv to bomb the bar Mike’s Place, apparently encouraged by the relentless hate of the Islamists and their fellow travelers. One of them killed three people and injured dozens more; the other was also tasked to kill Jews, but his explosives failed to detonate, and his body was later found washed up on an Israeli beach.

In a speech to my constituency shortly after the Istanbul attack I said: “It is time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice. It is the democratic, rule of law – if you like, the British or Turkish or American way, based on political dialogue and nonviolent protests like the one saw in London yesterday – or it is the way of the terrorists.”

The heavens fell in. The Guardian and the Observer and the BBC’s World at One made it a major story, as British Muslim organizations called my remarks “outrageous” and “disgraceful.” Shahid Malik, then a Labour MP who saw himself as the parliamentary spokesperson for British Muslims, attacked me openly, as did Trevor Philips from the Commission for Racial Equality.

In the Foreign Office, where I was No 2 to the foreign secretary, there was near-hysteria that a British minister should urge support for British values. Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, spent an inordinate amount of time cosseting his Muslim constituents in Blackburn. He had brought in an official from the Muslim Council of Britain to advise the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on outreach to Islamist outfits like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

In 2003, urging support for British values against Islamist terrorism was deeply unfashionable. I was told I was close to being fired as a minister unless I signed some groveling climb-down, which, as a coward, I did. I also liked and respected my Kashmiri constituents and did not want to hurt them.

But perhaps if all politicians, journalists and intellectuals had told the truth about Islamism 10 or, better, 20 years ago, Britain might have been equipped to understand what drives British citizens to go out and support those who commit atrocities in the name of Islamism.

David Cameron’s wake-up call is welcome. But it is two decades too late.

Denis MacShane was a parliamentary private secretary and minister at the Foreign Office between 1997 and 2005, and U.K. delegate to the Council of Europe between 2005 and 2010. He is the author of “Globalising Hatred: the New Antisemitism.” 




This short note on populism is published by Carnegie Europe


Denis MacShaneFormer UK minister for Europe

Populism has become a lazy shorthand for any politics we do not like. Europe survived twenty or thirty years of left-wing populism in the form of mass Communist parties. In the case of the French Communist Party, such populism was both hostile to European integration and often racist and xenophobic.

Today, the most successful populist party in Europe is the Swiss People’s Party, which is hostile to the EU and to EU immigrant workers as well as Islamophobic—but Switzerland survives. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party is populist even though it belongs to the center-right European People’s Party, while Greece’s ruling left-wing Syriza has inherited and amplified the populism of the center-left PASOK party.

All successful politics must have a dose of populism. Big leaders like former French president Charles de Gaulle or former British prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair at times appeal directly to the people, bypassing party structures and conventional ways of doing politics. Divisions between insiders and outsiders, or between the establishment and insurgents, are nothing new. If Europe is failing to answer populist questions, it is because there are not enough jobs, not enough new firms, not enough homes, and not enough social justice.

These solutions cannot be dictated by Brussels. Twentieth-century parties have given up on political education, and many politicians think a tweet is an intellectual challenge. Populism isn’t Europe’s problem. The lack of political leadership and vision is.


Bill Sirs 1920-2105

An era ends with death of steelworkers’ leader, Bill Sirs.


The death of Bill Sirs, former head of the steelworkers’ union, ISTC (now Community) is the end of an era.  Sirs was born in Hartlepool in 1920 and died aged 95. He came in with the successful era of big industry trade unions amplified by the need for steel and metal industry output in the second world war and then in post-war re-construction.

Sirs rose through the steelworkers trade union movement to become general secetary 1975-1985. He was an example of how trades union was the ladder by which working class men (mainly men) could display talents of persuasion, organization, and leadership which their lack of formal education might otherwise have denied them.

I worked with Bill Sirs in the International Metalworkers Federation after I left the UK to work as an internatonal trade union official in 1979.

It was the last moment in classic industrial trades unionism that over Sirs’ lifetime had brought about the biggest advances in social justice in West Europe and North America seen since the industrial revolution.

Steel making is unlike production line manufacturing . You cannot switch a blast furnace on and off. Steelworkers are the most prudent of industrial workers. Each worker depends on his comrade against the dangers of molten steel suddenly going awry.  I once took Peter Mandelson when Trade Secretary to the electric arc furnace melting shop in Rotherham and his eyes gleamed at the awesome heat and light generated by melting scrap metal at 1,000 plus degrees.

But the nature of steelmaking demands caution and care and the excitements of communist ideology held little attraction for steel unions anywhere in the world.

Instead Sirs and his fellow steelworkers were the staunchest supporters of Labour and were generous in financial support. But neither they nor the Labour Party knew how to create enduring social partnership politics based on industrial unionism so that steel, car, aerospace, shipbuilding and all craft unions were united in one working class organization.

Instead a car factory and even a steel plant could have ten or more separate unions. Divided the workers fell prey to global capitalism.

Steel making is also completely internationalised as Sirs discovered when he embarked on the first great strike against Margaret Thatcher in 1980. We found 173 ports in Britain through which iron ore and steel bars could arrive.

The strike was a burst of anger against the first manifestation of globalisation which saw the loss of around million unionised steel jobs to lower cost producers.

It was doomed to failure as are all Canute strikes against the tides of change. Many steelworkers were forced back to work resulting in bitterness that prefigured the coal miners strike four years later.

Suddenly British workers found that their trade union organisation based on craft and sectoral unions like boilermakers and blast furnace men in place of the industrial unionism of Germany or Scandanavia left them exposed to a determined adversary in Mrs Thstcher

Sadly Arthur Scargill like the best of Bourbons learnt nothing and forgot nothing from the 1980 steelworkers strike and led his union over the top to their own defeat

Unsuccessful with his only major UK strike  Sirs was strong in his support of the wave of strike movements that transformed politics in countries like Poland, Brazil, and South Africa on the early 1980s.

His union was wealthy thanks to never having organised a major strike before 1980 and he used this money to support international solidarity action . His life reflected the rise and fall of industrial capitalism. It has gone and trade unions today struggle to find purchase and the worker who becomes an MP is all btu extinct.

Sirs had one great achievement to his name when he banned smoking at TUC Congresses. He was a remarkably fit man and enjoyed his pint but enjoyed controlling his body and  emotions more. Thanks to him, the era of the smoke-filled rooms of 20th century trade unionism became part of the past.

The young Bill Sirs of today will stay at school and most probably university. His generation achieved that for their children and grandchildren. Now with FTSE chief executives earning 150 times the pay of their employees there is more than ever a need for some counter-weight to the power of capital. In the 20th century steel unions were needed to win the wars and then after 1945 to see off Soviet communism.

Now Chinese communism and fused with capitalism and we do not need to moblise the nation to defeat Kaisers and Hitlers. So have trade unions such as Sirs knew them had their day? An answer please before too long.


Denis MacShane worked for the International Metalworkers Federation 1979-1994 and has written books on international trade unionism


Social Europe Journal 19 June 2015
How Should Labour Handle The Brexit Referendum?
by Denis McShane on 19 June 2015

As the Commons begins to discuss the Brexit plebiscite how should Labour handle the referendum? By far the most important intervention was not a speech in the EU referendum bill debate but the warning from a troika of pro-European union leaders – Frances O’Grady of the TUC, Dave Prentis of Unison and Sir Paul Kenny of the GMB – that Cameron cannot assume trade union support if he insists on using his “renegotiation” to weaken Social Europe rights.
Every major referendum on Europe so far this century has been lost because the voter base of the left has voted No to Europe even if the organisers of the anti-EU campaigns have been nationalist politicians mainly on the right. The left-behinds and losers of EU integration take their chance in a plebiscite to punish the leaders who urge them onwards to accept more Europe.
If the trade unions swing against Cameron on Europe this will be a far bigger boost for the Brexit camp than anything else. It will also increase the chances of Labour splitting.
Cameron has to be a unifier if he wants to avoid Brexit. As he struggles with his party and its deep Eurosceptic instincts it is also an opportunity for Labour to escape from its navel-gazing eternal post-mortem and again stand for Britain as a whole.
It was François Mitterrand who observed that ‘the trouble with referendums is voters never answer the question.’ He kept France in Europe by the skin of his teeth in 1992 when what he thought would be an easy Oui to the Maastricht Treaty became the narrowest of results. His successor, Jacques Chirac, breezily called a referendum in 2005, assuming that his own party, the French socialists and all men and women of bonne foi would confirm France’s status as a major EU player.
He forgot about the voters. They listened to socialist tribunes who broke with the official pro-EU party line and linked with the far right and what the French call souverainistes to punish the unpopular Chirac by voting Non to Europe. The left won but lost the presidential election in 2007 as voters were unimpressed by a divided socialist party.
The pattern of major EU referendums is that opinion polls start well but then something happens. The Yes camp are the establishment, the money men, the media, the state functionaries, global business but they are out of touch with the deeper resentment of a voting population that feels the EU exists for others, not for them.
David Cameron has taken a huge risk with his Brexit plebiscite. He is a Eurosceptic himself and made concession after concession to anti-EU forces including giving in to the main UKIP demand – an In-Out referendum .
Cameron can easily lose the referendum for Britain. The sight of him and maybe even Rupert Murdoch standing on their heads and swallowing two decades of anti-EU wordage is not appealing to voters. Instead the task falls to Labour with help from the Lib-Dems, alive in spirit if not in seats, to defeat the isolationists and keep Britain in Europe.
The exact nature of the campaign is not important. Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher did not appear on joint platforms in the 1975 but Labour put up John Smith, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and others who argued with passion and persuasion that Britain should remain linked to the continent.
Labour can do no less today even if faced with a referendum called for opportunistic vote-grabbing reasons and now under the control of a cabinet stuffed full of anti-Europeans. Labour’s new leader and those who will form the next Labour cabinet need to shine in this campaign with commitment and conviction.
Labour has to avoid two traps. The first is the lure of left nationalist protectionism that marginalised Labour in the 1980s. There will always be a left critique of the EU but that should be a spur to its reform not a retreat to North Korean style rejection of open Europe.
The second is to play tactical games seeking to trip up Cameron. Yes, he is hypocritical and yes, there will be endless Schadenfreude as the MPs he told to hate the EU now turn on him. But Labour should let the Tories eat each other without seeking its own little opportunisms.
Of course some Labour MPs will say No. In 2005 just before the election I was standing behind the Speaker’s Chair with David Cameron waiting to go into the Chamber. The Tory MP, a fellow of All Souls, Robert Jackson, had just defected to Labour in disgust at the anti-Europeanism that infected his party.
I asked Cameron jokingly who would be the next defector? ‘Kate Hoey,’ he replied without a pause. The redoubtable Ulsterwoman has had trenchant views ever since her days as a National Union of Students leader and her opposition to Europe should be recognised and respected.
But Labour must stand for Britain and against the risk of a return to isolationism. Ever since the Conservatives veered off into anti-EU waters in the 1990s, Labour had stood for Britain in Europe. It should not change now. This is a moment which will define Britain for generations to come. Labour should be on the right side of the argument and show that a Tory change to being pro-EU is welcome and in the national interest. Labour can and must win this vote for Britain and for Europe and our partners everywhere in the world.

Globalist 11 June 2015
David Cameron and Europe: On the Road to Damascus
Cameron’s problem is not about the EU, but about Britain and the future path of his own party.
By Denis MacShane, June 12, 2015

Is David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, on his road to Damascus with regard to Europe? Will it make him – or break him? No one, not even the Prime Minister himself, can be certain.
What is certain is that Mr. Cameron and his anti-Europe Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, are trying very hard to get EU leaders to make concessions.
Meanwhile, the Germans and other EU leaders are politely but firmly telling Mr. Cameron that he can have warm words, but no real concessions. What he seeks — giving the UK a special offshore status within the EU – is not a deal to be had.
As a result, Mr. Cameron — ever the optimist for his own cause — is in danger of over-promising once again. There have been several incidences before when he thought he had a special deal with Mrs. Merkel, only to find out he had over-interpreted what was on offer.
This is the reason why the Prime Minister will ultimately have to decide whether or not to convert his own party to the virtues of Europe. That would compel him to generate enthusiasm for a “Yes” to the EU – even though he has spent much of his political career decrying and denigrating it.
In the end, Cameron’s real fight is not so much about Europe or Britain’s role in it. It is a battle over the soul of the Conservative Party.
Cameron’s real problem stems from the fact that other European politicians realize that as well. They are not inclined to extend a hand in an internal British party squabble.
To be sure, the Tories this century have made it their cause to argue that the EU and especially the Euro is bad for Britain. They have done so with a quasi-religious belief and the passion of a Martin Luther.
Small concessions
Perhaps because of their zeal, there is a comfort zone belief in Cameron’s circles that Mrs. Merkel will do anything it takes to avoid Brexit.
She has no problems with easy-to-grant cosmetic demands such as postponing those to some future date when there is a new EU Treaty.
But even if that “concession” materialized, it would almost certainly take effect after she has left office and definitely after David Cameron has left Downing Street.
The Brits can have their little annex at the end of the Treaty maintaining that the words in the preamble about an “ever closer union of peoples” does not apply to Britain.
Read the fine print on any of the EU Treaties and you will find lots of little country-specific paragraphs in the end, which were added to satisfy particular demands of a country worried about some aspect of domestic public opinion.
It must be sobering news for Mr. Cameron to hear how Manfred Weber, the German MEP who heads the Christian Democratic group in the European Parliament, views the issue.
In exchange for Britain not being covered by the commitment to “ever closer union,” London would have to give up any right to veto moves by other countries that are keen to go in that direction.
Weber was speaking after visiting Prime Minister Cameron at Chequers, the country house retreat. The visit was a telling sign of Cameron’s belief that the only country he really needs to talk to is Germany.
Why else would he have chosen to invite a leading German MEP for a full-on Chequers tour and visit instead of a quick chat in Downing Street? Even British MEPs have rarely had that privilege.
Costly mistakes
That Cameron now has to play catch-up even with conservative MEPs is the consequence of his unwise decision in 2009 to break links with German and other center-right parties grouped in the center-right European People’s Party federation.
From then on, the Conservative Party’s main ally in the European Parliament has been Poland’s rightwing nationalist catholic Law and Justice Party. Its candidate Andrzej Duda has just won the Polish presidency.
President-elect Duda, even though broadly an ideological soul mate, given his eurosceptic views, has made clear his complete opposition to the core of Cameron’s main reform interest.
As Duda sees it, the UK has no right to discriminate against Polish and other EU citizens by denying them equal pay, as compared to British workers, for the first four years of work in the UK.
One example of how much the European journey may be going in a direction different from Britain’s preferred path is the joint policy paper produced by France’s young reformist Economics Minister, Emmanuel Macron and the Social Democrat in Germany’s coalition government, Sigmar Gabriel.
They call precisely for what Cameron detests — an integrated Eurozone with joint policies across a range of areas.
If the EU does decide to take this path, it spells trouble for Cameron. His cabinet is full of open Eurosceptics, including a former Tory leader, Iain Duncan Smith, and the boisterous Mayor of London, now an MP, Boris Johnson.
Open dissent
Fifty Tory MPs have formed an open caucus for withdrawal. Recently, there was an explosion of anger at Cameron’s attempt to silence EU hostile ministers. He quickly did a U-Turn, declaring his on-the-record remarks as “misinterpreted.” The incident created headline jeers.
All this evidence points in the direction of Cameron facing his Damascus moment soon. It is becoming ever clearer that Cameron’s problems have nothing to do with the EU, but everything with Britain and the future path of his own party.
Other European nations are going to be little inclined to go out of their way to help Britain and its conservative party sort out internal squabbles over direction, purpose and affiliation.

Losing EU Referendums. Easy When You Know How

How to Lose an EU Referendum

By Denis MacShane

Today (29 May) is the tenth anniversary of the biggest referendum on Europe held this century. In France and the Netherlands, two founding member states of the European integration project voters said No to the proposed constitutional treaty.

It was called a constitution but in reality was just another treaty agreed between member states after arduous negotiations. Curiously the proposed text excluded the words ‘ever-closer union of peoples’ which today is exercising British demands for a new deal from the EU sufficient to persuade David Cameron to throw his weight behind a campaign to stay in Europe.

In France President Chirac assumed a Oui vote was in the bag. Opinion polls showed a 70 per cent support for the EU constitution. After all, had not France been a founding father of European integration and recovered the honour and rank lost in the 1940 defeat and occupation and then in foolish wars in Vietnam and Algeria?

The Socialist Party was fervently pro-European and the images of Franco-German reconciliation  within the EU reflected in the photograph of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand reaching out to hold each other’s hand at Verdun were the most re-published press photo in French journalism.

But quickly the Yes campaign lost the edge. It had the money. It had business on its side. It had two political heavyweights – the French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, and the Socialist Party’s top European expert, Pierre Moscovici – as co-chairs. It had stylish campaigners like Daniel Cohn-Bendit. The French press unlike our own more Eurosceptic media was solidly in favour.

But it took the Oui for granted. The Non camp consisted of the far left of Communists and Trotskyists and the far right of Jean Marie Le Pen and his daughter, Marine, and their growing Front National party network.

In 1992, a referendum in France nearly scuppered the Masstricht Treaty. The losers in that campaign sought their revenge in 2005. Two prominent socialists, the former prime minister, Laurent Fabius, today France’s foreign minister and Arnaud Montebourg, sacked last year as France’s Minister of the Economy, decided to join the Non campaign.

The Nonistes appealed to French workers, to the unemployed, to the poor, to the left-behinds in the globalised EU and told them their unhappy state was because their nation had surrendered too much power to international capital which dominated the European Union. The faceless Eurocrats, or Federastes as Jean Marie Le Pen called them, had robbed France of the power to protect its citizens from the forces of market competition and open frontiers.

The Oui camp had the plush Paris offices and big business lined up. But it had no idea how to reach out to ordinary worried French people. It was complacent about victory.  Those who want to win Britain’s Brexit plebiscite should start learning French.


Denis MacShane is a former Europe minister under Tony Blair and author of Brexit : How Britain Will Leave Europe published by IB Tauris

Open Letter to Muchael Gove published in the Guardian  22 May 2105


Dear Michael Gove,

One of the pleasant surprises I got while banged up in Belmarsh was a letter from you expressing sympathy and solidarity. Like many MPs who know the truth of the events that led me to prison, and the double standards of one MP and the then director of public prosecutions, you extended a hand of friendship. This was based, I assume, on our common intellectual interest and our talks over the years about the need to understand and confront some of the evil ideologies – such as antisemitism and Islamism – that have become so modish this century.

So although I am now well out of politics, except to argue for Britain’s place in Europe, I was delighted at your appointment. Prison reform was once the glory of the do-gooding English, including many reformist liberal Tories. Sadly today, despite the heroic efforts of Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform and other charities, the reformers seem to have no impact on policy. I hope you can change that.

The prison disaster is well known from the reports of Nick Hardwick: ever increasing suicides and little rehabilitation

The British prison disaster is well known from the reports of the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick: ever-increasing suicides and little rehabilitation, with up to 70% of released prisoners back inside within 12 months. The treatment of young offenders at Rainsbook detention centre is the latest revelation of the shameful way we treat those sent inside. Prison staff morale is low. At £14bn, the cost is enormous.

The root cause is the massive increase in prison numbers in the last two decades. Under Margaret Thatcher there were 40,000 prisoners. Like you, she was hardly a bleeding-heart liberal. Yet she did not share the obsession of her successors with mass incarceration. Under David Cameron, UK prisoner numbers are touching 86,000. In the first week of his new premiership, prison numbers increased by 100. Do the maths. What will this be after five more years! This is far higher than equivalent European democracies, which have similar levels of crime but do not seem to need to put so many people inside at such cost to taxpayers.

In the first four years of the coalition government, 1,073 new criminal offences were created. This adds to the 4,300 new crimes in the 13 years of the Labour government before 2010. I was pleased at the announcement that women could no longer be sent to prison over nonpayment of the BBC licence fee. Many inside are there because of debt, just as in Dickens’ time.

No party dares to ask if our judges are adequately trained or are capable of rethinking their pro-prison prejudices. The Tory manifesto wants judges to face challenges if they are considered to have sentenced too leniently. This is an open door to atavistic tabloid editors to create a storm over any sentence they don’t like, and will further press prison-junkie judges to send more inside for longer, with more pressure on the dysfunctional Crown Prosecution Service to initiate prosecutions rather than say that many add nothing to public safety.

No one is willing to make money available to help educate or rehabilitate prisoners, or stop so many being sent in

Your party’s manifesto called for “a semi-custodial sentence allowing for a short, sharp spell in custody to change behaviour”. There is no explanation of what “semi-custodial” means, but it suggests yet more men and women put inside. Far from changing behaviour, most prisons are universities of crime, riddled with drugs and mobile phones smuggled in by staff.

As an author yourself, I know you won’t repeat the fatuous policy of your predecessor of banning books being sent to prisoners. But why did I have to steal paper and pens inside Belmarsh even to scribble diary notes?

There don’t seem to be any MPs up for serious prison reform. No one wants to ask if the mass incarceration policy of the last 20 years really works and why it is so costly. No one is willing to make money available to help educate or rehabilitate prisoners, to stop so many being sent in or to help those released recover work and dignity.

Now you have as your shadow Charlie Falconer, who likes ideas and reading books just as much as you do. Can you meet him privately – maybe at The Clink, the excellent Brixton prison restaurant – and decide to declare a truce so that both of you work to change the mass incarceration policy in place since the mid-90s? You can drop infantile populist attacks on Labour, and Falconer should welcome any serious efforts to reduce prison numbers without headline-seeking accusations of being soft on crime. Go on: there is no need to make party politics out of prisons.

Sadly, unless policy changes, prisons in 2015-2020 are going to be in an as bad, if not worse, state than they are now – with more people inside, more suicides, and little hope of recidivism reducing. You can make a difference. Will you?

Yours, Denis