Britain – Closed For Business

Sunset over Tripoli

 

Tripoli

From the perspective of Tripoli, which hosts this week a huge construction and building trade fair that has attracted 427 foreign companies drawn from 26 countries, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague would seem to have a point when urging British businesses to “worker harder” to compete against overseas rivals for deals.

Of those 427 foreign companies participating in Libya Build 2012, not one – yes, you read that right – not a single one is from Britain. Not that the U.S. has distinguished itself either, the business of America is apparently not business, when it comes to Libya at the moment.

Hague’s comments about the need for British business to get stuck in – an updating of Norman Tebbit’s “get on yer bike” remark — hasn’t gone down well with British business.

Former CBI director general Lord Digby Jones, who served in the Brown government as a trade minister, lashed out Hague, complaining on BBC Radio 4 about the weakening of his former department, UK Trade & Investment. “To absolutely decimate that and cut it and then stand up and say ‘come on, get on and do it’, that’s a bit rich.”

But Libya Build 2012 organizers don’t blame the UK embassy in Tripoli or UK Trade & Investment for the non-show of British business. They say that British diplomats were highly supportive and that the 4-day exhibition was well marketed in the UK.

“I was surprised at the lack of take-up by British firms,” says Rania Mohamad, head of international sales for Libya Build 2012. “What we heard was that they were anxious about the security situation.”

Not that nervousness – and believe me it is misplaced when it comes to Tripoli – deterred the more robust Italians or French. There are 134 Italian companies here – from large construction concerns to small furniture businesses and environmental solutions firms.

According to Maria Carmela Ottaviano, head of special projects at the Italian Institute for Foreign Trade, Italy’s trade promotion agency, Italian exhibitors were keen to maintain good commercial ties between Italy and Libya that were fostered by Silvio Berlusconi.

The Italians have two pavilions exclusively for their own use and were so over-subscribed that some exhibitors from Italy have had to take refuge in other pavilions – there are 35 pavilions in all covering 17,000 square meters.

A saleswoman for an Italian manufacturer of security doors told me that they had not done work in Libya before the toppling of Col. Gaddafi but that they were keen to test the waters. She praised the Italian promotion agency for playing a big role – from helping with transportation to visa facilitation and with translation services.

The French have not been shy either to explore opportunities in Libya’s new business environment, nor to remind Libyans of France’s support for their “Arab Spring.”

There are more than 40 French companies exhibiting as well as wheeling and dealing at Libya Build 2012.

“I am very surprised at the absence of British and American firms here,” said Audrey Corriger, an export specialist with Chambon, a manufacturer of factory tools for assembly-line woodcutting and wood-design. “We are hoping to find an importer for our machines,” she says. Chambon hasn’t worked in Libya before, although it has in other North African countries.

“We decided to test the waters,” she says. She admitted that they had wondered if this would be premature to be doing ahead of the assembly elections slated for June 19 but they decided “you can never promote too early.”

Chambon is hoping also to capitalize on French support for the rebels. “As Sarkozy was so supportive of the revolution, we hope this will benefit us.”

Apparently, however, David Cameron’s backing for the overthrow of Gaddafi didn’t strike British firms as a selling point.

Some 632 companies in all are taking part in Libya Build 2012. There are large contingents from Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt and UAE, which is fielding 110 companies. Tiny Malta has its own pavilion where 40 companies are showcasing their products, from lifts and electromechanical systems, to construction materials and furniture and fittings.

“Maybe it was a bit far for the British to travel,” mused Corriger.

A Labour Breakthrough?

Britain’s Labour Party made big gains yesterday in the local government elections and today party activists are celebrating what they see as a breakthrough for leader Ed Milliband.

And there is much to celebrate for them. Not all results are in from the elections for 128 English councils, 32 Scottish councils and 21 Welsh councils but it looks like Labour will capture more than 700 council seats from the Conservatives and wind up with 39 percent of the national vote.

More promising for Labour, the party has won control also of councils in the south and east of the country away from their traditional heartlands, places like Exeter, Southampton, Plymouth, Thurrock, Harlow, Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

But is this the breakthrough? It is often a mistake in British politics to project from mid-term local elections and assume the same result can be repeated for the national parliamentary contest.

Both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair suffered mid-term local election setbacks as prime ministers before going on to win subsequent general elections. In both cases the defeats of the governing parties were severe.

In 1981, two years after losing office to Thatcher, Labour gained 988 seats, with the Tories losing 1,193. In 1999, William Hague’s Tories gained 1,348 seats and Tony Blair’s Labour Party lost 1,150 seats.

In the national contest turnout is higher as are the stakes. Midterm elections are treated by many voters as an opportunity to grumble (1). By a big margin voters still believe the coalition government’s spending cuts are necessary (by 54 percent to 27 percent according to one recent opinion poll).  But they are allowed to express their dislike of the medicine.

The fight now for Labour and the Conservatives is surely going to be over Liberal Democrat defectors. Which side they swing to could well determine the next general election.

1. Re-reading this posting I think “grumble” is too weak a word for how many Brits feel about their plight now. “Shriek”, I think in hindsight, would have been a more accurate verb.

Osborne — the Master Strategist?

George Osborne – Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer – is meant to be a fine political strategist, the Conservative’s super-hero, all realist and machine politician. Conservative commentator Tim Montgomerie described him once as the coalition government’s “chief executive”, who not only is masterminding the coalition’s deficit and growth strategy but is overseeing the Conservative’s election strategy, he argued.

In an article in The Times, Montgomerie noted that sources had told him that at roundtable meetings involving senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats heads rise and look to him” and not Prime Minister David Cameron “when anyone makes a controversial statement.”

Well, if Osborne is the man the Conservatives are relying on to maneuver them into a position to secure a majority at the next election, they may find they are banking on the wrong man.

In the past few weeks, he has managed to anger pensioners and the elderly with his so-called “granny tax” and provoke outrage with his proposal to cap how much money the rich can give to charity. It is to say the least pretty extraordinary to have united the charity world in one huge rebellion – and, of course, all those charities will grouse to all their donors about the meanness of the government. The cap would also seem to have undermined totally Cameron’s Big Idea of the “Great Society.”

As master strategist Osborne has been pushing recently a series of measures and airing proposals that seem to be anything but sure-footed and several seem designed to irritate the hell out of natural Conservative voters, an odd way of going about building an electoral majority.

Even small strategies aimed at wrong-footing the Labour Opposition have backfired – this week his wheeze of suggesting that all Cabinet ministers should reveal their tax details backfired when Labour endorsed the idea to the horror of many Conservative politicians and the Tory press.

As Graeme Archer noted in the Daily Telegraph, before long every candidate for public office will be pressured to disclose their tax arrangements. “No one who builds a business and arranges their tax accordingly will want to face the scrutiny of standing for public office, or the ordure entailed in making money and legally reducing the tax you pay on it,” he writes.

So when will Osborne start losing his reputation of being a master strategist?

 

Pray For Rain In Absence Of Leadership

So it has taken three nights of riots and looting in London to prompt British Prime Minister David Cameron to interrupt his Tuscan vacation, get on a plane and return to a burning London. And not even the meltdown of the European stock markets, including the London Stock Exchange, has been able to encourage the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, to return to the UK from his LA summer holidays.

Economic crisis and riots have exposed the lack of leadership — a Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister, a Chancellor, a Home Secretary and a London Mayor all away on vacation at the same time and determined to ensure their vacations are undisturbed. The government flacks have been eager to say that all have been in contact, that new technology means you don’t have to be on the spot. Of course, you can receive information and issues orders, but without being present you can’t really appreciate the gravity of the situation, or ensure your orders are carried out, or adapt quickly when circumstances change or be able to reassure the public that you are leading by your very presence.

The three nights of rioting in London certainly prompts the question: where are the parents? But then why should they be present and controlling their teenagers when the politicians show such disdain for their duty of care?

These London riots are reaping the whirlwind of a couple of decades of increasing amorality – from top to bottom, from bottom to top. The London rioters are not the European equivalent of Egyptian protesters or demonstrators in Tunisia or Bahrain or Yemen. This is not a “British Spring” or about democracy or risking your life for the right to dignity.

The London riots are thuggish in nature and purpose. The rioters aren’t calling for greater democracy and they are not expressing their opposition to cuts (which have not even taken effect yet). They are about selfishness and wanting a lark. They aren’t interested in democracy but grabbing for nothing a pair of trainers or a 42′ plasma TV.

And, of course, they are a subterranean expression of collective failure — failure in parenting, failure in community leadership, failure in political leadership going back years. Bankers, celebrities, football players (and their wives) have all led the way too, grabbing what they wanted without regard.

No doubt, some commentators and politicians will heap the blame on capitalism. But capitalism is about societal cooperation and discipline — it is not about lawlessness. What Britain has been living for years is just pure selfishness and the lack of discipline. And now its youngsters are just aping their parents.

Competence, too, has gone. What is the police strategy? And without leadership and effective policing all Londoners can do tonight is pray that rain comes and dampens the riots.

 

 

Royal Wedding: A Word From Our Sponsor

The Daily Caller and the Guardian kindly published the following by Patrick Basham and myself

“Prince William and Kate Middleton’s impending nuptials are more important to the average American than to the average Briton — an unforeseen financial opportunity that, sadly, both the royal family and Prime Minister David Cameron have failed to exploit.

The announcement of the royal engagement wasn’t just news in America; it was a sensation. Americans have proudly claimed Kate as one of their own — after all, she is a distant relative of George Washington. Transatlantic affection for the monarchy is exhibited most literally by the “Harry Hunters”: young American women attending UK colleges for the sole purpose of spending their weekends frequenting Prince Harry’s favorite London hangouts.

In striking contrast, the contemporary British attitude towards the royal family is a schizophrenic mix of disdain and deference. As The Economist recently documented, although the proportion of Britons who want to abolish the monarchy has lingered around 30 percent for decades, indifference and ridicule have risen significantly. Prince Andrew hasn’t helped in that regard. Membership in the anti-monarchy group, Republic, spiked following the engagement announcement.

Ordinary people seem underwhelmed by the sumptuous celebration. Comparatively few traditional street parties have been organized despite Downing Street and several government departments feverishly urging participation. A third of local authorities have received no street party applications at all. The cold reality is that many plan to flee the UK for this particular “bread and circuses” event. Thomas Cook’s bookings for April have risen 35 percent and Ryanair’s bookings are up 65 percent for the period.

What explains this transatlantic disconnect? On the British side, austerity and straitened economic circumstances are making people feel far from ready to party. This may be a national celebration but many Britons have little to celebrate in their own lives. And some clearly feel that this costly event is being used by the establishment to distract them from the hard choices ahead.

There are three reasons why Americans are comparatively enthusiastic about the royal wedding.

First, Americans have historically exhibited an even greater interest than the British in glittering celebrity (especially celebrity drenched in centuries-old tradition).

Second, America’s deeply rancorous red-blue partisan divide has heightened many Americans’ appreciation for a non-political, party-neutral head of state, a figurehead that keeps a country united.

And, third, this particular wedding resonates with the American passion for upward social mobility. It’s hard to think of anything less American than a hereditary monarchy. But what’s particularly appealing to such an aspirational society is the idea of moving on and moving up.

In a recent TV interview, a young American woman observed about the future queen, “She’s not from a higher-placed family; that speaks to the American Dream where you can be anything you want to be.”

But very few Americans know that, in Orwellian fashion, the royal family is “paying” for the £30 million wedding out of its taxpayer-provided allowance, with taxpayers directly footing the bill for the extra policing and road closures, which will total more than £5 million. To add economic insult to injury, Downing Street invested tens of millions of pounds leveraging the wedding by promoting Britain as the tourist destination that foreigners already know it to be.

Then there’s the significant hidden economic cost to local councils and businesses of the paid public holiday the prime minister granted for the wedding. According to the CBI, the extra bank holiday will cost the economy £6 billion in lost productivity.

Nevertheless, a savvy PR move saw the couple ask well-wishers to donate among 26 favored charities in lieu of wedding gifts.

But the savviest approach would have been to seek American corporate sponsors for the wedding.

Such a modern, ethical, and financially prudent move would have saved hard-pressed taxpayers tens of millions of pounds. And, it would have unleashed an unparalleled bidding war among American multinationals for the opportunity to market to a one-billion-strong global TV audience — a pot of gold that could have financed the royal family for many years to come.

As the young couple has no qualms about their opulent lifestyle being continually and involuntarily underwritten by British taxpayers, why should a single act of voluntary patronage by wealthy American corporations cause them sleepless nights on their taxpayer-subsidized honeymoon?

Americans are overwhelmingly drawn to a real-life British soap opera that combines celebrity, heritage, and the promise of a life less ordinary. Hence, the monarchy and the government’s missed opportunity both to democratize and to economize on William and Kate’s big day.”

Jamie Dettmer is a Democracy Institute Fellow and blogs at www.jamiedettmer.com. Patrick Basham directs the Democracy Institute and is a Cato Institute adjunct scholar.

 

 

 

Blue Book Shenanigans — But Why Illegal?

The Independent on Sunday newspaper has a fascinating article that spells trouble for Rupert Murdoch’s News International. The article discloses that journalists at the News of the World and other NI titles paid a private detective to provide hundreds of pieces of confidential information, often using illegal means.

The article is based on a confidential document the paper calls the “Blue Book”, a ledger of work carried out by PI Steve Whittamore for News International titles, detailing a series of transactions including obtaining ex-directory (unlisted) phone numbers, telephone accounts, criminal records checks and withheld mobile numbers.

The report will add fuel to the political fire raging in the UK over a phone-hacking scandal involving the News of the World and may well add further embarrassment for Prime Minister David Cameron, who has so far supported Andy Coulson, now his chief spin-doctor. Coulson resigned from the NoW in 2007 after one of his reporters, Clive Goodman, was jailed for tapping into telephone voicemails. Coulson has consistently denied any knowledge of illegal methods being used to secure information during his term as editor.

Labour MPs – often the targets of NI probes – are on the war-path. And so, of course, are NI newspaper rivals, such as the Independent and the Guardian. They would be “outraged” wouldn’t they? For years they have been green with envy at the better scoops NI titles secure.

While not condoning in anyway NI using illegal methods to secure information, I have to ask why it should be illegal to secure half of the information NI journalists were obtaining. Why should it be illegal to find out to whom a telephone number is registered or whether someone has a criminal record?

And why should it be illegal in the U.K. to check the points on a driving licence or trying to establish ownership of a vehicle from its number plate?

On the whole these activties would not be illegal in the U.S.. In my state of Maryland the courts kindly allow anyone to do an online search on civil and criminal court cases. The argument in the U.K. is all about privacy. But how about some transparency! It is always said that justice should be seen to be done, for example. But if you hide information about criminal court cases, how is that justice being seen to be done?

The Lost Communicator

Not so sure Michael Gerson is right when he says in a Washington Post column today that “it is the agenda that undermined the idiom” and blames President Obama’s politics for the loss of his communication power. On the other side of the aisle, partisan divisions over the role of government have been sharpened in the UK by the Coalition’s cost-cutting agenda but Prime Minister Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg are communicating far more effectively than Obama now and seem to be taking more people along with them.

Maybe we over-estimated Obama when we heard him out on the presidential campaign trail, mistaking rhetorical flash and dash for overall communication understanding and ability. Maybe we were overcome by the contrast between an eloquent Obama and a stumbling Bush — here was a man who could speak in grammatical, flowing sentences. Now Obama seems flat, professorial and ponderous.

And maybe Obama is losing confidence in speaking to the nation as a whole and is resorting to what most politicians do when under pressure — namely, speak just to their base, hence the narrow feel of his rhetoric now, the exclusivity as opposed to the inclusivity that was emphasized during the campaign. Gerson is surely right when he describes the President’s recent forays beyond Washington DC. “In Milwaukee, Obama was the feisty street fighter with a union card. But, without humor, his jabs seemed sour and mocking. In Cleveland, Obama personalized the economic argument by repeatedly attacking House Minority Leader John Boehner — as though Americans have any idea who this tanned and sinister figure might be.”

It isn’t just the President’s own performances that are off the mark. The communication strategy of he White House has been flawed from the start. Why not more about the economy from the moment Obama set foot in the White House, after all the polls consistently highlighted the economy and unemployment as the number one anxiety? Only now is Obama talking more about the economy and focusing on it. Neither of his two Oval Office addresses were on the economy. Has anyone over at the White House heard of FDR’s “fireside chats”?

Tax Them Until They Squeal…Or Move Abroad

If you took the U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable at face value in his interview carried in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, you would think that he is unaware that Britain already has a graduated or “progressive” tax system where the wealthier pay a larger percentage of their earnings to the government than those less well off.

Take this remark from Cable yesterday in an interview full of his mantra about “fair taxes”: “What we are trying to inject into the argument is that if you become a very highly paid investment banker you finish up paying more than if you’ve gone off and become a voluntary worker or become a physicist in the National Physical Laboratory, or whatever. I want to make it progressive in that sense.”

The “it” in question is Cable’s graduate tax proposal that now seems worryingly to have secured some support from the Coalition’s David Willetts, the Universities Minister, who is now saying that more university finance should be met by graduates “after they are in well-paid jobs”.

Recommendations for how to cope with Britain’s universities funding crisis will soon be forthcoming from a review headed by Lord Browne. Despite disapproval from many Conservative MPs, the independent review into university finance was asked by the government to include Cable’ graduate tax idea in the mix of solutions to be considered. The review reports in the autumn.

What is strange when reading or listening to Cable explaining his graduate tax is that he seems less interested in finding a solution to Britain’s university funding crisis and more interested in using the opportunity it presents to increase taxes. The graduate tax is motivated by his wealth redistribution obsession – taxes, as far as he is concerned, are just not high enough.

In the interview, he avoids saying that directly but then how are we meant to interpret his position differently? When asked what he would consider success after five years as Business Secretary he responds: “a tax system that means people at the bottom end of the scale pay less and at the top end of the scale pay more.” Again, Britain already has such a system and will continue to have one with or without the graduate tax. The only conclusion is that Cable wants even higher taxes on the middle-class and the wealthy. So how high should they go?

The top rate of U.K. income tax stands at 50 percent. Impose a graduate tax of, say, 5 percent and will that be enough to satisfy the Coalition’s Business Secretary? Will that be enough redistribution? And how many Britons will emigrate as taxes rise?

What adds to the shock of the Sunday Telegraph interview is how uninterested Cable is with his ministerial portfolio as Business Secretary. Success in the post for him is to increase taxes – not to improve Britain’s corporate competitiveness, not research and development, not commercial or product innovation, not productivity and not even – at least in this interview – corporate governance. There is no discussion of industrial policy and what the right balance is between government intervention and the free market or whether government should avoid trying to pick winners and losers or instead focus on creating the right environment and circumstances for enterprise and the free market to flourish.

No, as far as this Business Secretary is concerned success will be determined by having imposed even higher taxes. One can only assume that Prime Minister David Cameron is prepared to let Cable talk as though he’s the Chancellor the Exchequer and Universities Minister and Business Secretary all rolled into one because to do otherwise will prompt a breach and a row in the Coalition government.

On some many levels, the graduate tax is a bad idea – as are higher taxes in general. On the fairness scale the tax doesn’t pass the smell test, as a study released today by the University and College Union shows. Yes, a graduate who went on to be a highly-paid investment banker would pay a ton of cash over his working lifetime for his degree but so would those lower down the income scale. A nurse, for example, could end up paying three or four times the actual cost of tuition fees and a doctor seven times. How is that equitable? The burden on the nurse, for example, is going to be heavy and much harder to cope with than the burden faced by the investment banker.

The graduate tax would have the inevitable consequence of encouraging a brain drain on the scale of what hit Britain in the 1970s and young Britons would have greater options and ease now of moving overseas and securing jobs because of their work rights in the European Union and because Asia and the developing World is competitively keen to secure talent and skills.

And those British graduates who did so and remained abroad would in effect get their higher education for free – they would never pay the graduate tax.

Second, the universities sector is now global and big business. As the Economist pointed out this week, the number of students enrolled outside their home country has trebled since 1980. America is the World leader in this global higher education market with Britain in second place. But that could change and the U.K. could lose its place easily because of increased and aggressive competition. There are now many continental universities that teach wholly or partly in English, American universities – and British ones – are opening more campuses overseas, in Europe, the Gulf and Asia.

The government not only has to ensure that British universities remain excellent and well funded in order to attract foreign students (who represent a revenue stream) but it will need in future to do everything it can encourage Britons to stay and study in the U.K. because increasingly they will have easier opportunities and maybe cheaper ones, if the proposed graduate tax is taken into account, to study for their first degrees, let alone their graduate ones, abroad.

That will certainly be the case for British students from wealthy or affluent families but the market is changing so fast that there will be a global education loans market developing quickly and available for students to tap into and free themselves from the constraints and restrictions imposed by individual countries and governments.

This is something that doesn’t seem to have occurred to Cable and others in the Coalition government. The brain drain could start involving Britons who have not even graduated yet. Britain is only an island when it comes to geography.

In the brave New One World we live in, education and the retaining of the best and brightest is going to determine the winners and losers when it comes to national economies. Instead of obsessing about wealth redistribution, the Coalition’s Business Secretary should be thinking along these lines and worrying about how to keep Britain competitive.

Churchill: America Made The Big Decisions

David Cameron is still paying the price for his remarks about Britain being the “junior partner” to the U.S. in the “special relationship.” During a town hall meeting in Hove yesterday he was accused by a pensioner of “denigrating” his country. Cameron responded immediately by conceding that he misspoke when he used the date of  “1940” during his “junior partner” interview with Sky News on his trip to the States. But that didn’t assuage the pensioner. His previous corrections as to the date have also fallen on deaf ears. The critics actually care little, I suspect, whether Cameron was talking about 1940 or the 1940s and beyond.

Admittedly, his “junior partner” comment was bold – and some would say foolhardy. But his remark about Britain being the junior partner in the alliance with the U.S. during the Second World War and since are accurate.

Of course, 1940 was the triumphant year for Britain. Without British defiance in 1940, the game for Western Europe would have been up. The stubbornness of Winston Churchill and the Battle of Britain pilots mitigated the Nazi achievement. But the then British Prime Minister was in no doubt in December 1941 what the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor meant. “So we had won after all!” was Churchill’s immediate response.

Read the opening chapters of Max Hastings excellent book Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, if you want to understand how the Americans (and Russians) increasingly called the strategic shots. In the immediate months following Pearl Harbor,  “the Americans deferred to his (Churchill’s) greatness and to his nation’s experience of war,” wrote Hastings, a highly respected WWII military historian and hardly an unpatriotic journalist.

He continued: “From 1943 onwards, however, Churchill’s influence upon the Grand Alliance dwindled almost to vanishing point. The Soviet Union displayed the icy arrogance it considered appropriate, as paymaster of the vast blood sacrifice necessary to bring Hitler’s empire to bay. The United States made plain its intention to determine strategy in the west and invade Normandy in summer 1944 – Operation Overlord – as its forces waxed in might while those of Britain waned.”

And Hastings quotes the significant players themselves. Churchill’s private secretary wrote that the British war leader is “by force of circumstances little more than a spectator.” “It was America who made the big decisions,” Churchill acknowledged. And that isn’t surprising considering the huge materiel production of the U.S. and the massive numbers of troops it deployed.

On some of those “big decisions” the Americans got it wrong – Roosevelt was wrong to concede so much to Stalin when it come to the division of Europe, although what in reality he could have done to stop the Iron Curtain descending is another matter. But British strategic vision about the conduct of the war against Germany was deeply flawed, too. Churchill’s obsessive notion of rolling up the Germans from the south, his Mediterranean Strategy, was nonsense and he remained wedded to the idea of penetrating Germany through Italy and Yugoslavia as late as the winter of 1943-1944.

As Hastings writes: “Yet the American vision about the most important strategic decision of the western war, the assault on the continent, had proved superior to that of the British.”

On a personal note, my father, Charles Dettmer, a British Commando, fell victim to the Mediterranean Strategy. He was badly wounded and lost his arm on the heights above Salerno in 1943. Not that he blamed Churchill for that! He remained for years later, critical, however, of the “soft underbelly strategy” and mystified why Churchill thought it a good idea of slogging up the length of Italy to get to Germany. And sitting where I am now writing this blog posting on my terrace in Italy overlooking the high hills and mountain ranges of Lazio and Umbria, I can see why.

Historical accuracy aside, why did Cameron feel it necessary to make his “junior partner” remark? Most professional and lay commentators maintain that he wanted to appease President Obama.

One Daily Mail reader writing online to the newspaper commented: “Sadly DC showed his inexperience in dealing with ruthless politicians like Obama who will do virtually anything to look good in the eyes of the US electorate. If that means bullying our Prime Minister or BP, that is what he does. Cameron’s mistake was to act in a fawning, obsequious manner towards the charismatic Obama. However he has now discovered that his own electorate has a tad more backbone than he displayed.”

But as Cameron emphasized in the town-hall meeting at Hove yesterday, he didn’t make his “junior partner” remarks to the U.S. President. He first came out with it to Britain’s Sky News – not something carried on U.S. television. Obviously, he knew the comment would be picked up elsewhere and in the U.S. But his selection of who to say it to first – a British outlet – would suggest that the primary audience he had in mind was a British one. Again why?

I think what Cameron is trying to do is to prompt the British to understand that time and circumstances have indeed changed and that Britain’s place in the World has moved on and so should our thoughts about ourselves and therefore what our strategic and foreign policy thinking should be. Hence British Foreign Secretary William Hague’s talk of improving and strengthening our relations with the BRIC countries and of our place in Europe and hence the Prime Minister’s trip to India. This may be unappealing to British traditionalists and those who will not let go an imperial past and pomp and glory and wallow in WWII films, but it is realistic.

Part 2 – The Silliness of Simon Heffer

Part 2: The Silliness of Simon Heffer

On 30th July in a Daily Telegraph column ostensibly criticising Chancellor George Osborne for arguing that any Trident replacement should come out of Ministry of Defence funds we got these gems from Simon:

“We live in a world whose massive instability seems to have passed the Prime Minister by.”

“Dave (by this Simon means Prime Minister Cameron) so obsessed is he with image management that real issues of governance are pushed to the margins.”

“If there is the political will, the money can be found to maintain the defence of the realm. As I have argued before, end the overseas aid budget, which is a pointless, socialist waste of money at £7 billion a year.”

As I asked in an earlier blog posting on Simon, are these really the comments one expects from a serious commentator writing for a supposedly serious daily newspaper?

You may or may not agree with Cameron’s recent criticisms of Israel and Pakistan or think they should have been made so publicly (I for one think the Prime Minister was right in the content of what he said and how and where he made his remarks), but does anyone really believe that the Prime Minister is unaware that we live in a dangerous World – always have actually – and that instability from elsewhere threatens?

When commenting on the Coalition, Simon likes to press the idea that the Prime Minister is just a PR man focused on image solely. What he ignores is how radical this government is planning to be – and radical in a lot of Conservative/Libertarian ways. Nothing less than a radical reform of the state and the relationship between the state and the public is being aimed for, a point emphasized last week by the Economist, which noted that “it is shaping up to be an ambitious administration.”

According to Simon, the Prime Minister is not interested in “real issues of governance” but let’s look at the short record so far. The Coalition has introduced an austerity package aimed at ending the country’s fiscal deficit that could see most government departments facing cuts of up to 40 percent – it is a spending reduction package that shames other European governments who claim they too are intent on putting the public books in good order.

But the Coalition is not stopping there. Coalition ministers intend to seize the opportunity to reshape the State and are proposing truly radical changes to NHS management, the Welfare system, schools, and the relationship between the police and the public. The Coalition is already acting to push back on the astonishing civil rights encroachments of the Blair and Brown governments. As the Economist – hardly a lefty or Lib Dem publication – argued “the historic nature of the coalition government itself is now less interesting than its domestic politics.”

So much for the Simon claim that the Prime Minister is pushing to the margins real issues of governance!

Does Simon think that he is writing fine commentary when he sneers and insults and misrepresents and tries to make out that Cameron and his ministers are ignorant and immature. Is this how Heffer’s mentor T.E. Utley wrote? Utley was an ideological Conservative but in his columns he was not bombastic and stuck to the facts and he would never have demeaned a Prime Minister by referring to them in a condescending manner by their first name.

So what does Simon think he is doing? And why he is doing what he is? Well, his chums on the right of the Conservative Party no doubt are egging him on. They, of course, are unable to accept any compromises to their narrow Conservatism. As far as they are concerned Britain should have no mass immigration – European Union citizens included – and Conservatives should not share government power. They want an old Britain that stands alone, proud, free and brave, etc. That fits in well with the kind of Britain Simon would like – the England of Trollope, where the Celtic fringes and working class people knew their places.

And so to be brave and free and proud we need an independent nuclear deterrent and shouldn’t be wasting money on some natives overseas. And according to them the nuclear replacement should not come out of defence funds but the government reserve. Well, boys, I have news for you – there isn’t a government reserve, the coffers are empty!

Britain’s nuclear deterrent isn’t and never will be independent – the Americans would have to agree before we fired it! And which country are we going to shoot at? The Russians? We knock out a couple of their cities and they knock out Britain lock, stock and barrel. Terrorists who sneak in a suitcase bomb? Iran has a far more important target than the U.K. – Israel.

I can well understand why Reagan thought all the generals talking about MAD were mad.

Back to Simon, briefly. The days when Britain’s overseas budget went straight into the pockets of Third World dictators are kind of over, Simon. Aid is far more targeted and monitored – although more monitoring is needed – and aid is starting to get more results-oriented, something Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, is keen to increase.

Yes, money to India and China should cease now but a lot of good can come from that aid budget in Africa and less developed countries, helping to ease the instability Simon worries about so much and encouraging economic development and that helps to ease the immigration pressures on us. Simon, maybe you should read less Trollope and start reading more studies and books on economic development, aid mechanics and even brush-up on what is actually happening in Africa.