British Breakfast and Euro-comment

This coming Thursday is Britain’s general election. The polls are variable enough that anything from a hung parliament to a 100-seat Conservative majority is possible (the SNP would have to disappear for Labour toget an overall majority), but one thing is certain: the prime minister who will lead the country while the Brexit negotiations proceed will be a fourth-rate incompetent. Jeremy Corbyn is a nicer guy and has been more relaxed and confident on the campaign trail, but would be a hopeless PM, while Theresa May is currently PM and is hopeless at it. Nor can we look round the rest of their parties’ leadership teams for any comfort, since they have both surrounded themselves with talentless morons.

In a sensible world, Sadiq Khan would be leading Labour and Ruth Davidson the Conservatives and there would be a serious contest between interestingly different but coherent views of where the UK should be going over the next five years, and there would have been actual discussion of what Brexit would entail, but instead we have had an unedifying trading of insults from two woodentops who dismiss serious criticism of their policy stances with stupid talking points.

So unimpressed has The Economist been that they’ve plumped for the Lib Dems on the grounds that  at least we have a sensible stance on Brexit despite our leader being a third-rate lightweight. They admit that the Lib Dems are going absolutely nowhere, which amounts to a withering assessment of the two big parties.

The only impressive party leader who is standing for election to Westminster has been the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas. Nicola Sturgeon has quite enough to do as Scotland’s First Minister to be standing for Westminster: the SNP’s actual current Westminster leader Angus Robertson is in danger of losing his seat, and is rated somewhere between “lacklustre” and “crashing bore” depending on who you talk to.

Anyway, here’s a piece by Louis Staples which sums up Corbyn versus May on the stump pretty well.

My frustration with Corbyn has always been more about competence than ideology. I could see that he was a lot more comfortable preaching to a crowd of kale-obsessed students than carrying out the day-to-day duties of leading Her Majesty’s Opposition.

For the last 18 months it seems that he has either been scoring own goals or missing penalties. The most obvious example of this is Prime Minister’s Questions, which became a weekly sacrificial ritual. We’ve all been there, in school or at work, watching somebody who is visibly nervous and unprepared give a presentation. There are few things more uncomfortable. In fact, if it weren’t for the SNP, weeks would go by without the PM having to answer a single challenging question.

Instead of being sucked into an endless battle of soundbites over Brexit, Corbyn has managed to play to his strengths. Public services and housing are unifying issues. When it comes down to it, people want to hear about their local A&E or school more than Brexit. This discovery has been disastrous for May, who based her entire campaign on Brexit and personal credibility.

Corbyn is by no means the perfect character, and while his campaign has been strong, it has not been without its own blunders. Still, voters are beginning to realise that this is a choice between a person who endlessly changes her mind to benefit her career, and someone who, for the most part, has been on the right side of history for over 20 years. Many, myself included, are choosing the latter.

And here’s a piece by Mary Dejevsky which examines what might happen to Mother Theresa if polling day doesn’t deliver a significantly increased Conservative majority.

Recent polls suggesting a hung parliament or even a Conservative defeat look implausible, though it would be life-enhancing to believe that this election has turned from a walkover into a proper contest. And the spread of results indicated in the polling generally – from a parliament with no overall majority to a Conservative majority in double, or even triple, digits – looks impossibly wide: someone’s calculations have to be very wrong.

But it is not necessary to entertain the prospect of a hung parliament or even a Conservative defeat – let’s not push the speculation too far – to realise that anything less than a substantially increased Conservative majority will amount to a defeat for Theresa May. It will also, once again, alter the political calculus around Brexit.

Take the Prime Minister first. She called an early election, despite months of insisting that she would not do so, on the basis of exceptionally favourable opinion polls and a well-founded hope of gaining a stronger parliamentary mandate for the Brexit negotiations that was also hers. If she fails to achieve this, it is hard to see how her position will be tenable, either as leader of her party – calling the election would have to be considered as great a misjudgment as David Cameron’s decision to call the referendum – or as head of a government set to steer the bargaining with Brussels.

Of course, none of this may happen. It may well be that we wake up on the morning after the night before to hear an exultant Prime Minister claim a famous victory. In which case, it is game on for Brexit and for the talks scheduled to begin less than two weeks later.

If the result is anything less than that famous victory, however, the UK will be plunged into new political uncertainty, with pretty much everything that has happened in politics over the past year called into question. There would be fury among Brexiteers, a flickering of hope among Remainers, and a rejoining of the Conservatives’ internecine Europe war.

Whether that is a prospect to be welcomed or feared, I leave to your judgement as readers – and voters.

The heartening thing has been that Labour’s left-wing manifesto has gone down much better than many expected. Last time Labour had a similar sort of programme, it was the height of the Cold War and its ridiculously anti-American foreign/defence policy was quite enough to frighten voters to death in the immediate aftermath of the Falklands War, but those issues are of little electoral significance these days. It’s partly because Labour cannot win an overall majority to govern by themselves unless the sky falls in, so nobody believes they will be able to do any of the silly things that are in it, but they would be able to do the sensible ones, but also because they’ve concentrated on those sensible bits rather than emphasising the silly bits as they did in 1983.

I’m hoping for a hung parliament, but my guess is a Tory majority of 40.

So let’s move on to the end of the world. Or not, depending on how you view POUTS’s announcement that he wants to derogate from the Paris accord.

The Independent has a sober editorial:

It matters mostly because of the symbolism. The figurehead for the second biggest producer of greenhouse gases has backed off from the first global agreement to mitigate climate change, barely a year after Barack Obama finally signed up to it. That shifts the balance of rhetorical forces behind the myriad international agreements needed to put the high ideals of the Paris accord into effect. Above all it breaks the cycle of positive actions that reinforce each other as nations act separately and together towards an agreed goal.

On the other hand, it matters much less than suggested by President Trump’s dramatic language of fighting back against the “vastly diminished economic production” forced on the US by the agreement.

In America, that progress was always going to happen at state level and through wider economic forces. The states have been driving towards renewable energy, especially wind and solar, independently of federal government for decades now. While market forces have been driving the growth of shale gas, which is cleaner than the shrinking coal industry.

In Trump’s mythical universe, the coal industry is a victim of other countries, which “laugh at us” and tie America down for their commercial advantage. In reality, it is the victim of a cleaner fossil-fuel rival. Of course, President Trump’s petulant, put-upon narrative of persecuted America strikes a chord in the real world, in the former manufacturing powerhouse of Michigan and Pennsylvania, the places where he won the presidency.

But Barack Obama is right. “The nations that remain in the Paris Agreement will be the nations that reap the benefits in jobs and industries created,” he commented, while the President was still speaking. The job opportunities of the future lie in new, low-carbon industries. The coal industry is shrinking in America as it will soon shrink elsewhere because clean industries are the growth sectors of the future, not because of a conspiracy against it.

The ever-insightful Veit Medick says this:

And yet – whining does not help now. Let’s look at the consequences soberly.

Firstly, the fight against global warming will not end, just because America is going out of the game for a few years. Of course, efforts will be needed to convince poorer countries that the fulfillment of the treaty makes sense without the US. But it is unmistakable that climate protection is nowadays seen as an opportunity in many places, no longer as a restriction. And when an important player is eliminated, this can also increase the ambition of the rest.

Secondly: America will feel the consequences, partly automatically, partly by our action. Trump, the allegedly fantastic dealmaker, has put himself into a devastating position with his childish denunciation of the agreement .

Thirdly , the US economy will suffer from the decision. The fact that large oil companies such as ExxonMobil Trump urged him to remain faithful to the Paris agreement shows the great risks they see in the President’s decision. Even the coal industry was very divided in the Paris question. Many companies fear that they will find it even harder than before to be able to place their coal on the world market. In addition, there is a split in the USA: states such as California, New York and Oregon have exceeded ambitious savings beyond the Paris agreement and have long been active as internationally networked innovation laboratories.

Fourthly, Trump may get applauded by his base and, yes, he can make a fat cross on the list of his election promises. In fact, however, the decision demostrates Trump’s complete conceptlessness. His only leitmotif is the abolition of Obama’s legacy, beyond which there is no breath of a comprehensive strategy.

The narrow view is his right. But it will hardly help him in the expansion of his electorate necessary for a second electoral victory.

Medick refers to him being a game show host, and others have called him a reality TV figure. Hugh Linehan begs to disagree:

It’s not surprising that the dominant storytelling form of our time should influence the way we see the world. What’s startling is how closely the “Story of Trump” now follows the TV serial drama template.

Republican senator Ben Sasse told Politico this week that Donald Trump “comes out of a reality TV world”, and that he was anxious about “whether or not that kind of world is really what we want for our kids”. But those who describe this as the first reality TV presidency are doing the administration a disservice. This is an altogether grander and more ambitious production than the badly scripted tat of The Apprentice or Survivor. If the production values are a little gaudy, that’s purely in the service of plot and character development. Sasse is right: parental guidance is advisable but who knows what kids are watching these days?

Thus the breathless drama of the firing of the head of the FBI (episode title: “High Crimes and Misdemeanours”) is followed by the twisted black comedy of the first presidential foreign trip (“The Glowing Orb”). Various sub-plots – “The Humiliation of Sean Spicer”, “Melania’s Revenge” – simmer along nicely, their potential to explode as yet unexplored. The white-knuckle Macron handshake foreshadows a recurring theme of age and decrepitude in season two.

From Steve Bannon scowling among the sheikhs to vengeful giant James Comey stalking the corridors of Congress, has any drama ever assembled such a supporting cast? Melania Trump may be more Betty Draper from Mad Men than Carmela Soprano, but Jared Kushner is a figure recognisable to anyone who made the acquaintance of Tony Soprano’s nephew, Chris. Ivanka Trump is surely primed for her own spin-off.

Mention of the white-knuckle handshake with Macron, leads us to this piece by Jonathan Bouchet-Petersen, which points out some of Macron’s domestic considerations. You will need to know that Nicolas Hulot is a well-known French environmental journalist and campaigner who Macron has appointed as environment minister:

By intervening quickly and in English after the American announcement, the French president tries to pose as a leader on a subject, the environment, which was rather a blind spot of his program.

On the Macron side, with the first round of the legislative elections less than ten days away, it is also not forbidden to see the national goals of its international outings: not just that of Thursday evening, but also the handshake sequences with Trump and press conference with Putin . Honesty requires us to say that if Macron made a big push with Nicolas Hulot, whom he had to see this Friday morning at 10 am, to convince him to enter the government, the environmental issue is rather a lacuna in his program. But because he has everything to gain and politics is also a matter of opportunities or awareness, Macron could well grow green at high speed. In French as in English, he said: “We will not only keep our past commitments. […] France must be even more ambitious. “ The future of the planet, in any case, is a Jupiterian cause.

It remains that beyond the (pretty) words, it is the acts of Macron and the government of Edouard Philippe are being waited for by the associations, the NGOs and more generally by public opinion. Now, in this area, Macron still has to prove everything, his visit to Bercy has rather left a bitter taste to the defenders of the environment. Trumping is one thing, being a major player in the ecological transition is another. In any case, this is Hulot’s whole gamble in government.

In El Mundo, Teodoro Leon Gross has a slightly different angle on POUTS’s decision:

All this is, of course, part of a calculated electoral strategy . In the campaign they have already reproached him for signing a collective letter to Obama, published as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times , calling for aggressive government action on global warming in 2009: “If we do not act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that There will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet … an immediate challenge facing the United States and the world today. ” Then Trump lined up with the liberals in The Big Apple. Everything changed after 2011, when the target of the White House appeared. His convictions, if he had true convictions, were transformed into electoral slogans.

For nationalist populism, climate change is an uncomfortable truth because it is an insoluble problem at the national level that requires collective action among states. That was the Paris Agreement, of which only Syria and Nicaragua were excluded. And no matter how strong the evidence, the nationalist right wing populism tends to refute it to reinforce its interests. Trump knows that America’s mental frame , Make America Great Again , even Trump against the world , benefits him. There it carries the whole ethos with its slogan: believe me . In their speeches often loses the account of the believe me. Dozens of memes circulate, even meme generators; And the drinking game played, every time Trump says, believe me, a shot! At the moment it seems to work, though Jon Stewart, in a dialogue with Stephen Colbert, concluded, “Trump lies on purpose.” “Do you want to know how I know it?” He constantly repeats the phrase, “Believe me.” No one says ‘believe me’ unless he’s lying. “

On the other hand, Ian Johnston offers a subterfuge:

Trump Tower, Trump Model Management, Trump University, Trump Turnberry, Trump Natural Spring Water, Success by Trump… anyone notice a trend? It seems that everything the US President touches turns to Trump. I mean, even his children wear Trump-branded clothing. And it all comes with the same kind of braggadocio as the man himself. Success by Trump is a “masculine” fragrance that creates a “powerful presence” and “captures the spirit of the driven man”.

If Trump is driven to do anything at all, it is to put his name on everything he possibly can, like an un-neutered tomcat vigorously spraying his scent.

World leaders have swiftly ruled out renegotiating the Paris Agreement. Even “timid” Theresa May managed to belatedly pipe up that she was “disappointed” in her new best friend on the international stage.

But maybe, just maybe, the rest of us should reconsider.

Perhaps sorrowful expressions of remorse by European leaders – carefully worded to avoid sounding sarcastic – the public burning of the Paris Agreement on the Champs-Élysées and allowing Trump to win at his favourite game of competitive handshakes would help him feel a bit better about the rest of the world.

Shift a few paragraphs around, pinch a few more from his website (maybe this bit: “Donald J Trump is the very definition of the American success story, continually setting the standards of excellence while expanding his interests in real estate, sports, and entertainment. He is the archetypal businessman – a deal maker without peer”) and suddenly the Trump Agreement is born.

After all, Trump only reads things that have his name in it, according officials close to him who said even National Security Council staff had resorted to doing this in “as many paragraphs as we can because he keeps reading if he’s mentioned”.

If this is true, he’s probably not read the Paris Agreement, which means he won’t know the Trump Agreement is pretty much exactly the same.

But in the same week as POUTS announces withdrawal from the Paris accord, the EU and China announce what they are going to do together, as Alessandra Colarizi tells us:

A few hours after Donald Trump’s announcement on the US exit from the Paris Climate Agreement, the European Union and China reaffirmed their determination to defend the treaty. The bloc of 28 and the Asian giant were already preparing a communique to be released today at the end of the EU-China summit in Brussels , which began Thursday.

“The EU and China consider climate change and transition to clean energy as a more important imperative than ever,” notes the statement by European Council President Donald Tusk , European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the end of his ninth European trip since taking up the post in 2012. On Thursday afternoon, before leaving Berlin – the start of the State Visit – at Brussels, Li, side by side with Chancellor Angela Merkel , said in a press conference that China will “firmly” implement the Paris agreement, but that “this is a course to be pursued in co-operation with others”.

A concept reiterated in the China-EU document from the highly political content. By explicitly referring to multilateralism as an ingredient needed to find fair and effective solutions to the problems of our time, Beijing and Brussels set a backbone against US unilateralism under the aegis of Donald Trump . In China in recent days there has been much insistence on the split between Europe and the US which emerged at the G7 summit in Taormina . The failure to draft a joint statement on trade and the climate just added Merkel’s references to a “G6 + 1”, a clear allusion to Trump’s isolation.

For China, it is well known that this is a question of survival as well as of soft power : in 2007, the People’s Republic has surpassed the United States becoming the main greenhouse gas emitter. It is a primacy that if the domestic side fills with smog the daily life of more than 1.3 billion people, international chess forces Beijing to assume the role of responsible superpower. For a long time, China has insistently pointed out its “developing” country status, downgrading its obligations to those of a second world economy. Today, with the US disengagement, the Asian giant seems ready to assume global leadership . Will it be enough?

That’s a worrying prospect to David McWilliams:

Years ago, a mate of mine, the son of a hard-working Jewish butcher from Brooklyn, managed to get into Harvard. This was a huge undertaking for this average family without the financial resources to pay Ivy League fees. But they managed, as families tend to do. They saved, scrimped and borrowed so eventually the son emerged from one of America’s finest universities with brilliant results. He hasn’t looked back since.

Two decades later in New York, when we were chatting to his dad, discussing the sacrifices parents have to make to send their kids to top US universities, the old man looked at me and chuckled: “If you think Harvard is expensive, try ignorance!”

Ignorance is expensive and Donald Trump is testament to this. By pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord yesterday, he is signalling to the world that the United States – for so long the world’s pre-eminent home of scientific enquiry – is rejecting science. For the country that sent the first man to the moon, this is shameful. American universities produce far more Nobel Prize winners for science than the rest of the world combined – what does this say to them?

Having a climate change denier in the White House is frankly embarrassing.

There is also something bigger about the US withdrawing from the world. It is a massive change from everything that has gone before. We will miss America if it goes.

Unfortunately, the global understanding whereby the US will always be there as a type of “underwriter of last resort” is disappearing with Mr Trump. As I said, let’s not confuse best with good; the US has made plenty of mistakes as the global policeman, but if it leaves the pitch we will miss it.

So how serious is Mr Trump about leaving the pitch? If his Irish-American puppeteer Steve Bannon has anything to do with it, withdrawing from the Paris Accord is only the start.

This is all very dangerous for us, because Ireland has benefited overwhelmingly from Pax Americana. We are umbilically tied to the US. Furthermore, any withdrawal of America from the world stage would leave the world a much more dangerous place.

Germany, the only other possible Western hegemon, hasn’t the permission to lead properly; or at least the Germans have shown no appetite for the constraints and costs of leadership.

Those who are now looking to China to take up the global reins should be equally cautious: China is an autocratic, one-party state on the cusp of a financial meltdown. To paraphrase an elderly man: “If you think America is bad, try China!”

And on that depressing note, I’ll wish you as pleasant a Sunday as you can manage.




  1. This!

    In a sensible world, Sadiq Khan would be leading Labour and Ruth Davidson the Conservatives and there would be a serious contest between interestingly different but coherent views of where the UK should be going over the next five years, and there would have been actual discussion of what Brexit would entail, but instead we have had an unedifying trading of insults from two woodentops who dismiss serious criticism of their policy stances with stupid talking points.

    Politics everywhere is so ghastly I wonder if we have made it impossible for interesting people and views to cut through all the nonsense. The Macron election seemed to signal a change but it may take a clearing out of the Old Ways from our various political establishments, and certainly better media – a press that insists on discussing what it important, not superficial. That our Democratic Party’s 2020 primary is showing signs of being between two 70 year old white men fighting to show who is better for — butthurt white men! — is very discouraging. We already have a party for them.

    Thank you, Michael, back later to read more!

    • Thanks. It occurs to me that I should have added that Corbyn’s stupid talking points aren’t as stupid as May’s, although there’s not much in it.

      Our media are slightly more pliable: if leaders insist on talking about policy, it will get reported even while they search for some trivial bit of nonsense to gin up as a major scandal.

  2. I was reading the Irish papers yesterday & at first was excited they’re going to have their 1st out gay PM. Then I read about his positions – “Thatcherite” was a word I saw a lot. Bummer.

  3. Good morning, Michael, and fellow meese. Another excellent diary this morning. So many great pieces to read and different outlooks.

    Fourthly, Trump may get applauded by his base and, yes, he can make a fat cross on the list of his election promises. In fact, however, the decision demostrates Trump’s complete conceptlessness. His only leitmotif is the abolition of Obama’s legacy, beyond which there is no breath of a comprehensive strategy.

    The only reason he does anything is to feed his masses raw meat.

    Off to fill my cup and return to read the articles in more depth.

  4. Thanks Michael. It seems to me that – aside from the underlying media consortium issue, at least in America – what we are dealing with is an Extreme Left and an Extreme Right who, while screaming that it’s all lies, agree that the real target to be destroyed anywhere in the world is progressive liberals (namely, the folks who like to get things done). sigh.

    • Fortunately, that’s not really a European problem. The political classes over here largely agree on what the situation is, though the various factions have widely-differing views on what should be done about it.

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