Thursday, October 28, 2004
Bigley 2.0

Am I the only person who finds the lack of attention and effort placed upon Mrs Hassan's captivity, in comparison to Mr Bigley's, distasteful? The press and the victim's family kept the hostage on the front pages of the media and the news, reinforced by the unsettling political effects that the images of this broken man projected over the Labour conference. Now we can watch in deja-va as Zarqawi proves his misunderstanding of the West by retreading the same tactics tried out with Bigley. Our attention span has moved elsewhere.

Now that hostage-taking has lost its shock value, the media no longer provides headlines for its British victims. The favourable conditions for publicising the Bigley's terrible experiences and undeserved fate have fallen away. Moreover, Mrs Hassan's family live in Iraq and, as dark-skinned Iraqis, are less photogenic than grieving Liverpudlians. The emotions are no less raw for that perceived handicap.

This is not a preference. Low-key coverage of hostage-taking is a good strategy, denying terrorists the oxygen of publicity and allowing negotiations to take place outside of the public eye, lowering the pressures under which such diplomacy takes place. Moreover, an observer may speculate that the government has learnt from the Bigley episode and prevented the mainstream media from raising the public profile of Mrs Hassan.

If there has been no government interference, our perception of the media is depressing. Bigley's chances were exaggerated by the press since his life or death had acquired political connotations. These no longer exist and Mrs Hassan becomes another motorway services sign on the way to Newport Pagnell.

(21.14, 28th October 2004)
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Proof that Europeans are stupid

Is it just me who thinks that this "victory" where the Socialists forced out a commissioner for expressing orthodox Christian social views is going to come back to them. Seriously, do they really think that the gay rights lobby and some far out feminists are going to have more heft than the Roman Catholic Church? In Sweden and Denmark perhaps....

Only an oxymoronic undemocratic parliament could think that. And they have. I feel far more cheerful.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
The Original Neocon

Returning to the speech that Tony Blair made at the University of Chicago setting out his foreign policy objectives, Ben Rawlence, writing in the Guardian, compares the common threads between Blairism and neoconservatism. A key to this radical departure from British policy lies in the emphasis that Blair places upon values above interest:

It is the emphasis on "values" that links him to the neocons. Blair's formulation that, since the cold war, "our actions are guided by ... mutual self-interest and moral purpose in defending the values we cherish. In the end values and interests merge" is one that would be strongly supported by the neocons.

The distinction between values and interests is crucial. Interests are usually defended, values are promoted. Interests are material and can be defined, values are hard to pin down and know no limit. If we take the government's oft repeated mantra that "the best defence of our security lies in the spread of our values", British foreign policy at once becomes diffuse: our priorities are everywhere and nowhere.

What are these values? It is hard to disagree with Blair when he says: "Nations that are free, democratic and benefiting from economic progress tend to be stable and solid partners in the advance of humankind." The problem occurs when British security is linked to the spread of those values, and when we wage war in their name. British national interest is explicitly located in the internal affairs of other countries, violating international traditions of non-interference, and destabilising governments. No wonder countries in the Middle East are nervous.

Whilst the framework is the same, there are distinct differences between Blairite values and neoconservatism. The former judges international institutions and the environment as far more important than the latter, placing Blair straddling the concerns of the left and the demands of the United States.

It also provides a roadmap for the future: the subordination of values and ideologies whilst redefining Britain's interests. One for the right.

(23.04, 24th October 2004)
Thursday, October 21, 2004
Iain, we hardly knew ye

The most underrated politician of all time, Iain Duncan Smith, had a blind spot when it came to America, and still does. However in Monday's debate on Britain's contribution to the Bush reelection campaign he spoke of his concern (he used the term question, but we know parliamentary language when we see it) at British troops being subject to thick torture happy Yank troops (again its the parliamentary language thing, we know what he meant). Have the AEI and other Conservative foundations dropped him, enquiring minds demand to know. However as Julian Lewis, Nicholas Soames and David Heathcote-Amery made pretty similar points this is probably not the case - unless the Atlanticist case among the Tories has been hollowed even further than has been apparent.

The debate itself is worth reading, with the edited highlights of Hoon's pratfall when he effectively admitted to lying to the house about not having made the decision. Also interesting are former supporters of the war such as Geraldine Smith, Teddy Taylor, Rob Marris and Andrew Mackinley getting nervous. The constant talk is of exit strategies.

It seems that even people who were pro-war can now talk about getting out of Iraq quickly without admitting that the invasion is wrong?

See, Mr Howard, there is a way of making the war a vote winner.
Monday, October 18, 2004
Pension Missiles

Like pensions, the decision to deploy of missiles at Fylingdales has been postponed until after the general election. The Labour government wishes to avoid reinforcing the perception of following America's lead. Such actions resurrect the slithering toves of the Cold War peace movement:

Reports over the weekend suggested that the Pentagon had asked Britain for permission to site interceptor missiles at the American-run early warning station at Fylingdales, North Yorkshire.

The government has tried to pour cold water on the story, but there is nevertheless a potentially damaging row looming over the possibility that a deal on the missiles could have been agreed between the two countries, without anyone outside a privileged inner circle being any the wiser.

If such a move had been permitted, there would be dark echoes of the Greenham Common days, when peace camps were set up outside the Berkshire USAF base to protest about the siting of cruise missiles on English soil.

The Cold War has come and gone ... but still America feels the need to rein in its allies for their assistance in helping to defend The 50 States.

This story sits uneasily with the assertions of Christopher Booker and Richard North this weekend that the special relationship was in danger, due to the increasing integration of European defence. The Fylingdales episode indicates that the Blair government still straddles the fence, aiming to act as a bridge between Europe and the United States.

The objective is the same but Blair has switched allies in Europe. At first, Blair attempted to reach his goals with the co-operation of Germany and France. The Iraqi War put an end to those hopes. Now, Blair has realised that a pro-American grouping may hold a majority or a blocking vote in European structures, and hopes to unify this loose collective under British leadership. This would explain his enthusiasm for the European Constitution, and his warnings against a 'hard core' integrationist avant-garde.

If the French understand that they may have to subordinate their foreign policy to an Atlanticist majority, this may prove an additional incentive towards the delinking and integration of the Rhineland quartet. The divisions over Iraq are proving longer-lasting than we anticipated.

(23.07, 18th October 2004)
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Political Responses to the Redeployment

The United States has requested that a small number of British troops are redeployed to a position outside of their zone of control, placing them under US command. This has resulted in a welter of complaints from the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and anti-war Labour MPs that such a move has been motivated by the political strategies of the Bush administration. This has now forced Hoon to issue a parliamentary statement on this subject.

The addition of the US election as a factor in this deployment has politicised the whole move. The Sunday Telegraph reported that the move was opposed by General Sir Michael Walker although it is unclear if he was concerned by the use of our reserve in Iraq to support the Americans or by the alleged political motivations involved.

Gen Walker, the most senior officer in the Armed Forces, is said to be concerned that the Army should not be "bounced" into sending troops into Baghdad simply because the Americans have sustained more casualties than the British.

A Ministry of Defence official said that the Chief of the Defence Staff and other senior officers were worried that deploying the Black Watch, which is the divisional reserve for southern Iraq, to Baghdad would leave British troops vulnerable to another uprising by insurgents.

It is unclear if this move is an operational or a political matter. However, the powers of coincidence fail to explain why this story arose at the same time as the visit of Michael Howard to the headquarters of the Black Watch in Perth. Certain quarters may have viewed this as an opportunity to publicise the government's willingness for using the military to further its political ends. Who knows?

There is clear evidence that the government has suborned the intelligence services to further its objectives, compromising their independence with the willing participation of some of their members. Is the same struggle taking place in the Armed Forces, as commanders juggle defence and cutbacks, whilst opposing actions that put their men's lives at risk? They are certainly leaking to the press....

A senior Army officer said: "There is a certain amount of concern that this is a politically driven military operation and that does not rest easily with soldiers.

"Soldiers accept that they have to undertake dangerous operations in war, they accept that they might be killed or injured, but it is completely unacceptable if they are being sent to Baghdad to help George Bush win the next election."

(22.50, 17th October 2004)
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Civil Con/EuroCon

If your political antennae have been sensitive to the undercurrents shimmering across the blogosphere, then you will have picked up the few postings alerting readers to the implications of the Civil Contingencies Bill. The dangers of this giant step towards authoritarianism have been publicised far more effectively on Iain Murray's personal weblog, The Edge of Englands Sword:

Lord Lucas has described the Civil Contingencies Bill as comparable to Hitler's Enabling Act of 1933 which enabled him to transform Germany's Weimar Republic into his own personal tyranny. I have now read it, and I have to say that he is not exaggerating.

Readers could argue that this is an invocation of Godwin's Law and that, by quoting this passage, I have lost the argument. However, this opinion is that of Torquil Dirk-Erikson, "a noted Eurosceptic writer and learned silk". However, in considering the passage of this Act, it should also be noted that the European Constitution has a section on 'civil protection' as one of the coordinating powers for the European authorities.

The Government wishes to push through an updated Civil Contingencies Bill in 2004. It does not mention the EU, but the draft EU Constitution includes 'civil protection' as an area for 'coordinating action' and the current Treaty mentions the topic vaguely. The Bill also enables the creation of arbitrary imprisonable criminal offences. It enables regulations that can delegate powers to anyone or confer jurisdiction on any court or tribunal. This could be an EU body, unaccountable to government or the people.

From this, it is a short step to imagine the following scenario:

An 'emergency' is declared by the government. Who knows what the catalyst may be? It could vary from an outbreak of foot and mouth to a mega-terrorist attack on the United States of America or another European country. The definition of emergency within the Civil Contingencies Bill is so vague that it could be stretched to cover a terrorist attack in a foreign country, and the consequences of any perceived threat on our own shores. My own assumption is that it would have to be an NBC attack. Nothing less could do for the government's subsequent actions.

Following this, a nationwide emergency is declared and all democratic assemblies are prorogued. The Government pushes through a number of authoritarian measures by regulation including a national ID scheme and, possibly, the reintroduction of a limited draft. In oredr to show solidarity with fellow European Union Member States, the government also signs up to the Euro and the Constitution, promising a democratic vote once the national state of emergency has ended.

Regulatory changes include the creation of a list system for parties, the use of postal, mobile and electronic voting, and the prohibition of 'extremists' such as the British National Party and UKIP. Certain opinions and arguments deemed offensive are banned from the media or the public airwaves. After these regulatory changes, introduced as modernisation or democratisation, are embedded, the government calls another election, which Labour wins handsomely, having introduced a 'managed democracy'. This election is cited as a referendum on Europe and the ruling party declares that no further votes are required on membership within Europe.

To those who say that this scenario is unlikely or extremist, and that the Labour Party would never take such an unprincipled route to preserve its current role as the governing party, I would cite the introduction of the Civil Contingencies Bill as evidence of their political principles. They are not to be trusted.

(18.42, 16th October 2004)

Friday, October 15, 2004
Triangulating Bush and Kerry

The Progressive Governance Conference that took place in Budapest today demonstrated that Blair was repositioning his political position to account for a possible Kerry victory in the US elections. At the same time, he also sketched out his current position on the European Constitution and the role of Europe.

Blair has maintained that the European Union, integrated under the Constitution, can act as an ally rather than as a counterweight to the United States. This is known as the Atlanticist viewpoint, as opposed to the multipolar great power envisaged by the French. Blair has concluded that this objective can only be achieved by harnessing the new Member States and ushering a new vision of Europe to redress the old. Neither of these ideologies contradict the centralising and integrationist path of the European Union, since they concern its future relationships with the United States, not its impending structures.

To this end, Blair made overtures to the socialist Prime Minister of Spain, Jose Zapatero, and argued that a Europe, divided between core and periphery, should be opposed.

Mr Blair called yesterday for the US and Europe to work together in the wake of Iraq as he sent a strong message to France and Germany that there could not be a two-speed EU.In a joint newspaper article with Hungarian counterpart and summit host Ferenc Gyurcsany, he said that in the expanded union of 25 states “all are equal”. “We should reject any suggestion of inner or outer cores of Europe,” the article said.

In a further snub to the 'soft core', Blair also published an article with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany. This provided more details on his version of Europe: setting out reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, maintaining an alliance with the United States and uniting Europe under one Constitution.

In anticipation of Britain's presidency of the G8 in 2005, Blair's trailblazer, Mandelson, noted that the United States was taking greater account of the international community on the issues of climate change and global poverty. The implicit criticism that the United States had neglected these subjects was covered by Mandelson's anticipation of a United States engaging with the international community. Whilst neutral in terms of the presidential election, the readership would have noted a deliberate echo of Kerry's voice, whilst the Bush administration understood that there have always been differences of policy which Blair now wished to emphasise.

In an article for the conference in Progressive Politics, Mr Blair's confidante Peter Mandelson said: "America has learnt from the errors of the war in Iraq. America now understands that it needs allies: not just coalitions of the willing that will support the US in its own policy decisions, but a wider international community that wants its voice to be heard and recognised." He said a stable democratic Iraq could best be achieved by greater involvement of the UN and greater efforts to inter-nationalise the coalition effort, particularly on the part of Europe.

Mandelson had already publicised another argument that could be used to defend Blair's flank on Iraq: that the British government had sought international legitimacy for the war, only to be defeated by the spoiling actions of the French, acting out of short-term and corrupt interests, as the oil for weapons scandal demonstrated. This has some mileage, since most of the accusations against the French appear to stack up. We will see if it is used in the next few days.

He said: "Who can doubt that the insurgency in Iraq would today be a lesser problem had a second resolution been agreed and the UN been in the driving seat from the start and throughout." Mr Blair has always insisted that no second UN resolution was needed to authorise the military action, and blamed the French for blocking attempts to win one.

Despite all of the unspoken flim-flammery on the part of the Conservatives, we can see clear blue water between their demands for a Europe based on variable geometry and the unitary constitutional monolith, favoured by Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

(23.41, 15th October 2004)
Baghdad Squaddie

The government has made another mistake: cancelling the leave of the Black Watch without ensuring that the soldiers or their families were aware of their next deployment. Their needs were probably never raised with Hoon: a pol first, last and always.

There had been fears that the Black Watch were being sent to Fallujah, stronghold of the Tawhid wal Jihad group which murdered Kenneth Bigley a week ago. Last night the Ministry of Defence ruled out sending British troops there, but, asked about deployment to Baghdad, said that options were under consideration. A spokesman said: “Discussions are going on all the time with our allies about our deployment in Iraq.”

The need for security during the elections has provided a demonstrable 'need' for the 'hearts and minds' strategies of the Brits. Remember: we won Malaysia, they lost Vietnam.

(23.05, 15th October 2004)
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
FoxNews Watch

We are often warned of the uncritical and unstinting loyalties that Atlanticists in the United Kingdom profess for the United States. This is often directed at those steeped in Churchillian discourse. Of less significance, though interesting in a minor key, is the admiration that Americans can express for their loyal eyes, the latest incarnation being Blair. This forms the framework of a hagiographical article towards Blair, where all political developments in the United Kingdom are viewed through this single prism.

After a quick overview of the facts, including a quick reference to inquiries that vindicate the Prime Minister, the writer takes a quick stab at Howard:

Blair accused Howard of "playing politics" over Iraq. Howard supported the war, and his subsequent attacks have opened him to charges of "flip flopping" on the issue, like Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry.

This is followed by a general description of how Blair has triumphed over his opponents in order to focus on domestic issues, "schools and hospitals". The last few paragraphs quote an admiring academic, William Jones, and predict a third election victory.

This is firm evidence of Americans unable to look beyond their own shores when a conservative leaning website bows before the temple of socialism. Two examples will suffice. Members of Parliament are referred to as 'lawmakers', perhaps as a joke, since most of their laws are diktats from Brussels. And when Labour MPs refer to the flag, isn't it invariably red?

"People are rallying around the flag and everybody knows they are coming into the foothills of an election campaign," Labour lawmaker Donald Anderson, chairman of Parliament's influential Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told The Associated Press.

(22.53, 13th October 2004)

EU Referendum

We're still the whipping boy

Thanks to the EU Referendum Blog for an article about the arcane area of American arms export regulations.

What this boils down to is that the American Congress is still refusing to grant us a waiver for their draconian arms export regulations. I'm not condemning Congress - after all they are the legislative body of a military power. However, those who say that the Americans are going to do anything other than small or token favours for us are mistaken.

Our co-operation with America in The War Against Terror counts for nothing whenever a real decision is made.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004
Rights and Wrongs

The government is puzzled at the power that the Iraqi conflict continues to hold over domestic politics. Whilst they wish to play to their perceived strengths - the Economy - Iraq still throws grit in their wheels. It is not a major issue for the majority of the public, but the politicised class have viewed the whole episode as an exercise in deceit, coating the government with dishonesty, just as sleaze tarred the Tories. These attitudes, exacerbated by the rise in taxes and the deterioration in the quality of life, have toppled New Labour's longstanding and undeserved reputation.

The Conservatives maintain their darting opportunism that a 'cut and run' is defeatist whilst inflicting minor cuts on Labour with their attacks on the intelligence used. Their statements should have been dismissed by Labour as fodder for their own left-wing dissent (the "unofficial opposition") and yet the focus groups must be demanding a response. Thus, we are beginning to witness the two weapons that the spindoctors deploy to manipulate their mainstream media audience: the 'apology that is not an apology' and the airbrush of history.

The government is no longer able to justify the intelligence claims that it utilised to go to war in Iraq. This is the acknowledgement that the intelligence was flawed, not a mea culpa, not an apology - just a new consensus based upon the rejection of certain 'facts' that were crucial for the presentation of the 'war party':

"I do not accept, even with hindsight, that we were wrong to act as we did," Straw said during a question and answer session in the House of Commons. Though Straw admitted that some of the intelligence was incorrect, he insisted: "I continue to believe the judgments we made and the actions we took were right."

To have given Saddam the benefit of the doubt at the time would have required "a huge leap of faith," Straw said. "We would have had to conclude that all the intelligence — not just our own, but from many other agencies around the world — was wrong," Straw said. "Although we can now see that some of the intelligence was wrong, I continue to believe the judgments we made and the actions we took were right. "It was the whole of the international community and every one of the 15 members of the Security Council which concluded that Saddam posed a threat to international peace and security."

The information presented to Parliament in order to justify the decision to go to war was erroneous, but that decision was entirely correct. The arguments are now presented with the Manichaean logic that politicians prefer. The unified international community viewed Iraq as a menace and the consensus of their intelligence agencies supported this perception. On this basis, Iraq was either invaded or given the "benefit of the doubt". The diplomatic conflicts, the calls for further inspections, the range of alternative strategies considered, are set at nought, since their remembrance would call into question the right of this government to go to war. In this case, too many wrongs make a right.

Even those of us who supported the war, and still entertain grave doubts at the argument for withdrawal of British troops, can reject the stance taken by Labour. When the causes of war fall away, they rely upon rhetoric and trust for moral justification. In the week that Derrida graces the obituarist's pen, is there a finer testament to his deconstructionist philosophy than Jack Straw's simplisms in Parliament.

(00.00, 13th October 2004)
Another blow for the Anglosphere?

With the departure of Lord Black as the Telegraph's proprieter (and feudal lord) this column has been predicting that the Anglosphere boosters will either be trimming their cloth (if they're British) or quietly being squeezed out (if they're not). One of the best transatlantic columnists, Mark Steyn has been dropped from the Telegraph, in his words:

Today, for the first time in all my years with the Telegraph Group, I had a column pulled. The editor expressed concerns about certain passages and we were unable to reach agreement, so on this Tuesday something else will be in my space.

The slow reclaiming of British Conservatism is happening, no matter how we may complain about the speed.
Friday, October 08, 2004
How Can the Tories Win?

I've been getting a bit of flack for a recent piece on the Tories opposing the war:

I think you're crackers if you think the British public is ever going to see the Tories as an "antiwar" party

Well you get the drift.

So what can they do? They supported it and the public more or less know this. But they can win the election if they are seen as the antiwar party - when otherwise they lose it.

In short they need to say that they were lied to (they were and they have) but secondly call for withdrawal of troops. Something along the lines of "We supported the war, but not the indefinate occupation. We think that [insert electorally close, unatainable and fairly random date here] is a fair date to bring our troops home and we know that the British public agree with us."

Whatever they do they will be accused of populism. Might as well get hung for a sheep as a goat.
Wednesday, October 06, 2004
An Average Equality of Failure

There has been very little eveidence that the Tories have proved astute and cunning in thinking through their predicament. They pay lip service to the paradigms of public choice that have haunted reforms of the State since the late nineties yet sound remarkably coy about their actions in government.

Michael Ancram's speech on foreign policy, composed of incoherent attacks on Labour and a genuflection towards non-governmental organisms like John Bercow, sounds remarkably Blairite in its turn towards to all audiences. Consider the headlines: attacks on Blair and Jack Straw over Iraq and Zimbabwe (NuLab hypocrisy); loyalty to NATO, the Commonwealth and Gibraltar ("fly the flag"); a strengthened relationship with the United States, based upon straight talk (???????); and a compassionate foreign policy (if they can wrest international development back from the EU).

Ancram should not be expected to forego political opportunities but this grab-bag recites a list of conservative themes without putting them into practice. The rhetoric from Europe displayed this only too well:

He vowed to take back powers from Brussels, including control of fisheries, a greater part of international aid, and the opt-out from the Social Chapter. He said the Conservatives would make it clear they would never give away 'essential British rights of self-determination' on tax, welfare system, immigration and asylum, and defence and foreign policy - all of which he said were at risk. And, responding to reports that Mr Prodi suggested that in future British Olympic medallists should celebrate under the European flag, he said: "Get lost, Mr. Prodi, get lost."

In a sense, Howard and Ancram are Majorite reactionaries, since they wish to hover in some half-way house between Maastricht and Amsterdam, last patronised in the 1990s. Blair must be quite happy to depart the political scene, satisfied that he has bleached the Tories clean of all dangerous radicalism.

(23.12, 6th October 2004)
Monday, October 04, 2004
As If By Magic

The Tories must feel like the foxes that their erstwhile supporters occasionally chase although thw despairing conference attendees may view themselves as the carcasses left over from some unsuccessful rural protest. The Today programme was too irritating to listen to after a while, as the gurning Humphries described the psychology of the Tories oscillating between a camarilla of unrealistic ministers and the depressed ranks. The media mantra solidified over the weekend with Hartlepool, Hartlepool, Hartlepool repeated like some inane football chant.

This is the 'stupid party' - one that you should not be particularly fond of. They have been a disaster for British conservatism and libertarianism since the 1970s but, on this occasion, I will probably support them. Whatever their faults, the Tories have shown a willingness to work within the traditional conventions of our unwritten constitution, even under the excesses of Thatcherism, where we saw the strange convergence of economic liberalism and the strong state. Blair has damaged our political system with his attempts to consolidate power and undermine checks and balances. This damage may be irreparable. The authoritarianism and future punishment of dissent is rapidly transforming this country into a moral slump, a 'world turned upside down', where values are inverted, justice is reversed and evil is rewarded.

This can be witnessed. The middle classes, slumped in their homes with no electoral course of action, wonder why the litany of disasters is not being shouted from the rooftops. Many feel that they have been lied to over Iraq and point the finger at Blair as the culprit. With no respite on tax and no recourse in law, this country has seen an inexorable rise in emigration, a loss of human and social capital that cannot be quantified. Britain is the poorer in this equation, as a well-educated bourgeoisie leaves.

There is a constituency that opposes all of these changes. They are represented across a wide spectrum from UKIP and the disarming Liberal Democrats to the Tories and even the BNP. As yet, the 'anyone but Blair' has not coalesced, but there are early indications of tactical voting against Labour. However, if Labour wins the next election with the same majority as 2001, my views change: the country is beyond salvation, pick up your passport and exile yourself.

Within thirty years, they will need your remittances.

(23.13, 4th October 2004)

Howard or Howard?

Michael Howard may be looking enviously over at Australia where his namesake is leading a right wing party that is actually in government. However ignore the name and the tenor of the party and look at John Howard's similarities with Blair.

They are both long standing premiers with fairly succesful (if not exactly robust) economies and are both taking flak for their support for the American invasion of Iraq. The difference is that Howard looks like being in trouble electorally.

Now this should not be the case. The economy is doing fairly well, the Labor party are hardly inspiring confidence being led by a half-gelded nobody with no record in national government and no discernable talents apart from foul-mouthing.

However this potty mouth has been directed at Howard's relationship with the US. And very effectively. Where this election should be a walkover for Howard it is now neck and neck. This is even more surprising when one remembers that Australia is in fact far more pro-American than the UK as the entrepreneurial culture, large empty spaces and greater interest in religion make a fairly compatible culture. After all Australian troops went to Vietnam, unlike British troops. And Australia, with big bad Indonesia on its doorstep, has a more genuine worry about Islamic expansionism than we (or for that matter the United States) do.

I personally think that (John) Howard will get through, but even if he does a narrow margin will be another indication (after Germany and Spain) that anti-Americanism can be a very effective vote winner for otherwise hopeless parties. School vouchers and raising inheritance tax thresholds haven't got the same track record. The Conservative party know this, the only question is do they really want to be in government next year?

Howard's Shift

So did you see it?

It must be the longest shift in position since Disraeli decided that he actually rather liked Free Trade. And it's still going on.

It seems that Michael Howard is slowly tacking to a 180 degree U-Turn on the war. It's a careful operation which is only generating medium level headlines but there is a gradual move, nuance by nuance, to put the Conservative Party as the antiwar party after the war.
Oh if they had only listened to us! A few sceptical comments before the war would have them in prime position now. Instead they made themselves irrelevant by their wholehearted support of the war. Pro war voters would vote for Blair anyway when any antiwar backlash could have been theirs for the taking. Of course if the war had been popular then the sceptical comments could be reinterpreted as pro rather than antiwar comments.

People forget but Kinnock did a similar thing with Iraq in the early nineties. Yes, he did have more strident antiwar spokesmen resigning because of his perceived softness, on the other hand his front bench hedged their bets. That time the war went well and was it an election issue despite a more sceptical opposition? This is even more remarkable when one remembers that the 1987 election had seen Kinnock "kebabbed" by the Labour Party's espousal of unilateral disarmament.

Although not directly relevant because of the more decentralised nature of the American opposition, the American example after the first Gulf war, when a succesful war president actually lost in 1992, once again showed the limits of gratitude in democracies.

However smugly saying I told you so is not much use except to the ego.
The continued British involvement in the occupation of Iraq is so plainly against the national interest that only the sort of person who thinks that Portillo would make a decent Prime Minister can't see it. It's also a vote winner, and not just among Muslims.
We have already seen a worthless government being re-elected in Germany and a moderately decent government falling in Spain. These otherwise underserved election results can be put at the door of the parties' attitude towards the Iraq war.

We similarly see an unpopular government over here on course for an election victory. Whatever pro-Americans in the Conservative Party may long for, the party will only stand a prayer in the next election if it can convincingly make the case against the war.

Now this may be derailed by a Brown accession (despite the recent threat to carry on for another term, I think it is seriously doubtful that Blair wishes to endanger his place in history and his family's welfare with that term) or a robust fightback from Atlanticists, but there is a plan to win. It is up to the Tories to decide if they want to win or just to play the game.
Friday, October 01, 2004
Free Life Commentary
Issue Number 127
Thursday, 30 September 2004

Annual Reflections on the Quisling Right
by Sean Gabb

Last August, before going off to the Slovak Republic for a holiday, I was approached by some active members of the United Kingdom Independence Party. They asked me to use such contacts as I had to get a message to Michael Howard, urging him to end his official ambiguity about our membership of the European Union. I will not say whom I approached, but I have been on friendly terms for some while with a Conservative Member of Parliament who is in turn on friendly terms with Mr Howard. So I arranged a meeting, and drafted the memorandum reproduced below for his attention before the meeting.
The Memorandum


I am writing this Memorandum in advance of our meeting of next [date removed], so that you can have reasonable time to think about the points that I have been asked to raise, and also perhaps to consult with others whom you think it appropriate to make aware of our meeting.
I am directly representing a group of energetic and influential UKIP activists in the South West of England. I do not think I am in any sense representing the leadership of UKIP. Indeed, the nature of the points I have been asked to raise indicates that my principals are the activists alone.

While I agree with the analytical parts of this Memorandum - I am even to some extent responsible for them - I am simply explaining the threatened action in response. I have some authority to negotiate, but this is over details should there be agreement over principles.
How the Conservatives Hope to Win the Next Election

It seems that the Conservative strategy for winning the next election is to say and do as little as possible between now and polling day. There is reason to hope that the actual Labour vote is on the verge of collapse. The ethnic minorities will not easily be persuaded to vote for a Government that they believe went to war with Iraq for oil or Israel or white domination of the world or whatever: here I will say the truth of these and other conspiracy theories is less important than their possible effects on voting intention. Many of these people will not vote at all. Some will vote for the Liberal Democrats. Some may vote for their own ethnic parties. The white working class vote is also crumbling. These people are beginning to realise that they have had nothing out of a Labour Government that is more interested in allowing their home districts to fill with non-white immigrants and in continuing the Tory drive for economic rationality. They also are likely to drift away from Labour - to the Liberal Democrats or to the BNP or simply into not voting at all. Middle class Labour supporters are also unhappy. They are unhappy about the war with Iraq or the attack on civil liberties, or the direction of economic policy.

On the other hand, the Conservative vote, while smaller on a full turn out, seems actually much firmer. There is a venomous hatred of the Government within the conservative movement that may have had no equal since the years before the Great War. Conservative voters are far less likely than Labour to stay at home.

This being so, it makes sense for the Conservative leadership to say and do the barest minimum needed to bring out its traditional supporters. Anything more than this risks giving the Government an opportunity to scare its own supporters back to voting for it.

This analysis may be wrong. Perhaps the Labour vote is less soft than supposed. Perhaps the Conservative vote is less hard. Even so, it seems at the moment that the Conservative leadership has accepted the analysis, and is setting its electoral strategy on that basis.

What Would a Conservative Government Do?

Here the problem begins. If the Conservative leadership were considered at all trustworthy, most conservatives would accept the strategy. Conservative activists would get on with canvassing and recruiting. Contributions would flow in, and the Party would ready itself for a big, unified push. The vague talk about repatriating powers from Brussels would be taken as a promise to withdraw from the European Union. Contradictory talk about public service reform would be taken as a promise to dismantle the New Labour power bases.

But the Conservative leadership is not trusted. Rightly or wrongly, many within the conservative movement look on the Conservative Party as a systematic fraud. It is accused during the past two generations of having deliberately lied its way into power. Promises made in 1959 and 1970 were cynically broken. The Thatcher and Major Governments did deliver to some degree on economic policy, but did nothing conservative on any other issue.

Most importantly for our present purpose, it was a Conservative Government that took the country into the European Union, and Conservative Governments that embedded the country deeper into the European Union. On every occasion between 1972 and 1992, we were told what we now know were the most shameless lies.

Because of all this, the Conservative leadership is widely distrusted within the conservative movement. Its statements are subjected to the sort of scrutiny that the small print gets in a film rights contract. Not surprisingly, the carefully balanced statements in which Mr Howard specialises are received either with open scorn or with deep suspicion. In 1979, Mrs Thatcher could make a vague comment about "swamping" in a television interview and destroy the National Front as an electoral force. Today, nothing Mr Howard says about Europe has anything like that effect on UKIP.

Within much of the conservative movement, it is a firm presumption that a Conservative Government would not withdraw from the European Union, and that it would achieve so significant alleviation of the evils that underlie the desire for withdrawal. The most that is expected is for Mr Howard to bring back a piece of paper bearing the signature of Herr Schroeder himself.

This is more than a suspicion. I have been shown an e-mail set by mistake from someone close to the Conservative leadership. This says:

"This is much, much more to this than ineptitude. What we have seen over the last week is the evidence of a Tory plan to present the party as if it was prepared to take on EU issues, while the real agenda is to do nothing at all. This is a quite deliberate and calculated deception, designed to fool the electorate and sideline UKIP. They are not prepared to listen to advice because they already have their own agenda, and do not want to hear anything that contradicts it."

I cannot reveal the source of this e-mail, but it only fuels suspicions that rest on other grounds.

The Kamikaze Strategy

Like any other party, UKIP has a bureaucratic organisation. Those within this look partly to the advancement of defining principles and partly to the maintenance of their own incomes and status. Had the Conservative leadership been more trustworthy on Europe after 1997, the UKIP bureaucracy would never have emerged. Now that it has emerged, there is nothing the Conservative leadership can do to dissolve it this side of a general election. It is committed to putting up candidates and trying to replace the Conservative Party, and it will continue with that regardless. There may be contacts between the Conservative and UKIP leaderships, but I fail to see how there can be any grounds for agreement between them. The two parties are competing for the same voters, and any success for one is seen as a loss for the other. They are in the same position as the Labour and Communist Parties between about 1935 and 1955. There may be an overlap of ideology between them, but this is less important than the ambitions of the competing leadership and organisational structures.

This being said, UKIP relies on a large activist base that is outside its necessarily small bureaucratic structure. These are not emotionally committed to UKIP. They are mostly disgusted Conservatives, who remain with UKIP because they believe it is the only way of showing support for withdrawal from the European Union.

With every circumstance in its favour, UKIP cannot replace the Conservative Party at the next election. It certainly cannot win a general election. It almost certainly cannot get a single candidate elected. With just its bureaucratic structure, UKIP is a largely harmless organisation - rather like the Socialist Labour Party that Arthur Scargill leads.

It is the activists who matter. If they continue to believe that a victorious Conservative leadership would sell out on Europe, they will put their backs into a strategy the effect of which is to keep Labour in power. They will support UKIP candidates in all those Conservative seats which they believe are losable. In particular, they believe that Oliver Letwin is vulnerable.
I emphasise the word "losable". They do not believe it is likely that they can secure a UKIP win in any of these seats. Indeed, they are considering urging people to vote for the Liberal Democrats in some places. They will also allow themselves to be used by a pro-European media to highlight the Conservative divisions on Europe. Their intention is to deny the Conservatives a majority. They prefer a Labour Government that we all accept is the enemy to a Conservative Government that will continue Labour policies but with a weaker opposition. This may be a deeply misguided strategy, but it is their current intention.

How to Destroy UKIP

The activists whom I represent have no love of UKIP as an institution. For them, as said, it is simply a vehicle for advancing the cause of withdrawal from the European Union. If they can be persuaded that supporting the Conservative Party is more likely to advance this cause, they will drop UKIP and rejoin the Conservative Party.

To make them do this, however, it is necessary for the Conservative leadership unambiguously to say that it will consider withdrawing from the European Union. This is not something to be done via unattributable briefings, or via some minor figure in the leadership whose words can later be clarified out of existence or otherwise disowned. It must be from Mr Howard himself - best of all as part of his conference speech, or at least as an answer to an interview question. My principals do not wish to specify wording - after all, Mr Howard is an experienced lawyer and politician - but they do look for something like this:

"Of course, as I have repeatedly said, membership of the European Union is in British interests, and I would not wish as a Conservative Prime Minister to act on any other basis. That is why I promise to work so hard to put our relationship with our European partners on a more solid and mutually advantageous basis than it so far possesses. This being said, if British interests and membership of the European Union cannot be fully reconciled, then it would be the obvious duty of a British Prime Minister to look to British interests."

This can be followed by whatever media briefings and clarifications may be thought appropriate. But nothing less than a public statement by Mr Howard will be accepted..

Concluding Remarks

I do accept that making any statement similar to the above would entail a rejection of what we perceive as the present Conservative strategy. It would turn the coming general election into a referendum on membership of the European Union. It would set much of the Establishment and the broadcast media against the Conservative Party. It would reconfigure the geography of British political debate as profoundly as Joseph Chamberlain's speech on tariff reform did a hundred years ago. This would be an unmapped geography with many as yet unknown dangers. But it would bring the definite advantage of ending all divisions within the conservative movement. Most obviously, it would destroy UKIP as a political threat to the Conservative Party.

In closing, I ask you to urge these points to Mr Howard for his urgent consideration.
I submitted this memorandum. We had a long and a personally friendly meeting. But there was no agreement. I was assured that there would be no change of policy and no change of emphasis. The Conservative leadership would under no circumstances talk about withdrawal from the European Union. For my friends in the UK Independence Party - who had almost certainly made other approaches - this was enough. They would begin their wrecking strategy. They would prepare to destroy Oliver Letwin and any other Conservative politician they thought vulnerable.

Now, what I am still turning over in my mind is what I ought to think of all this. Having paid more attention to Mr Howard than usual over the past few weeks, I do believe he has decided on the old Quisling Right strategy. A Quisling Rightist is someone who makes conservative noises - giving speeches that seem to imply promises and giving promises that seem to imply delivery of something important - but who, on achieving office, does nothing to oppose the real governance of this country by the coalition of bureaucrats, lawyers, educators, media people, and business interests who together make up the Establishment, and who are joined by their common benefiting from a large and active state. The function of the Quisling Rightist is the channel dissent away from courses where it might be effective, and to give the impression to superficial observers that a genuine political debate exists in this country. His reward is to hold office and to enjoy status and salaries with a minimum of personal inconvenience.

I do not believe that the Conservatives in government would withdraw from the European Union. I do not believe they would dismantle the politically correct mild tyranny under which we now live. They would compromise with the forces of dissolution, while protesting their devotion to conservative principle, and perhaps while putting real effort into some objective that, while in itself unimportant, could provoke enough heated discussion to make it seem that they were not compromising.

But does this mean that my friends are right? Their strategy is to destroy the Conservative Party as a party of government and to replace it with genuinely conservative party - and in the meantime to keep a continuing Labour Government under some degree of control by threats of direct action. Sometimes I think they are - and I did recommend this before the last election, when I thought William Hague an utterly worthless party leader. But times may now be altered.
On the one hand, the scope for peaceful direct action has been severely limited by the Government. It is currently enacting the Civil Contingencies Bill. This allows the Ministers to declare a state of emergency on any ground that take their fancy. Once declared, this emergency can be used to arrest and imprison without trial and to confiscate property without compensation. I doubt if the present Minister intend ever to declare an emergency to bring an abrupt end to the normal process of government. What I do suspect, though, is that they will threaten the use of emergency powers against the leaders of anything like the great Fuel Protest of 2000 - when a group of lorry drivers and other disaffected interest groups paralysed the country for a week. I am told there were plans at the time for the police to arrest every lorry driver on the picket lines and to seize their vehicles as evidence. Charges would be dropped after six weeks or so and the vehicles returned - by which time the drivers would have gone bankrupt. A Civil Contingencies Act as it seems about to be passed would allow much less crude action to be taken against organised dissent.

As an aside, I suppose this is why the Conservatives have so far done nothing to oppose the Bill. They know that it will help them. If Labour cannot be kept under control by non-parliamentary means, the time will not be available for pushing them out of the way during the next two electoral cycles. They will be confirmed in their old position as the mediators of conservative opposition to the Establishment.

But I digress. My other reason to question the strategy is that this is not an ordinarily bad government. It has blood on its hands. Last year, it lied us into a war that was not remotely in our national interest, and in which thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of civilians have been killed. This war has tied us into an apparently indefinite occupation of Iraq. And it has given terrorist groups all through the Middle East an excuse for attacking civilian targets in this country. If the Conservatives are disabled from winning the next general election, it inevitably means that a Labour Government will be elected under the leadership of the most hateful and despised ruler this country has had since the death of Mary I. If these people can win in these circumstances, I tremble to think what they will do next.

What am I to do? And since I doubt if I am the only one in this quandary, what are we to do? If we do elect the Conservatives, we shall not get a conservative government. If we vote against them, we get continued government by murderers.

All I can do is wish my friends well, and for myself seek guidance where I can. Of course, the Conservative leaders know about our quandary. Between now and the election, they will continue to say just enough to tempt us, and rely on Labour to do just enough to urge us on - and their gamble is that we shall turn out like good, obedient citizens and vote once again for the Quisling Right. Such is life.

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