Albion in the Unenchanted Forest

Albion in the Unenchanted Forest

So, what happens now?

The short answer is that from this broken, dysfunctional, dystopian fractured and fractious state of our politics, any outcome is possible. Hard Brexit, soft Brexit, no Brexit, no deal, crash out, break up of the Tories, break up of Labour, new centre Party, Lib Dem Government – no I go too far – but you get the point.

A number of things are certain and they’re all pretty strange, such is the measure of our bad fairy tale times.

Unless something really big happens, everything will stay the same.

The plague of Rumplestitskins which have overwhelmed us – Trump, Johnson, Farage – will continue to smash the crockery, because they can, because they enjoy it and because no-one is able to stop them.

Our Pushmi-Pullu Cabinet will continue going nowhere, because it knows of nowhere to go to. And our sad Cinderella PM, ashen, distraught, dutiful, close to tears and desperate to go to the ball, will continue to be stopped at every turn by one ugly sister or another.

In the history books of our times, a good number of pages will be written about what happens in the next few, febrile months.

Now that the quarter-century of hidden Tory revolt on Europe has broken into open warfare, it cannot be magicked back into the box. The whisper I hear about the Westminster tea rooms, betrays that old fatal symptom of a party in full-scale self-destruct: “We don’t mind if we lose, just so long as our faction wins control of the Party”

And indeed it might just come to that.

We are now close to the point – maybe at it – where no Brexit outcome, from the most extreme to the very softest, can find a majority in the Commons.

There is a reason for this stalemate.

Politics can only work if, on the great issues of the day, the Parties oppose each other on a united basis. Only then can the people have rational choice. Only then can we have meaningful debates across the floor of the House which arrive at meaningful conclusions.

But on the great issue of our time – Europe (and many of the others as well – but that is for another time), the Parties are catastrophically internally divided. And so the struggle is not between them, but within them. And so the national interest becomes submerged under the inner Party squabbles. This way madness lies and our entire political system is becoming infected by it.

The evident truth is that the current political division with which we are presented and through which we try to run our country, is no longer fit for purpose. It neither represents the true choices people want in a modern democracy, nor provides a sensible framework for running a democratic system of Government.

Consider for a moment the most likely course of events for what happens next.

Starting this late in the curve and having wasted so much time, there is now no way that our Prime Minister (if indeed she survives as far as Thursday) can bring Parliament any deal in October worth the name. At most it will mix 20 percent firm detail with 80 percent fudge, backed by a solemn promise to fix the rest in the transitional period. If Parliament buys that, it buys a pig-in-a-poke.

Given what has happened over the relatively smaller matter of customs last week, it seems very rational to conclude that Parliament will say no and demand something better (leave a side what kind of better for the moment because that’s something they can’t decided on either). But who has the mandate to negotiate that, if the EU will allow us to?  which I imagine they will. Mrs May would of course have to go. But who is to replace her? With everyone in the trenches there is no longer any candidate who can unite the Tory opposing forces. The Brexiteers will not permit a Remainer and the Remainers will not permit a Brexiteer.

So we are back to deadlock again.

And so a shame-faced Parliament will have to return to the people and beg for a solution, because they cannot find one.

A Referendum? That’s certainly one solution. But is a yes/no answer on such a complex question really enough to find our way out, if the Parties stay the same? Might we not then be hog-tied after it, almost as much as we were before it?

A General Election on the issue of Europe, then.

But how can we have a General Election which offers a clear choice, if both Parties are divided? That is merely to translate deadlock in the Commons into deadlock in the ballot box.

The truth that is staring us in the face is that we cannot find a way out of this miserable never ending nightmare, unless we can find our way to a new shape for our politics. The Rumpelstitskins have found theirs. They have not scrupled to invent new Parties or colonise old ones. They are united, powerful and deadly in the way they have changed our politics for the worse.

Do we have to cede the ground to them? Is it really an impossible dream to gather together those scattered amongst all parties who share the same liberal views. That’s what Macron has done and given a new future to France in the process.

In these unpredictable times anything is possible. If the hobgoblins can be so successful at making things worse for our time, could we not at least try to create a good fairy to make them better? It may not succeed. But I become more and more convinced that it is the only way to find a route out of this unholy mess.

UK Foreign Policy after Trump


18 January 2018

I have been spending a lot of time recently researching the 1930s. I am forcefully struck with the similarities between our current turbulent and unpredictable age and those bygone years.

Then as now, nationalism and protectionism were on the rise and democracy seemed to have failed. People hungered for a government of strong men. Those who suffered most from economic pain felt alienated and turned towards simplistic solutions and strident voices. Public institutions, conventional politics and the old establishments were everywhere mistrusted and disbelieved, and compromise was out of fashion. The centre collapsed in favour of the extremes and the normal order of things didn’t function. Change – even revolution – was more appealing than the status quo and “fake news”, built around the effective lie, carried more weight in the public discourse than rational arguments and provable facts.

Perhaps the last time when we stood as close to war as we stand now was at the height of the Cold War. But then, we had a comfort which we do not have today. Then, the Western liberal democracies stood together in defence of our interests and our shared values.

Now, under President Trump, the most powerful of our number thinks standing together is less important than going it alone – abdication is preferable to international leadership and collective action should take second place to “America First”.

Throughout the long years of the American century, we have taken great comfort in the fact that our alliance with the United States and its Presidents has been built not just on shared interests, but also on shared values. Today we have to face the wrenching reality that this US President does not share our values – his description of a good percentage of the world’s nations as “sh**holes” bluntly reveals just how far from our own ideals he is.

The liberal principles that have underpinned every civilised society, every peaceful age and every prosperous society are under attack as never before. President Trump appears more aligned with those forces that are raging against liberal values than those seeking to defend them.

We have, in the past, taken comfort too in the fact that the famous “leader of the Western world”, while flawed like the rest of us, was well informed, judicious and cautious about going to war. Now we have an American President who is ignorant, unpredictable, foolhardy and reckless.

We are witnessing a historic Gunfight at the O.K. Corral standoff in Washington right now – and only one side will remain standing. Either Donald Trump will destroy American democracy, or American democracy will destroy Donald Trump. Personally, my money is still on the latter.

But even if, on both sides of the Atlantic, we can find our way back to saner and safer ground, is there something deeper going on here?

The slow divergence of interest between Europe and the US does not date from President Trump’s election, although he may have accelerated the process. Even under President Obama the US gaze was looking more west across the Pacific than east across the Atlantic.

The United States will remain the world’s most powerful nation for the next decade or more. But the context in which she holds her power has changed. The American century was one of the few periods in history when the world was mono-polar, dominated by a single colossus. All compasses pointed to Washington to define their positions, for or against.

Now we are moving into a multi-polar world – more like Europe in the nineteenth century than the last decades of the twentieth.

A foreign policy for the next 50 years based on what we have done for the previous 50 years will be clumsily out of tune with the times. This is where we are right now. Everything has changed in the world, except Britain’s view of it.

British foreign policy in the post-Trump era will need to be much more flexible, much more subtle and much more capable of building relationships on shared interests even with those outside the Atlantic club – and even with whom we do not share values – than the simplicities of the mono-polar world where we only needed to snuggle to our friendly neighbourhood superpower to be safe.

To continue to diminish our diplomatic capacity, as we are currently doing, is folly of a very high order.

The most dangerous aspect of the current slide towards isolationism is that, in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, the only solutions to our problems are multinational ones. Climate change, trade imbalance, resource depletion, population growth, nuclear proliferation, over-population, poverty, migration, suppressing conflict – these are the greatest problems we face – and not one can be solved by nations who stand alone.

Lastly, we have to deal with the consequences of our own folly. I make no secret of it. We Liberal Democrats seek to reverse Brexit, which has already resulted in a serious shrinkage of our ability to protect our interests abroad.

In the EU or out, Liberal Democrat foreign policy will remain the same. To work as closely as we can with our European neighbours. Because that is the best – indeed the only way – to pursue our nation’s interests in this dangerous, volatile and turbulent age.

Europe is now facing an isolationist US President to our west, the most aggressive Russian President of recent times to the east and all around us economic powers are growing up – and some are already stronger than any single European nation. The right reaction to this new context is not to allow ourselves to broken up and scattered, but to deepen European co-operation and co-ordination.

29 March – Article 50 Day
Paddy Ashdown

William Hazlett’s advice to travellers was “take your common sense with you, but leave your prejudices behind”. It’s not bad guidance for Theresa May as she sends her Article 50 missive to Brussels.

We know there are many among the Prime Minister’s closest advisors – Liam Fox, for example – whose prejudices have always been for rupture, rather than a deal, with the EU.

The question today is: does Theresa May secretly agree?

Why else choose to put Brexit Britain as far away from our neighbours as possible?

Why else the foolish early threat to walk out if we didn’t perfectly get our way (thank goodness, the government is now back tracking on this)? Why else all the insult-laden invective against the 48 per cent of Remainers, which left our country more divided today than we were on the morning that the Leavers won?

Make no mistake: this reckless brutal Brexit, yanking us out of the world’s largest single market even before she has started to negotiate, is Theresa May’s choice.
In her letter to Brussels today, the Prime Minster said she has enacted the “democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom”. She has done no such thing. It is not those who sought to soften the Brexit blow by challenging the Government who do not respect the Brexit vote. It is May, who has hijacked that vote to feed the anti-European prejudices of her own party.

Few in Britain voted to leave the Single Market; remaining in it was proposed by many Brexiteers and promised in the Conservative election manifesto. Estimates put the cost to Britain of this kind of ‘hard Brexit’ as high as £200bn over 15 years. Already companies are leaving, taking with them livelihoods, expertise and the futures of many citizens. We are now embarked on a course which will bewilder future historians as the most remarkable example in modern history of a country committing an act of monumental self-harm while still in full possession of its faculties.

So why has May moved her party onto policies indistinguishable from those of Ukip? For the same reason that Mr Cameron insisted on the Referendum in the first place: the best interests of the nation are once again being held hostage to the internal management of the Conservative Party.

Spare a thought for those Conservatives who still adhere to their Party’s proud internationalist tradition. Who is as lonely as them now?

It is still possible to stop this madness and keep Britain inside the Single Market. It is even still possible for the British people to remain in the European Union. Democracy didn’t end on 23 June 2016, and it hasn’t ended today either. The people can have their say over the final Brexit deal – and they should.

Meanwhile, the phony war of recent months, fuelled by insults against all those who dared to challenge the Government and prosecuted by a stream of completely unsubstantiated claims and undeliverable promises, is over. Now the Government will be held to account for what it does, not what it says; now we will see whether all those promises plastered on the side of campaign coaches and blithely scattered about in ministerial statements can ever be delivered.

First up will be the Great Repeal Act, devil-infested with detail and to be measured against that David Davis promise that no EU right, protection or advantage enjoyed by British citizens now will be diminished.

At the same time, we plunge into the most complex negotiations in our history. There is no chance these can be completed with a good deal inside 18 months. If that proves to be so, then the Prime Minister demands we all join hands with her and jump off a cliff into national isolation, accompanied by disaster for our trade, our influence and our economy.

If you feel depressed today, don’t be. Be fighting mad. There’s everything still to fight for.


Article 50 – Prospect Magazine 15 March 2017

Prospect Magazine 15 march 2017

Oscar Wilde said “In a democracy, the minority is always right”. This thought has given me much comfort during nearly half a century fighting for liberalism.

But the post-Brexit debate has been different. A minority we still remain – but only slimly so and that has been wonderfully comforting.

I am fairly certain (Liberals don’t do certainties) that history will marvel at Brexit as the most bewildering act of national self-harm knowingly and willingly committed by an advanced nation in full possession of its faculties. And yet that is the decision we took and we must now enact – at least for the foreseeable future – unless and until the worm turns.

But the Brexit decision is only one of the puzzles we have had to deal with these last few months.

The other is why did Mrs May – again willingly and knowingly – choose to make a difficult path much, much more difficult?

Any good Prime Minister inheriting a country so at war with itself as we were after the Referendum would have placed healing national division as their first priority. But from her first unwise Conservative Conference speech with its demonization of the “liberal elite” and the assertion that those who see themselves as citizens of the world, are citizens of nowhere, Mrs May has, quite again deliberately, sought to widen the divisions between the 52% who said YES and the 48% who said NO. She followed this divisive rhetoric with divisive action, choosing a Brexit that puts the country as far away from Europe as it is possible to get (for which she has no mandate whatsoever), moving her Party onto policies indistinguishable from UKIP and attempting to bully her way to her chosen destination by steam-rollering a by-pass around Parliament – until the Supreme Court gave her a lesson in what it is to govern in a democratic country.

And so, our country launches itself down Mrs May’s Article 50 path to exit more divided even than it was during the Referendum. The public discourse is uglier, the entrenched positions are deeper, the level of vitriol is higher and the hate crimes grow and grow. For these divisions at such a difficult time, there will be a price to pay – including in the end, by Mrs May’s Government itself.

So what now?

As an exercise in whistling in the dark, the recent budget was about as good as you get. The Chancellor’s sepulchral style is not given to optimism. His speciality is calm. But even he could not hide the fact that this was a budget focussed, not on the sunlit uplands ahead, but on the monster of Brexit hard-times stirring beneath our feet. That’s why he’s not spending windfalls, but hoarding them. Big business, also awash with money, is doing the same thing for the same reasons. They both know that true pain of Brexit will increasingly be felt the further down Mrs May’s Article 50 track we go. If public opinion is to turn, watch what happens after inflation begins to bite around the turn of the year.

But the ambushes along Mrs May’s way are not just economic ones.

We are now facing the real possibility of the break up of the United Kingdom. Viewed from the moment, it does not seem likely that a Scottish referendum would succeed. But Mrs Sturgeon knows what most modern politicians have forgotten, that politics is dynamic. Snap-shot opinion polls tell you where things are, but not the direction in which they are heading. Status quo was yesterday’s dynamic. Fissipariousness is today’s.

For evidence, see Northern Ireland. Observers have long predicted that the time would come when the demographic balance in the Province would tip away from the Unionists, towards the Nationalists. Northern Ireland now teeters on this historic knife-edge after the recent Stormont elections. In part this is because some Unionist middle class voters now see a united Ireland inside the EU, less terrifying than a Northern Ireland forced to be outside it and isolated from its neighbours by a hard border. By the way, whisper it softly, some in Gibraltar are also beginning to view the competing claims of British and Spanish sovereignty through the same prism.

Mrs May’s ridiculous attempt to persuade us she is Mrs Thatcher reincarnated in kitten shoes has brought the country to the edge of a disastrous rift with the EU and given the nationalists in Scotland and Ireland cause and space to play fast and lose with our unity.

The problem with breaking things up, is that it’s easier to start than to stop.

Finally there is, as always, the famous devil in the detail. The complexities of the Brexit negotiations are as nothing to the whole roiling devil-fest waiting to break out when the Government launches the Great Repeal Act repatriating tens of thousand of EU laws to Westminster.

What does all this add up to? It may not be in Mrs May’s mind, or in her programme, or her agenda, or her intentions. But my guess is that as the next months tick by, the temptations of an early election will become almost irresistible.

Mrs Mays speech 18 Jan 2017

Indy on-line
17 Jan 2017
Paddy Ashdown

So now at last we know what Mrs May has decided shall be our future in Europe – or rather out of it.

What she calls for is a fundamental break with our neighbours, our culture and our past of the kind which was never discussed during the referendum campaign.

Remember, when, time and again, the Brexiteers were asked what kind of Brexit they wanted? Time and again they couldn’t – or more accurately, wouldn’t – answer. Or, if they did, gave answers which were completely contradictory. Some said they wanted to stay in the Single Market; others demanded out; some proposed managed immigration; others insisted on none; some suggested a new trading relationship with the EU; others wanted to cut loose completely.

They would not tell us what we were voting for then; they should not be allowed to steal our votes for their prejudices now.

If ever there was a case for putting the deal that is finally made with the EU before the British people, Mrs May made it today.

Last week-end in Germany, Chancellor Hammond, blurted out the truth about the course Mrs May has chosen. Retain the closest economic links with the EU, he said, and Britain will remain a broadly European style nation. Cast off all our European moorings and head for the open sea, we risk having to turn ourselves into a low tax, no regulation, cheap labour, equivalent of Singapore. Then – among other things we have come to take for granted and enjoy in our country – we would say goodbye to work-place rights, the welfare state as we know it, policies to protect our environment and European style protections for our civil liberties. That Mrs May finds this prospect congenial should not come as surprise. As Home Secretary and Prime Minister it is she who has been the driving force behind the Snooper’s Charter, which the European Courts have rejected.

And to compensate for all this, we are offered in exchange a Michael Gove promise of a cosy relationship with Donald Trump and a TTIP style trade deal negotiated from a weak position.
Mr Trump is now limbering up for a trade war, not just with China, but with the EU as well. Presumably he will expect us to take his side against our old friends. Not the best climate to negotiate trade deals, you may think.

Maybe this is what the people of Britain want, too. But I doubt it.

Surely, before this Government is allowed to turn a narrow majority for leave into a swingeing mandate to re-name our country “Britapore” and paddle it out into the mid-Atlantic, we its poor benighted passengers, should be allowed a say?

Such a vote would not be to re-fight the in/out referendum. Those, like me, who campaigned for Remain must accept as gracefully as we can, that we lost. What we now have to decide, as a country, is what kind of relationship a Brexit Britain should retain with the European Union – in short, what kind of country we should now become. Mrs May has told us her vision. The question is do the people of Britain agree? Given the stark choices she has proposed at what she concedes is “a moment of great national change”, do they too not get the right to speak?
Brexiteers claim that “Leave” was a vote against an arrogant political elite; how ironic then that our country’s course is now to be determined by a leader who has not faced an election even in her own party, let alone the country. No second vote, no consultation, no detailed plan, no chance for Parliament amend or scrutinise, (unless the blessed Supreme Court Judges instruct otherwise). The people have spoken and are now to be dispensed with as “not wanted for the remainder of the voyage”. Conservative voters, along with the rest of us. What happened to the Tory manifesto promise of little more than eighteen months ago; “We say: yes to the Single Market”?

Sir Ivan Rogers’ recent resignation illuminated what many of us suspected – that Mrs May runs her Government like a Borgia court. All but her closest advisors are excluded (including the Civil Service); all voices that oppose her are unwelcome; the poisoners are sent out after any public dissenter; even the “hapless three” charged with the Ministerial responsibility for Brexit, are left squabbling outside the door. Are we really to leave the most important decision of our time to such a tiny, closed and venomous cabal?

What is at stake, following Mrs May’s speech, is nothing less than keeping Britain open, tolerant, united and planning a future based on engagement with our friends in Europe, rather than depending on the crumbs from Mr Trump’s table.

What started out as an act of democracy must not be allowed to end with a stitch-up for a plan we never voted for and a future we do not want.


The Daily Mirror 4 March 2014

The Daily Mirror 4 March 2014

The Ukraine crisis is one of those rare occasions when the West should follow the immortal advice of Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army: “Don’t panic!”.


We so love to frighten ourselves rigid by the Russian bear that we are missing the key point.


Russia is not a strong state it is a weak one. Its population is plummeting – the life expectancy of the average Russian is just a little over 60. They cannot to populate their own space let alone undertake sustained military adventures outside it. Their system of Government depends upon corruption, not the rule of law. They failed to invest their oil wealth in modernising their industry, and now have a rust bucket economy. If a Chinese businessman makes a million he invests it in China. If a Russian oligarch makes a million he gets it out of Russia as fast as he can – usually into property in London. When Mr Putin invaded Georgia it looked as though he had won. But in the end that was a catastrophe for Russia. They lost massive international support and, as Western intelligence knows, exposed their army as inefficient and out of date both in technology and tactics.


At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a clash of cultures. We in the West understand that today the destiny of nations depends on the will of their people. But Mr Putin thinks he is still in the nineteenth century when big-powers subjugated small ones if they were considered within their “sphere of influence”. That was what got us into the mess of 1914 – and again 1939. When Mr Putin threatens to invade Ukraine if Ukrainians of Russian origin are in danger, he is precisely repeating Hitler’s Sudetenland argument for invading Czechoslovakia.


So, we used military force then, should we use it now?


No. This time there is a better way


Yesterday the Russian stock market collapsed. The economic, diplomatic and political pain which Russia would suffer if the West now acts decisively, strongly and with unity, could be unbearable.


I remember negotiating with the Russians in Bosnia – the plainer they get the message, the better they understand it.


So here’s what should happen.


Firstly, the West must speak with a single voice. Mr Hague was in Kiev yesterday. But the key voice Russia has to hear is that of Chancellor Merkel – for Germany has always been closest to Russia.


Secondly if diplomacy is our game, then it must be muscular diplomacy aimed at isolating Russia until she changes course – starting with boycotting the coming G8 meeting in Socchi.


Thirdly we should have a sliding scale of economic sanctions – starting with Western investment and moving on to targeted individual sanctions on travel and assets. Freezing the foreign assets of Putin supporting oligarchs would be a good place to start.


Russia failed to win the argument with the Ukrainian people. Now it’s trying to win the argument with force. That is not a measure of strength, but of weakness. There has to be a cost for this illegality. But it is better exacted through economic and diplomatic means than military ones.

Ukraine The Independent 8 Feb 2015

Ukraine The Independent 8 Feb 2015

 The Chinese philosopher Sun Tze said “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”


In the Ukraine crisis, Putin is playing strategy. We are playing tactics.


The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority. Instead of opening the doors to a strategic partnership to Moscow, we sent young men still wet behind the ears from Harvard business school to privatize their industries, and teach them the Western way of doing things. The result was a bonanza of corruption, the humiliation of the Yeltsin years and a clumsy attempt to enlarge our “Cold war victory” by seeking to expand NATO and Europe right up to the Russian border. There was always going to be a consequence of this folly and its name is Vladimir Putin.


The problem with Russia now is not its strength, but its weakness. The massive energy revenues of the good times were not invested in modernizing Russia, but either squandered at home or shipped abroad by the Oligarchs to buy yachts and London properties. The Russian economy now staggers under the effect of falling oil prices and Western sanctions. The population is plummeting. Male life expectancy, at 64, places Putin’s state amongst the lowest 50 countries in the world for population regeneration. The empty spaces of Putin’s eastern territories now increasingly depend economically, not on Russians, but on a gathering invasion of Chinese small businessman and traders. Add to all of this, Russia’s own home-grown struggle with Sunni Jihadism in the Islamic republics of Chechnya and Dagestan and it is little wonder that many in Moscow worry about the long term integrity of the Russian Federation.


And that’s the problem. A strong self-confident Russia would be easier to deal with. But for a weak one – and especially a weak one led by a muscular leader – the distractions of military adventurism are irresistible.


So now we face a very dangerous crisis. That this is, in part, of our own making provides an explanation for how we got here, but not a signpost for what we should do next. For Putin has chosen to challenge, not just the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the very basis on which the peace of Europe has been founded these last fifty years. When the Second World War ended, Europe determined that it would end a thousand years of warfare driven by the assertion that large powers have the right to subjugate the freedoms (even the existence) of smaller nations, if they believed them to be within their spheres of influence. Instead Europe’s peace would in future be based on the principles of co-operation, peaceful co-existence and the right of all nations, large and small to determine their future based exclusively on the will of their people. By denying that right to Ukraine on the grounds that it is Russia’s sphere of influence, Putin asks us to abandon those principles. We cannot do so.


So what should we do?


Our greatest lever still lies in economic means rather than military ones. The sanctions are having an effect. It may even be that Putin is bringing things to a head military in an attempt to foreshorten the economic pain. So the first strand of our strategy should be patiently to stay the course of economic sanctions.


The second is to continue what the West, through Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande have begun. Keep pushing for a peace based in a cease-fire and greater autonomy for eastern Ukraine.

Does this mean no direct military response? Unless NATO is threatened directly, it does.


Does it mean no military diplomacy? Not it doesn’t. The right reaction to Russian arming of the Ukrainian rebels is to make it clear that we are prepared to do the same for the Ukrainian Government. But not now, not quickly and not all at once. What we need is more a process, than an event. Start small, slow and un-aggressively – with communications and intelligence equipment for example. Expand by steps when we have to.


All these actions are necessary, but they are not sufficient. We still lack a broader diplomatic strategy. Yet one stares us in the face, if only we could see it.


The West is not succeeding against ISIL in the Middle East. The US led coalition is too small, too Sunni and lacks international legitimacy. This is one area where our problems are Russia’s problems too – we may be threatened by Jihadis returning from the battlefield. But Russia is part of the battlefield. ISIL will not be beaten by Western bombs and guns alone. But they can be beaten by a much wider international coalition including Turkey, Iran and – why not? – Russia too. This would add real diplomatic and military firepower to our cause. And offer Russia a partnership over an issue that threatens them arguably even more than us.


As we should have learnt by now, it is always unwise to paint Russia into a corner – even one of its own making. So balancing a hard line on Ukraine with an offer of partnership against the Jihadi threat, makes solid sense – and perhaps even the start of a strategic approach to the Ukraine crisis, rather than a purely tactical one.


The Ukraine Crisis – 3 March 2014


The Ukraine Crisis

The Ukraine crisis is one of those rare occasions in international affairs when the West should follow the immortal advice of Corporal Jones in dad’s Army: “Don’t panic!”.


We so love to frighten ourselves rigid by the Russian bear that we are missing the key point here.


Russia is not a strong state it is a weak one. Its population is plummeting – the life expectancy of the average Russian male is just a little over 60. They cannot effectively populate their own space let alone involve themselves in serious military adventures outside it. Having failed to invest their oil revenues in modernising their industry, they have a rust bucket economy. If a Chinese businessman makes a billion he invests it in China. If a Russian oligarch makes a million he gets it out of Russia as fast as he can – usually into property in London. When Mr Putin invaded Georgia it looked as though he had won. But it turned out in the end to be a catastrophe for Russia. They lost massive support world wide and, as Western intelligence sources know, exposed their armed forces as inefficient and out of date both in technology and tactics.


At the heart of the Ukraine crisis lies a clash of cultures. We in the West have long understood that the destiny of nations today depends on the will of their people. Mr Putin has persuaded the Russian people that they are still in the nineteenth century when big-powers had the right to subjugate small ones if they are considered to be within their “sphere of influence”. That was what got us into the mess of 1914 – and again 1939. Indeed when Mr Putin says that he is entitled to invade Ukraine if Ukrainian citizens of Russian ethnicity are in danger, he is precisely repeating Hitler’s Sudetenland argument for invading Czechoslovakia.


So, we used military force then, should we use it now?


No. This time that is not the best way


It is true that if the West will not use military force, Putin gets his way. In the short term, maybe. But not in the long.


Yesterday the Russian stock market collapsed. The economic, diplomatic and political damage which Russia could suffer if the now if the West acts decisively, strongly and with unity could be devastating.


So here is what should happen.


Firstly, the West needs to speak with a single voice. Mr Hague is in Kiev – fine but he should not be speaking for Britain but on behalf of the whole Western community. When it comes to speaking to Europe the key voice however is that of Chancellor Merkel – for Germany has always been closest to Russia.


Secondly our diplomatic policy should be to isolate Russia, starting with boycotting the coming G8 meeting in Socchi.


Thirdly we should have a sliding scale of economic sanctions – starting with closing of investment into Russia as far as we are able and moving on, if necessary to travel bans on the key players, including in the Crimea.


Russia utterly failed to win the argument with the Ukrainian people and so had to resort to the argument of force. That is a measure of her strength, but of her weakness. There has to be a cost for such an outrageous breach of international law. But that cost can better be exacted through economic, political and diplomatic means than military ones

Obama visit Ashdown Sunday Times Piece (16.04.16)

Ashdown Sunday Times Piece (16.04.16)


Barack Obama is coming to Britain next week. Brexiters from Boris Johnson downwards, say he shouldn’t – or at least if he comes he shouldn’t give his views on Europe (though they are happy to quote lower rank US right-wingers giving theirs). They say to do so, is “hypocritical” and interferes in a decision that is only ours to make. They are right as far as they go. But they only tell half the story.


Ninety-nine years ago next month, the United States entered the World War I and sent its young men and women over the Atlantic to fight for our freedom. They did it again in the Second World War. And again in the Cold War which followed, when the peace of Europe depended more on Washington than on any other single capital in the world, including those on the European mainland. They made none of these sacrifices because it was in our European interests. They made them because they were in their own – or rather because their interests on that side of the Atlantic, and ours on this, coincided.


For the last century, the Atlantic relationship has been key to our peace and security. And the key to the Atlantic relationship has been its strongest strand – the partnership between the United Kingdom and the US. Together we have done more than any other two nations in the world to up-hold a peace based on the values we jointly share. Surely that entitles a US President to tell us if he believes we are about to take a step which diminishes both our influence in Washington and the strength of our partnership?


As the White House said following Boris Johnson’s intemperate criticism of our closest ally: “the US deeply values a strong ally in the UK as a part of the EU.” Ever since Kissinger and Kennedy, Washington’s policy has favoured a “twin pillar NATO” based on a strong US and a united Europe. They understand that a weakened – or worse, disintegrating – EU would give opportunities to Vladimir Putin and damage the Atlantic relationship as an instrument to pursue our joint interests in a turbulent and instable world. If that is Mr Obama’s view, then surely he is duty bound to put it?


And he is not alone. All our friends in NATO, the Commonwealth and well beyond, take the same view – and for precisely the same reasons. There is, however one person who does agree with Messrs Johnson and Farage – but he is very far from a friend. It has long been a cardinal strategic aim of Vladimir Putin’s to bring about the break-up of the EU. Some even claim that Russia secretly funds some of Europe’s anti-EU political parties. I am sure that is not happening in Britain, of course. But that does not alter the fact that, while all our friends would mourn Brexit, Vladimir Putin would cheer it. It’s what he wants us to do.


Next week will mark President Obama’s last visit to Britain while in office. Who will be our next US Presidential visitor? Though I do not predict it and pray for the opposite, we have to face the fact that by next year Donald Trump could be in the White House and American foreign policy will have taken a turn towards the incoherent, the bizarre and the dangerous all at once. This is a man who has proposed South Korea and Japan arming themselves to the teeth with nuclear weapons to deal with the threat posed by North Korea. A man who has called NATO “obsolete”. Trapped between an overbearing, senseless Trump to our West and an increasingly emboldened Putin to our East, the last thing our continent needs is to become more fractured and less secure.


These are most dangerous times for Europe – arguably more dangerous than any in my life time. To our west we have United States in the throes of a convulsive and unpredictable election; to our east, the most assertive – some would say aggressive – Russian leader of our times, prepared to use military force to deny a European democracy its chosen future; to our south-east an Arab world in flames; to our south a Maghreb in turmoil right down as far as Mali in central Africa. And all around us new economic powers emerging which are as strong or stronger than any individual European nation acting on its own.


If now, in the face of these threats, we were to abandon our European solidarity in favour of a lonely isolation which rejects the advice of our allies, then the difficult decades ahead of us, will be much, much more difficult and dangerous, not just for all of us in Britain, but also for all of Britain’s friends around the world.


802 words



Little England Guardian 2 Nov 2012

 Little England

The Little Englanders seem set to get their Little England.


Three factors push powerfully towards this outcome. The dynamic towards deeper integration south of the Channel; towards separatism north of the border. And towards growing isolationism in English opinion.


Of course the move towards deeper integration of the Euro Seventeen is far from certain. There are big hurdles to overcome; the agreement of their peoples and the scepticism of the markets to mention but two. It could all still easily fail. If it does then the following, does not follow – but the collapse of the Euro and perhaps the European Union as we know it, probably does. With incalculable damage from which semi-detached Britain will not be excluded.


If however the Seventeen can make it work – and that is the Government’s assumption – then the Seventeen will have their own President, their own bureaucracy and their own interests to pursue.


Then there will be a two speed Europe with Britain in the outer ring, heading fast for the exit.


Then the Seventeen will inevitably caucus to advantage their own interests and disadvantage others – why should they not? How far they will go we do not know, but it would be surprising if they did not, for instance prefer to promote Frankfurt over the City of London. Mr Cameron assures us he will not let this happen; but would he please tell us how?


How, too will he “repatriate substantial powers” from the EU if, as seems very likely, the rest (or most of them) say No? What will he do then? He can talk the talk today, but how will he walk the walk tomorrow? And even if some crumbs are allowed to fall his way, these will never be enough to satisfy the ravenous Eurosceptic beast on his back benches, whose might has now increased enormously and whose stomach is rumbling for more. They and UKIP are the clear winners of the last few weeks.


Unless the Prime Minister can face them down – and I am not convinced he has either the will or means to do so – then we are firmly launched on a dynamic which moves the Tory Party from grumbling about the EU to a permanent state of anger at being “ignored” by it.


Future EU summits will not help the process. The night before the Seventeen did their deal, Mr Cameron dined with the Poles and the Swedes. I hope he enjoyed it – there will be lots more dinner parties like that in the future. More brave words before summits about “fighting Britain’s corner”; more disappointment afterwards when we realise that, apart from perhaps one or two from the outer ring, almost the only person in Britain’s corner, is Britain.


But the difference is that most of those on the periphery would like to get into the core. Tory England wants to get as far away from it as possible.


I say England because this is not true north of the border. There, another dynamic is now gathering pace – and its running strongly towards separation. If Mr Salmond can hold his referendum on his terms and time-scale, there is a good chance he will win it unless we are careful. Then it will be firmly in Scotland’s interest, as a small independent nation to accept what Britain has rejected. Full engagement in the EU and joining Ireland as a full member of the Euro.


Euro to the west of us; Euro to the east of us; Euro to north of us; Euro to the south; England splendidly isolated, splendidly alone and, as always of course, splendidly right!


Switzerland, with nuclear weapons


None of this is inevitable. None of it is planned. None of it will be intended. But all of it becomes more and more likely if we do not act to reverse the dynamic in our country. It is not just the future of the Coalition which is at stake. As Nick Clegg has said, it’s the whole country.


No-one is saying that the EU does not need deep reform. But the best way to achieve that is to be engaged and positive, not semi-detached and shouting insults. There are things that need to be done to ensure the EU interferes less and concentrates more on the things that matter to give us a larger voice in an increasingly inhospitable world. But these will not be achieved by a smash and grab raid to “repatriate powers” that is bound to fail.


Those who fight against the growing mood of isolationism in England are fighting against the odds, I grant. But to remain silent at this moment is to accept isolation by default. And for this country, whose history has been engagement, that would not just be a disaster, it would also be a tragedy.