Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 28th November, 2012
Though many — perhaps too many — Brits rub their hands in glee that the UK is not part of the troubled eurozone, and therefore may sometimes benefit from currency fluctuations, only UKIP MEPs and other delusionists could relish the thought of the single currency’s collapse. “Europe”, as so many in Britain continue to refer to the Continent, as if we are somehow not part of it, is still the biggest single market for British goods and is likely to remain so for some time, despite the rise of the BRICs — Brazil, Russia, India and China. Moreover, those who would like us to become another Norway, being part of the European economic area but having no say in the rules and regulations that govern it, are positively unpatriotic, in my view. I was glad that Vicky Pryce, former Chief Economist at the Department of Trade and Industry and later working with Vince Cable at the Department of Business and Skills, stressed, at a Pizza and Politics put on by Islington Liberal Democrats this evening, that the UK is far better in than out when it comes to the EU. The author of a recently acclaimed book, Greekonomics*, she has since her departure from government employment become something of a guru on what is happening in Europe’s economy, with particular in relation to Greece, whence she originally hails. Indeed, she is forever popping up on the TV and radio as the one commentator who knows what she is talking about on the subject, yet does not slag off her compatriots as good-for-nothing lazy tax-dodgers. That is, alas, the image still in the minds of many Germans, for example, though they would do well to acknowledge just how well Germany has done out of the single currency — selling goods left, right and centre — even if they are now expected to bail out the declining European periphery. I was struck by Vicky’s comments about the possibility of the need for a debt write-off for Greece and possibly some others, as their debt levels are unsustainable and will only drive them further into the sloough of despond. I was reminded so strongly as she spoke of the Latin American debt crisis that I used to commentate on for the BBC in the late 1980s. I asked her whether she could ever envisage Britain during the euro — as Peter Mandelson, amongst others, have suggested. She was cautious about the possibility — more so than myself — but she didn’t rule it out completely.
* Biteback Publishing
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: EU, euro, eurozone, Germany, Greece, Greekonomics, Islington Liberal Democrats, Peter Mandelson, single currency, Vicky Pryce, Vince Cable | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 21st August, 2011
There are many good reasons not to read the Times, Rupert Murdoch being the most obvious. But one of that newspaper’s best features for some years now has been the output of political cartoonist Peter Brookes. Like all the best of his breed, he is topical, irreverent and puts the boot in where it’s needed. Unlike some cartoonists, however, he draws charicatures that are clearly identifiable, no matter how far-fetched the distortion. I think particularly of his Nature Notes, which have, for example, featured Harriet Harman as a praying mantis, Nicolas Sarkozy as a cockerel on stilts and Hazel Blears as a snail. No-one of any political party or natonality is free from his humorous barbs. Fortunately, every so often his very best cartoons appear in beautifully reproduced full-colour collections such as the one I have been savouring this afternoon: The Best of Times… (JR Books, London, 2009; £15.99). Peter Brookes holds no-one sacred, be it the Pope, the Queen or Barack Obama. Moreover, his willingness to get right to the bone prompts outright guffaws, such as his drawing of a very smug Bill Clinton declaring: ‘Fellow Democrats, trust me! Would I ever leave a sour taste in you mouth?!’ Because the volume covers the final years of the last Labour government, both Tony Blair (over Iraq) and Gordon Brown (portrayed naked on a sofa, in a pastiche of Lucian Freud’s ‘Benefit Supervisor Sleeping’) get it in the neck. I particularly love the image of a manic Cherie Blair, with terrifying grin, typing her autobiography on an old-fashioned cash register. And there is an unfogettable image of John Prescott impaled by a croquet hoop on a croquet lawn while Peter Mandelson aims a ball straight between his legs. As Liberal Democrats were not yet in government, they don’t fgure very much in this collection, apart from poor old Ming Campbell drawn alongside a Thora Hird-style stair-lift and Nick Clegg as a bird called the Great Shag. But I am sure there will be lots for LibDems to groan and giggle over by the time the next collection of Peter Brookes’s work comes out.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Cherie Blair, Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman, Hazel Blears, John Prescott, JRBooks, Lucian Freud, Ming Campbell, Nick Clegg, Nicolas Sarkozy, Peter Brookes, Peter Mandelson, Rupert Murdoch, The Times, Thora Hird, Tony Blair | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th February, 2011
The Policy Network arranged an impressive line-up at a seminar on the Future of Europe at Bloomberg’s headquarters in the City on Friday, including Lords Mandelson and Liddle, Vince Cable, Sharon Bowles MEP and EU Commissioner Laszlo Andor. Their definition of ‘Europe’ was narrow, in the sense that the discussion was all about the European Union — and much of it about the future of the eurozone. Fears were expressed that as the eurozone expands, to take in some of the more recent EU members which have not yet satisfied the criteria for joining the single curency, Britain will be increasingly isolated and exposed. It was also stressed that there is still work to be done to implement the single market, and that further expansion of the EU, to take in predominantly young candidate states — notably Turkey — is desirable. One session of the day-long seminar examined what citizens want from the European institutions; there is not just a democratic deficit in the EU but also a lot of work to be done before European citizens really feel engagement with what the EU is for, what it does. Peter Mandelson declared that people on both sides of the Channel essentially want the same things: a secure and prosperous life, in which they enjoy the freedom of choice. But everyone was aware of how difficult it is to persuade a substantial proportion of the British public that Euro-scepticism is misguided.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Bloomberg, Laszlo Andor, Peter Mandelson, Policy Network, Roger Liddle, Vince Cable | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 10th January, 2010
Tomorow a series of Question and Answer sessions will begin in the European Parliament, to see if it will approve the nominees for the next European Commission. Each nominated Commissioner will have a three hour grilling, starting with Cathy Ashton from noon to 3pm tomorrow. Baroness Ashton — who was briefly Leader of the House of Lords before being catapulted over to Brussels to replace Peter Mandelson as EU Trade Commissioner, when he was brought back into the Labour government in Britain — was the somewhat suprising choice for the new High Representative for EU Foreign Policy; suprising given her relative lack of experience in foreign affairs. She will also become a Vice-President of the Commission, if approved. However, she has impressed quite a lot of people in Brussels with her quiet ability, so it will be interesting to see how she performs in the Parliament’s spotlight. It’s a good thing that the MEPs can block the nomination of the Commission if they don’t like what they see, though the grotesque situation at present is that if they have objections they have to reject the lot, not just one or two, which clearly needs to be changed.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Cathy Ashton, European Commission, European Parliament, Peter Mandelson | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 30th July, 2009
The likelihood of a US-style televised debate at the next British general election has moved a step closer, with the Conservative leader David Cameron declaring that he would be happy for it to be a threesome, with Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. Previously, the prevailing notion was to exclude the leader of the Liberal Democrats, but that would now be seen as grossly unjust, as the LibDems have not only consolidated their position as a strong third force in British politics but they actually pushed Labour into third place in the county council elections last month. However, the $64,000 question is: will the Prime Minister agree to take part? Up until now, the indications have been negative, but (Lord) Peter Mandelson — Britain’s unelected Head of Government while Mr Brown is on holiday — has this week indicated otherwise. Perhaps the Scottish Sourpuss will be tempted to make a last-ditch stand to try to seize victory from the jaws of defeat, like John Major and his soapbox did — only didn’t. It’s a shame that a TV debate might further encourage British politics towards the presidential. And seen from multicultural London, it’s a pity that all three party leaders are middle class white men in the 40-60 age bracket, but if it encourages more electors to think about the issues at the election, and to vote, then, hey — let’s go for it!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: David Cameron, Gordon Brown, John Major, Nick Clegg, Peter Mandelson | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 3rd December, 2008
‘Are you happy, Peter?’ Gordon Brown asked Lord Mandelson the other day. ‘If you are happy, then I am happy,’ the Prince of Darkness replied. Rather an odd exchange, one might think. But even odder was the fact that Peter Mandelson began his Hugo Young Lecture at Chatham House this evening with this anecdote. Some politicians effectively do self-deprecation. But Peter Mandelson flirts with an audience. Some of the ladies present, their heads perhaps lightened by a quickly-downed glass of wine at the pre-lecture reception, purred appreciatively. Several of the gentlemen scowled.
Mandelson’s subject was ‘Globalisation and the Crunch: What Lessons for Politics in Europe?’, a title that reflected not only the financial concerns of the day, but also the fact that the speaker was still European Commissioner for Trade when he was invited. One might have imagined that he would give a speech worthy of a European Commisioner, but not a bit of it. It was New Labour this and New Labour that; the Spin-meister is back with a vengeance. New Labour is not in favour of big government or small government (unlike the wicked Tories), the gist of what he said went. Instead, it is promoting ‘smart government’. He obviously cherishes this term — indeed, he may well have invented it himself — as he repeated it several times. ‘Smart government means using our existing resources better,’ he intoned.
Things perked up at question time. He was asked if EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso was correct when he declared the other day that several senior people in the British government were starting to think about euro membership once again. Out came the pat response that the government is still in favour of joining the euro at some stage, ‘but it’s not on the radar screen, and the radar screen is very crowded at present’. When my old Brussels colleague John Palmer pressed him on whether he thought that Gordon Brown’s famous five tests for Britain’s joining the euro had been met, Mandelson flatly refused to reply. Typical New Labour, unwilling to nail its Euro-colours to the mast.
Peter Preston, who was chairing, was obliged to gush the meeting’s thanks, and he said that Hugo Young would have savoured the presentation. I doubt it. It was so partisan that frankly, it stank.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Chatham House, globalisation, Gordon Brown, Hugo Young, John Palmer, José Manuel Barroso, New Labour, Peter Mandelson, Peter Preston, Prince of Darkness, Smart Government | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 4th June, 2008
A few thousand Irish voters could decide the short-term future of the European Union, when Ireland goes to the polls on 12 June in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. It is the only country in the 27-nation EU that is putting the issue to the public (because of a constitutional obligation), but a ‘no’ vote would scupper the whole EU reform process, as the Treaty has to be ratifed by all the member states. One would think that the result should be obvious, as Ireland has benefitted so much from being in the EU; from being one of Europe’s poorest countries, it is now the second richest (after Luxembourg). But things aren’t as simple as that.
At a breakfast seminar organised by Business for New Europe in the City of London this morning, Hugo Brady from the Centre for European Reform warned that the omens were worrying. Although opinion polls have shown a consistent ‘yes’ majority, that has been shrinking. The latest figures are Yes 41%, No 33%, Undecided 26%. Ominously, opinion polls ahead of the Irish referendum on the first Nice Treaty in June 2001 showed a ‘Yes’ majority, but in the event, the vote went the other way. That result was later overturned in a second referendum, but there would reportedly be no question of a second try this time if the result goes the wrong way.
As often with referenda, ‘No’ campaigners are focussing on issues which are completely irrelevant to the Lisbon Treaty, such as abortion, Ireland’s neutrality and Peter Mandelson’s performance in the WTO. The ‘No’ camp is a motley crew. The only serious political party on that side is Sinn Fein, but a mutli-millionaire businessman, Declan Ganley has organised a campaigning group called Libertas to fly the Eurosceptic flag. All the other manistream parties are in favour, as are most of the trade unions. But that doesn’t mean the ‘Yes’ side will automatically win. And with only an estimated 350,000 voters likely to go to the polls, that could mean that a few thousand people do indeed hold the EU’s short-term future in their hands.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Business for New Europe, Centre for European Reform, Declan Ganley, Hugo Brady, Irish referendum, Lisbon Treaty, Nice Treaty, Peter Mandelson, Sinn Fein | 8 Comments »