Gordon Campbell on Britain’s pleas for mercyJune 29th, 2016
So… Boris Johnson is promising that he won’t be holding a snap general election, if he’s chosen as the next UK Conservative Party leader.
Reportedly, he is even making that promise a feature of his leadership campaign, since a vote for Boris would therefore mean (wink wink) that his colleagues wouldn’t have to risk their jobs and face the wrath of the British public until 2020. Incredible. So… the same Boris Johnson who railed so eloquently against Britain’s decisions being made by the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels, now plans to rule Britain himself unelected, for the next five years – on the back of a Conservative Party mandate that was actually won by his referendum opponent, the “Remain” leader, David Cameron. Regardless, Home Secretary Theresa May will be a formidable opponent for Johnson. The results of the leadership vote – likely to be a May vs Johnson showdown- will be announced on 9 September.
Given the mood of the British public, the Conservatives seem equally reluctant to (a) hold a snap election over Brexit and (b) trigger the article 50 exit clause from the European Union. A queasy stalemate now exists. On Brexit, the Europeans clearly want Britain to hurry up and get on with it, but no British politician (apart from Nigel Farage) seems willing to step up and be held responsible for pulling the trigger. Some people have taken hope from this stalemate, and read it as a sign that maybe an article 50 exit might never happen.
Meanwhile, over on the other side of the fence, Angela Eagle seems to have emerged as the initial ‘soft left’ compromise candidate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. (In passing, Eagle’s rise underlines just how prominent women currently are across the West’s political landscape: Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren etc. etc.) Within the parliamentary wing of the British Labour Party though, the man who triggered the coup against Corbyn (Hilary Benn) has said that he won’t stand for the leadership. Corbyn may not, either. By some legal arguments, Corbyn could well be required to collect 50 nominations from his colleagues to be able to stand for re-election – as every one of his challengers would also need to do. Given that Corbyn has just lost a vote of no confidence among his colleagues by a whopping 170 to 40, it is by no means certain that right now, he could clear the nominations hurdle. In which case, Corbyn’s popularity among the party at large would be irrelevant.
Looking beyond the current stalemate… what exactly will the next British PM (whoever it is) be pursuing as a credible goal in the negotiations with the EU? Yesterday, Angela Merkel made it clear Britain cannot expect to shirk its duties as a full EU member, but still retain all of its privileges. During the referendum campaign, the “Leave” proponents seemed to be advocating some kind of “Norway” or “Switzerland” status whereby market access continued outside full EU membership.
Those two countries though, are Shengen visa countries, allowing free movement. In which case, as the Australian economist John Quggin has pointed out, any Brexiteers now hoping to pursue a Norway/Switzerland market access model for Britain will actually have achieved the removal of the existing controls on immigration, rather than the imposition of new limits. Cameron, for his part, is pleading for market access to Europe, alongside greater powers to curb immigration.
Of course he is, poor little chap. That’s one example of how impossible it will be for Britain to cherry pick its new access conditions to Europe. For obvious reasons, Britain is likely to be punished, not rewarded. Whatever Britain’s negotiation plan may be – and there is no sign as yet that such a plan exists – those negotiations will be nasty and could involve up to ten years of further economic uncertainty for Britain, before completion. Oh, and if Britons expected to escape with a better deal from the EU’s current rules on fishing stocks – a big promise of the ‘Leave’ campaign – that won’t be happening now, either.
British fishermen have been warned that, despite the promises made by the leave campaign, they cannot expect to be granted greater catches after the UK leaves the European Union, and they may face increased economic turmoil.
Fishermen will have to remain within their current catch quotas while the UK is still a member, and even if new arrangements are negotiated after a Brexit, they will not necessarily be more generous, fisheries chiefs and campaigners have warned.
In fact, the Independent has just published a useful updated list on the major promises/lies of the “Leave” campaign, and the cold reality.
But whenever there’s carnage, the vultures will gather. Following sharp declines, stock markets rallied yesterday as investors came in, looking for bargains. This bounce may not mean the Brexit-induced bottom has been reached, investors were warned.
Spain Votes For Austerity
As this column pointed out a couple of days ago, the Brexit vote is likely to give the policies of economic austerity a new lease of life, just as those policies were in retreat across Europe. For proof, one need look no further than the results of the Spanish election, held just two days after the Brexit vote.
Though the polls had been predicting major gains for the radical left, the ruling conservative PP party pulled out all the stops in the 48 hours between the Brexit result and election day. As you might expect, the PP leadership warned against the risks involved in embracing change during such volatile times. Result: the predicted vote for the new party of the left (Unidos Podemos) and the new party of the right (Ciudadanos) both collapsed. Voters sought refuge in the corrupt old party of the right (PP) and the equally lacklustre old left wing party (PSOE).
In all likelihood, the PP will now be able to cobble together a governing coalition with Ciudadanos and a conservative group of small regional parties. On current counts, this may still come up one seat short of the 176 needed to rule the 350 seat assembly, which will probably mean that PSOE will abstain, and allow the PP to rule as a minority government. Or even worse, PSOE may join PP and Ciudadanos in a “grand coalition”. The big loser of the election has been Unidos Podemos, which was offering the only real alternative to the neo-liberal/austerity consensus. Thank Brexit for that outcome.
Wordlessly, guitarist William Tyler conveys a good deal of the current mood of social dislocation. Nice to note Nick Bollinger’s rave RNZ review this week of Tyler’s new album Modern Country . Incidentally, that title has less to do with rhinestone suits than with various forms of malaise. I’ve been regularly pushing Tyler’s merits in this column for 18 months or more – but it seems like a good morning to showcase him once again. According to Tyler, he wrote “Highway Anxiety” while driving himself for the hundreds of miles between his gigs – and the time alone on the road not only enabled him to see what was happening to rural communities, but set him to worrying about the future of his country. This is anxiously beautiful music, for anxious times.