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The poll figures currently suggest that the general election in May will produce another hung parliament, with neither major party likely to win an overall majority of the seats.  The commentariat continues to write and speak as if this must mean another coalition government, right?  No, wrong.  Or at any rate that the party with the most seats has the right to have the first shot at forming a government, OK?  No, wrong again.  Well, it’s bound to mean that if the LibDems hold the balance of power again (i.e. if they win enough seats to put either Labour or the Conservatives over the top), they will try to negotiate the terms on which they would join either in a coalition, starting with whichever of them has won more seats?  Not necessarily — not even probably.   OK: but it might not matter that much: the Tories are already trying to raise even more money from their hedge fund manager friends to enable them to fight a second election later in 2015, which Cameron would be entitled to call if he emerges as prime minister in May, wouldn’t he?  Again, not necessarily.

There was a significant but almost wholly unnoticed constitutional amendment sneaked onto the books shortly before the 2010 election, mainly by the then Cabinet Secretary, Sir (now Lord) Gus O’Donnell.  Just one month before that election, I wrote a blog post in which I described, with links to the sources, a constitutional development with major implications in the event of a hung parliament in the following month:

There is a fear that such uncertainty [caused by the failure of either party to win an overall majority], if it lasts more than a very few days, will cause a run on sterling, turmoil in the bond markets and a possible need to raise interest rates, which would slow down and perhaps reverse Britain’s economic recovery.  To avert this potentially damaging fall-out from a hung parliament, the Cabinet Secretary, encouraged by the prime minister (and possibly with the agreement of the other party leaders), has written a new “rule book” — although No. 10 Downing Street has demurred at this description, asserting that it’s no more than a codification of existing and hitherto unwritten constitutional practice. The Cabinet Secretary’s code, apparently taking the form of a new chapter for the Civil Service Manual, provides, among other things, that if a hung parliament results from an election, the incumbent prime minister, regardless of the number of votes or seats his party has won, should not and must not resign as prime minister until it’s clear that there is a specific alternative MP likely to be able to form a government that will win the support of a majority of members of the House of Commons, expressed in majority support for that government’s  programme, as defined in the Queen’s Speech.  This formulation is designed to protect two fundamental constitutional principles:  the nation’s government must be able to be carried on without a significant hiatus; and the monarch must not be placed in a position of being forced to make a decision (such as having to choose whom to invite to try to form a government when there is no consensus on whom she or he should choose) that would entail, or seem to entail, political partisanship as between the parties, thus potentially damaging confidence in the monarchy’s position above party politics.

This (probably new) rule has important implications.  Newspaper editorials claiming that Brown will be morally and politically obliged to resign immediately as prime minister if Labour comes second or third in terms of votes cast, have got it wrong.  Brown and the Labour government would be obliged to continue in office for as long as there was any uncertainty about how the LibDems would vote on a Labour or Conservative government’s Queen’s Speech or on a vote of confidence in either government.

What’s more, the dilemma facing Nick Clegg will not be which of Labour or the Conservatives to ‘support’ in a hung parliament, but whether deliberately to bring down the existing Labour government in the vote on the Queen’s Speech or in a vote of confidence in the government.

As we all now know, my prediction turned out to be wrong on at least two counts:  Gordon Brown, lambasted by the media for his failure to resign the day after the election as soon as it became clear that the Tories had won more seats than Labour, resisted pressure from the LibDems and the Tories to hang on as prime minister until the terms of a Tory-LibDem coalition under Cameron had been agreed, got fed up with being vilified for “clinging to office”, drove to the Palace, and resigned anyway, taking the rest of his administration with him (not physically, of course);  and it became clear that whatever the state of the parties’ negotiations in the effort to glue together a coalition commanding a Commons majority, there could be no question of the LibDems being willing to serve in or even support a government under Gordon Brown as prime minister, so low was his standing in the country at the time.  His resignation was thus inevitable, whatever the new O’Donnell rules might say about the incumbent prime minister having a duty to remain in office until a clear successor with majority support in parliament had emerged.

The situation next May will however be different.  The biggest difference is that in 2010 the incumbent prime minister was Labour, whereas in May 2015 the Tory leader will have the huge advantage of incumbency — an advantage which Gordon Brown was unable to exploit because of his unpopularity.  Regardless of which party wins the most seats in a hung parliament, and even if Labour with support from the LibDems, SNP, Greens and some leftish nationalist MPs win enough seats to constitute a majority, David Cameron will still be entitled to remain in office, even until the new parliament meets.  At that point Cameron would be entitled to present a programme for government in the Queen’s Speech and seek approval for it in the House of Commons (which would in effect constitute a vote of confidence in his government).  If the Tories plus UKIP and some LibDems (if any) plus the right-of-centre nationalists managed to muster a majority in favour of the Queen’s (i.e. Cameron’s) Speech, Cameron could constitutionally continue as prime minister: the question of his resignation would not arise, and the Queen would have no power to demand it, even if she (and her advisers) thought that Miliband had a better chance of forming a government likely to command a more durable majority’s support in the House.
This scenario is by no means far-fetched:  Cameron, ever the opportunist unhampered by principles or political philosophy, is quite capable of putting together a programme in the Queen’s Speech so alluring, so full of populist goodies, that it would be difficult for any reasonable centrist party to vote it down.  In that case Cameron would almost certainly reject any idea of another coalition, heading a minority government, possibly with an informal “confidence and supply” understanding with UKIP and the other right-of-centre parties under which he would need to try to assemble a majority for each individual measure but would resign as prime minister only if defeated in a vote of confidence or on an issue involving the vote of funds to the government.
Even if events turned out in this way, or something like it, the time might well come when Cameron might calculate that if there were to be another election within a few months, the Tories would stand a good chance of winning it, this time with an overall majority.  He would then be tempted to resign and hope to win an ensuing general election outright (the dubiously constitutional Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 could easily be circumvented or if necessary repealed).  Hence the reported decision of the Tories to start now collecting money to fight a possible second election in 2015.  But this depends on a questionable assumption.  David Cameron could resign and — if asked, but only if asked — advise the Queen to dissolve parliament,  followed by a fresh election; but this is one of the few occasions when the Queen is not bound to accept her prime minister’s advice.  She might well reject it if, for example, soundings by her advisers suggested that Ed Miliband would have enough backing from other parties to form a government with majority support in the House of Commons — and if she thought that the expense of another election so soon after the last would not be justified, especially in view of the risk that the outcome would be similar to that in May.  In such circumstances even a prime minister in office can’t be sure that his resignation would necessarily precipitate another general election.
All this is of course pure speculation.  It could well be falsified by any number of unpredictable factors, including the party arithmetic of the May election results and the extent of Cameron’s willingness to tough it out and hang on in No. 10 Downing Street until parliament meets even if Labour has won more seats than the Tories and would be generally regarded as having ‘won’ it.  Or indeed Labour might win an overall majority, in which case Cameron would automatically resign and Miliband would accept the Queen’s commission to form a government.  An overall Tory majority would similarly make speculation about the implications of a hung parliament redundant.
However, at the time of writing, the opinion polls seem to point to a hung parliament with Labour as the biggest party:  and with less than five months left before the election, Labour clearly ought to be making contingency plans for that outcome.
So what could the Labour party do now to minimise the danger of Cameron winning fewer seats but contriving to continue as prime minister until he can stitch together a majority in support of a Tory programme in the Queen’s Speech? The first priority must be to begin now to put together an agreement with the LibDems, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru on the essential points of a minority (or indeed majority) Labour government programme for which they would all be prepared to pledge support, whatever the arithmetic of the new parliament.  All this needs to be done urgently and above all publicly, so that the electorate knows what it will be voting for.   It should not be difficult to find enough common ground for a programme manifestly more fair and humane than anything currently on offer from the Tories, while still being economically and fiscally responsible.  For almost all concerned apart from UKIP the prize — an end to the Tory project of destruction of the welfare state and Britain’s departure from the EU — should be too great to turn down.  Such a widely supported progressive Labour programme, publicly endorsed in advance by the majority of the parties likely to win seats at the election, would maximise the chances of a clear overall majority in the new parliament — and offer the best hope of preventing the Tories plus UKIP being able to assemble a counter-majority, with some support from the dithering centre.  It will go against the grain and instincts of many good Labour people to begin now to look publicly for common ground with either the LibDems or the SNP, both of whom have so recently been sworn enemies of Labour.  But if we are to have any hope at all of a Labour government next May, we need to swallow our pride and our prejudices and seek support for a progressive alternative to Cameron and Osborne wherever we can find it.
To be absolutely clear, I am emphatically not advocating a Labour-led government coalition with the LibDems or anyone else.  If the new parliament comprises a medley of small parties, several of which would need to support any government measure in a kaleidoscope of different combinations for it to secure parliamentary approval, a laboriously negotiated coalition agreement between four or five different parties would be unachievable, as well as unmanageable and therefore undesirable.  Failing an overall Labour majority (clearly the best outcome of all), the aim should be a minority Labour government with enough broad support from the other progressive parties to ensure parliamentary approval for the key elements of the Labour election manifesto to justify an informal confidence and supply understanding. For once Tina has proved her case. There Is No Alternative.  But time is already dangerously short.  To quote another former and very different Conservative prime minister, Action this day!
Brian

With apologies for returning once more to the subject of my recent (first and last) book, What Diplomats Do, I want to let you know that three new reviews of the book have been published recently:  on the DiploFoundation’s website, by Dr Katharina Hone; on the website of LabourList, by Sir Keith Morris, retired British diplomat and former British ambassador to Colombia; and in the journal of the Foreign & Commonwealth Association, Password, by Sir Alexander Downer, Australian High Commissioner to the UK and a former long-serving Australian Foreign Minister.  All three of these reviews have now been added to the earlier reviews on my website at http://www.barder.com/wdd/reviews-of-what-diplomats-do.  These reviews, especially the one by Dr Hone, provide very good descriptions of what the book sets out to do and how it does it, as well as offering judgements on how well (or badly) What Diplomats Do lives up to its title.  It is not a diplomatic memoir, not a text-book, and certainly not a novel, although as several reviewers point out, it has elements of all three.

The 20% discount on the list price of the book for individual (but not institutional) buyers in the UK expires at the end of the month.  Individual buyers in the US continue to enjoy a significant discount. I couldn’t possibly comment on the grounds for this discrimination.  The discount is available to those using the order forms that can be downloaded from http://www.barder.com/wdd.

End of commercial!  Watch this space for a forthcoming blog post that will seek to correct some common misconceptions about the possible consequences of another hung parliament following the UK general election in just five months’ time.

Brian

Grenville-Murray book cover

It’s not often that a fascinating and important new book — in this case about an accomplished diplomat, journalist, whistle-blower, novelist, dissembler and controversial celebrity of Victorian times — is made available, totally free of charge, to anyone with a computer, internet access and Adobe software for downloading a book-length PDF file.  This is what Professor Emeritus G R Berridge, prolific writer and author of the classic textbook Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, has done with his latest book,  A Diplomatic Whistleblower in the Victorian Era: The Life and Writings of E. C. Grenville-Murray [pdf].

A quick web search reveals plenty of information about Eustace Grenville-Murray, including the texts of some of his writings and many references to him in the writings of others. But there has not hitherto been a full-length biography, and in his new book Professor Berridge describes some of the difficulties he has encountered in assembling the material for it:

First, his birth was illegitimate, so the records of his early life are either largely fictitious or non-existent. Second, because he was a whistleblower but relatively impecunious, he went to great lengths to cover his own literary tracks in order to safeguard his salaried income, so it is by no means easy to identify his writing, especially his newspaper articles. Third, because aristocrats both inside and outside the Foreign Office were desperate to contrive his downfall a whole raft of damaging myths was created about his official conduct and particular events in his life, and these have been constantly re-cycled – and inevitably embellished. …  Finally, he left no personal collection of private papers – no private correspondence, no diaries, no unpublished memoirs…

Berridge closes his book with these words:

Grenville-Murray’s ultimate misfortune was that his two great patrons, Dickens and Palmerston, tugged him in opposite directions: the former to the literary exposure of social evils, the latter to the important work of diplomacy.  He was no saint but it remains to his credit that, despite the tension between them and the strain that simultaneously plying these two trades imposed on his family, he made such a valuable contribution to both over such a long period. He deserves a better place in history than that pegged on the lazy re-cycling of the myths that he was a ‘scurrilous’ journalist deservedly ‘horsewhipped’ by a nobleman he had offended.
 Two observations about this lively chronicle of an extraordinary life in diplomacy and journalism:  first, its contemporary relevance (you can’t help noticing the partial parallels with another equally talented Murray whose controversial diplomatic career was eventually terminated by a hostile and exasperated Foreign Office); and, secondly, what an excellent film could be made of Berridge’s book, one that would be exciting and funny in equal parts.  Conversion of the text to a film script wouldn’t be exceptionally difficult.  It might need a voice-over narrator for which Geoff Berridge’s own distinctive voice would be ideal.

Professor G R Berridge

In the introduction to his book on his own website, Berridge sets out no fewer than 16 reasons for his decision to publish it as an ordinary PDF file on his website rather than submitting it to his publishers for publication as a book, whether in hard covers, as a paperback or as an e-book, or any combination of the three.  All book publishers should take the precaution of thinking carefully about the professor’s 16 reasons, which have significant lessons for them.  The downside seems to be the greater difficulty in spreading awareness of the existence of the book on a single semi-private website:  very little chance of reviews in specialist or general interest journals or newspapers, no mentions in publishers’ lists or advertisements.  It’s there, absolutely free and ready to be downloaded, but how many people know about it?  It’s even quite easy to send it from one’s own computer to a Kindle, if you have a Kindle account, so that you can add it to your Kindle library to read on the train, or plane, or in your favourite Chinese restaurant when lunching or dining alone.  So please heed this earnest plea:  if you’re prompted by this to download and read A Diplomatic Whistleblower in the Victorian Era, and if you enjoy it as much as I did, spread the word about it, and send your friends and family without delay to http://grberridge.diplomacy.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/GrenvilleMurray.01.pdf.

 PS:  Full disclosure:  Geoff Berridge is an old friend.  A few years ago I made some modest contributions as Editorial Consultant to the first edition of his extraordinarily useful and readable Dictionary of Diplomacy:  please see the Preface to the First Edition in subsequent editions.  More recently he has proved an excellent mentor and literary godfather helping in very many ways to bring my own first (and last) book, What Diplomats Do, into a not particularly startled world — please see http://www.barder.com/4229.
Brian

Alan Mumford, leading collector of and expert on political cartoons, has produced another in his brilliant series of political cartoon biographies, this time of that always fascinating character David Lloyd George, the Welsh wizard (the one before Nye Bevan).  Illustrated with numerous contemporary cartoons of the great but controversial man, some of them not previously published in modern times, the book’s text includes a highly readable  potted biography of LG followed by an informative and lively commentary on the cartoons themselves, setting out their historical background and explaining political references in them with which the modern reader might be unfamiliar.  Not all the cartoons are designed to be ‘funny’, but nearly all make an often sharp political or personal point with more impact in a smaller space than a paragraph of writing could hope to achieve.

Full disclosure:  Professor Mumford and his wife Denise are among my own and my wife’s oldest (in both senses!) friends.  Before Alan embarked on publishing his cartoon collection books, he had been the author and co-author of many authoritative and much esteemed books on management and management training.  For details of all these you can do a search for ‘Alan Mumford’ on Amazon.

More information about this eminently collectable book is provided in the book’s flyer, including links to the page devoted to the book on the Lloyd George Society website and to the relevant page of the publishers’ website where you can order a copy of the book for the modest sum of £20 (+p&p).  Please click on the picture below to see the full-size flyer and to access in it the web page for buying it.

Mumford-LlGeorge flyerMumford Lloyd George flyer thumbnail

 

Mumford-LlGeorge

PS:  If you enjoyed the Mumford collection of Lloyd George cartoons, you’ll be sure to enjoy equally my own book describing “What Diplomats Do: the life and work of diplomats” — details and link to order form with generous discount here.

Brian

We’ve barely stepped off the roller-coaster of the Scottish independence referendum, dizzy from the sudden swoops and dives but exhilarated to have survived as a country, before we’re plunged into another heated debate on how England is to win more control over its own internal affairs to match the increased powers for the Scottish parliament promised by the three UK party leaders as the price of Scotland’s vote to remain in the United Kingdom.  Ever ready to take the low road of party political advantage at moments of historic importance for our country, David Cameron waited for hardly an hour after hearing the referendum result before announcing to the nation from No 10 Downing Street that he proposed to couple with the promised increase in devolved powers for Scotland arrangements to prevent Scottish MPs exercising their right to vote (or speak?) on legislation at Westminster affecting only England, representing this half-baked proposal as the answer to the West Lothian Question (which it certainly is not).

A slightly shortened version of my letter to the Guardian about this is published in today’s print edition of the newspaper while the full text of the letter as I submitted it appears on the Guardian’s website (here – scroll down to the third letter):

The referendum result is welcome and heartening. The prime minister’s instant reaction is neither. His false equation of the West Lothian question with “English votes on English laws” obviously foreshadows an attempt to fob us off with a clumsy constitutional fudge, pretending that MPs in English constituencies can be an acceptable substitute for an English parliament when they can provide no accountable English government, no English government departments or civil servants to staff them, no distinctive English elections, and no way of identifying draft legislation or other parliamentary business that will affect only England.

Increasing the powers of English local government bodies is similarly hopelessly inadequate. We English should refuse to accept anything short of our own parliament, with internal self-government at least equal to what is now promised to Scotland; and that inevitably requires, in turn, the extensive safeguards against English domination that only a full federal system can provide. Mr Cameron’s promise to solve these monumental constitutional issues, along with further devolution to Scotland, on the same timetable, within a few months, is frankly ludicrous.

Labour’s feeble and non-committal response to these great issues is terribly disappointing, especially after it was left to Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown to supply the intellectual and emotional case for preserving the United Kingdom. LibDem support for federalism is sound, but the LibDem voice is half-hearted and almost inaudible. We face the depressing prospect that the only political leader making the incontrovertible case for an English parliament and government is Nigel Farage. Labour needs to act urgently to prevent Ukip’s support for what plainly needs to be done becoming its kiss of death.

Brian Barder
London

Since I wrote my letter and submitted it to the Guardian Ed Miliband and one or two other Labour spokespersons have announced Labour’s rejection of Mr Cameron’s attempt to bounce the country into swallowing his plan for tinkering with the voting arrangements in the House of Commons by linking it to the promised timetable for more devolution of powers to Scotland and fast-tracking it through parliament before the UK general election due in May 2015.  This opposition to Cameron’s plan meets one of the points in my Guardian letter.

Even more encouragingly, Labour seems to have committed itself yesterday (also after my letter was written) to holding a national constitutional convention to consider and make recommendations for overall changes in the UK constitution, presumably including addressing the glaring anomaly whereby of the four UK nations only England, the biggest and richest of the four, still lacks its own parliament and government, the organs without which no nation can take responsibility for its own internal affairs in the way that Scotland is close to doing, with Wales and Northern Ireland not far behind.  This meets another of the central points in my Guardian letter, although some Labour statements muddy the waters by suggesting that the first task of the constitutional convention will be to consider increased powers for the English cities and regions, no doubt a commendable ambition but no substitute for the central need to establish an English parliament and government — whose responsibilities would certainly need to include the much-needed devolution of powers to the English cities and regions away from the federal centre at Westminster and from the English centre of power at Manchester or York or wherever else the English parliament and government is to be established. That kind of internal decentralisation within England is however a quite separate issue from the key question: namely, England’s need for the constitutional organs with which to govern itself.  Precisely how decentralisation within England is to work should be for decision by the English people through their own elected parliament and government, not to be dictated to us in a tearing hurry by Mr Cameron’s quasi-federal all-UK government at Westminster, whose main preoccupation is clearly to score points against Labour in the run-up to next May’s elections.

I have listed in my Guardian letter above some of the killer arguments against the Tory claim that “English votes for English laws” can ever be an acceptable substitute for the belated establishment of self-governing organs for England and the extensive devolution to them of powers over internal English affairs similar to those already enjoyed by Scotland and those about to be added.  Some other misconceptions need to be, er, scotched, if that’s the right word in present circumstances:

1.  With partial devolution to three of the four UK nations we are already more than half-way into a federal system, but one that still lacks the essential safeguards inherent in full federalism against domination of the whole federation, and of the smaller member nations, by the biggest and most powerful of them.

2.  The disproportionate size and power of England compared with the other three nations are a fact of UK life that is badly aggravated by the UK (or English?) disease of gross over-centralisation.  An article in today’s Financial Times points out the utter imbecility of having HM Treasury in Whitehall laying down, through its control of local government budgets, the frequency of garbage collections in Liverpool.  When we finally have a written federal constitution, one of its main principles (in addition to an entrenched Bill of Rights) should be to make the four national governments responsible for putting into effect in each of the four jurisdictions the principle of subsidiarity — that all decisions should be taken by  institutions as close as possible to the people who will be affected by them, right down to ward councils and village mayors.

3.  The disproportionate size and power of England compared with the other three nations  are the main reason why Britain needs a federal system, not an obstacle to federalism.  A federal constitution is essential to protect the three smaller nations against interference in their internal affairs by England or by the federal government and parliament at Westminster by laying down a well defined division of powers between the federal and national levels, and by providing for a federal second chamber in which each of the four nations has an equal number of elected representatives.

4.  There’s bound to be some danger that the English government will tend to overshadow all the other federal and national governing organs by reason of England’s size, and the repercussions of what happens in England in the rest of the UK.  But that’s a fact of geography and population which can’t be changed.  The danger should not be exaggerated:  the all-UK federal parliament and government at Westminster will have totally different powers and functions from those of the English national parliament and government at Manchester (or wherever), the latter dealing mostly with bread-and-butter issues such as health and education, the former principally with foreign affairs and defence — and with any additional subjects that the four nations agree are best handled on an all-UK basis and which they therefore devolve upwards to Westminster.  Other subjects may be shared between the two levels.  The two kinds of organ, federal and national, will attract different kinds of politician.  The experience of existing successful federations such as Australia and the US should dispel any idea that even the biggest and most powerful second-tier governments, such as those of New York State or New South Wales, will overshadow their first-tier federal opposite numbers at Washington DC or Canberra.

Once we have parliaments and governments for all four nations, we shall in effect have a federal system.  Much work will need to be done over several years to complete that process, including a written constitution and other safeguards.  That will constitute the only definitive answer to the West Lothian Question.  There will be no need to create categories of federal MP able to vote on this issue but not on that:  matters affecting only the four nations, or some of them, simply won’t be within the competence of the federal organs, and vice versa.  Other countries run successful federal systems and have solved most of the problems that federalism entails.  Let’s not try to invent the wheel.  We can learn from Australia and the US and many other models.  All it needs is boldness — a commodity not much in evidence in our present polity.

Brian

There seem to be some dubious assumptions behind much of the current speculation from the commentariat south of the border:

(1) That there’ll be a in/out EU referendum in 2017 in the UK, whether or not it includes Scotland by then — which assumes a Tory overall majority at the next UK general election. Not a single opinion poll so far points to the likelihood of that happening. Of course it might, but as of now it’s extremely unlikely.

(2) That between a Scottish Yes vote next Thursday and whatever date is eventually set for Scotland to become independent, Scotland will be a foreign country and its MPs at Westminster will cease to take their seats: clearly wrong. Until the date of independence, which will depend on how long it takes to complete the separation negotiations, Scotland remains a part of the UK and its MPs remain UK citizens. At any UK election (such as that currently scheduled for May 2015) held before Scotland becomes formally independent, Scotland will continue to elect its MPs in the usual way. The UK parliament’s eventual legislation providing for Scotland to become independent on a specified date will need to include provision for MPs in Scottish constituencies to vacate their seats on that date. Presumably there will then need to be a fresh election in rUK (the rest of the UK).

(3) That the separation negotiations will be completed on the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s timetable, i.e. within about two years from a Yes vote on 18 September. Highly unlikely, in my view. I can’t see the negotiations being completed in less than five years, given their complexity and the potential for strong disagreement on a long list of issues.

(4) That there’ll be no UK general election until May 2015: probably correct, but we shouldn’t rule out a scenario in which —

(a) David Cameron, the UK prime minister, resigns very soon after a Yes vote in Scotland, either of his own volition or with the LibDems and disaffected Tories voting with Labour for a No Confidence motion in the house of commons.  (Many media commentators seem to have forgotten that the whole government resigns when a prime minister resigns);

(b) the Conservatives elect a new leader, presumably George Osborne;

(c) Mr Osborne (or whoever) tries but fails to form a government able to win a vote of confidence in the Commons, the LibDems refusing to join a new coalition with him;  accordingly,

(d) there’s a UK general election before the end of 2014; and —

(e) Labour wins it with a very small overall majority, and takes control of the separation negotiations with Scotland. No EU in/out referendum.

So why are Labour’s leader, Ed Miliband, and his front bench colleagues not already emphasising publicly and on every possible occasion that in the event of a Yes vote by the Scots, the Cameron government will be totally discredited by the greatest failure since the loss of the American colonies in 1776?  Why are they not promising that the moment a victory for Scottish independence is proclaimed, Labour will at once demand the government’s immediate resignation and the holding of a general election before the end of the year to decide which party is to lead the separation negotiations with Scotland? I have no idea why they are not. All I know is that they should be.

Brian

If you’re reading this, you’re entitled to a substantially discounted price if you order your copy of my new book, What Diplomats Do, using the order form on my website at http://www.barder.com/wp-content/uploads/Flyer-What-Diplomats-Do-June14.pdf (for buyers in the UK, discount 20 per cent) or using WDD-Flyer-and-Order-Form-for-US (for buyers in the United States, with a whopping discount of 30 per cent off the list price).

For UK buyers the discount applies only to the hardback version of What Diplomats Do but not the e-book version, whether from the publishers, Rowman & Littlefield or from Amazon for your Kindle.  For buyers in the US, the even bigger discount applies to both the hardback and the e-book (but not to Amazon and Kindle).

Please note that these order forms and discounts are only for individual buyers.  Libraries, university departments and other institutional buyers wanting to buy or ask for inspection copies, and journals or other papers wanting a complimentary review copy, need to contact the publishers, Rowman & Littlefield, using the relevant link in the left-hand panel of https://rowman.com/.  Please also note the advice on the US order form: “Rowman & Littlefield offers special discounts for bulk purchases in the U.S. by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact Nancy Hofmann in the Special Markets Department at [1] 301-459-3366, ext. 5605.”  I suggest that bulk buyers in the UK might use the contact addresses and other advice at http://www.nbninternational.com/Ordering/tabid/59/Default.aspx.

What Diplomats Do is not a memoir or autobiography. It aims to describe what working diplomats, not just ambassadors, actually do, day by day, in all the varied situations that they work in.  It’s meant as a teaching tool for university (or school) teachers and students of international relations and diplomacy, but also as a guidebook for people contemplating a diplomatic career and above all as an entertaining and readable book for the general reader interested in current affairs.  It has already won warm praise from eminent academic authorities in the field of diplomacy and also from equally eminent former ambassadors (see for example http://www.barder.com/wdd/reviews-of-what-diplomats-do).  Although written from the viewpoint of a British diplomat (which I used to be), it’s equally valid as a description of the essence of what American and other European and indeed all diplomats do, although the terminologies and some of the procedures naturally vary.

There’s fuller information about What Diplomats Do at http://www.barder.com/wdd/ — follow the links, including two sample chapters in full — and in http://www.barder.com/4229.

If you want further information about the book, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me by using the contact form at http://www.barder.com/contact, or by clicking ‘Contact me’ at the top of almost every page of my website, or by private email if you have my address.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading What Diplomats Do.

Brian Barder

Diplomacy is the art of giving all parties in a conflict what they need, if not what they want. Right now, the underpaid, mismanaged FCO staff are getting neither what they need nor what they want. Britain is weaker and less safe as a result.

So writes the Editor of The Independent, Amol Rajan, in Thursday’s London Evening Standard, in a stinging account of the marginalisation of a once great department of state (full disclosure: for which I worked for 30 years).

In her resignation letter of 5 August, Baroness Warsi, a former Co-Chair of the Conservative Party and Foreign Office minister, denounced the government’s policy on Gaza as —

[in]consistent with our values, specifically our commitment to the rule of law and our long history of support for International Justice. In many ways the absence of the experience and expertise of colleagues like Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve has over the last few weeks become very apparent… William Hague was probably one of the finest Foreign Secretaries this country has seen… He dismantled foreign policy making by sofa government and restored decision making and dignity to the Foreign Office. There is however great unease across the Foreign Office, amongst both Minister[s] and senior officials, in the way recent decisions are being made.

The two greatest disasters in British post-war foreign policy, Suez (1956) and UK participation in the illegal attack on Iraq (2003), were at least partly attributable to the failure, indeed deliberate refusal, of the responsible prime ministers, Sir Anthony Eden and Tony Blair, to listen to the advice and warnings of the professional foreign affairs experts, including the legal advisers, in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

As Rajan’s article points out, one consequence of the steady devaluation of the FCO over many decades, as its resources have been mindlessly reduced while its responsibilities have been relentlessly increased, has been the absence of any coherent identifiable British foreign policy. Successive governments have constantly over-estimated British influence in world affairs, endlessly boasting about Britain’s ‘leadership role’, blind to the evidence of relative decline and indeed often explicitly denying it, while actually accelerating it by an extraordinary failure to play an active, constructive and cooperative role in Europe. Neither party has an identifiable policy on military intervention in the affairs of other states: in the weird muddle over the abortive proposal to join in air attacks on Syria, neither Labour nor the Conservatives felt able to declare unequivocally that such intervention without the prior authority of the UN Security Council (and other than in self-defence) would be in clear breach of the UN Charter and thus of international law — therefore an act of aggression and a war crime. No British government in recent times has laid down a coherent policy on the middle east, on China (threat? opportunity? who knows?), on reform of the Security Council (is Britain willing to give up or share its permanent seat and veto?) or on nuclear disarmament and the scandalous distortion of UK defence policy by the irrational refusal to scrap Trident, a so-called independent nuclear deterrent which is not independent and has no-one to deter, as crisply demonstrated by Simon Jenkins in the Guardian of 15 August. In a crisis, why do our prime ministers instinctively rush first across the Atlantic, not across the English Channel?  It’s too late to reverse NATO’s reckless expansion eastwards or Putin’s reactive retrieval of Crimea, but why are we intent on punishing Russia instead of discussing a Ukraine settlement that will respect the interests of all parties to the conflict?

Amol Rajan tells us that —

Cameron’s close circle of foreign policy advisers in No. 10 and the Cabinet Office has explained in closed-door meetings to the diplomats in the FCO that the Prime Minister does not really think about strategy at all. Moreover, the feeling in King Charles Street and some of our missions is that many of these advisers owe their positions to old school ties rather than ability.

This persistent legacy of failure offers Ed Miliband and his colleagues an enormous opportunity to set out a coherent, rational and law-abiding foreign policy, rooted in and executed by the FCO, for an incoming Labour government. This will call for a degree of courage that has been conspicuously missing from our political leaders of all political colours in recent years: courage to take on the puerile sabre-rattling of the tabloids and the Murdoch press; courage to attack such shibboleths as Trident, the burned-out ‘two-state solution’ in the middle east, and the indefensible current composition of the Security Council; not least, courage to acknowledge the foreign affairs blunders of the Blair government, some of whose senior members still insist on defending their flawed records in parliament and the media.  Labour’s motto in these and many other matters should be Danton’s: “il nous faut de l’audace, et encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace!” If Labour dared to adopt it, Mr Miliband’s fate might be happier than Danton’s: not the guillotine, but the keys to Downing Street.

Brian

As of now (6 August 2014) the best guess must be that Scotland will vote to reject independence in the referendum on the 18th of next month.  But there are still many undecided voters and most pundits predict a closer result than the opinion polls currently suggest.  The possibility of a narrow majority for independence can’t be ruled out, and politicians and media analysts alike should be doing much more contingency planning and discussion against that possibility than seems to be happening.  Among the major issues in the event of a majority Yes vote that ought to be actively considered by all the UK parties between now and the referendum is whether the coalition government should resign at once if defeated in the referendum, with fresh elections before the end of this year to elect a new government with a mandate to conduct the independence negotiations with Scotland.  In my view it would be a constitutional outrage if Cameron and his coalition government refused to resign in such circumstances, for the reasons (among others) set out in my letter published in today’s Guardian:

A vote for Scottish independence is a vote for a pig in a poke
The Guardian, Wednesday 6 August 2014
Martin Kettle’s dystopian and all too credible prediction of the disastrous consequences of a majority for independence in the Scottish referendum in September (Remember 2014, the last summer of the old Britain, 31 July) suggests two possible variants of his scenario. First, David Cameron’s coalition government would surely have to resign immediately following such a catastrophic defeat. The incumbent government that had presided over the disintegration of our country as a direct result of its failure to offer Scotland a credible alternative to independence could hardly carry on as if nothing terrible had happened; and anyway there would be a pressing need for a new government with an electoral mandate to open and lead the negotiations with Edinburgh on the detailed terms of Scotland’s secession.

Second, the negotiations between Scotland and the rest of the UK (rUK) on the terms of secession would be quite likely to get bogged down in failure to agree on some key issues. If the best terms that the government at Holyrood was able to extract fell significantly short of the SNP’s demands, there might well be justified pressure from the Scottish people for a fresh referendum to establish whether those who had voted in 2014 for independence still favoured it on the only terms on offer following the negotiations. Come September, Scots will have to decide whether to buy a pig in a poke. They may well find that they don’t like the pig when it eventually emerges. However, it would be risky for Scots considering a yes vote in September to assume that they will have an opportunity later to change their minds if they don’t like whatever may emerge from negotiations with rUK.

Brian Barder
London

StAndrews-flag

The Scottish Saltire

On the second point in my Guardian letter, there seems to be some doubt about whether ministers have allowed Whitehall to start planning for the consequences of a possible vote for independence on 18 September.  Such an outcome would launch several years of intricate and often deeply divisive negotiations between a Scottish team, led by or perhaps comprising the SNP, on the one hand, and a team representing the rest of the UK (rUK), probably representing all the mainstream UK parties, on the other.  Does the main steering brief for the rUK team in the negotiations already exist in Whitehall, setting out the rUK’s main aims in the negotiations, including its red lines on an independent Scotland’s currency; the future of rUK naval and military bases in Scotland (including HM Naval Base Clyde); and the allocation as between Scotland and rUK of North Sea oil revenues, the national debt, the armed forces, and a host of other assets and liabilities?  Have the three main UK parties worked out agreed or differing policies on each of these vital issues?  If they differ, how are the differences to be reconciled in conducting the negotiations if not by a mandate from the rUK electorate — which would mean publicly disclosing the rUK’s negotiating positions in advance?  Perhaps most important of all:  what will happen if, after perhaps several years of difficult and stormy negotiations, the two sides simply fail to reach agreement?  In the last resort the rUK side can lay down the terms on which the UK parliament will be prepared to grant independence to Scotland, whether or not the Scottish side — almost certainly after fresh elections in Scotland — has agreed to them.  What if the majority of Scots who will have voted Yes in 2014 don’t wish to become independent on the terms laid down by rUK following a breakdown or deadlock in the negotiations?  In that perfectly plausible situation, is rUK prepared to force independence on Scotland even if a majority of Scots don’t want it on the rUK’s terms?

All these issues urgently need to be publicly aired and debated in the next six weeks if Scottish voters are to have even a hazy understanding of the likely consequences of their votes on 18 September.  Have ministers and their officials, and the Labour leadership separately, thought them through and arrived at firm decisions on how to handle them in the negotiations with the Scots if the Yes vote wins?  Are any of the three main UK parties ready for an October or November general election fought on the issue of the terms of separation to be offered to Scotland after a Yes vote on 18 September?  I rather doubt it.

Brian

 

 

 

Britain has belonged to the European Union and its predecessors for the past 42 years. Yet some of our leaders, Conservative and Labour, apparently have little idea about the way it works. Iain Duncan-Smith, the Tory Work and Pensions Secretary, and Douglas Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, have both complained, in terms that suggest a surprising ignorance of EU realities, about the possibility of Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, becoming President of the European Commission in the face of David Cameron’s ferocious opposition to him.

According to Nicholas Watt in today’s (23 June 2014) Guardian, Mr Duncan-Smith, a former leader of the Conservative party, said yesterday:

If they give Jean-Claude Juncker a job this is like literally [sic] flicking two fingers at the rest of Europe and saying to all the people out there, ‘We know that you voted the way you did but you are wrong and we are just going to show you how wrong you are by carrying on as though nothing happened.’

And Mr Alexander, for Labour, who according to Mr Watt “has instructed Labour MEPs not to support Juncker” [what, even if he’s unanimously nominated for the job by all the EU governments?], spoke in equally revealing terms:

There can be no excuses. David Cameron has a clear mandate from political parties here in the UK – including Labour – to build consensus across Europe for an alternative candidate for president of the commission.

Mr Duncan-Smith seems to think that the majority of the EU electorate has just voted to reject Mr Juncker for the post of Commission President.  In fact, Mr Juncker was the preferred candidate of the EPP, the main centre-right group in the EU parliament, which won the most seats in last month’s election. So if the EU elections are any guide (which is debatable), Mr Juncker has a better claim on the job than anyone else.

It’s also meaningless to suggest, as Mr Alexander seems to have done, that at least the UK voters voted at the European elections in support of Mr Cameron’s opposition to Mr Juncker.  Because of Mr Cameron’s eccentric and ill-judged  decision, before becoming UK prime minister, to pull the UK Conservative party out of the EPP group to which its main natural allies in Europe belong, and to form a new group which he thought could be made more Euro-sceptic, there is now no UK party that belongs to the EPP group, and it was therefore impossible for any UK voter to vote either for or against Mr Juncker for the Commission Presidency.  Where Mr Alexander’s “clear mandate” for Mr Cameron’s opposition to Mr Juncker comes from remains a mystery. If all he means is that he, Ed Miliband and Clegg have all agreed to oppose Juncker and to support Cameron’s reckless campaign against him, that hardly amounts to a ‘mandate': it’s more of a joint misjudgement.

It’s just as bizarre for Duncan-Smith and Alexander to speak as if the elections to the European parliament effectively equated to elections to the Presidency of the European Commission.  The parallel with elections to the UK parliament, where the leader of the party winning the most seats in the House of Commons will normally become prime minister, is seriously misleading.  In the case of the EU, it’s the European Council of Ministers – i.e. the EU heads of government – who have the duty and right to ‘nominate’ their preferred candidate for the Presidency of the Commission, who is then ‘elected’ – or rejected – by the European parliament.  Of course in deciding whom to nominate to the EU parliament for the Commission Presidency, the EU governments will take account of opinion in the elected EU parliament, the biggest group in which campaigned last month for Mr Juncker as Commission President.  If Mr Cameron somehow persuades his fellow members of the Council of Ministers to nominate a candidate other than Mr Juncker,  the EU parliament might well refuse to elect him or her, and go on rejecting the EU governments’ nominees until they consent to nominate Mr Juncker.  But the idea that in electing Tory, LibDem, Labour or UKIP MEPs to Brussels and Strasberg, British voters were expressing an opinion about Mr Juncker’s – or anyone else’s – suitability for the Commission Presidency is frankly fatuous.  I doubt if as many as 1 percent of UK voters had ever heard of Mr Juncker.

Iain Duncan-Smith and Douglas Alexander might usefully be reminded of two further points.

JunckerFirst, last month’s EU elections in the UK can’t by any stretch of the imagination be regarded as an indication of the British people’s views on the best candidate for the Commission Presidency.  No UK party campaigned at those elections for any particular candidate for that post, no UK party putting up candidates for the European parliament belonged to the EPP group which, elsewhere in Europe, was championing Mr Juncker for the job, and since the UK is unrepresented in the EPP group which won the elections, the UK’s MEPs will have little or no influence in the decision of the EU parliament on whether to elect or reject whoever is eventually nominated by the EU governments.  This sorry situation results directly from David Cameron’s decision to pull his party out of the EPP group, ignoring the pleas of a bewildered Mrs Merkel and other European leaders who might otherwise have had some sympathy with Mr Cameron’s problems.

Secondly, our party leaders might be reminded that there is no consensus in Britain about the kind of EU reforms that Mr Cameron and his Euro-sceptic party are demanding.  Just because all three of the main political parties in Britain, and indeed in many other European countries, recognise the need for “reform” of the EU, it doesn’t mean that they agree on which reforms they want.  The UK Tories, for example, want to weaken the power of the EU to regulate safeguards for employees’ work conditions throughout the Union.  They resent this EU power in the name of what they euphemistically refer to as “flexible labour laws”.  Our UK Tories want to be relieved of EU  constraints on their right to make our workers work longer hours, for lower rates of pay, with fewer rights to maternity, paternity and other holidays, and generally in worse conditions, than those in our more enlightened EU partner countries.  We need a promise that this is one of many Cameron ‘reforms’ that Labour will never support.

Nor should Labour support the Tories’ demand for limits to be imposed on the free movement of people within the EU, or for abandonment of the principle that all EU citizens, in whichever EU country they live, work or visit, are equally entitled to  health and other social benefits.  We all favour ‘reform’, as we all favour motherhood, but one party’s reforms are another’s erosion of the basic principles underlying the EU.  The Union, that institution to which we belong, and from which we derive such enormous benefits, is one which many people all over our continent still, despite all the disappointments and disillusionments, find genuinely inspiring.  Labour should never compromise its European credentials in order to try to appease the Euro-sceptics of the Murdoch press and the wilder reaches of the Conservative back benches.  We can leave that doomed attempt at appeasing ignorance and reaction to Mr Cameron and Mr Duncan-Smith.

Our prime minister has embarked on another of his wild gambles.  If he pulls it off and our partner governments are blackmailed into dispensing with Mr Juncker’s services, David Cameron’s and other Tories’ triumphalist gloating will be hard to endure, and Britain will incur the odium of widespread opinion throughout the EU for depriving them of their favourite candidate.  If he fails, Britain will have to cope for five years or more with a powerful President of the Commission who’ll bear an entirely understandable grudge against all three of the UK’s political parties for having tried so hard, for so little reason, to prevent his selection for the job.  It’s a lose-lose situation, as usual.

Footnote (27 June 2014): An abbreviated version of this post has been published by LabourList: please see http://labourlist.org/2014/06/on-foolishly-trying-to-junk-mr-juncker/.  It has attracted some very interesting comments there, to some of which I have tried to respond with a number of additional points on various aspects of the issue.

Brian