Monday, November 15, 2004
Blair Recognises Airstrip One

Tonight, Blair made his Mansion House speech, and the strongest, impassioned plea yet for squaring the circle between the United States and Europe, as if these are two poles that Britain bridges. The whole of the set-piece was a mishmash of false positives and preparation for the forthcoming referendum.

The strategic role of Britain (copyright: T. Blair) was unrivalled and these strengths were in danger of being undermined by anti-Americanism and Euroscepticism. Even this blog gets an unspoken reference.

Nowhere is this clearer than in evaluating Britain's place in the world. There is only one superpower in the world today and we are its strong ally. The most powerful political grouping that has created the largest economic market in the world is the European Union - and we are a leading member. It's a great position. We should celebrate it.

However, one part of opinion wants to cool the American alliance. Another part wants us out or semi-out of Europe. In fact, some parts of opinion are now both anti-America and anti-Europe.

Blair argues that he (=Britain) can continue to maintain both diplomatic relationships, since they share common objectives in fighting terrorism and promoting democratic regimes across the globe. He stated that although there are different values between Europe and America (cue death penalty), these are not sufficient to drive a wedge between the alliance.

Should one admire a politician who continues to promote the metaphor of the Atlantic Bridge even as it weakens in power, both at home and abroad? Blair is attempting to shore up a damaged alliance that is undermined by the actions of France and Germany: his twin strategy, further integration in Europe and greater support for the United States. The subject of his speech and the need to articulate this programme for a wider audience proves that Blair's hand has weakened over the last few months. The Iraq war has cast a pall over the transatlantic community and, despite the rhetoric of success, even Blair is aware that he has not persuaded the European Union to follow his diplomatic path.

Blair, persuaded by the righteousness of his arguments, says that he can fight for the European Constitution and win. He will certainly campaign as hard as possible for this writ of sovereignty.

We have just had a debate in Europe about the new rules governing the new union of 25 and more. It is generally heralded everywhere (but Britain) as a triumph of British diplomacy. It is, overtly, an expression of Europe as a union of nation states. It is, implicitly, the rejection of Europe as a federal superstate.

So Europe matters profoundly. There is an argument raging as to its future direction. The argument can be won. And what am I advised to do? At the very moment of maximum importance, of acute urgency of decision-making, when all is in the balance and to play for, I am told to leave our allies in the lurch, walk away from the argument, retreat into a eurosceptic sulk and call it "standing up for Britain".

The preparatory arguments of the campaign, the smearing of Eurosceptics as isolationists and traitors to their allies, have been sounded out in this speech. Yet, how can we support a Prime Minister, who adopts one path and railroads his country into the chosen future, a destiny increasing at odds with the desires of his own party and, in thoughtful reflection, of teh majority of the electorate.

(23.12, 15th November 2004)


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