September 25, 2000
What Happens If Blair Loses?
And he may, just
one of two major parties to get a single
figure lead in the opinion polls may not seem like a major event,
but welcome to England in the last year of the twentieth century.
It is hard to underestimate how unpopular the Conservatives
were. After "White Wednesday", when the pound was sent crashing
out of the precursor of the Euro, the Exchange
Rate Mechanism, the Tories never
had an opinion poll lead until last week. Between 1992 and now
the Tories have been permanently behind. They were not behind by
just a few percentage points, but by sometimes more
than 20%. Eight solid years and Labour's been ahead, but no
NOT GONE YET
present Tory lead has gone as high as 5%, so cracking open the champagne
is premature. The fuel
blockades, and even more the Government's arrogant
response to it brought a merciless spotlight on two of the Government's
more annoying characteristics, its willingness to tax and its inability
to treat the electorate as adults. Over time the Conservatives will
make mistakes; an admission by the Tory leader that he occasionally
up to 14 pints of beer when he was a teenager, was treated as
a national emergency by the State owned BBC. The Government will
people back to supporting them, admittedly with their own money.
The likelihood is still of a Labour victory (although if the Tories
pull it out of the hat I will flaunt this column as a showpiece
of my powers of political prediction). However, it is no longer
PREPARING FOR GOVERNMENT
Conservatives have not prepared for government yet. They have punched
above their weight in mid
term elections, showing that their core vote is solidifying
and getting active at the same time that Labour's is losing interest.
Nevertheless, the common expectation is that they will lose the
next election. The plan is to win a majority
of English seats and then to win a referendum
on adopting the Euro. The position
of England is terribly odd, Scottish, Welsh and Irish MPs can
decide on all British internal matters, but English MPs can not
do the same for their Celtic brothers. Couple that with 85% of the
population and a position where they are subsidising the Celtic
fringes you may see this as a potentially
explosive situation. It does not matter now, Labour has a majority
of English seats, but what happens if they do not have an English
majority, a situation that has greeted every previous Labour government
but two? Similarly, a vote against accepting the Euro will have
an immensely destabilising effect on British politics, totally de-legitimising
almost any European initiative. A No
vote can be used like a hammer on all pro-European moves for
at least a decade, with the constant refrain that "the British said
no to that". By the end of a second term Britain, or more accurately
most of England, will be ungovernable.
ABOUT PLAN A?
the Conservatives have all but written off an election victory,
does that mean we should? No, it would pay to look at what type
of change the present Conservative Party would make to British foreign
policy. What does happen if we all wake up to a Tory victory?
BUT NOT OF
first problem will be with Europe.
Britain is with the best will in the world a destabilising influence
in a federating Europe. When the will is not so good it could be
destructive. The current Tory mantra "In
Europe, not run by Europe" is deceptively vague. It is effective,
as it directly addresses the electorate's schizophrenic attitude
that they want to stay British but do not want to be left on their
own. It is obviously contradictory, it is absurd to imagine that
one can belong to a blatantly power hungry institution such as the
EU is while not surrendering sovereignty. Many
Eurosceptics see this contradiction as a deliberate ploy to
sell Britain down the river. I see it as the opposite. Although
not doubting a politician's capacity for treachery, I happen to
believe that politicians are more interested in power in their own
country, than in unworkable schemes for international governance.
A less than popular conservative government will have to play every
card it has, and will not stint on playing the British card, especially
as those Conservatives
with pro-European scruples seem to be on
the party margins. Hospitals may be opened or taxes cut on the
strength of reducing Britain's massive net
contribution to the EU. Some of the most obviously unpopular
directives from Brussels may be flamboyantly over turned, with all
attempted bullying being welcomed as a chance to portray their party
as patriotic. For domestic British reasons, the whole European construct
will be thrown into turmoil.
FUNCTIONING OF EUROPE
will Europe cope with a maverick, but powerful, member? In the end
it can not, Britain will have to either bend to Europe or leave
it. However, in the short term the governing classes in France and
Germany will be distracted by the latest example of Albion's perfidy.
The tricky balancing act of federating
at home while expanding
eastwards will be thrown into doubt, as will the united stance
on trade. The European Union is not really felt outside Europe,
but its disability could free up places like Russia and Serbia
and could lose America both a cat's paw and a potential rival, at
least until Britain is thrown out.
is a common feeling in Britain that it is impossible for Britain
to go it alone. While this is rubbish, Britain needs to accept her
limits and can live perfectly peaceably with her neighbours. However,
a perception that we must be led is pervasive. If Europe is not
around whom do you think Britain will look to? While this will make
little practical difference to the willingness of Britain to fight
with America, it will mean that America will have a new calculation
in economic issues, from trade to the use of the dollar. Whether
America requites this
love is to be seen.
area where there will be a radical overhaul will be in Britain's
armed forces. This is one area where America may actually see a
disadvantage, in that Britain's military capacity will become less
far-reaching. It is unlikely that the military spend will actually
decrease in any meaningful sense, but the priorities may be different.
The situation in Northern
Ireland is likely to break down under whichever party, but it
is more likely that the Conservatives will take an Irishman's life
seriously, and so troops will probably be back in Northern Ireland.
Similarly a number of troops in Western Europe, especially in Germany,
are likely to be withdrawn as part of a disengagement with Europe,
what they were doing there after the Russians had withdrawn is another
questions. One of the areas over which the Conservatives have constantly
been sniping at the present government is the state of the Territorial
Army. This "home
guard" has been effectively re-made into a reserve
of technicians for the army, and radically
cut in numbers. There is also the issue of the under-equipment
of all the armed forces, leading to the farcical sight of naval
officers on training exercises shouting "bang" when a shell is supposed
to hit, so as not
to waste real shells. Even the smallest effort to reverse this
will detract from foreign commitments, even if the Conservatives
believe in them.
the revival of the national interest has been one of the bright
spots of Tory
thinking in opposition. Although few
Tories openly opposed the Kosovo bombing, the level of unease
in the grassroots was palpable. Why precisely where British troops
there? This unease was articulated when British troops went into
Timor, and later Sierra
Leone. The spokesman for defence, Iain
Duncan Smith, has a reputation as a rather intelligent right
winger and one able to think in terms of national interest.
A conservative government, looking around for tax cuts and not willing
to flirt with unpopularity when troops come home in body bags, will
be far less taken in by the siren voices of empire and global responsibility.