August 2, 2013

This Is What the Queen of England Would Have Said if WWIII Had Broken Out


In 1983, the British government wrote up a speech for the Queen of England to deliver in the event a war broke out with the Soviet Union. It was just released by the UK government and, as you'd expect, exhorts the British people to keep a stiff upper lip amid the mushroom clouds:

"Now, this madness of war is once more spreading through the world and our brave country must again prepare itself to survive against great odds.

"I have never forgotten the sorrow and the pride I felt as my sister and I huddled around the nursery wireless set listening to my father's [George VI's] inspiring words on that fateful day in 1939 [at the start of the World War II].

"Not for a single moment did I imagine that this solemn and awful duty would one day fall to me.

"But whatever terrors lie in wait for us all, the qualities that have helped to keep our freedom intact twice already during this sad century will once more be our strength."

May 22, 2013

What Has Boya Dee Seen That Is Worse than an Attempted Beheading?

I don't really know who "Boya Dee" is but he's some sort of minor celebrity. He was also an eye-witness to the brutal murder of a British soldier that saw two men armed with knives and meat cleavers attempt to behead their victim. This prompted Boya Dee to observe via Twitter:

Top three? What on Earth has he seen?

April 8, 2013

Thatcher Derangement Syndrome


Abandon civility, all ye who enter here.

I always wonder how long it will take after a famous person dies for critics to pounce. It would seem that common courtesy would allow at least a few days -- perhaps after the funeral. But common courtesy is sorely lacking.

It's not necessarily because we have more discourteous people today; indeed, "civil" society has never been all that civil. However, primarily because of the Internet, what is different today is that everything is so in-your-face. Social media, perhaps most notoriously Twitter, and the 24-hour news cycle, combined with our collective short attention span, have created a culture that lacks reflection. We get bumper sticker slogans from talking heads instead of serious news "analysis," and the pundit who can provide us with the most obnoxious sound bite is rewarded with the most TV time. This is this societal milieu in which we find ourselves.

It was announced at 12:55 p.m. London time on Monday that Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of the UK, passed away. She was a transformative figure, whose governing philosophy -- often referred to as "Thatcherism" -- permanently changed the UK and influenced other countries around the globe. Her accomplishments and failings have been detailed extensively elsewhere, so we need not recount them here. As would be expected of any powerful leader, she engendered both deep admiration among supporters and equally deep animosity among critics.

World leaders, including former rival prime ministers, have graciously expressed their sympathies. Alas, this moment of solidarity was not shared by all.

At 3:41 p.m., not even four hours after Thatcher had died, Glenn Greenwald put together an incoherent article for The Guardian explaining how it is perfectly acceptable to speak ill of the dead if they are public figures. In fact, to not do so is "dangerous" and "irresponsible" because:

Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death.

In other words, influential leaders are fondly remembered by society because criticism is socially unacceptable in the immediate aftermath of their death. In Greenwald's twisted world, a person's legacy is sealed in the week or so after they die -- not during the several previous decades in which they were alive, not to mention the years and years of historical analysis (and reanalysis) that inevitably ensue.

Logic continues to evade Greenwald the further he goes. He writes:

She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq ... She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as ... Saddam Hussein.

In the same paragraph, Greenwald manages to criticize Thatcher both for being a friend and enemy of Saddam Hussein. Perhaps the only explanation for this is TDS, "Thatcher Derangement Syndrome."

At 5:30 p.m., other pathetic souls, apparently suffering from the same syndrome, handed out slices of "Maggie Death Cake," and a theater in Brixton had its sign changed to read, "Margaret Thatchers Dead LOL." Another protester hung a banner that read, "The Bitch is Dead."

Celebrating like that may be appropriate (though still mildly distasteful) for the death of, say, Osama bin Laden. But Margaret Thatcher? And, thanks to the Internet, the whole world got to see all of this disgusting behavior -- not even six hours after she died.

Being gracious toward those whom we dislike is not a common trait, yet several world leaders (many of whom strongly disagreed with Thatcher) were able to do just that. Perhaps this is one of the incredibly rare moments in life when our elected politicians are actually serving as responsible role models.

Alex B. Berezow is the editor of RealClearScience and associate editor of RealClearWorld. Follow him on Twitter @AlexBerezow.

(Image: AP)

March 20, 2013

Scottish Jedis May Soon Be Marrying People


Scotland is currently debating a marriage law which critics say would permit Jedi Knights to officiate at weddings.

At issue is language in the bill which would permit "groups promoting a belief" to perform marriages. That language was too vague for the Free Church of Scotland, whose spokesperson told the BBC:

"There are loads of people in a diverse society like this for whom belief can mean virtually anything - the Flat Earth Society and Jedi Knights Society - who knows?

"I am not saying that we don't give place to that kind of personal belief, but when you start making allowances for marriages to be performed within those categories then you are all over the place."

Before you think that fears of Jedi-led marriages are overblown, consider that the most recent UK census figures show that a surprisingly large number of Brits professed a sad devotion to that ancient religion. "Jedi" was the most popular "other Religion" option in the census and the seventh most popular faith overall.

(AP Photo)

March 15, 2013

This Map Helps Explain the Falklands Dust-Up


The Falkland Islands held a referendum this week to decide whether they wished to remain a part of the United Kingdom (they did, overwhelmingly). Argentina has long claimed ownership of the islands (which are controlled by Britain) and the standoff between the two countries has grown tense of late.

That's due, in part, to the discovery of potentially significant amounts of oil in the waters around the islands. Indeed, the estimated 8.3 billion barrels of oil believed to be off-shore amounts to triple Britain's current reserve.

Argentina and Britain are both signatories to the UN's Convention on the Law of the Sea, which spells out various ownership and legal rights to territorial waters and the natural resource wealth therein. The folks at Political Geography have put together the useful map above which highlights the various claims.

March 5, 2013

British "Batman" Actually Just Stan the Food Delivery Man


On Monday we took note of a British Batman who appeared to have apprehended a wanted criminal and deposited him in a British jail before vanishing without a trace.

Well, wouldn't you know, it turns out this caped crusader's secret identity has been revealed and it's not all that inspiring: he's 39-year-old Stan Worby, a food delivery man.

Also, he didn't capture any criminal. He was, in fact, just accompanying the wanted man for "moral support" and wore the bat suit as a joke.

March 4, 2013

Batman Captures Criminal in Britain


A man dressed as Batman apparently captured a wanted criminal and dragged him into a police station in Bradford, UK. He disappeared thereafter without revealing his true identity.

From the looks of him, this British Batman doesn't appear to be following Bruce Wayne's exercise regimen.

February 25, 2013

Boris Johnson Proves He Is the Master of Jelly-Based Insults

London's voluble Mayor Boris Johnson made a bit of scene yesterday in an appearance before the London Assembly. After the assembly voted not to debate his budget amendment and requested that Johnson leave the hearing, he berated them as "great supine, protoplasmic invertebrate jellies."

This was the second time in a week that Johnson hurled a gelatinous insult at an opponent. At a campaign stop last week, Johnson branded the Liberal Democrats as "great big wobbling jellies."

February 18, 2013

Cleric in Britain Lives on Benefits, or "Jihad Seeker's Allowance"


Firebrand preacher Anjem Choudary was secretly filmed by the UK paper The Sun, urging his followers to get on Britain's welfare system or, as he dubbed it, claim their "jihad seeker's allowance."

As the Daily Telegraph noted, Choudary receives 25,000 pounds a year from the British government. But he's not grateful for the help:

Choudary, who has been banned twice from running organisations under the Terrorism Act, told an audience at a community centre in Bethnal Green, East London, that David Cameron, Barack Obama and the leaders of Pakistan and Egypt were the devil (shaitan) and should be killed.

“What ultimately do we want to happen to them?” asked Choudary. “Maybe I’m the only one who wants the shaitan to be killed. The shaitan should be finished. There should be no shaitan.

“Democracy, freedom, secularism, the parliament, all the MPs and the Presidents, all the kuffar’s ideas, everything the people worship, we have to believe that they are bad and we have got to reject them.”

He later insisted that he never urged anyone to kill people.

(AP Photo)

February 13, 2013

Canadian Exceptionalism


Is there room enough on one continent for two "exceptional" nations?

A recent survey from Angus-Reid found that nine out of every 10 Americans and nine out of every 10 Canadians view their country as exceptional. The British, on the other hand, have a more modest view of themselves, with only half of respondents telling Angus-Reid that they're the best country in the world.

Canadians are also more optimistic about the future than their neighbors to the south: 42 percent believe their best days are ahead of them vs. 36 percent of Americans who believe the same. It's much gloomier in Britain: 58 percent said the country's best days were behind it.

Canada's GDP is expected to grow a modest 1.8 percent in 2013, whereas analysts see the U.S. clocking in at 2 percent. The UK is expected to see just .9 percent GDP growth. In other words, by the end of the year, both the U.S. and Canada should still be happy with themselves, while the British less so.

(AP Photo)

February 8, 2013

All Dogs in England to Be Fitted with Microchips by 2016


While it may be a conspiratorial fever dream among some in the U.S., "microchipping" is coming to the UK:

Come 2016, English and Welsh authorities will require all of the country's pups to have embedded microchips, so they can be returned to their owners if ever they run astray. The United Kingdom's Environment Department says some 60 percent of the country's 8 million dogs already have the tags, but beginning in three years, owners who don't spring for the device could be forced to pay fines of up to £500 (about $780). Cat microchipping will remain optional, since felines are less likely to wander outdoors.

Frankly, if the Internet has taught us anything it's that cats are the real menace here. Do we really want them running wild and untraceable?

(AP Photo)

February 7, 2013

Americans, You're More "Morally Conservative" than Canadians, Brits


A new survey from Angus Reid shows that Americans find hot-button issues like divorce and contraception less "morally acceptable" than their peers in the UK or Canada. From contraception, divorce and prostitution to pornography, the U.S. is consistently less accepting than either state, but when it comes to gambling, the death penalty, medical testing on animals and wearing fur, it's the Brits who exhibit greater moral outrage.

Where opinions seem to most closely converge is on animal cloning, illegal drug use, polygamy, human cloning and pedophilia, where almost no one approves.

You can see the full results here. (PDF)

(AP Photo)

January 17, 2013

What Do the British Have Against Horse Meat?


After traces of horse DNA were found in some British hamburgers, there's been something of an island-wide soul search going on regarding the question of why the Brits are so revolted by the idea of chowing down on horse. The BBC explores the root of the question:

There is no real logic as to why plenty of Britons are perfectly willing to eat cows, pigs, and chickens, but see horses as taboo, according to Dr Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist who runs the Animal Behaviour Centre.

"I'm a farmer and there is an irony. Why are horses different from pigs and lambs?" he says.

Part of the reason is people frequently see horses as pets, and humans tend to put "extra qualities and values" on animals they call pets, he says.

But, of course, there's more to it:

But all of the above reasons apply as much to France as they do to the UK. There must be more to it.

"It enables us to have yet another point of difference with the French," says Gray.

"Beef has long been symbolic of Englishness and therefore anything we can do or say to put British beef on a pedestal is usually done - ergo the thought that the French eat horse while we eat good beef becomes a chauvinistic way of asserting national identity," she says.

According to Susanna Forrest, horse meat is consumed by a billion people around the world in countries like China, Russia, Mexico, Belgium and Japan. Horse meat is a growth business with consumption climbing 27.6 percent since 1990, Forrest added. While it's not a big treat in the U.S., American horses are frequently shipped to Canada for processing into meat that is then shipped to Europe (although all the drugs we're pumping into the horses is apparently putting the Europeans off U.S. horse meat).

(AP Photo)

October 31, 2012

If the U.S. Election Were Held in the UK or Canada

Barack Obama would win:

In the online survey of representative national samples, Canadians prefer Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by a 7-to-1 margin (72% to 10%), while Britons favour the Democrat over the Republican by a 10-to-1 margin (62% to 6%).

Roughly half of respondents in the two countries (49% in Canada, 52% in Britain) think Obama has performed at the level they expected.

One-in-four Canadians (24%) and 18 per cent of Britons believe Obama has performed worse than they expected.

September 11, 2012

London Tube as a Speaker Circuit Board


Artist Yuri Suzuki built the radio circuit board above to match the layout of the London underground.

(Hat tip: Leslie Katz)

August 3, 2012

Winner of the London Olympics? Mayor Boris Johnson


He may have had an unfortunate run-in with a zip line, but London's voluble Tory mayor Boris Johnson is riding high in the polls:

Back in May at the time of the mayoral elections YouGov asked a couple of questions on Boris as Tory leader, asking a hypothetical “how would you vote with Boris as leader” question and whether people thought Boris was suited to being Prime Minister. Back then Boris did marginally worse than David Cameron on voting intention, and only 24% of people saw Boris as suited to the job of PM.

YouGov repeated the same questions again yesterday, and found significant improvement in Boris’s figures. On the control question of how people would vote if the party leaders at the next election remained Cameron, Miliband and Clegg the figures were CON 34%, LAB 40%, LDEM 10%*, if the leaders were Johnson, Miliband and Clegg the figures change to CON 37%, LAB 38%, LDEM 10% – narrowing the gap by 5 points.

On being suited to the role of Prime Minister Boris has also seen his stock rise. 36% of people now think he is suited to being PM (up from 24%), 54% do not.

Photo: Rebecca Denton

July 11, 2012

Bank of England Prepared for Doom... By Buying Bikes

This is amusing:

When I was a member of the court, I sat in on a meeting of the financial stability committee – it would have been 2006 or 2007. One of the governors at that meeting proposed that as a mechanism to cope with crisis, the Bank should buy half a dozen or a dozen bicycles in order that members of the Bank could move swiftly and anonymously around the City.
That was Lord Myners, a former member of the Court of Directors of the Bank of England, testifying before the House of Lords.

July 5, 2012

Britain Finds Its 'Atlantis'

According to the Daily Mail, divers have discovered the "British Atlantis" in the North Sea:

'Britain's Atlantis' - a hidden underwater world swallowed by the North Sea - has been discovered by divers working with science teams from the University of St Andrews. Doggerland, a huge area of dry land that stretched from Scotland to Denmark was slowly submerged by water between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC.

Divers from oil companies have found remains of a 'drowned world' with a population of tens of thousands - which might once have been the 'real heartland' of Europe.

A team of climatologists, archaeologists and geophysicists has now mapped the area using new data from oil companies - and revealed the full extent of a 'lost land' once roamed by mammoths.

Would America Have Been Better Off Staying British?

Conrad Black offers up some July 4th heresies:

If the Americans had maintained their British status, they would control Britain and Canada and Australia and New Zealand now (another 120 million people and over $5 trillion of GDP), have all their energy needs met, and enjoy better government than they have actually endured for the past 20 years. It would have been much easier to abolish slavery and, if there had been a Civil War, it would not have lasted long, nor cost a fraction of the 750,000 American lives that it did. There would have been no World Wars or Cold War, or at least no conflict remotely as perilous as those were. The United States would also have less than its current 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated people, and wouldn’t have a legal cartel that devours 10 percent of its GDP. These are matters that, though they verge on secular heresy, Americans may want to consider, in between singing splendid anthems and rereading Jefferson’s defamation of poor old George III and his blood libel on the American Indian in the Declaration of Independence, this national holiday.

This is an interesting thought experiment. It's way too complicated to tackle in a mere blog post but I'd suggest right out of the gate that Black underestimates the ease with which slavery could have ended. Nor is it clear why having the U.S. as a part of Great Britain would make either World War avoidable.

March 23, 2012

The Origin of 'Keep Calm and Carry On'

Via Open Culture, a short video documentary on the iconic British war posters.

February 28, 2012

Most Americans, Brits and Canadians See Iran Developing Bomb

According to Angus Reid:

People in the Britain, the United States and Canada hold unfavourable views on Iran and believe the country is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of representative national samples, 70 per cent of Britons, 77 per cent of Americans and 81 per cent of Canadians say they have an unfavourable opinion of Iran.

More than two thirds of respondents in the three countries (Britain 69%, Canada 72%, United States 79%) believe the Government of Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

When asked about possible courses of action, 30 per cent of Americans, 35 per cent of Canadians and 43 per cent of Britons say they would prefer to engage in direct diplomatic negotiations with Iran. One-in-four Canadians and Americans (25% each)—and one-in-five Britons (20%)—would impose economic sanctions against Iran.

The option of launching military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities is endorsed by 15 per cent of Americans, 11 per cent of Canadians and six per cent of Britons. A full-scale invasion of Iran to remove the current government is supported by 10 per cent of Canadians, six per cent of Americans and five per cent of Britons.

February 8, 2012

Whom Do Britons Dislike?

According to Angus Reid, the French and Greeks don't rank so highly in British esteem:

In the online survey of a representative sample of 2,011 British adults, about a third of respondents say they have an unfavourable opinion of France (35%) and Greece (32%).

The difference between the proportion of favourable and unfavourable opinions for both Greece and France is only ten points. Half of Britons (49%) have a favourable view of Germany, while one-in-four (25%) disagree.

At least half of respondents hold favourable opinions of all of the other nations included in this survey, such as Luxembourg (53%), Portugal (55%), Italy (57%) and Belgium (also 57%). The highest ranked EEC members are Spain (63%), Ireland (67%), Denmark (also 67%) and the Netherlands (69%).

December 7, 2011

Falklands Blockade Is an Act of War Toward Britain

By Nile Gardiner

Argentina’s launch of a naval blockade “to isolate the Falklands” is in clear violation of British sovereignty. It should be considered an act of war and must be met with the use of force by Great Britain if Argentina does not back off.

According to a report by The Telegraph’s Fergus MacErlean:

Argentine patrol vessels have boarded 12 Spanish boats, operating under fishing licences issued by the Falkland Islands, for operating “illegally” in disputed waters in recent weeks.

Argentine patrol commanders carrying out interceptions near the South American coast told Spanish captains they were in violation of Argentina’s “legal” blockade of sea channels to the Falklands.

The warning has been backed up in a letter to Aetinape, the Spanish fishing vessels association from the Argentine embassy in Madrid warning boats in the area that “Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and adjoining maritime spaces are an integral part of the Argentine territory.”

The Kirchner regime has for some time been threatening a blockade of the Falklands and is now beginning to implement it in an effort to strangle the Islands economically. London should respond forcefully to this provocation by dispatching a second destroyer to the South Atlantic, as well as further Typhoon fighter aircraft and an additional attack submarine, as a warning to Argentina. Britain should also prepare to deploy its contingency infantry battalion – the Spearhead Lead Element (SLE) – to the Falklands at short notice to reinforce the 1,200-strong British Forces Garrison based near Stanley.

A significant show of force by Britain, rather than a weak-kneed "official complaint" by the Foreign Office, is needed to emphatically demonstrate to Argentina that it is playing with fire.

The British government should make it categorically clear to Cristina Kirchner and her administration that its behavior over the Falklands is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Its blockade is not only a violation of international law: it is an aggressive, hostile act designed to intimidate foreign ships doing business with the Falkland Islands. Mrs. Kirchner has also threatened to cut off air links to the Islands that had been negotiated back in 1999 and has launched a series of tirades against Britain, including calling it "a crude colonial power in decline.”

This is not a moment for diplomatic niceties by the prime minister and the foreign secretary, but a time for firm leadership in the defense of over 3,000 overwhelmingly British Falkland Islanders threatened by a hostile power on the other side of the world.

For David Cameron, his handling of the Falklands issue may be a defining moment. He should not underestimate the gravity of the situation Britain faces today, or be unwilling to do what is necessary to defend British sovereignty. If Argentina persists with its blockade, it must face the consequences and be sharply reminded that any attempt to cut off the Falklands or invade it will end in heavy defeat for Buenos Aires.
Nile Gardiner is a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst and political commentator. He appears frequently on American and British television and radio, including Fox News Channel, CNN, BBC, Sky News, and NPR.

November 3, 2011

UK Children Dubbed 'Feral'

Via the BBC:

Almost half of Britons think children are violent and starting to behave like animals, a Barnardo's survey suggests.

The children's charity says the research suggests society holds a negative view towards children despite the majority being well behaved.

Of the more than 2,000 people questioned by ICM Research, 44% said young people were becoming feral.

September 15, 2011

Don't Play Ahmadinejad's UN Game


The 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly convened this week in New York City.

Libya’s ousted Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution Muammar Gaddafi dare not show his face due to an International Criminal Court arrest warrant upon his head for crimes against humanity. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez cannot attend either because of ongoing chemotherapy. But Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad intends to be there.

We will no longer be entertained and infuriated by scenes of Chavez sarcastically speaking about satanic sulfur in 2006 or Gaddafi disdainfully chucking the UN charter over his shoulder in 2009. Nonetheless, Ahmadinejad plans on yanking the West’s chain yet again. He will distribute a book on alleged atrocities committed against Iran and Iranians by American, British and Soviet forces during World War II, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reports:

Ahmadinejad will go to New York late this week, taking 1000 English copies of Documents on the Occupation of Iran during World War II. Iran’s occupation by the Allies during World War II is an international issue. This book contains many documents referring to the abuses inflicted by the Allies against the Iranian people.

The five-volume work is to be presented as evidence at the UN General Assembly, a parallel story in the Tehran Times notes:

to demand compensation from the Allies for violation of Iran’s neutrality during that world conflict.

So even though his comrades from the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party cannot be there, Iran’s chief executive will do his best to incite American, British and Russian emotions – and he is well accomplished at provoking negative responses. But unlike Alice, officials in Washington, London and Moscow should not respond in anger. Paying no attention to his theatrics will deny Iran’s president the pleasure he seeks.

Let’s not give Ahmadinejad a tale to spin for Chavez when he flys to Caracas after the New York visit.

(AP Photo)

August 10, 2011

Iran Calls on UK to Be Restrained

Apparently this was said with a straight face:

As riots have spread across the UK leading to hundreds of arrests and the death of one 26-year-old man, Iran has called on British police to avoid using violence against rioters and demonstrators, and to show "restraint" when dealing with protesters, Iranian Fars News Agency reported.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast reportedly asked the UK government to open dialogue with "protesters," and has called on human rights groups to investigate the killing of Mark Duggan, 29, which sparked the violent riots that has seen substantial damage and theft.

Deputy Head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Hossein Ebrahimi also told Fars news that he had requested from the British government to allow an Iranian human rights delegation to visit the country, and "study human rights violations."

British Want to Use Live Ammo on Rioters


A new YouGov poll shows that the British aren't too thrilled with David Cameron's handling of the London riots but they do have want to get tough - really tough:

While 91% of people thought it was right that Cameron & Boris Johnson had returned from their holidays, they were generally seen as having handled the riots badly so far. Only 28% thought Cameron & May had handled them well, 24% thought Boris had handled it well (though of course, much of the fieldwork was done prior to Cameron & Johnson having done anything but get on a plane!). People were on balance positive about how the police had handled the riots- 52% thought they had handled them well, but a large minority (43%) thought they’d done badly.

Asked if the police should be able to use various tactics in response to riots provoked some pretty gung ho responses – 90% of people thought they should be able to use water cannon, 84% mounted police, 82% curfews, 78% tear gas, 72% tasers, 65% plastic bullets, 33% live ammunition, 77% thought that the army should be brought in. [Emphasis mine]

(AP Photo)

August 9, 2011

Is Austerity to Blame for UK Riots?

With riots breaking out over London, some commentators are pinning the blame on David Cameron's austerity budgeting, arguing that it has cut needed social services in the areas currently afflicted with riots. Buttonwood at the Economist says it's not so simple:

The much-heralded cuts have only just started: public spending is still higher than it was a year ago. There has to be more doubt, this morning, about the ability of the government to see through five years of austerity and thus to justify the low bond yields on long-term debt. The temptation to buy off trouble—more money on police spending, youth employment programmes—will be high. The image of London round the world has suffered, something that will put off not only tourists but those who are considering buying the pound or UK government bonds. And, at a time when consumer confidence was already shaky, the images of unsafe streets will surely weigh on domestic activity, if only for a short while.

(As a side note, Buttonwood got to my preferred title for this post first, although I suspect he means this version and not the one I prefer.)

July 13, 2011

British Views on the European Union

Not surprisingly, a new poll from Angus Reid shows deep British skepticism toward the European Union:

The level of animosity towards the European Union (EU) in Britain remains high, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 2,003 British adults, a majority of respondents (57%) believe that EU membership has been negative for the United Kingdom, while only one third (32%) think it has had a positive effect.

Respondents aged 18-to-34 are more likely to express positive feelings about the EU (45%) than those aged 35-to-54 (31%) and those over the age of 55 (22%).

Half of Britons (49%) say they would vote against the United Kingdom remaining a member of the EU if a referendum took place, while only one-in-four (25%) would vote to stay. Older respondents favour the idea of abandoning the EU by a 3-to-1 margin (68% to 19%).

Finally, Britons oppose the notion of the UK adopting the euro as its national currency by a 10-to-1 margin, with 81 per cent of respondents saying they would reject this course of action in a referendum.

Read the full results here. (pdf)

July 7, 2011

Miliband's Talking Points

The uncomfortable video posted last week of UK Labor Leader Ed Miliband robotically reciting his talking points has sparked a good deal of well-earned derision in the British media. None better, I think, than this piece by Mark Steel, who wonders what happened:

The most obvious answer is that he's developed an obsessive compulsive disorder and has to say everything five times or he has a panic attack, which could cause mayhem with the BBC's party conference coverage when he has to make his speech five times until three in the morning. And as it gets worse his questions in parliament will be: "Would the prime minister agree it's a matter of the gravest concern that his cabinet is not sat in alphabetical order?" Then he'll rock backwards and forwards making groaning noises until they shuffle round, and cry that Iain Duncan Smith is D and not S and needs to get next to Clegg NOW.

And the Labour Party will insist there's no vacancy for leader and he's on course for victory.

June 30, 2011

Talking Points

UK Labor Leader Ed Miliband shows you how to stick to your talking points. It's downright surreal.

[Hat tip: Ben]

May 31, 2011

UK Views on Libya

Anthony Wells summarizes the latest YouGov poll of British views on Libya:

People were marginally in favour of the intervention in Libya (by 42% to 36%), but opposed further intervention to remove Gaddafi by 56% to 24%. Asked how long they though the West should continue to give military support to the rebels, 20% said it should stop immediately, 30% that it should continue for as long as necessary (6% said up to a month, 12% 3 months, 8% six months, 4% a year).

More generally YouGov asked if people though Britain should or should notbe prepared to take military action against leaders who posed a threat to their own people, but no direct threat to Britain – broadly whether people supported liberal interventionism or not. 32% thought Britain should intervene in such cases, 44% that she shouldn’t.

May 11, 2011

Quality Time

According to the Daily Mail:

The average Brit will spend more than five years of their life with a hangover, according to new research.

They will suffer the ill effects for a whole day - usually a Sunday - at least once-a-week between the ages of 21 and 38.

During that period, another 12 days-a-year will be spent retching, sweating and feeling lousy because of weddings, birthdays and office parties.

The study does not provide any insight into where Britain stands relative to the rest of the world.

April 22, 2011

A Royal Wedding? Yawn


Interest in the forthcoming nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton isn't running all that high:

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, nearly 3 in 10 Americans (28 percent) say they're very or somewhat wrapped up in the pre-wedding news. Thirty percent say they're following it, but not very closely and 42 percent say they're not paying any attention at all.

Of those that are following the wedding, most say they plan to watch it next Friday. Among women paying attention, nearly 3 in 4 say they'll watch.

Interest among Britons slightly outpaces that of Americans. In a separate poll commissioned by CBS News and conducted by the British online polling firm YouGov, 29 percent said they are following the wedding very or somewhat closely. But nearly half say they're not paying close attention and 1 in 5 say they're paying no attention at all.

In related monarchy news, Queen Elizabeth turned 85 yesterday.

(AP Photo)

UK Sours on Nuclear Power

According to a new poll from Angus Reid:

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 2,023 British adults, 43 per cent of respondents support building more nuclear power stations in the UK, down eight points since July 2010 and 12 points since November 2009. Conversely, the level of opposition to this idea has risen to 37 per cent, up six points in less than a year.

Across Britain, 45 per cent of respondents believe the UK should avoid nuclear energy and focus on other carbon-free sources of energy, while 38 per cent would further pursue nuclear energy capabilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The percentage of respondents who support either of these two statements has flipped since last year.

At least two thirds of Britons remain “very concerned” or “moderately concerned” about nuclear waste management (77%), health risks for communities that are close to a nuclear power station (69%), an accident at a nuclear power plant (69%), and nuclear technology falling into the hands of extremists (68%).

April 14, 2011

The Libya Farce

It might be worth pointing out that the thing that has driven Libya to the point where it is in danger of becoming a failed state is the military intervention that did just enough to fracture the country into two parts. Where was all this concern about the Somalification of Libya a month ago when people were calling for turning it into another Somalia by attacking Libya? Escalating the Libyan war and toppling Gaddafi isn’t going to make the Somalification of Libya less likely, but will in all likelihood guarantee the disintegration of whatever political order remains. The U.S. and NATO are in their current predicament because too few people in charge of making decisions paid attention to unintended consequences and worst-case scenarios. Now would be a good time to fix that bad habit. - Daniel Larison

As further evidence of that lack of foresight, now Britain and France are whining that other NATO states haven't taken some of the burden of the Libyan air war off their shoulders now that a stalemate is clearly in the making. But as the U.S. found with its own boondoggle in Iraq, allies aren't keen on being dragged into wars not of their own making with little to no relevance to their own security or interests.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress can't quite clear the calendar to discuss Libya:

The Senate probably won't be debating the Libya war anytime soon. Top senators on both sides of the aisle are still negotiating over language for a resolution to express the Senate's view on the U.S. involvement in Libya, while the budget battle pushes the intervention to the back burner.

Congress was upset with President Barack Obama last month for committing U.S. forces to the international military intervention in Libya without seeking congressional consent or even really telling Congress about it in advance. But now, almost a month after the attack began, the appetite in the Senate for holding a full-fledged Libya debate on the floor, much less passing a resolution, just isn't there.

"I don't know if there will be time" to debate a resolution before senators leave town for a two-week recess next week, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) told The Cable in an interview on Tuesday.

Is it any surprise that the executive branch doesn't really take Congress seriously when it comes to matters of war and peace?

April 8, 2011



In the New Statesman, Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg complained about the harsh attacks leveled at him. Simon Jenkins is having none of it:

Oh dear. Nick Clegg has had another Shylock moment, bewailing his lot to the New Statesman. Has a Lib Dem not hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? "If you prick us," he wails, "do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?"

The short answer is no, not if you are a minority leader in a coalition. Then you are lower than a cur. You are a fence-sitter, a turncoat, a scapegoat, a liar, a pledge-breaker, a class traitor, probably a scumbag into the bargain. You are a stock-in-trade figure of fun and/or hate. Little old ladies quake at your name. When children won't go to bed and are threatened with a "right Clegging", they scream in terror.

His latest howl of pain breaks the number one rule of being on top: never show it hurts. Never say, as he did: "I'm a human being, I'm not a punchbag." You are not a human, you are a government minister. You lie for your country and are therefore a punchbag. Above all, never mention the children's question: "Daddy, why does everyone hate you?" It suggests that everyone does hate you, that the playground mafia is on message, and that you probably should have stuck to market gardening.


(AP Photo)

April 5, 2011

UK Libya Polling

A new poll (pdf) from YouGov asked Britains about Libya. Overall, 50 percent think Prime Minister David Cameron is doing well vs. 35 percent who believe he's doing badly. Views are more mixed about the wisdom of taking action against Libya: 41 percent thought it was the right idea vs. 40 percent who thought it was wrong. Of those polled, 49 percent thought military action is going well vs. 27 percent who thought it is going badly.

When it comes to taking more aggressive action against Libya, British public opinion turns negative. Only 28 percent would support arming the rebels vs. 46 percent who oppose such a move. A clear majority - 64 percent - do not want to send coalition ground forces into Libya to depose Gaddafi.

March 29, 2011

Foreign Policy Budgeting

Political capital, international support, time, military resources, and attention are all limited. Humanitarian interventionists insist that their cause should receive a large amount of all of these at a time when our government is already overburdened with commitments, but in practice they seem inclined to fritter them all away on the crisis du jour rather than conserve them and apply them to avert genuine, large-scale loss of life. If we were talking about any other area of policy, this indiscriminate and wasteful approach would badly damage interventionists’ credibility, but because it involves the exercise of American power abroad they are allowed to be as careless and wasteful as they please. - Daniel Larison

It's interesting to note that this appears to be a Transatlantic phenomena as well. The UK is undergoing a round of austerity budgeting and yet they still found enough funds between the couch cushions to sail off into Libya. On the other hand, Germany - which is being widely criticized for abstaining during the Security Council vote on Libya - has refused to participate. Perhaps it's no coincidence that they're one of the few Western nations not perilously in debt.

March 28, 2011

UK Puts Aircraft Carrier Up for Sale


The UK is having an unusual yard sale:

The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal is up for sale on the Ministry of Defence's auction website.

The Royal Navy's former flagship was decommissioned two weeks ago after 25 years in service as part of the government's defence budget review.

Proposals for it include turning it into a commercial heliport, a base for security personnel during the London Olympics, or a school and nightclub.

(AP Photo)

March 24, 2011

Biofuels and Western Hypocrisy


Gordon Brown, the former British Prime Minister, has been raising a scare in the UK press about what he calls "the biggest environmental crime of our times" - the deforestation of Borneo, as reported by his sister-in-law, environmental activist Clare Rewcastle Brown.

Here's the interesting part - upon closer inspection, this controversy seems to be a classic example of a problem created by the West's policies toward combating global warming - and this controversy in particular is driven in part by Brown's own environmental policies as PM.

Continue reading "Biofuels and Western Hypocrisy" »

March 8, 2011

Britain and Libya


As one wag (whose name escapes me) put it, David Cameron "is having a bad Arab revolution." A new YouGov poll confirms that:

Asked how David Cameron has respondened so far the public give a broadly negative reaction – 32% think he has done well, 48% badly.

There is strong support for applying economic sanctions – 69% would support them with only 16% opposed – and majority support for a no-fly zone (56% suport, 25% oppose). However, there is very little support for either direct military intervention by British troops, or indirect military intervention by arming the Libyan rebels (only 11% and 12% respectively would support). What support there is for limited military action against Libya is conditional upon UN approval – 52% of people would support limited military action (such as enforcing a no-fly zone) with UN approval, only 9% without.

March 3, 2011

Pessimission, UK Edition

According to a new Ipsos MORI poll, Britons have stayed downbeat despite a growing mood of economic optimism worldwide:

The general economic mood has greatly improved in many countries since the low point of 2008. Citizens of Sweden, Germany, China Australia and Canada are far happier now with the current state of their economy than they were two years ago. However, that large rise has not been seen among Britons where just eight per cent described the economy as good in April 2009 and 13% do so now. This places Great Britain around the same level as France and Italy in rating the economy as good (both 11%) but higher than Japan, Spain and Hungary (6%, 4% and 3% respectively).

However, economic optimism for the next six months is low among European and G8 countries. Of the G8 countries, Canada and Germany are the most positive about the future – although only one in three (31% and 30% respectively) expect the economy to improve in the next six months. The French are the most pessimistic with just five per cent expecting improvements. Just over one in seven (13%) Britons are optimistic about the future of the economy.

You can view the full survey here. (pdf)

U.S., UK & Canadian Views on Afghan War


According to a new poll from Angus Reid, more Canadians and Britons oppose the Afghan war than Americans do:

A year ago, a majority of Americans (58%) supported the mission in Afghanistan, while about two-in-five (38%) opposed it.

Now, in a trend that began late last year, respondents are evenly split, with 47 per cent backing the mission, and 46 per cent opposing it. The level of rejection to the Afghan mission is highest in the Northeast and West (both at 49%) and lowest in the South (44%).

For more than a year, a majority of Britons has expressed opposition to the mission in Afghanistan. This month, only 31 per cent of respondents are backing the military operation, while 60 per cent are against it.

This month’s result matches the high level of opposition to the mission, which was recorded in October 2010. Respondents in London (63%) and Scotland (62%) are more likely to reject the military operation.

For the first time since the war began, three-in-five Canadians (63%) voice opposition to the mission in Afghanistan. Support for the military effort has dropped to the lowest level recorded (32%).

This month’s numbers represent a drastic shift from a survey conducted a year ago, where 47 per cent of Canadians backed the war.

Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

March 1, 2011

Super Duper Power

The fact that it took ten days and at least a thousand dead on the streets of Libya’s cities before President Obama finally mustered the courage to call for Muammar “mad dog” Gaddafi to step down is highly embarrassing for the world’s only superpower, and emblematic of a deer-in-the-headlights approach to world leadership. Washington seems incapable of decisive decision-making on foreign policy at the moment, a far cry from the days when it swept entire regimes from power, and defeated America’s enemies with deep-seated conviction and an unshakeable drive for victory. - Nile Gardiner

Look, if you're going to criticize the Obama administration for not marching into Tripoli and carrying out Colonel Gaddafi's head on a pike, fine. But does anyone find that last sentence remotely in accord with reality?

January 12, 2011

Businesses Approve of UK Coalition


According to a new Ipsos MORI poll, business leaders in the UK overwhelming approve of the coalition government's economic plans:

A massive 89 per cent of UK business leaders agree that the Government’s policies will improve the state of the British economy according to the 2010 Captains of Industry survey from Ipsos MORI. There is also strong support for the Coalition’s cuts programme, with 75 per cent saying that the deficit needs to be cut quickly, which increases to 85 per cent of FTSE 350 respondents.

This year the captains of British industry are the most positive since 2006 about their organisation. 60 per cent think business for their own company will improve in the next year, while only seven per cent believe it will get worse.

Full report here. (pdf)

December 22, 2010

The UK 'War' on Rupert Murdoch

Ever since it was announced, UK commentators have been wondering how long Britain's coalition government could last. Now it's undergoing one of its higher-profile dust-ups after Vince Cable, the Business Secretary (and a Liberal Democratic) told undercover reporters that he had 'declared war' on media magnate Rupert Murdoch. This is not the first time Cable has put his foot in it, as the AP notes:

Earlier, Cable apologized for saying he could bring down the government if pushed and claiming public sector reforms risked running out of control.

He told the journalists that that "I have a nuclear option ... If they push me too far then I can walk out and bring the government down."

Cable's Liberal Democrat party is junior partner to the Conservatives in Britain's coalition government. Before the election Cable was strongly critical of many economic policies his government now endorses as it seeks to cut public spending and slash the country's deficit.

Cable told the reporters that his desire for a tough approach to the banks, which precipitated the financial crisis, had been opposed by "our Conservative friends."

He likened the planned reforms to health care and local government to a "Maoist revolution ... which is in danger of getting out of control."

December 20, 2010

British on the Move

While Ireland and Greece have been in the spotlight thanks to their dire fiscal straights, Gallup finds that Britons are more likely to express a desire to permanently leave their country than anyone else in Europe save Romanians. However, they add that this sentiment can't be tied to Britain's shaky economy:

Britons' relatively high level of desire to migrate permanently cannot be attributed to the recent global economic crisis or the country's own recession. The 33% who say they would like to move is the same now, as the United Kingdom emerges from its longest recession on record, as when it entered recession in 2008. This trend is similar to what Gallup observes worldwide: With some exceptions, people's expressed desire to migrate did not decrease meaningfully in the downturn.

Among the places Britons would most like to migrate to: Australia, the U.S., Canada and Spain.

November 15, 2010

Britain Readies 'Happiness Index'


The British government is readying a new measurement of national performance:

The UK government is poised to start measuring people's psychological and environmental wellbeing, bidding to be among the first countries to officially monitor happiness.

Despite "nervousness" in Downing Street at the prospect of testing the national mood amid deep cuts and last week's riot in Westminster, the Office of National Statistics will shortly be asked to produce measures to implement David Cameron's long-stated ambition of gauging "general wellbeing".

Countries such as France and Canada are looking at similar initiatives as governments around the world come under pressure to put less store on conventional economic measures of prosperity such as gross domestic product.

If nothing else, it might be a useful way to mask declines or poor performance in more traditional economic indicators. Or it might serve to establish a strongrt connection between those indicators and national happineness.

Jim Jubak has a good primer on GDP vs. GNH (gross national happiness).

(AP Photo)

October 29, 2010

Age of Austerity: UK Edition

Not much economic optimism in Britain:

Few people in Britain believe the country’s economy is performing well, and a sizeable proportion of respondents expect the situation to worsen, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of a representative sample of 2,021 British adults, 86 per cent of respondents (+4 since September) describe the United Kingdom’s economy as being in poor or very poor condition, while only 11 per cent (-3) describe it as good or very good.

Three-in-five respondents (59%) continue to rate their personal finances as poor. While 11 per cent of Britons expect the UK economy to improve over the next six months, 41 per cent foresee a decline—including 57 per cent of respondents in Scotland.

More than half of respondents (55%) believe the recession will not be over until after 2011, while 16 per cent foresee the end of the downturn in 2011.

See the full results here. (pdf)

October 26, 2010

UK State Shrinking, U.S. Not So Much


Neil O'Brien notes a narrowing of the gap between the size of the UK and American governments:

In the UK, the year the state spent the least of our income was in 1999-2000. In that millennial year the government spent a bit over a third of GDP (36.4%). Next year the US Government will be spending more than that – 36.5%.

In other words, if Tony Blair rather than Gordon Brown had dominated the last government, then Britain might already have a smaller state than America.

While the current forecasts don’t end up with smaller government on this side of the Atlantic, the gap between the two will be the smallest since records began within five years.

Meanwhile, ComRes has a poll out gaging British sentiments for the coalition's spending plans. If you prefer a more dramatic take, ITV News is following a number of Britons for their (somewhat overwrought) series "Life Under the Cuts."

(AP Photos)

October 21, 2010

The End of the Welfare State?


Hamish McRae puts his finger on something important when writing about Britain's massive spending cuts:

You can look at this in two ways. You can see it as a course correction, a violent one to be sure, but one essentially made necessary by past errors. This is the idea that we have to get back on track, that doing so will be painful, but that when we do all will be hunky dory. Or you can see it as something quite new, the early stumbling stages along a path towards redefining the role of government itself – what the state in a Western society does for its citizens, and what it does not or indeed cannot do.

McRae is inclined to the later interpretation and so am I. In quick succession, the financial crisis has exposed three underlying global trends: the failure of lightly regulated, highly globalized financial markets and the free-wheeling capitalism they had come to represent, the unsustainability of the Western welfare state, and the emergence of Asia as the growth engine for the global economy. If these trends continue - if the twin models of Western development (American/British capitalism and the European welfare state) continue to collapse on themselves while Asia continues to boom - than the West is going to have to make significant changes to how it does business.

I tend to think that Western democracy contains the seeds of its own regeneration and will emerge from these trials in tact and not in tatters, but the expectations of many of her citizens are almost certainly going to have to be re-calibrated. And that process can be quite painful and tumultuous.

(And as an obvious caveat: there are a number of events that could postpone this reckoning, not least of all a serious slowdown in Chinese growth or some kind of general collapse of the emerging markets.)

(AP Photo)

October 20, 2010

Britain's Defense Cuts

The Guardian published a full list of what's on the chopping block. From a companion report:

Britain's armed forces will no longer be able to mount the kind of operations conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan, the government's strategic defence review made clear today. For at least a decade it will also be impossible to deploy the kind of carrier taskforce which liberated the Falklands 28 years ago.

Though defence chiefs said today they will still have significant expeditionary forces, they will not be able to intervene on the scale of recent years. According to new defence planning assumptions, UK forces will be able to carry out one enduring brigade-level operation with up to 6,500 personnel, compared to the 10,000 now in Afghanistan, plus two smaller interventions, at any one time.

Alternatively, they will be able to mount a one-off, time-limited major intervention – "with sufficient warning" – of up to three brigades with about 30,000 personnel, which is two-thirds of the force deployed to Iraq in 2003.

This is being greeted with dismay in many corners but I think it's useful to keep in mind that if we accept the fact that waging preventative wars followed by large-scale military occupation is not the proper way to combat terrorism, then fielding a smaller army is not necessarily a major setback to international security. But it is rather absurd to build an aircraft carrier without the attendant aircraft to carry.

October 19, 2010

Britain's Defense Cuts

David Cameron's coalition announced plans to pare back defense spending as part of a wide-ranging effort to eliminate the country's deficit. The video above provides a good overview of both the strategic rationale behind Cameron's defense review and the possible pitfalls of how Britain is arraying her military forces.

The U.S. reaction to this is horror:

While Cameron pledges to safeguard funding for British forces in Afghanistan, the U.S. has already raised worries that cuts could leave its key ally unable to take on a major role in military missions in the future.

"This is not a time where you can forget about defense or you don't reinvest your savings as best you can in defense," said Jim Townsend, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Europe and NATO. "This is not a time where you can slacken in the need to keep strong and to invest in your military."

Last week, U.S. Gen. David Petraeus visited London for talks and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used a stop in Europe to emphasize that NATO members must be able to make "appropriate contributions," despite pressures on national budgets.

And if they don't? If I you were a NATO member looking at crippling debt loads and the urgent need to slash government expenditures and you knew you had the world's most powerful military obligated by treaty to ride to your rescue, where would you make cuts?

There's apparently some worry that the U.S. will "give up" on Britain now that she's proposed to build aircraft carriers without aircraft (seriously) but that strikes me as misunderstanding what the alliance was about.

October 13, 2010

Russian Reset, UK Style

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague is looking to shore up relations with Russia:

Hague, part of a coalition government which took office in May, will meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and President Dmitry Medvedev during his 24-hour visit which began on Tuesday.

Relations between the previous British government and Russia deteriorated badly after the 2006 murder of Alexander Litvinenko in London with a rare radioactive isotope.

Meanwhile, Arnold Schwarzenegger's getting job offers from Medvedev.

October 7, 2010

Should Britain Give Up Her Nukes?

Robert Farley makes the case:

The debate currently taking place in London matters for Washington, and U.S. defense officials have already expressed concern about the extent of British defense cuts. However, since taking office, President Barack Obama has made global nuclear abolition a central focus of his nonproliferation agenda, both rhetorically and in policy. A decision by the United Kingdom to forego the replacement of Trident and to eschew any other nuclear delivery system would advance this goal enormously. No major nuclear power has ever given up its weapons, despite the formal requirement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to work towards abolition. In the context of growing concern about nuclear proliferation, abolition of British nuclear weapons might provide an important symbol of commitment to Global Zero. However, there's no guarantee that a British policy shift would bring about a change in behavior in North Korea, Iran, or any other nuclear aspirant.

Just as important, however, is the money that would be saved from foregoing Trident replacement, which could be spent in other areas.

Yes, but what if Britain decides to eliminate its nuclear deterrent and a new U.S. president assumes office with a dimmer view toward such Utopian optimistic plans for "global zero?" Efforts to slash their arsenal to curry favor with the U.S. would then fall rather flat.

September 21, 2010

Views on Mideast Peace Talks


Angus Reid surveyed British, American and Canadian views of the peace process:

A large proportion of respondents in the three countries do not express sympathy for either of the two sides in the Middle East dispute. Americans favour Israel over the Palestinians (27% to 5%), while Britons pick the Palestinians ahead of Israel (19% to 10%). Canadians are evenly divided in their assessment (13% for Israel; 13% for the Palestinians).

Respondents in the three countries were also asked about the sympathies of their respective heads of government. Canadians clearly think of Stephen Harper as pro-Israel (36%) and Britons feel the same way about David Cameron (21%). In the United States, 18 per cent of respondents think Barack Obama sympathizes more with the Palestinians, while 15 per cent believe he is more considerate to the Israelis.

A large majority in all three countries feel the talks won't be successful and at least a third in all three nations feel a solution will never be reached. Optimistic bunch. Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

September 20, 2010

It's Good to (Not) Be King

Via the New Statesman:

More than 9,000 public sector workers take home a higher wage than the prime minister, new research conducted by the BBC's Panorama programme has shown.

The study, which collected data from 2,400 different public bodies revealed that 38,000 public employees are earning above £100,000, with 1,000 people on more than £200,000.

September 15, 2010

Britain's View on Churchill

They like him:

A sizeable proportion of people in Britain maintain a positive opinion of Winston Churchill and two thirds believe that Gordon Brown has been the worst head of government since the end of the Second World War, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found....

Four-in-five Britons (79%) describe Churchill as a good prime minister. No other British head of government reaches the 50 per cent mark on this indicator, with Margaret Thatcher (47%), Tony Blair (39%), Harold Wilson (37%), David Cameron (34%), and Harold Macmillan (31%) getting a good review from at least three-in-ten respondents.

Churchill's overall score of +75 (a comparison between positive and negative responses) is the best for all 13 heads of government featured in the study. Only three other prime ministers posted a positive rating: Wilson (+16), Clement Atlee (+15) and Cameron (+7). In stark contrast, Gordon Brown (-45) and John Major (-25) had the lowest scores.

See the full survey here. The Financial Times took a more elite survey on British prime ministers here.

September 3, 2010

Tony Blair's Legacy


Anthony Wells reviews the latest polling on the subject:

47% of people think that Blair was a good Prime Minister, 46% that he was a bad one – probably not a bad record. On balance, people tended to think that Blair was likeable (by 57% to 35%), principled (by 43% to 39%) and a good representative for Britain abroad (by 50% to 37%), he fell down on honesty – 44% thought he was dishonest as PM.

Asked what his greatest achievements were as Prime Minister, the minimum wage and bringing peace to Northern Ireland came top by some distance (interestingly, the minimum wage was seen as Blair’s greatest acheivement even by Conservative voters, whereas things like his record on the economy and public services were mainly picked by Labour supporters). His greatest failures were seen as failing to tackle immigration and, unsurprisingly, the invasion of Iraq.

(AP Photo)

September 2, 2010

Tony Blair's Bad Bomb Iran Argument


Tony Blair tells the BBC he thinks another Middle East war is the way to go:

The west should use force against Iran if it "continues to develop nuclear weapons", Tony Blair said today, aligning himself with US hawks who have called for strikes against Iranian nuclear sites.

The former prime minister made his comments in a BBC interview to publicise his memoirs, A Journey, which are published today.

Blair said it was "wholly unacceptable" for Tehran to seek a nuclear weapons capability and insisted there could be "no alternative" to military force "if they continue to develop nuclear weapons"....

In his exclusive interview with the Guardian, Blair elaborates on why it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons, linking this to the 9/11 attacks on the US. The former prime minister wishes he had seen earlier that 9/11 had "far deeper roots" than he thought at the time.

"The reason for that, let me explain it, is that in my view what was shocking about September 11 was that it was 3,000 people killed in one day but it would have been 300,000 if they could have done it," Blair said, appearing to equate al-Qaida with Iran. "That's the point ... I decided at that point that you cannot take a risk on this. This is why I am afraid, in relation to Iran, that I would not take a risk of them getting nuclear weapons capability. I wouldn't take it."

This makes absolutely no sense. There is a much, much, much greater chance that al-Qaeda would get a nuclear weapon from Pakistan, or even North Korea, than Iran. Should we attack them as well? The argument that we can't attack them because they already have nuclear weapons is irrelevant - Blair bases his case for an attack on the grounds that we "cannot take a risk" of al-Qaeda getting their hands on a nuclear weapon. If that's the criteria, then Iran shouldn't be anything close to a top priority.

(AP Photo)

August 31, 2010

The View from the Anglosphere


Angus Reid asked Britons and Canadians what they think of President Obama:

Seven-in-ten Canadians believe the American president deserves to be re-elected in 2012, but under half of Britons agree.

Canadians hold a much more positive view of United States President Barack Obama than Britons, a new two-country Angus Reid Public Opinion poll has found.

In the online survey of representative national samples of 1,010 Canadian and 2,012 British adults, 61 per cent of respondents in Canada say Obama’s performance so far has been just what they expected. Fewer people in Britain agree (51%).

In Canada, 14 per cent of respondents say Obama’s performance has exceeded their expectations, while 18 per cent say they have been disappointed by it. In Britain, these perceptions sit at 13 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively.

Three-in-ten Canadians (30%) say the American president has accomplished much since his term started in January 2009. But only 12 per cent of British respondents agree with this assessment. And while only 15 per cent of Canadians think Obama has achieved little, this proportion rises to 25 per cent in Britain.

A large proportion of people in both countries (CAN 48%, BRI 54%) say it is too early to judge Obama’s accomplishments.

I'd certainly endorse that last sentiment.

(AP Photo)

August 20, 2010

British Support for Afghan War Falls


According to Angus Reid only 33 percent of UK citizens support the war in Afghanistan while 57 percent oppose it. Support for the mission has fallen since June, when 38 percent of British respondents said they supported the effort. Among the other findings:

A majority of Britons (54 percent) believe the country made a mistake in sending military forces to Afghanistan. Less than half of respondents (46 percent) claim to have a clear idea of what the war in Afghanistan is about.

When asked about what they think will be the most likely outcome of the conflict in Afghanistan, only seven per cent of Britons predict a clear victory by U.S. and allied forces over the Taliban, and 31 percent foresee a negotiated settlement from a position of U.S. and allied strength that gives the Taliban a small role in the Afghan government.

In addition, 19 percent of respondents expect a negotiated settlement from a position of U.S. and allied weakness that gives the Taliban a significant role in the Afghan government, and 10 per cent believe the Taliban will defeat the U.S. and allied forces.

Angus Reid released a similar survey of U.S. public opinion on the war yesterday.

(AP Photo)

August 18, 2010

British Coalition: The First 100 Days


Ipsos Mori compiles polling (pdf) on the UK coalition government at its 100 day mark. Some highlights:

* The government has the highest ‘100th day’ rating of any since 1979, except for Blair’s Labour government in 1997;

* David Cameron is more popular than the government as a whole, while his partner, Nick Clegg has seen his approval fall;

* The British public appears to have more confidence in the Coalition’s economic policies than they had in Labour’s approach to managing the economy;

* Roughly half of Britain thinks David Cameron's "Big Society" program will benefit them and their communities.

(AP Photo)

August 3, 2010

Britain's Best Prime Ministers

Via Anthony Wells, the Financial Times asked 100 academics to rank the top post war British Prime Ministers. Drum roll please (from best to worst):

1. Attlee 2. Thatcher 3. Blair 4. Macmillan 5. Wilson 6. Churchill 7. Callaghan 8. Major 9. Heath 10. Brown 11. Alec Douglas-Home 12. Eden

I don't have a dog in this particular fight, but you're urged to disparage these picks in comments.

August 2, 2010

Rethinking Deterrence

Mary Ann Sieghart offers advice on how the UK can pare back defense spending without sacrificing their nukes:

What deterrence needs is ambiguity. We don't know much about North Korea's nuclear capability, but we're certainly not going to risk nuclear annihilation by taking them on, even if the risk were 50 per cent, 25 per cent or just 10 per cent. That's why Israel is so sensitive about its nuclear secrets being revealed. The less other countries know about your nuclear capability, the more effective will be its deterrence.

The trouble with Britain's is that, when it's not at sea, it's highly visible. Every time a Trident submarine comes back to dock, the local residents around Faslane know about it. So if all the Trident subs were there at once, it would theoretically be possible for an adversary to launch a surprise attack and destroy them all. That was the worry during the Cold War, which led to the Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD) policy that we've adopted ever since.

Even in those days, the chances of the Soviet Union launching a first strike against Britain were vanishingly small. Now they're imperceptible. Our main enemy now is not even a state – it's organisations such as al-Qa'ida, whose foot soldiers are British citizens with rucksacks. If they use weapons of mass destruction on our soil, we're hardly going to launch a nuclear attack in response. Where would we send it?

Our nuclear deterrent is only of use against state enemies. And if tensions were to rise against – say – Russia or China, we would have plenty of warning. This is the premise of a paper written by Professor Malcolm Chalmers for the Royal United Services Institute, published last week. He argues that we don't prepare our conventional forces for a surprise attack by another state against the UK, so we shouldn't do the same for our nuclear forces. It's our insistence on CASD for Trident's replacement that is making it so expensive. Instead, he says, we could reduce the number of submarines from four to three or two.

Makes sense: it preserves the UK's status as a nuclear power, gives it a credible deterrent against its potential nuclear adversaries while helping trim costs.

Cameron, Clegg Approvals Hold Steady


A new poll from Angus Reid shows David Cameron's approval holding relatively steady at 53 percent for the month of July, down one point from June. His coalition partner Nick Clegg dropped a bit, down three points to 47 percent for July.

(AP Photo)

July 29, 2010

Understanding Cameron


David Cameron's recent trip to Turkey and his comments regarding the flotilla incident ("completely unacceptable") and conditions in Gaza (a "prison") have provoked some push back. The central theme of the criticism seems to be that Cameron is (A) misguided; (B.) trying to bolster his politically correct bona fides.

There is another explanation, however, and that is that Cameron knew what he was doing:

Nonetheless, the very fact that the Prime Minister is prepared to set out Britain's stall as having an independent and sympathetic policy towards a Muslim country, and could go on to India to express the desire for a new, more equal relationship with the rising economies, does say something important about Cameron's confidence in his approach to foreign affairs. It also says something about the way in which he defines British interests as primarily commercial.

Plus ça change, as he might say if the language of diplomacy was still French and not English. It is now 35 years since a British Prime Minister defined "export-led growth" as the "Holy Grail of British policy".

See also this. At the beginning of the month, Cameron's foreign secretary, William Hague, laid out a vision of British foreign policy that placed the emphasis on improving bilateral ties with emerging powers in the service of boosting Britain's economy. Forging good ties with Turkey would certainly fall under that rubric.

(AP Photo)

Britain Reaction to Lockerbie

A new survey from Angus Reid shows lingering bitterness in Britain over the release of the Lockerbie Bomber:

In the online survey of a representative national sample of 1,992 British adults, three quarters of respondents (75%) oppose the release of Megrahi, a Libyan national, which was conceded on compassionate grounds by the Scottish government citing the prisoner’s poor health condition...

Many Britons (41%) believe that the Scottish government’s decision to let Megrahi out of prison has something to do with the commercial interests of the British oil company BP, which has major operations in Libya.

July 28, 2010

David Cameron on Pakistan

The British Prime Minister continues his making friends and influencing people tour:

David Cameron today sparked a furious diplomatic row with Islamabad after accusing elements of the Pakistani state of promoting the export of terrorism.

In the strongest British criticism of Pakistan so far, the prime minister warned Islamabad it could no longer "look both ways" by tolerating terrorism while demanding respect as a democracy.

But in an angry response, Pakistan's high commissioner to Britain accused Cameron of damaging the prospects for regional peace, and criticised him for believing allegations in the Wikileaks documents published in the Guardian earlier this week.

I doubt publicly brow-beating Pakistan over their not-so-covert support for militant networks is going to work, but then again, will anything?

The Churchill Temptation


Newt Gingrich is worried:

Newt Gingrich will deliver a major national security address at the conservative American Enterprise Institute on Thursday in which he will reprimand the Obama administration's "willful blindness" to the threat of extremist Islam...

Gingrich "will warn," according to a synopsis of the event, "that now is the time to awaken from self-deception about the nature of our enemies and rebuild a bipartisan commitment, in Afghanistan and elsewhere, to defend America."

Justin Logan thinks Gingrich is in hock to Carl Schmitt. I'd add another unhelpful influence: Winston Churchill. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Churchill. But just as neoconservatives have a tendency to view every threat through the prism of the 1930s there is also a burning desire on the part of certain politicians to be seen as the contemporary Churchill - the leader who saw and spoke out against the dangers that others didn't see or were too scared to face. This has produced a largely pernicious impact on the public debate, leading to an atmosphere of alarmism where what's required is calm rationality. As Login notes, Gingrich has suggested that the Jewish people are poised to suffer a second Holocaust yet doesn't seem too energized by this belief.

(AP Photo)

July 27, 2010

David Cameron's Views


It doesn't look like David Cameron will be winning a lot of friends on the American right:

British prime minister David Cameron, who has often described himself as a "friend of Israel," harshly criticized Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, telling a group of Turkish businessmen in Ankara that the strip was "a prison camp."

"The situation in Gaza has to change," he said. "Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp."

He also insisted that Turkey be admitted into the European Union.

(AP Photo)

Britons Fear Terror Attack

Via Angus Reid:

Most people in Britain think it is likely that their country will be the target of a terrorist attack in the next 12 months, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 59 per cent of respondents share this view, whereas 28 per cent do not think this will be the case.

July 20, 2010

Cameron and Lockerbie - Why Now?


I admit I'm a bit mystified that one of the major issues dealt with on David Cameron's first visit to the U.S. as British Prime Minister is a decision over which he had no say and had, in any event, objected to: the release of the Lockerbie bomber. The Telegraph's James Kirkup puts it in perspective:

How can US politicians steeped in the concept of states’ rights and the limits to federal authority not grasp the concept of Scottish devolution?

Devolution means power over – and legal responsibility for – certain issues rests in Edinburgh with the administration elected by the people of Scotland. And not, repeat not, with the Government in London. One of those issues was the release of Megrahi. That’s because Scotland has its own legal system, quite distinct from that of England, and over which ministers in London have precisely no influence.

Since this point doesn’t seem to be properly appreciated in Washington, let me repeat it: the decision to release Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi was made by ministers in Scotland before the current UK government came to power.

So perhaps our American friends would do well to consider this: holding David Cameron responsible for the actions of Scottish Nationalist Party ministers in 2009 is like holding Barack Obama responsible for the actions of the Supreme Court of Texas and its Republican governor in 2007.

Al Megrahi's release was an outrage, but it's over and done with and he's not going back to a Scottish prison. The U.S. and UK have considerably more important matters to discuss.

(AP Photo)

July 6, 2010

Cameron Approval Holds Steady


Despite announcing a pretty tough austerity budget, David Cameron is holding up in the polls:

Public support for the British prime minister has not dwindled after his first month in office, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 54 per cent of respondents approve of David Cameron’s performance.

In addition, 50 per cent of respondents approve of Nick Clegg’s performance as deputy prime minister, down two points in a month.

(AP Photo)

June 23, 2010

World Cup Live Blog

RealClearSports staff and selected experts will provide live commentary during the USA-Algeria and England-Slovenia World Cup matches Wednesday. Please join us as we will be breaking down the matchups, the second-round scenarios and maybe even geopolitics. The live blog will begin at 9:30 a.m. ET, and all commenters are welcome.

June 16, 2010

Support for Afghan War in UK


Support for the Afghan war in the United Kingdom has seen a slight uptick in June, according to Angus Reid: 38 percent support the war, up from 32 percent in April. However 55 percent oppose the war.

While Britons may object to the war, a new poll from Ipsos Mori suggests the war is not high on the list of their concerns. When asked what they saw as the most important issue facing Britain, "defence/foreign affairs/international terrorism" placed 7th with just 3 percent. Full results here. (pdf)

(AP Photo)

June 9, 2010

Photo of the Day


(General David Petraeus meets with British Prime Minister David Cameron. AP Photos)

June 3, 2010

How the British Feel About Gaza Blockade

The UK polling firm YouGov asked the British how they feel about the Gaza blockade, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more generally:

Asked about the principle of the Israeli blockade of Gaza 22% thought it was the right thing to do, 53% were opposed.

Turning to the specific incident, 55% of respondents thought that Israeli troops over-reacted to people on the ship who were on the whole non-violent, with only 18% saying they were probably acting in self-defence. Only 23% of respondents thought the intention of the convoy was a confrontation with Israel, with 44% believing its genuine intention was to take humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

YouGov also asked a general question about whether people were more sympathetic towards Israel or the Palestinians. 13% were more sympathetic to Israel, 25% more sympathetic to the Palestinians, 41% were not particularly sympathetic to either.

Full results here. (pdf)

June 2, 2010

Brits Reject the Euro

This isn't surprising:

Very few people in Britain are interested in adopting the euro as the national currency, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 79 per cent of respondents would vote against this idea in a referendum.

May 26, 2010

UK: We Have 225 Nukes

The United Kingdom has just announced that it has 225 nuclear warheads. That's just 86 less than what Gary Schaub and James Forsyth said the U.S. would really need for its own deterrent needs.

Polling on Cameron/Clegg Duo


Some decent numbers from Angus Reid:

The main players in the new coalition government garner the support of more than half of Britons, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 54 per cent of respondents approve of David Cameron’s performance as prime minister.

In addition, 52 per cent of respondents approve of Nick Clegg’s performance as deputy prime minister.

(AP Photo)

May 20, 2010

How to Save Britain

Toby Baxendale has a plan to pay off the Britain's national debt and offer a tax cut. He'll pay anyone 1,000 pounds if you can find a flaw. Not sure if that applies outside the UK....

[Hat tip: Daniel Hannan]

May 18, 2010

Poll: The UK Coalition


It's never too early to form an opinion:

YouGov’s daily polling for the Sun this week found 56% approval, 38% disapproval on Wednesday, growing to 60% approval, 33% disapproval on Thursday. There was scepticism about how long it would last though – 28% think it will be less than a year, with only 10% thinking it will last the intended 5 years.

(AP Photo)

Transatlantic Orthodoxy


We've spent the last week observing the differences between the British and American political systems - the coalition wrangling, the swiftness of government transitions. But Steve Coll highlights an area of similarity:

On foreign policy, it was fascinating to listen to the Foreign Secretary tic through the usual issue sets—Iran, Afghanistan, Europe, global development, humanitarian intervention, etc.—and to discover that there is hardly any distance between his coalition’s views and that of the Labour government it is succeeding. I’ll save Hague’s comments about Afghan policy until next week, after a reported article I’ve been working on for the magazine, in which British policy figures, has appeared. But on the Afghan war and every other subject discussed, except perhaps for the European economic crisis, where Hague emphasizes Britain’s skepticism about the euro monetary project, it was striking how centrist and even center-left orthodoxy has replaced the radicalism of the Thatcher years and the subsequent “wet-dry” debates among British conservatives. I used to hold in my mind the truism that continental European conservative parties roughly equate to our Democratic Party in their foreign policy views, but that British foreign policy conservatism was an exception; no longer, it seems.

Hague pointed out that, in opposition, his party had supported every one of Tony Blair’s major military interventions abroad, whether they were motivated entirely by humanitarianism or by more traditional security arguments—in Sierra Leone, in Kosovo, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. (The Liberal Democrats, his coalition partners, were the only British political party to oppose the Iraq invasion.)

National security orthodoxy has an equally strong hold on this side of the Atlantic.

(AP Photo)

May 11, 2010

Cable and Clegg


Rumors are now swirling over just how the spoils of victory (or, er, coalition) will be divvied out in light of David Cameron's ascension to No. 10. The Daily Mail suggests that Vince Cable's slot will be the one to watch:

Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable – the main reason for the party’s popularity before Nick Clegg’s performance in the leaders’ debates – is expected to take a post as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

He will serve with the new Chancellor George Osborne, who is David Cameron’s closest political ally. The Prime Minister has resisted pressure to bring back Ken Clarke, the last Tory to have held the post.

There is a clear advantage for the Tories in involving Mr Cable in pushing through the unpopular spending cuts that will be necessary to deal with the soaring deficit.

Liberal Democrats were also tipped to secure the post of Home Secretary, one of the four great offices of state but also something of a poisoned chalice in recent years.

Earlier reports hinted at Clegg getting Deputy PM, but it now sounds as though he'll be announced as Leader of the Commons. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Sky News is reporting that Clegg will become Deputy PM.

(AP Photo)

Poll: What Coalition Does the UK Want?


YouGov asks:

20% wanted the Conservatives to govern as a minority, 33% wanted a pact or coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats (giving a total of 53% wanting a Conservative led government), 39% of respondents backed the Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, etc rainbow coalition.

Meanwhile, the Times is reporting that some Labour officials are disgusted with the Lib Dems:

David Blunkett, the former Home Secretary, gave public voice to concerns about whether Labour could trust the Lib Dems in a coalition deal, claiming that they were behaving like "every harlot in history."

(AP Photo)

May 7, 2010

How to Fix England's Democracy

Hugh MacIntyre offers his thoughts:

In the UK there are four legislatures. There are regional legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Then there is the national legislature in Westminster. The problem is that England does not have its own legislature. Policy decisions that are made for Scotland in the Scottish legislature are made for England in the national legislature. This has non-English MPs voting on issues that only affect England.

England elected the Conservative Party and presumably endorses Conservative policy in English matters, such as education. But with a hung Parliament, such policies will be subjected to compromise with a Labour Party that is largely propped up by Scottish and Welsh MPs. It is even possible, though unlikely, that the Labour Party will be able to continue to govern.

Presuming the goal is to correct this problem and keep the United Kingdom together, the only solution is to create an English legislature. With an English legislature, with roughly the same powers as the Scottish Parliament, English voters would be able to elect a government that will be more representative of their preferences on solely English matters.

May 6, 2010

British Elections Live Blog

8:00 AM BST - Final update until the morning stateside: A hung parliament is just about assured. With only about 50 seats left to be decided, the Tories will have to claim close to 40 of them to reach the magic number of 326.

Not going to happen. So it's on. Forget the earlier comparisons to Canada and Israel. This has the potential of disintegrating into a mess like the 2000 U.S. presidential election. The Supreme Court justices made the call 10 years ago to save the republic, the queen will have to do the same now to save the empire, er, the kingdom. -Sam

7:10 AM BST - We're hurtling toward the finish. The Tories can still mathematically win a majority, but it's becoming more unlikely by the minute. Meanwhile, the jockeying for 10 Downing Street has begun in earnest.

From David Cameron:

What will guide me in the hours ahead, and perhaps longer than the hours ahead, will be the national interest – to do what is right for our country, to make sure we have that government, have that stability, take the right decisions. We live in difficult times but this is a great country and we will come through them and be stronger. At all times what I will do is put the national interest first to make sure we have good, strong, stable government for our country.

From Gordon Brown:

The outcome of this country's vote is not yet known. But my duty to the country, coming out of this election, is to play my part in Britain having a strong, stable and principled government, able to lead Britain into sustained economic recovery and able to implement our commitments to far-reaching reform to our political system - upon which there is a growing consensus in our country.


Continue reading "British Elections Live Blog" »

May 4, 2010

Kicking Brown When He's Down


A Labour parliamentary candidate today dubbed Gordon Brown the worst prime minister Britain has had.

According to the Lynn News newspaper, North West Norfolk
candidate Manish Sood said: "Immigration has gone up which is creating friction within communities. The country is getting bigger and messier.

"The role of ministers has gone bureaucratic and the action of ministers has gone downhill - it is corrupt.

"The loss of social values is the basic problem and this is not what the Labour Party is about.

"I believe Gordon Brown has been the worst prime minister we have had in this country.

"It is a disgrace and he owes an apology to the people and the Queen."

May 3, 2010

Cameron, the Axe Man

The Daily Mirror reports that David Cameron is softening the public to the idea of even deeper cuts than what was promised during the campaign:

In an astonishing television interview, the Tory leader acknowledged he would have to reduce spending by more than his party has admitted to publicly.

And he highlighted welfare benefits along with the pay and pensions of seven million public sector workers as areas where he was looking to cut costs.

The frank admission was widely seen as a sign Cameron believes he is on course to get into No 10 this week.

The Tories want a full mandate to begin a harsh programme of cuts.

But Labour strategists believe it is an own goal and Cabinet ministers said it reminded people that a "nightmare" awaits if the Tories win on Thursday.

Unfortunately, the consensus seems to be that whichever man wins the election will confront the nightmare of British finances.

May 2, 2010



[Via Joyner]

April 29, 2010

A Poisoned Chalice

This sounds about right:

Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has privately warned that whichever leader wins the election next week will be kicked out of power for decades because of the severity of budget cuts they will have to instigate, it was claimed today.

As the leaders of the three main political parties prepare themselves for tonight's final, economy-themed TV debate in Birmingham, the warning ringing in their ears is that the job of Prime Minister could be a poisoned chalice.

Meanwhile, the Economist writes of the candidate's whistling past the financial graveyard:

In 2008, just before the fall of Lehman Brothers, Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the exchequer, let slip the prediction (controversial at the time) that Britain was in for the worst recession in sixty years. Two years, one semi-nationalised banking system and six quarters of painful contraction later, he has been proved right. The government deficit is 11.6% of GDP. Public debt is forecast to peak at £1.4 trillion (around 75% of GDP) in 2014-15 (a figure that ignores public-sector pension liabilities). Big spending cuts and tax rises will be needed to restore order to the public finances. Yet the looming age of austerity has figured only fitfully in a campaign that has so far been dominated by the unexpected rise of the Liberal Democrats.

April 28, 2010


Now with video:

Andrew Sullivan adds:

Now, with Labour in third place already, what will the millions of voters like Duffy do? Vote Tory? I'd like to think so. Maybe immigration will push her to Cameron. But Duffy's obvious belief in the classic Labour welfare state makes me suspect she could protest Labour by voting for the Liberal Democrats. Her initial response is that she won't vote at all - another disaster if replicated for Labour. If millions of Labour voters switch to the Lib-Dems, or stay at home in protest, we are talking about an electoral earthquake of historic proportions. This may be the sound that sets off the avalanche.

It should be interesting to see how this gaffe affects the daily tracking polls.

Brown: 'She Was Just a Bigoted Woman'

This probably wont' help Mr. Brown's poll standing:

The Prime Minister was heard describing an exchange he had with a female voter on the campaign trail today as a "disaster", calling her a "bigoted woman".

The comments were made as he got into his car after speaking to the woman in Rochdale, not realising that he had a Sky News microphone pinned to his shirt.

He told an aide: "That was a disaster - they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous..."

Asked what she had said, he replied: "Everything, she was just a bigoted woman."

The voter, 65 year old Gillian Duffy, had pressed the prime minister on immigration and other matters.

UPDATE: Audio here.

April 27, 2010

Fewer Brits Believe in Climate Change Than Americans

Angus Reid has found an interesting divergence:

People in three countries hold differing views on climate change, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 58 per cent of respondents in Canada believe global warming is a fact and is mostly caused by emissions from vehicles and industrial facilities, but only 41 per cent of Americans and 38 per cent of Britons concur.

Moreover, more British believe that climate change is a theory that hasn't been proven yet than Americans.

I'm surprised by the UK findings given that the three leading candidates for Prime Minister have all sought to emphasis their green bona fides. Complete poll here (pdf).

April 26, 2010

Latest from the UK

The latest RCP average puts David Cameron's Conservative Party up 4.5 points, giving the Tory leader a week-long window to create some breathing room between the surging Nick Clegg and himself.

Be sure to check the RCP Average daily, and get more opinion and analysis on the British elections from our United Kingdom homepage.

UPDATE: Nate Silver has a thoughtful and thorough analysis on possible parliamentary seat allocations.

April 24, 2010

Fuzzy Nuclear Math


Max Bergmann thinks UK candidate Nick Clegg is right to urge the cancellation of the Trident nuclear program. I'm not well versed in the particulars of the Trident debate, but on the broader issue of whether Britain should retain a viable nuclear deterrent, I don't find Bergmann's argument all that persuasive. He writes:

The notion that the UK needs nuclear weapons because of the dangers of Iran demonstrates an outdated world view that sees Britain as isolated and sees security issues in a vacuum. The fact is that the UK is in NATO – which means under Article 5 an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all. This means that an attack on the UK is an attack on the US and therefore the US nuclear deterrent is effectively a UK nuclear deterrent as well. If the UK’s nukes just magically disappeared there would be no practical change in its ability to deter a nuclear attack.

The debate over the Trident is therefore at its heart is not about questions of security but about nuclear weapons as a sign of global prestige and clout. The fact is that the role of nuclear weapons has significantly declined following the end of the Cold War, since, as Colin Powell noted, nuclear weapons are militarily “useless.” Clegg is therefore right when he states in defense of eliminating the Trident that “the world is changing, when we’re facing new threats.”

But a Britain that is willing to spend more than $100 billion dollars on a nuclear weapons program that has little real military utility, is not just swimming against the global tide, but is sending an incredibly regressive signal to the world over the importance of these weapons.

So the British should rely on America's nuclear deterrent when the U.S. is supposedly on its own quest to abolish nuclear weapons and limit the role they play in its own deterrent posture. But if NATO is to have a credible nuclear deterrent someone has to have nuclear weapons. If the U.S. under the Obama administration is intent on scaling back and eventually eliminating its own arsenal, it seems a prudent hedge on Britain's part to retain theirs (in what form and how much they should spend on it is a debate for another day)

Britain enjoys collective security today. And while it's reasonable to conclude that they will continue to do so far into the future, predictions are hard, especially about the future. A country ultimately needs to rely on itself for its own security and in this regard, nuclear weapons are not just fashionable, they are vital. And irrespective of any signaling, the truth is nuclear weapons are important. Why else would we be working so hard to make sure no one else can have them?

(AP Photo)

April 23, 2010

A British Put Down

Rod Liddle shows you how it's done:

The elevation of Clegg, you would hope, marks the apogee of the cretinisation of the British electorate, in which the public debate is now pitched at a slightly lower level than that implied in the sorts of questions I used to be asked by my two sons: ‘Dad, what would win in a fight between a tiger and a shark? What would win in a fight between a table and a desk?’ It cannot surely drop lower than this, can it? Clegg’s sole pitch, the only thing which scored him points — ‘at least I’m not them’ — was, nonetheless both accurate and had force. It would have had no less force if it had been issued by a gently cooling bowl of oxtail soup on a plinth, either, and would undoubtedly have contained more substance.

Britain: The Insular Former Empire


Watching the second UK debate yesterday, I was struck by how narrow the focus on foreign policy really was. China was only mentioned twice and as an aside to the climate change debate. Russia, once, in passing. Iraq, three times, and again as an aside. No mention of India, Asia, Israel, Palestine or the Middle East. (Incidentally, the BBC has an amazing tool where you can search the debate for key phrases.)

I think we have a very unfortunate tendency in the U.S. to expect political leaders to "solve" global problems. But watching the British debate there was very little sense, outside of the climate change and terrorism discussions, that events and geopolitical trends beyond their borders had any urgent meaning.

(AP Photo)

Clegg the Consistent


Alex Massie, who gives Gordon Brown the win in yesterday's debate, dissects Nick Clegg's performance:

As for Clegg, he was solid but not spectacular. There were moments of hesitancy and some rambling but in general I found his manner appealing: he gave the impression of listening to the questions and then thinking about his answers and did more to engage the audience - both in Bristol and at home - than either of the other candidates. He was brave on immigration too and his final line - for those still watching - was excellent: “Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be different. It can.”

This, minus the rambling, is why I give Clegg the win in debate #2. He seemed to speak more directly to the various audiences, and he got his change and choice message across rather well - getting your message across trumps 'winning' and 'losing' in the traditional debate sense. Televised political debates aren't normal debates.

I thought he got caught up in an eye rolling moment, a la Al Gore in 2000, while pressing Cameron and Brown on immigration, but I think he also had the luxury of getting a little cattier, more direct in this debate, as viewership - like here in the United States - dropped significantly from the first one.

Did you miss yesterday's debate? Well you can watch the opening statements here until we get the full debate video up, and also be sure to check the RCP average every day for the latest poll numbers on the British race.

UPDATE: And this is an awesome debate recap tool.

(AP Photo)

April 22, 2010

UK Debate: Foreign Policies in Focus


Today, Britain's three leading contenders for Prime Minister will square off for their second televised debate. This time, the focus will be on foreign policy. As a primer, you can view the relevant portions of their manifestos here (for Cameron) here (for Brown) and here (for Clegg).

The debate is expected to center on immigration, Britain's nuclear deterrent and the war in Afghanistan. To set the stage, The Independent has a new poll out assessing the war effort:

The vast majority of voters are hostile to the war in Afghanistan and believe the political parties are failing to give voice to their opposition, a new poll has discovered ahead of the televised leaders' debate on foreign affairs tomorrow.

The ComRes survey for The Independent and ITV News finds that nearly three-quarters of electors view the conflict as "unwinnable" and more than half say they do not understand why British troops are still in Afghanistan....

High levels of voter dissatisfaction with Britain's eight-year military involvement in Afghanistan were uncovered by the survey. According to ComRes, 72 per cent believe the war, which has so far cost more than 280 British lives, is "unwinnable", with just 19 per cent taking the opposite view.

More than half (53 per cent) say they "don't really understand why Britain is still in Afghanistan", with 42 per cent disagreeing. A gap between the sexes emerged, with 60 per cent of women but 47 per cent of men saying they did not understand Britain's presence in Afghanistan. A sense that the issue has so far been avoided in the election campaign emerged, with 70 per cent saying they believed the main parties did not offer them "any real choice of policies" on Afghanistan.

This U.S. public, by contrast, is more supportive of the war, although lacks confidence in the administration waging it.

(AP Photo)

April 19, 2010

The Clegg Effect


British poll watchers are in a frenzy over the surge by Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democratic candidate (who, incidentally, interned at the Nation magazine in the 1990's). According to the daily YouGov poll for the Sun, the third party challenger has actually vaulted ahead of both Labour and the Conservatives. (You can follow the latest twists and turns at the RCP UK election poll tracker.)

Among the many consequences of the Clegg ascendancy is the viability of Britain's "first past the post" electoral system. Lewis Baston explains:

Labour is resilient to a falling national share because it has an efficiently distributed vote – a large number of low-turnout strongholds, competitive marginals and few votes in its high-turnout hopeless seats.

But because Lib Dem support is fairly evenly spread, it is hard for that party to translate broad increases in its share of the vote into seat gains, and the gains it does manage tend to come from the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems received respectable 20-30% losing shares in many constituencies in 2005, and a 10-point increase across the board would merely produce impressive 30-40% losing scores in most of these seats.

The electoral system could not survive a perverse outcome in which the first party comes third and the third party comes first – or one in which the second-placed party has an overall majority, despite the support of fewer than one voter in three. Either case would make Florida in 2000 look like a model of democracy. There would be a justified crisis of confidence in a political system that had produced such a travesty.

(AP Photo)

April 16, 2010

British Debates: Polls Show Clegg Win


Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democratic candidate in the British General Election, may have had a break-out performance in yesterday's debate - the first ever televised debate among UK party leaders during an election campaign.

A Times of London/Populus poll gave the contest to Clegg:

Nick Clegg seized the initiative last night as the televised drama of Britain’s first campaign debate between party leaders transformed the election.

A Populus poll for The Times gave a stunning victory to the Liberal Democrat leader as he used the limelight of the historic ITV broadcast to devastating effect.

“I know you think that all politicians are the same. I hope I have tried to show you that that isn’t true,” he said at the close of a relaxed and personable performance.

Within minutes, 61 per cent of voters said that he had won the night, compared with 22 per cent for David Cameron and 17 per cent for Gordon Brown.

YouGov has a similar finding:

Leaving aside your own party preference, who do you think performed best overall in tonight’s debate? Gordon Brown 19% David Cameron 29% Nick Clegg 51% Don’t know 2%

Meanwhile Frank Luntz provided his "Instant Response" analysis for the Sun and the results tracked above:

The panel showed an overwhelming triumph for Nick Clegg. He had more soundbites, better context and was successful in differentiating himself from the other two

Some video highlights are available here.

April 14, 2010

Cameron Going to California


One item in the Tory manifesto has caught a few American bloggers' eyes: a pledge to institute "California-style" referendums on public policy issues if they can garner the support of 5% of the population. Alex Massie objects:

As commenters have pointed out and as California's experience demonstrates these can easily fall prey to powerful interest groups. This is especially so if the threshold for putting an issue on the ballot is too low. And 5% of available voters is, I'd hazard, too low. Apart from anything else experience suggests that you can get 10% of voters to believe in just about anything.

Consider this example from tonight's YouGov tracking poll: 11% of voters say they'd like to see a "Grand Coalition" in which the Tories, Labour and the Liberals share power. That's madness, obviously and a reminder that when turnout is too high or too low it can be heavily influenced by people who really ought not to be allowed anywhere near a polling place. The other problem, mind you, is that most of us are, on some given issue, one of those people...

Matthew Yglesias raises further competence concerns:

In general, I think the key to getting the political process right is to understand the importance of popular participation in consenting (or not) to policy proposals veruss the importance of technocratic design of policy proposals. The problem with California’s initiatives isn’t so much that the public gets to vote on them as that the actual proposals themselves are designed by interest-group advocates who aren’t accountable for the consequences of their ideas and generally lack the technical competence to draft sound proposals. One strength of parliamentary systems is that even rank-and-file legislators primarily have a consent (or not) role while policy design is in the hands of ministries

Personally, I think Kevin Drum has it right: since when did California become a model for good government?

(AP Photo)

April 13, 2010

Video of the Day

The election in Great Britain is shaping up to be an interesting contest:

To read about their policy prescriptions from the source you can see the Labour and Tory websites.

For more videos on topics from around the world, checkout the Real Clear World videos page.

April 12, 2010

Dueling Manifestos


British election wonkery begins in earnest as Labour released their manifesto today and the Conservatives prep for their manifesto launch tomorrow.

First, Labour:

Lord Mandelson, the business secretary, described the manifesto as "Blair plus".

The manifesto had been constructed under the conflicting pressures of severely constrained public finances, and the need to show that the government had not run out of energy.

In an effort to show its commitment to the poor, Labour made a series of pledges, including raising the national minimum wage, currently £5.80 an hour, at least in line with earnings to 2015. At present the minimum wage is linked to prices and the impact on employment, leading to a rise of only 13p this year.

The manifesto also sought to enshrine new rights for parents who want to change the running of their local schools, and new rights for patients seeking treatment on the NHS, including a guarantee of cancer test results within a week and a maximum wait of 18 weeks for specialist treatment. After that, private care would be offered.

On law and order, failing police forces could be taken over by successful neighbouring forces. The public would also be given a chance to have a say in what community sentences offenders would serve.

Full text of the Labour 2010 Manifesto here. (pdf)

Next, the Conservatives:

In a direct invitation to voters to join him in governing Britain, the Tory leader will promise in his election manifesto to offer California-style referendums on any local issue if residents can win the support of 5% of the population.

Adopting historic language from the Labour movement about the "collective strength" of society, Cameron will also pledge to let people "be your own boss" as public sector workers are allowed to assume ownership of the services they provide.

The 119-page Conservative manifesto, the first in recent history to be produced in the form of a hardback book, has a sober, dark blue cover intended to illustrate the gravity of the financial crisis facing Britain. But Tory sources said that, between the covers, the manifesto will paint a dramatic picture of the central theme of Cameron's leadership – his ambition to preside over a "Big Society" in which power is handed down to users of public services and voters at a local and national level.

We'll post the text of the Conservative manifesto when it's released.

(Photo: Cover of the Labour 2010 Manifesto)

April 7, 2010

Red Tory

Phillip Blond is sometimes called the brains behind David Cameron's "Progressive Conservatism." In this speech, he outlines the historical and philosophical context for his theory of "Red Toryism." Fascinating stuff:

It's the (British) Economy, Stupid

Angus Reid has a not-so-surprising poll canvassing British economic anxieties as the election gets underway:

Many adults in Britain believe the country has not rebounded from the global financial crisis, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 83 percent of respondents rate the economic conditions in the United Kingdom as poor or very poor.
Meanwhile, just 13% said the economy was in good or very good shape.

April 6, 2010

UK Election: May 6th


Gordon Brown's trip to the Queen to dissolve Parliament has kicked off Britain's general election season. We'll be following events closely here and on the home page. Be sure to check out the RCP British Election averages for the horse-race.

The BBC gives us the lay of the land:

To secure an overall majority, a party must win at least 326 seats. If no party succeeds in doing so, the result will be a hung Parliament.

After 13 years in power, Labour enters the election with a notional majority of 48 seats, meaning that a loss of 24 seats would see them lose their overall majority.

Whatever the result, the make-up of the House of Commons will change significantly following the election, with 144 MPs so far having announced that they will stand down.

Parliament will not be officially dissolved until Monday 12 April - MPs will spend this week getting remaining legislation, that the parties can agree on, through Parliament - a process known as the "wash-up".

(AP Photo)

April 2, 2010

Cameron on the Special Relationship


The Economist has a long interview up with David Cameron. Toward the end, in touches on the recent debate in Britain about whether the "special relationship" with the U.S. is really all that special:

The Economist: The old alliance with America - what do you make of the notion that it’s over?

David Cameron: I just don’t buy that. I think that, you know, one can get into sort of definitional problems. Is there a special relationship? Yes. Is it real, tangible - does it mean something? Yes. I think sometimes people, you know, you have to remember though we are the junior partner in that relationship and I think part of getting the relationship right is understanding how best to play the role of the junior partner. And I think there are times when leaders have done it very well and times when leaders haven’t done it so well. But does it still mean something? Yes, it does.

And I think you can see it in Afghanistan very clearly. I think, you know, on any number of issues you see Britain and America working very closely together, closer than with other allies, so I think it does still exist. I mean we don’t overstate it and don’t ever think that it’s a sort of equal partnership because it isn’t....

The Economist: Just to back up a little bit to the special relationship, did you experience any kind of disappointment or discomfort over the position that the Obama administration and Hillary Clinton took over the Falklands recently where they wanted us to negotiate with Argentina over the –

David Cameron: I thought it was disappointing, yes, but sometimes allies will not always agree. But I would want to make the point very strongly to them that if you believe in self-determination as a key part of the UN charter, then there’s the strongest possible case that the Falkland Islands should maintain under the sovereignty of Britain, because that is what the people who live there want. That’s what we went to war over.

In 1982, I was only three and a half – well, actually, I was 15, but I always thought it was just absolutely clear that there was just no justification for what Argentina was saying or doing and no justification to support it, because the population of the Falkland Islands want to be British. So I think it was disappointing, frankly, but I’ve always said the special relationship should be a frank and a candid one and I think you should frankly and candidly say we’re disappointed.

The Economist: There was a lot of fuss when Obama became President about how he has this grudge against the British because of our –

David Cameron: I don’t agree. I don’t believe it.

The Economist: You don’t believe it?

David Cameron: I think he bore a grudge because British Airways lost his luggage when he first went to Afghanistan.

The Economist: But it seemed to be with no justification that he removed the bust of Churchill from the Oval Office. That all seemed to me to be a bit overdone, but one does look at this, as you say, key part of our national interest and we are the second-biggest contributor to the forces in Afghanistan, as we were in Iraq and one does wonder if over this black and white issue, as you see it, they take a different view, actually what is this relationship worth?

David Cameron: Well, go back to the Falklands War and you can remember how much it was worth, because the Americans gave us a huge amount of help in terms of military and logistics and all the rest of it. So at the key moments I would always say that the relationship has proven to us. It did during the great Atlantic alliance; it has over NATO; it did over the Cold War; it did over the Falklands. Have there been ups and downs? Yes. Grenada, Charles Powell tells me the story that Reagan was holding the phone out here because Thatcher was shouting so much. The relationship will have its ups and downs. Clearly, America has a very strong interest in maintaining very friendly and strong relations with all the countries in South America and so there’s a clash, there’s a grinding of wheels there, but we just need to be clear to our best and oldest friend how strongly we feel about this.

Cameron seems to have a measured take on this tempest in a teapot. Unlike some people.

(AP Photo)

April 1, 2010

Gordon Brown, Hard Man


On, ahem, April 1, the Guardian has learned of a new campaign strategy by Labour to portray Gordon Brown as a tough guy:

One tactic being discussed involves provoking a physical confrontation at one of the three ground-breaking TV debates between the candidates. In this scenario, Brown, instead of responding to a point made by Cameron, would walk over from his microphone with an exaggerated silent display of self-control, bring his face to within an inch of the Tory leader's, and in a subdued voice, ask "what did you just say?", before delivering a single well-aimed blow to his opponent's face, followed by a headlock if required.

The bloodied and bruised Cameron could then be whisked to a nearby hospital, where a previously briefed team of doctors and nurses would demonstrate the efficiency and compassion of the NHS under a Labour government.

March 30, 2010

Critics and Consistency


Responding to French President Nicolas Sarkozy's backhanded praise for American health care reform, Kevin Drum writes:

Sarkozy was something of a darling of the right when he was first elected, thanks to his support of laissez-faire economics and general embrace of American values. But the financial collapse of 2008 turned him into something of a regulatory hawk, and now there's this. I'll bet the American right doesn't think much of him anymore.

I'm not so sure. So long as he - or any leader of an allied country, for that matter - continues to criticize President Obama's performance abroad, I think the critics will continue to find praise, warranted or unwarranted, for Sarkozy.

I think this goes back to a point we've made repeatedly here on this blog, and that is that the president's critics have thus far demonstrated a serious lack of consistency when it comes to foreign policy. Neoconservatives in particular have been bemoaning the cultural and global decline of Europe for nearly a decade, but once administrations changed, so too did the tone.

This makes for some oddly inconsistent rhetoric, particularly from the right. So either Obama fails to meet the Sarkozy standard, or he leads a party too heavily influenced by the French. What does that even mean? Does it have to mean anything? Probably not; we're talking about the world of politics after all, where things needn't make sense in order to be repeated over and over again.

(AP Photo)

March 29, 2010

Whither the Special Relationship?


The House of Commons report on U.S.-UK ties that Kevin linked to below is sure to generate further angst about the state of America's alliances. But, in this case at least, such angst is probably unwarranted.

You can just as easily read the report as saying "no more Iraqs." That is, the U.S. can't simply assume British support for any policy Washington endorses. This might be bad news for those pining for a war with Iran, but from a UK perspective at least, why wouldn't they want to preserve a little more flexibility? The report also states:

"We must be realistic and accept that globalisation, structural changes and shifts in geopolitical power will inevitably affect the UK-US relationship".

That sounds reasonable enough to me. It's worth remembering that there have been a number of much more serious flare-ups in U.S.-UK relations than President Obama's reported "coolness" to Great Britain (Mark Tran has a nice run down of them here). I don't think there's any reason to seriously worry about the fundamentals.

Will Inboden disagrees somewhat, saying the relationship is suffering from neglect on both sides of the Atlantic:

Yet the Special Relationship is "not dead yet." There are opportunities here for political leaders in both countries. President Obama, as I have written before, should seize the initiative and set up an official visit with whichever man wins the U.K. elections on May 6, as soon as the new Prime Minister is determined (still most likely to be David Cameron). Last Sunday, Shadow Foreign Minister William Hague and Foreign Minister David Miliband held a Sky News television debate, which revealed few substantial differences between Labour and the Tories on national security policy. Now this foolish House of Commons report offers a chance for Cameron and Hague to draw a clear distinction between their party and Labour.

I personally don't see this becoming a huge issue in British politics, but it would certainly be interesting to watch if it did.

UPDATE: Writing in the Times, John Charmley takes a more jaundiced view of the special relationship:

After being dropped straight into the guano at Suez in 1956, Eden wondered in his memoirs whether it would have served Britain better if we had taken a leaf from de Gaulle’s book and treated the Americans mean to keep them keen. Now even this committee of MPs has realised that behaving like a love-struck co-dependent only works when the object of that dependency reciprocates.

To be fair to the Americans, they have long made their attitude clear: the sudden end of lend-lease in 1945; insisting on interest on the loan Britain begged them for in 1946; leaving us and the French dangling at Suez; insisting that we should join the Common Market; and even when the Argentinians invaded British territory in 1982, President Reagan had to be pushed by his Defence Secretary out of neutrality. One might have thought then that an inability to be able to distinguish between a nasty dictatorship and an ally might have given the British Government a clue to the real nature of the Anglo-American relationship.

(AP Photo)

All Politics Is Loco, Ctd.

So last week I lamented the fact that Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds seemed to be letting his own personal dislike for a particular politician cloud his better judgment. Well that same disdain now appears to be affecting his vision.

Linking to a Times piece on a recent assessment of the U.S.-UK "special relationship," Reynolds adds, in obvious reference to the Obama administration:

Yeah, so far this “smart diplomacy” thing isn’t living up to the promises
The article is sensationally titled "It’s over: MPs say the special relationship with US is dead." It's also, seemingly, the only part Reynolds actually read. Let's see what this report - compiled by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee - has to say about Mr. Obama's foreign policy blunders. From the actual article:
The report also warns that the perception of the UK after the Iraq war as America’s “subservient poodle” has been highly damaging to Britain’s reputation and interests around the world. The MPs conclude that British prime ministers have to learn to be less deferential to US presidents and be “willing to say no” to America.

The report, entitled Global Security: UK-US Relations, says Britain’s relationship with America is “extremely close and valuable” in a number of areas, particularly intelligence co-operation. However, it adds that the use of the phrase special relationship, in its historical sense, “is potentially misleading and we recommend that its use should be avoided”.

In an apparent rebuke to Tony Blair and his relationship with President George W Bush, the report says there are “many lessons” to be learnt from Britain’s political approach towards the US over Iraq.

“The perception that the British government was a subservient poodle to the US administration is widespread both among the British public and overseas,” the MPs say. “This perception, whatever its relation to reality, is deeply damaging to the reputation and interests of the UK.”

While the relationship between the American president and the British prime minister was an important part of dealings between the two countries, the cabinet and parliament also had a role to play. “The UK needs to be less deferential and more willing to say no to the US on those issues where the two countries’ interests and values diverge,” the MPs say.

They are also critical of the US use of extraordinary rendition and torture. The report calls for a comprehensive review of the use by the CIA of British bases, such as that on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, to carry out extraordinary rendition.

So the article, citing the perception of British subservience to American interests during the Blair and Bush administrations, could just as easily have been titled "Picking Up the Pieces: Challenges Facing the Brown and Obama administrations." Obviously, for dramatic, contemporary effect, the Times went in another direction editorially.

As I noted in my first post, I'm certainly not naive to the realities of political and ideological gamesmanship, but this is still disappointing coming from a smart guy with such reach and ability to influence people.

It's also kind of sloppy. If I, for the sake of argument, were to misleadingly title a post "Glenn Reynolds doesn't read the articles he links to," and then provided an entirely different item for my evidence, I sure hope someone would read it and call me out on that.

Let's hope Reynolds updates with a correction.

March 27, 2010

The Transactional Special Relationship

I've said my piece on the Israel-East Jerusalem-Biden-Bibi-Obama kerfuffle, but I wanted to highlight this projection made by Peter Wehner on U.S.-Israeli relations down the road:

Because of what is unfolding, there will be significant injury to our relationship with Israel. But it is also doing considerable damage to America’s moral standing. At its best, America stands for the right things and stands beside the right friends. In distancing us from Israel, Obama is distancing America from a nation that has sacrificed more for peace, and suffered more for their sacrifices, than any other. It is a deeply discouraging thing to see. And it is dangerous, too. Hatred for Israel is a deep and burning fire throughout the world. We should not be adding kindling wood to that fire.

I'm not entirely indifferent to this argument, and a similar point was made in one of our comment threads. Perhaps it is true that critics of America's relationship with Israel have glossed over the benefits - both tangible and not so tangible - in the relationship, while at the same time placing too much emphasis on the military aid provided. Let's, for the sake of argument, grant that.

The problem however with this argument is that the United States has had diplomatic brouhahas with allies that predate the Israeli relationship; allies with which we also share democratic ideals, not to mention the sharing of intelligence and other more tangible items. We had one of these blowups with Britain just recently. But the U.S.-U.K. relationship will endure - despite any harsh words and tough rhetoric exchanged - because the inherent value and history in the relationship is stronger than any contemporary flare-ups.

What then does it say of the U.S.-Israel relationship that one side cannot endure even the slightest of criticism from its most precious and "special" ally? Why do analysts like Peter Whener consider a passing kerfuffle to be a crisis if our ideals are so in sync?

Critics talk as though Obama is the first president to tie aid and support to policy, which he most certainly isn't. And were Washington's relationship with Israel a normal, healthy one, this wouldn't be such a problem. The idea that friends and allies can critique each other isn't, as Larison notes, a new one. And it makes sense that countries will apply conditions to foreign aid that are consistent with that country's interests and ideals. America does this with its other allies, as does China. But our special relationship with Israel is different and is, as a result, far more "special" - and peculiar.

So allow me to make my own prediction: the United States will continue to provide a large and unique sum of military aid to Israel, the two countries will continue to operate in conjunction on specific threats, such as Iran, and - sadly, by my view - the status quo will remain the status quo for the indefinite future. Israel will be no more "isolated" than it already is, and Jerusalem will continue to be indifferent to this isolation so long as the United States continues to hand it unqualified military support on an annual basis.

March 24, 2010

Is Euro-Skepticism a Tory Liability?

Daniel Larison follows up on yesterday's post on the UK elections: of the common themes in a lot of Tory Euroskeptic rhetoric is that Britain should align itself more and more closely with the United States and keep its distance from Europe. This view has an intelligent, learned exponent in John Redwood and a ridiculous, ideological one in Daniel Hannan. Regardless, the most reliably “pro-American” Tories are typically the biggest Euroskeptics, and Europhile Tories tend to be more critical of U.S. policy. The question is not whether a Euroskeptic-led Britain will be “relevant” or valuable to the United States (there is far more to the relationship that London’s ability to act as go-between with other Europeans), but whether the British electorate will be satisfied with a foreign policy that tilts more towards Washington than towards Brussels in ways that most British voters don’t like and which seems to get Britain nothing in exchange.

March 23, 2010

Does a Tory Win Spike the Special Relationship?


Max Bergmann argues that David Cameron's Euro-skepticism will hurt him with the U.S. should he prevail in the forthcoming British election:

The problem for the United States, however, is that Cameron’s anti-European stance would only serve to make Britain less relevant to the United States. The fact is that the UK is just not as relevant to the United States if it is on the sidelines of Europe.

British debates presenting UK relationships with the US and Europe, as competing alternatives offer a false and outdated choice. In case the UK hasn’t noticed, US policy toward Europe has shifted away from the divide and rule (old vs. new Europe) approach of the first Bush term. The US now wants Europe as a whole to do more globally, not less.

I'm not so sure about this. That's not to say this isn't the administration's thinking, but whether such an outlook is justified in the first place. First, I would think that the events of the last few months (hello Greece) would serve to reinforce Euro-skepticism, not undermine it. Does Europe really need another powerful voice pulling it in multiple directions?

Second, when you consider that the EU is unable to actually assist one of its own member states, I'm not quite sure how helpful the Obama administration can truly expect the EU to be particularly since, as noted above, it's consumed by its own rather significant problems.

(AP Photo)

March 15, 2010

France & Britain: The Entente Cordiale

The Financial Times' has a lengthy analysis of British and French moves to better coordinate their defense strategy and military procurements:

Geopolitics too are forcing Paris and London to think harder about their common future. Britain has long cherished its “special relationship” with the US. There is little doubt that London, in the years to come, will continue to regard Washington as its strategic partner of choice. But fears have been growing since President Barack Obama took office that the US no longer sees the relationship as so “special”, and that Washington’s security focus is moving away from Europe, which has proved too weak an ally in Afghanistan, and towards China.

France too is rethinking its alliances. “President Nicolas Sarkozy has taken France into Nato, a factor that makes co-operation with Britain easier,” says Etienne de Durand of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales in Paris. “But France is also coming to terms with Germany’s unwillingness to spend more on military capabilities. France is therefore recognising that, for now, pan-European defence structures are unlikely to do more than short-term crisis management.”

One of the central articles of faith in American security policy is that absent the overt presence, preponderance and guarantee of U.S. military power, harmful arms races will ensue. But as the Financial Times piece makes clear, the opposite is happening, at least with respect to Britain and France. Faced with budgetary constraints and evident uncertainty about America's commitment, France and Britain are exploring cooperative ways to make declining defense budgets go further while still retaining military capabilities far superior to most countries. They aren't surrendering to the enemy dejure or clamoring to piggyback with China. They're adapting.

UPDATE: The other thing to add is that Germany, far from rearming and threatening Europe (as was feared even during the unwinding of the Cold War), is doing the opposite.

March 11, 2010

Photography in Britain

For a country that has 4.2 million CCTV cameras filming its citizens every move, Richard Woods reports that Britain is becoming a very inhospitable place for ordinary photographers not associated with the state's surveillance apparatus.

March 4, 2010

Argentina's Angle


Today's Washington Post asks, what can Argentina gain from another Falklands dispute?

YOU KNOW that an Argentine leader must be in political trouble if the subject of the Falkland Islands has come up again. In this case the beleaguered president is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose populist administration in Buenos Aires has lost the support of most of the country. Hosting Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Buenos Aires on Monday, Ms. Fernández de Kirchner requested that the United States mediate Argentina's dispute with Britain over the islands, which lie about 400 miles off Argentina's southern coast but have been governed from London since 1833.
So far so good; However, the WaPo editorial board makes a factual mistake in saying:
Ms. Clinton responded by urging the two sides to talk, while wisely sidestepping the mediation suggestion.
There was nothing wise, and there was no sidestepping. As I mentioned yesterday, Hillary played right into Cristina's hands by agreeing to the Argentinian president's position that Britain negotiate against the will of Falkland's citizens, and subject itself to the whim of UN resolutions and the Marxist-controlled decolonization committees.

The WaPo points out that:

Such studied neutrality is in keeping with traditional U.S. policy on the Falklands -- though it's worth remembering that mistaken interpretation of signals from Washington helped produce Argentina's disastrous 1982 invasion.
Hillary's "studied neutrality" may be opening that can of worms again in the region.

Hillary also arrived just in time to back the losing team: Yesterday the Kirchners officially lost the congressional majority they had had in Congress for the past seven years, when the opposition parties formed a coalition:

In this case, it's hard to see why the Obama administration should throw any lifelines to Ms. Fernández de Kirchner, who hasn't shrunk from playing to anti-American sentiment around the region.
The Obama administration's blunder on this issue has damaged the U.S.-Britain relationship by essentially selling them down the river:
Unfortunately there is no sign that the White House and the State Department understand that their reckless stance on the Falklands is significantly damaging the relationship with Great Britain. I hope they wake up before it’s too late, and realize that America has no truer friend than the British people, and that siding with Britain’s enemies is a spectacular miscalculation that is fundamentally against the U.S. national interest.
Don't hold your breath waiting that they do.

Fausta Wertz blogs at Fausta's blog.

(AP Photo)

March 3, 2010

Sec. Clinton vs. Great Britain


Alex Massie channels a number of British writers in deploring Secretary Clinton's take on the Falklands dispute between Argentina and Britain.

During her swing through Argentina, Clinton said:

We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down. Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed. So we will be saying this publicly, as I have been, and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place.

To which Massie replies:

That may seem innocuous or a simple piece of diplomatic boilerplate. But it isn't. Hillary could, perhaps at the risk of disappointing her hosts, have said that this is an issue upon which the United States has no view. But she didn't. "Needs", for instance, is a pretty strong word.

The British position, right or not, is that there really isn't very much to talk about at all. Consequently, any American endorsement of talks is an endorsement of the Argentine position and not, however innocuous it might seem, a neutral view.

It's not clear whether Secretrary Clinton's formulation was intentional (although the State Department has said much the same thing) but hopefully they realize that it has been counter-productive. More importantly, the impulse to wade into every dispute and be ever-so-helpful is often not so helpful at all.

February 26, 2010

Health Care and American Power

In response to my post from yesterday, our friends over at the sans-green Daily Dish send along this Times piece by Anatole Kaletsky. In it, Kaletsky argues that the future of the American economy - and thus, American leadership around the world - rests on the results of yesterday's health care summit in Washington:

If nothing is done to change the US healthcare system, it can be stated with mathematical certainty that the US Government and many leading US companies will be driven into bankruptcy, a fate that befell General Motors and Chrysler largely because of their inability to meet retired workers’ contractually guaranteed medical costs.

Today’s summit represents Mr Obama’s last chance to find a way forward, either by shaming some Republicans into supporting him or by embarrassing his own perennially divided Democratic Party into uniting around a single plan. If he is unable to do this, he will have almost no chance of passing any significant legislation on any other issue—– not on energy, budgetary responsibility, macroeconomic management or even on such seemingly popular issues as bank regulation and jobs.

In short, Mr Obama has staked his entire presidency on today’s summit.

I don't know that this passes political or economic muster. I am no economist, so all I'll add here is that, to my knowledge, the largest economy in continental Europe, Germany, has been dealing with an aging and entitled work force for years. While economic discontent at home can of course impact all forms of policy - including foreign - I don't know that it has had any effect at all on Germany's role in Europe and around the world, respectively. On the contrary, Angela Merkel seems to have become more globally assertive in the face of Western financial crisis.

As for the politics, I believe the general consensus is that yesterday's summit moved no one and only further entrenched actors and voters in their respective camps.

Kaletsky goes on:

Gridlock over healthcare would imply similar stalemates on taxes, public spending, the budget, macroeconomic stimulus and financial reform. As a result, an active response to any future financial crisis might become impossible. Even worse, any important action to control US government borrowing could be ruled out. If the financial markets seriously reached this conclusion, all the debates about government debt and public spending in Britain, Greece and other countries would be a waste of breath. A genuine loss of confidence in America’s fiscal outlook would create a financial crisis so horrific that actions by the British or European governments would be swept away like beach huts in a tsunami.


Did the United States not fight and win a world war in the face of economic depression and peril? Did economic ebb and flow affect the way in which the world perceived American leadership during the Cold War, or during the current War on Terrorism? Perhaps it did, which is why I open the floor up here to trade and economy wonks to fill in the gaps.

But I remain incredulous.

February 24, 2010

Video of the Day

If Hugo Chavez was not a virtual dictator of an important country in Latin America, I would say that he would be one of the funniest comedians in Latin America:

There is so much to chuckle about here, including addressing the Queen as if she controls British policy. Just in case you were wondering, though, the last time Argentina had any settlements in the Falklands was the 1830s. Now it is basically a huge sheep farm, with a population of about 3,000, all of whom speak English. So why care about the Falklands? You guessed it: Oil.

For more videos from around the world, check out the Real Clear World videos page.

Targets and Tactics, Ctd.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni on the Dubai hit:

“Every terrorist must know that no one will support him when a soldier, and it doesn’t matter what soldier, tries to kill him, whether it is in the Gaza Strip, Afghanistan or Dubai,” Livni said. “I don’t expect the world to welcome the killing of terrorists, but I do expect the world to not criticize it.”

Livni said she did not know who was responsible for the killing of Mabhouh. She mocked the criticism Israel has taken from the international community for the assassination.

“What was disproportionate this time?” she asked. “Was there a disproportionate use of passports?"

And were every terrorist of equal value or consequence, Ms. Livni might have a valid point here. But as Larison explained a few days ago, Hamas is in fact a political reality that Israel must accept. If this assassination actually brought Israel closer to a political resolution in Palestine, then I'd say the consequences of stealing passports and carrying out a hit with total disregard for its allies were well worth it for Israel.

But what has this assassination actually accomplished? Will it deter Iranian weapons sales to Hamas? Not likely. Does it deter Hamas? Not likely. Has it created yet another martyr for Hamas to parade around the Gaza Strip? You bet.

George Friedman of STRATFOR explains:

We are not writing this as pacifists; we do not believe the killing of enemies is to be avoided. And we certainly do not believe that the morally incoherent strictures of what is called international law should guide any country in protecting itself. What we are addressing here is the effectiveness of assassination in waging covert warfare. Too frequently, it does not, in our mind, represent a successful solution to the military and political threat posed by covert organizations. It might bring an enemy to justice, and it might well disrupt an organization for a while or even render a specific organization untenable. But in the covert wars of the 20th century, the occasions when covert operations - including assassinations - achieved the political ends being pursued were rare. That does not mean they never did. It does mean that the utility of assassination as a main part of covert warfare needs to be considered carefully. Assassination is not without cost, and in war, all actions must be evaluated rigorously in terms of cost versus benefit.

In short, actions have consequences, and thus the benefits of those actions had better outweigh the consequences. I see no evidence that this murder, while no doubt gratifying, has actually gained Israel much of anything.

But then again, Washington is as much to blame for this, as we provide no serious oversight or regulation to go along with the tremendous sums of money and military aid we provide to Israel. The cost/benefit of leaving one terrorist dead in Dubai likely never factored into the calculation, because why should it? Who cares what the United Arab Emirates thinks? The UK? Whatever, they'll fall in line.

Of course, a truly global war against asymmetric enemies indifferent to borders and conventional conflict cannot be prosecuted in this fashion. If this is, as Ms. Livni argues, all one big war of good against evil, then the good guys need to talk to each other. They need to trust each other. They need to grow their own ranks. None of that was accomplished in Dubai.

A true War on Terror requires allies and principles. The United States learned this lesson the hard way in Iraq, but it's one Israel refuses to ever learn.

U.S. Embassy in London, Now with Moat


This is a kind of sad testament to the modern world, isn't it:

A moat 30 metres (100ft) wide and rolling parkland will separate the building from the main road, protecting it from would-be bombers and removing the need for the blast barriers that so dismayed the people of Mayfair.

The State Department sought to play down the cost of security measures, noting the expense of London building work. But the price puts the London embassy above the US’s most fortified missions, including the Baghdad embassy, which cost $600 million (£390 million) but required a further $100 million of work on air conditioning, and the Islamabad embassy, still under construction, which has cost more than $850 million.

No word on whether the moat will be populated with alligators (though it obviously should).

(AP Photo)

February 5, 2010

Everything You Wanted to Know About British Sentiment

Dying to know how Brits feel about their two major political parties? The firm Ipsos-MORI has assembled and studied a year's worth of polling data to give us a sketch of Britain's political leanings:

Over 2009, the Conservatives maintained a comfortable lead over Labour, averaging a 42% share among those certain to vote, compared to Labour's 26% and the Liberal Democrats' 19%.These figures are closely in line with the average of the 128 published polls conducted by all the polling companies in 2009, which found an average share of 41% for the Conservatives, 27% for Labour and 18% for the Liberal Democrats.

Just over half the public, 51%, said they would be absolutely certain to vote in an immediate general election, but Conservative supporters were more likely to be certain to vote (66%) than those supporting Labour (52%) or the Liberal Democrats (59%). It is this turnout advantage that provides much of the Conservative lead: taking the views of all those who expressed a voting intention regardless of their likelihood of voting, the Tories' lead over Labour was only 37% to 30%, with the Liberal Democrats on 19%.

Does not bode well for Gordon Brown.

February 1, 2010

A Map of British Military Deployments

The Times of London has a neat graphic showing Britain's current defense deployments here (pdf). Meanwhile, Gordon Brown will be upping Britain's defense spending:

Gordon Brown will put two new aircraft carriers at the heart of his vision for the military this week as he commits Labour to billions of pounds of extra defence spending.

At the same time, defence chiefs are exploring how closer military links with France and the potential benefits of an entente cordiale could tackle future dangers with limited resources.

January 29, 2010

Tony Blair's 9/11 Defense


Appearing before the Chilcot Inquiry, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair defended his decision to join the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

Looking greyer than when he was in office, Blair told the inquiry that the British and American view changed "dramatically" after 9/11.

"Here's what changed for me: the whole calculus of risk," he said. "The point about this terrorist act was over 3,000 people had been killed, an absolutely horrific event. But if these people, inspired by this religious fanaticism, could have killed 30,000, they would have [done].

Blair went on to argue that Saddam's WMD program was an intolerable risk after 9/11. This is a fairly common line of argument regarding Iraq but it doesn't hold up logically. What 9/11 demonstrated was precisely the opposite - that no state would dare run the risk of attacking the United States directly, or providing aid to a terrorist group with the purpose of striking such a blow. The only government al Qaeda could count on for any official support was the Taliban and to call them a government is a fairly charitable description.

Al Qaeda proved to be such a lethal menace precisely because it had no state sponsor and no territorial vulnerability. The idea that 9/11 proved that deterrence was futile is erroneous, if anything, 9/11 confirmed that deterrence is still a viable concept, at least when dealing with states.

But there is also an element of the absurd in pointing to Iraq as a potential source of WMD for al Qaeda. Shortly after 9/11, we learned that Pakistani nuclear scientists had met with bin Laden. We learned further that Pakistan's chief nuclear engineer had created an extensive black market peddling nuclear material and blueprints for constructing nuclear weapons. We knew for a fact that Pakistan was a nuclear weapons state, while no one seriously believed that Saddam had a nascent, let alone functional, nuclear program.

If there was any state where one could make a plausible claim about the potential for WMD to be slipped to al Qaeda, it would have been Pakistan, not Iraq.

(AP Photo)

January 25, 2010

British Film to Mock Suicide Bombers

This has the makings of another Danish cartoon brew-ha-ha:

It's from the film Four Lions, about a hapless group of British suicide bombers. The Guardian has a review.

January 14, 2010

Can Gordon Brown Learn from Dominos?


Alex Massie looks to pizza for guidance in rejuvenating the beleaguered British Prime Minister:

And remember, Domino's don't have to make great pizza, they just need to make pizza that is competitive with, or no less unpleasant, than that offered by Pizza Hut and their other competitors. In the political arena, Labour don't need to be good, they just need to be competitive with the Tories (aka Pizza Hut).

Granted, slamming and then reinventing your own brand is a last-ditch strategy. But it's not as though Labour have many attractive options.

Pizza is an endless font of wisdom.

(AP Photos)

January 13, 2010

RCW Video of the Day

On the heels of this post on European defense spending, comes a report out of Great Britain:

If Great Britain does cut its troop levels to 140,000 it would mean that fewer that 2 out of 1000 people in their country would be under arms. Perhaps more importantly, such a low troop level will make it likely that one of the United States closest allies would be unable to support more than one small contingency operation at a time, outside its own borders.

For more videos on the latest issues from around the world check out the RCW video page.

January 11, 2010

Views on Cameron, Sarkozy


Angus Reid passes along the latest polling:

Few adults in France are expressing positive views on their president, according to a poll by TNS-Sofres published in Le Figaro Magazine. 32 per cent of respondents have confidence in Nicolas Sarkozy to face France’s problems, down seven points since October.

In addition, 37 per cent of respondents have confidence in French prime minister François Fillon.

Across the Channel, things look better for David Cameron:

Two-in-five Britons choose a positive word to describe the leader of the Conservative party, according to a poll by Angus Reid Public Opinion. 42 per cent of respondents think David Cameron is intelligent.

Conversely, 48 per cent of respondents think current prime minister Gordon Brown is out of touch, and 46 per cent deem him boring. In addition, 28 per cent of respondents consider Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg as intelligent, and 22 per cent believe he is open.

Personally, I think "boring" isn't necessarily a terrible quality to have in a leader.

(AP Photos)

January 7, 2010

RCW Video of the Day

It looks as though the game is afoot in London:

Even though they were beaten back, internal troubles like these are similar to the announcements of retirement in the United States. It seems to signal that an election is likely to be called and how the election will play out, especially given that the Tories are already running campaign ads.

For more videos on the latest issues from around the world check out the RCW video page.