Tag Archives: john major

In defense of David Cameron

Prime minister David Cameron resigned earlier this morning. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters)
Prime minister David Cameron resigned earlier this morning. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters)

Normally, when a politician — especially a president or a prime minister — resigns, he or she is met with effusive praise.United Kingdom Flag Icon

There’s the defeat. Then the stepping down. Then a deluge of pieces heralding the peaks as well as the valleys of the political career that’s just ended.

Not David Cameron, who stepped out of 10 Downing Street this morning to step down as British prime minister, a day after he narrowly lost a campaign to keep the United Kingdom inside the European Union. For Cameron, today’s political obituaries, so to speak, are absolutely brutalThe Independent called him the ‘worst prime minister in a hundred years.’

And that’s perhaps fair. He is, after all, the prime minister who managed to guide his country, accidentally, out of the European Union. His country (and, indeed all of Europe) now faces a period of massive uncertainty as a result.

The man who once hectored his party to stop ‘banging on about Europe’ has now been done in over Europe — just as the last two Conservative prime ministers, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

He’ll leave behind a Scotland that wanted to stay inside the European Union by a margin of 62% to 38% and that will now have the moral and political capital to demand a fresh independence referendum to become an independent Scotland within the European Union. First minister Nicola Sturgeon, of course, knew this all along, and she wasted no time in making clear that a second vote is now her top priority.

He’ll also leave behind an awful mess as to the status of Northern Ireland, which also voted for Remain by a narrower margin. Its borders with the Republic of Ireland are now unclear, the republican Sinn Fein now wants a border poll on Irish unification and the Good Friday agreement that ended decades of sectarian violence might have to be amended.

He’ll leave behind an angry electorate in England, sharply divided by income, race, ethnicity and culture — if the divide between England Scotland looks insurmountable, so does the divide between London and the rest of England. Despite the warning signs, and the rise of Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Cameron failed to provide English voters with the devolution of regional power that voters enjoyed in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and even London.

Cameron showed, unlike Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy, he was willing to accede to the wishes of Scottish nationalists and give them a say in their own self-determination. Given the corrosive nature of the eurosceptic populism within his own party and in UKIP, it wasn’t unreasonable that Cameron would force them to ‘put up or shut up’ with the first in-out vote on EU membership since 1975, when the European Union was just the European Economic Community.

On every measure, Cameron leaves behind a country more broken and more polarized than the one he inherited from Gordon Brown in May 2010. Continue reading In defense of David Cameron

Major’s scare tactics show Tories running scared

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If it was surprising to see former prime minister Tony Blair two weeks ago back in the spotlight of British politics, it was even more surprising Tuesday to see his predecessor, Conservative prime minister John Major, stealing the show with just over two weeks to go until the United Kingdom’s general election.United Kingdom Flag Icon

His remarks, a calculated warning about the potential rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is now forecast to win nearly all of Scotland’s 59 seats to the House of Commons, show just how worried the Conservatives are about a potential coalition between the center-left Labour Party and the SNP.

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RELATED: Scotland could easily hold the balance of power in Britain

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With Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon apparently impervious to attack from Tories or from Labour in Scotland, Major delivered a rare speech on Tuesday warning that a Labour-SNP government would be a ‘clear and present danger’ to British unity, echoing in softer tones the warnings of prime minister David Cameron a few days ago, who declared a potential Labour-SNP alliance a ‘coalition of chaos.’

In typical Major style, there were few histrionics in his speech, but the only living former Conservative prime minister made it clear just how seriously the Tories are taking the joint Labour-SNP threat by warning that the SNP would ‘blackmail’ a Labour government led by Ed Miliband, pushing for small victories that will secure the SNP’s popularity prior to regional Scottish elections in 2016, en route to demands for another referendum on independence:

It is to drive a wedge between Scotland and – especially – England.  They will manufacture grievance to make it more likely any future Referendum would deliver a majority for independence.  They will ask for the impossible and create merry hell if it is denied.  The nightmare of a broken United Kingdom has not gone away.  The separation debate is not over.  The SNP is determined to prise apart the United Kingdom.

With just two weeks until British voters choose their next government, there’s no sign that either the Conservatives or Labour can win a majority to govern alone. Even with the support of the Liberal Democrats, neither party is projected to win the 326 seats they will need to form a majority. With Sturgeon’s surging SNP set to win nearly all of the 59 seats in Scotland, that’s made her the potential kingmaker for the next British government.

Unlike Liberal Democratic leader Nick Clegg, who has made it clear that he could partner with either major party, Sturgeon has made it clear that she will not support a Tory government at Westminster. With little support to lose in Scotland itself, Major’s return indicates that the Conservative strategy for the next two weeks will be to scare English voters into supporting Tories with the threat of a Scottish-controlled parliament. Continue reading Major’s scare tactics show Tories running scared

A tale of two referenda: How the EU debate could poison the Scotland debate

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In a static world, it’s easy to believe that UK prime minister David Cameron’s call in January 2013 for a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership in the European Union will never come to pass — it depends upon the reelection of a Conservative-led in the 2015 general election, Cameron’s continued Tory leadership and a lengthy process of negotiation thereafter with EU leaders. United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

So when Cameron agreed with Scottish first minister Alex Salmond two months later to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014, he had every reason to believe that he had bought enough time to keep the European issue relatively calm.  After all, poll after poll shows the pro-independence vote lagging far behind the anti-independence vote and, despite a relatively large number of undecided Scottish voters, many polls throughout 2012 and early 2013 showed the ‘no’ vote with over 50% support.  One Ipsos poll earlier this month showed that 59% support union and just 31% support independence.

But what’s increasingly clear is that the two referenda are becoming inseparable — Scotland’s future role in the United Kingdom depends on the United Kingdom’s future role in Europe.  With Westminster now increasingly turning to its toxic obsession with its union with Europe, a group of largely English parliamentarians may well be endangering the more longstanding three-century union with Scotland.

It’s easy to follow Cameron’s arithmetic here:  Allow the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the more euroskeptic members of his own party their opportunity for an anti-Europe outlet in the May 2014 European Parliament elections.  Then sail through the September 2014 Scottish referendum with both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democratic Party united against Scottish independence, maybe even by promising ‘devomax,’ a form of further devolution of tax and spending powers to the Scottish parliament that came into existence in 1999.  Cameron could therefore put the specter of Scottish independence behind him before looking to the next general election and, if successfully reelected, the EU negotiations that would precede the long-promised EU referendum.

What Cameron didn’t count on was the growing chorus of euroskeptic rage from within his own party, which seems destined to repeat the Tory infighting of the 1990s that so destabilized former prime minister John Major’s government  Education minister Michael Gove’s insisted last week, for example, that he would support leaving the European Union if a vote were held immediately.  Over 100 Tory backbenchers are calling for a law to guarantee a referendum later this decade or even for a referendum before 2015, and one Tory MP is even arguing for a full joint Tory/UKIP electoral coalition in 2015.  Some Tories are even trying to look beyond Cameron to a more Euroskeptic leader, perhaps even Gove.  It comes at a time when UK voters insist in poll after poll that they would overwhelmingly vote to leave the European Union in a referendum.

UKIP’s rise hasn’t helped, and Nigel Farage’s insistence at contesting a Scottish by-election led to the somewhat humorous result of his being chased out of a pub in Edinburgh last week (pictured above).  Though it’s a safe bet that Farage and UKIP won’t make many inroads in Scotland, it’s hard to see how his active presence in Scotland could do anything but make things worse for unionist supporters.  His party is currently polling as much as 20% in national polls, outpacing the Liberal Democrats and, in some cases, pulling to within single digits of the Conservatives (giving Labour a sizable lead).  Even if Labour wins in 2015, if UKIP wins the support of one out of every five UK voters, it will pull not only the Tories, but probably even Labour, further toward euroskepticism and eventual rupture with Europe.  Continue reading A tale of two referenda: How the EU debate could poison the Scotland debate