Tag Archives: thatcher

Why British sovereignty would be even weaker after leaving the European Union

Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg (left) meets European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (right). (EEA).
Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg (left) meets European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (right). (EEA).

Chief among the reasons that the ‘Leave’ campaign cites for its campaign to convince British voters to leave the European Union is sovereignty. European_UnionUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Here’s Ambrose-Evans Prichard, with a well-written and thoughtful essay endorsing Brexit last week in The Telegraph:

Stripped of distractions, it comes down to an elemental choice: whether to restore the full self-government of this nation, or to continue living under a higher supranational regime, ruled by a European Council that we do not elect in any meaningful sense, and that the British people can never remove, even when it persists in error.

For some proponents of the ‘Leave’ campaign, sovereignty matters so much that the warnings of a significant short-term disruption to the British economy simply do not matter. In the long run, Brexit’s benefits will come, supporters hope, from the ability of future British policymakers to enact laws and regulations unhindered by the grinding bureaucracy of Brussels and Strasbourg.

That Brexit will lead to such full-throated British sovereignty is not so clear — at least if the United Kingdom wants to leave the European Union while still retaining access to the single market, one of the world’s most integrated free-trade zones.

Britain, contemplating divorce, already has a ‘separation’ with Europe 

It’s not always easy to sort the alphabet soup within the European Union, let alone the rest of Europe that lies outside the technical European Union. But arguably the United Kingdom today enjoys much more freedom than any of the other 27 member-states of the European Union. As British voters consider divorce from Europe, they would do well to consideration that their country is already in something of a separation with Europe.

Today, the United Kingdom is neither a member of the euro currency zone and monetary union, nor (like Ireland) the Schengen zone of free movement. The former means that the United Kingdom still has its own currency, the pound sterling, and the Bank of England controls British monetary policy. The latter means that the United Kingdom retains more control over its borders than even non-EU states like Switzerland and Norway (both party to the Schengen Agreement).  Continue reading Why British sovereignty would be even weaker after leaving the European Union

Geoffrey Howe showed Britain the path forward on Europe


It was fitting, perhaps, that Geoffrey Howe, the Tory statesman, died the same weekend that prime minister David Cameron listed his four demands for reforming the European Union — a prelude to the expected 2017 referendum on British EU membership.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Howe died at age 88 after a heart attack on Saturday, ending one of the most accomplished lives of postwar British politics. Entering the House of Commons for the first time in 1964, Howe served as a trade minister under Conservative prime minister Edward Heath. But it was during Margaret Thatcher’s reign  that put him in a real position to shine — first as chancellor between 1979 and 1983, during some of the headiest days of the Thatcherite free-market revolution, and later as foreign secretary from 1983 to 1989, when he tackled the US invasion of Grenada, the denouement of the Cold War, the Libyan crisis and, of course, an increasingly adversarial relationship between Thatcher and the European Economic Community.

It was Howe’s resignation speech in 1990 as deputy prime minister, having been unceremoniously demoted by Thatcher from the foreign office, that led to her own downfall just 12 days later.

The speech today is worth watching, not for its drama (though it contained that in spades — Howe’s quiet and gentlemanly manner couldn’t have been more devastating in its effect) but for its warning on Europe, especially with the 2017 referendum looming.

At the time, Howe challenged both Thatcher’s style and substance on Europe. In particular, he took issue with her reluctance to admit the United Kingdom into the ‘currency snake’ that set the value of the UK pound within a narrow band. He also chided her attitude toward ruling out, in absolute terms, any British participation in a single currency: Continue reading Geoffrey Howe showed Britain the path forward on Europe

Handicapping the race to succeed Cameron as Tory leader

Boris Johnson Theresa MayPhoto credit to David Levene.

British prime minister David Cameron is gearing up to fight the toughest campaign of his life to win reelection on May 7.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Nevertheless, his announcement earlier this week that he intends to serve out two terms — and no more — has started the race to determine his successor. Despite Cameron’s efforts to signal that he will step down in 2020, there’s no guarantee that Cameron will be so lucky. The next Conservative Party leadership race could start immediately after the British election if Cameron leads the party to defeat or, possibly, after 2017 when Cameron has pledged (if reelected) to hold a referendum on continuing the United Kingdom’s membership in the European Union.

But even if the Tories win a renewed mandate (an outcome that seems more likely today than at any time in the past two or three years), a second Cameron term will now become even more consumed by the debate among his would-be successors to define the party’s future. Notwithstanding the planned 2017 EU referendum, the party’s next leader will determine whether the Conservatives should be relatively more pro-Europe or anti-Europe in an era that features the rise Nigel Farage’s populist and eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP). The next Tory leader will also face a fragmenting political environment that appears to be transitioning from a two-party to a multi-party system and a growing sense of constitutional crisis in the aftermath of last September’s referendum on Scottish independence. Moreover, the next Tory leader will also have to choose between two strains of economic policy — a pro-market Thatcherite approach or the more centrist ‘one nation’ Tory approach of her predecessors that concedes a stronger role for government social welfare.

Obviously, a lot depends on timing — a leadership contest in 2015 could bring a different result than a contest in 2017 or 2019.

Cameron, in his remarks earlier this week, singled out Johnson as well as chancellor George Osborne and home secretary Theresa May as particularly strong candidates. Though Cameron almost certainly prefers Osborne, whose leadership stock is certainly on the rise as the economy improves, the two frontrunners today are clearly Johnson and May (pictured together above), whose personalities and approach to politics and government couldn’t be more different.

Here’s a look at what Johnson, May, Osborne would bring to the leadership — along with four other potential candidates waiting in the wings. Continue reading Handicapping the race to succeed Cameron as Tory leader

Cameron ‘no-third-term’ bombshell launches Tory leadership intrigue


It was certainly the kind of move German chancellor Angela Merkel would never have made.United Kingdom Flag Icon

Surprising reporters and many members of his own party alike, British prime minister David Cameron earlier this week announced that he will not stand for a third term — that is, if he and the ruling Conservative Party win reelection on May 7.

What’s certain is that with 42 days to go until the vote, everyone in British politics today was talking about Cameron and the future of the Tories — and not about his opponents. Cameron not only indicated that he wouldn’t stand for a third term; he named three potential successors:

  • Boris Johnson, the blond, floppy-haired mayor of London;
  • Theresa May, Cameron’s home secretary and a tough eurosceptic; and
  • George Osborne, the chancellor who’s taken as much heat as Cameron for the budget cuts of the past five years and who, insiders say, Cameron prefers as his successor.

It’s too soon to tell if the strategy will help Cameron and the Tories win what has become a very tight race with the center-left Labour Party.  On the one hand, it’s a little presumptuous for a British prime minister to look past an election in just over five weeks’ time to proclaim that he won’t be running for reelection in five years’ time. Cameron’s shot at winning a second term is precarious enough as it is. Moreover, there’s a real question that he’s now made himself a lame duck for the second term, which promises to include a tough 2017 referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union if Cameron wins. What happens, by the way, if the Conservatives win a shaky minority government in May, lose a confidence vote in early 2016? Will Cameron resign when early elections follow? (Notwithstanding the new law purporting to establish fixed-term parliament.) Needless to say, it’s not the most intuitive step for a prime minister to launch a slow-motion leadership race so close to a general election.

On the other hand, it’s not out of character for Cameron, who’s never seemed to crave the premiership in the same way as former occupants of 10 Downing Street. It stands in contrast to Margaret Thatcher, who said he hoped to ‘go on and on’ after winning a third term and who finally left office after 11 years as a result of Tory regicide or to Labour prime minister Tony Blair, whose chancellor, Gordon Brown, pushed him out after a decade of intraparty sniping. Though the British media will spend this week talking about Cameron’s statement, the succession question will burn out by the time the real campaign begins, so you can expect relatively little off-the-record briefing about when Cameron will leave. His casual remarks end the speculation, for example, that he might resign after the 2017 referendum or in 2018. After all, if he hangs on until 2020 as he hopes, he will have served as the Conservative Party leader for fully 14 years — just as long as the Iron Lady herself.

Arguably, it frees Cameron to wage the most full-hearted campaign possible, because if he loses in five weeks’ time, his political career will end. No one doubted that would be the case (even without his remarks), but Cameron has now underlined that this is it. In a race where voters view Cameron as much more greatly suited to the office than Miliband, that could actually boost Cameron’s chances. If Cameron wins, he’ll be able to devote his full efforts to renegotiating British EU membership (and winning a referendum on EU membership) without worrying about the 2020 election.  Continue reading Cameron ‘no-third-term’ bombshell launches Tory leadership intrigue

Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?


Today, residents of Scotland, a region of 5.3 million people, will vote in referendum that’s been scheduled for 19 months, and that will ask one simple question:scotlandUnited Kingdom Flag Icon

Should Scotland be an independent country?

The answer could change the economic, social and cultural outcomes of the lives of both English and Scottish residents for generations to come.

With polls set to open shortly, Suffragio looks at ten policy (and other) issues that Scots are considering as they cast their ballots, either to become an independent state or to remain part of the United Kingdom. Continue reading Scotland votes: Should it stay or should it go?

14 in 2014: Scotland independence referendum


12. Scotland referendum on independence from UK, September 18.United Kingdom Flag Iconscotland

Separatists from Québec to Barcelona will be watching Scotland’s historic vote on independence in the autumn, which could end over three centuries of union between Scotland and England, bringing the United Kingdom as we know it to an end.

Scottish nationalists, buoyed by the economic hopes of North Sea oil, have increasingly floated the idea of independence since the 1970s.  Scotland’s rift with Tory prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s only alienated the country further from Westminster, and the election of Labour prime minister Tony Blair in 1997 led to the devolution of many Scottish domestic matters to a new regional parliament at Holyrood.  Since 2007, the Scottish government has been led by the Scottish National Party (SNP) and first minister Alex Salmond.  In the most recent May 2011 Scottish elections, the SNP was so popular that it won a majority government — a feat that the Scottish electoral system was specifically designed to avoid.

Salmond and his popular deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon will lead the ‘Yes’ campaign for Scottish independence following the agreement that Salmond and British prime minister David Cameron struck in March 2013 on the referendum’s date and its terms.  Proponents are likely to paint a vision of Scotland as an independent nation that has more in common with the Nordic welfare states than with Anglo-American capitalism.  Though Scotland’s 5.3 million residents comprise just around 8.4% of the total UK population, Scotland has retained a proud and distinct culture and a discrete linguistic and intellectual tradition, and it veers politically to the left of England.

Cameron, the leader of the center-right Conservative Party, will help lead the ‘No’ campaign, which has already been christened the ‘Better Together’ campaign.  But the relative unpopularity of Cameron and the Tories in Scotland means that he’ll need help from the centrist Liberal Democratic Party and the center-left Labour Party.  In particular, Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor of the exchequer under prime minister Gordon Brown (both of whom are Scottish) is chairing the ‘Better Together’ effort.  Although the ‘No’ campaign will try to convince Scots that they are, in fact, better off staying in the United Kingdom, it will also point to obstacles that an independent Scotland could face.  Chief among those obstacles might be Scotland’s position in the European Union — although Scots are generally more pro-EU than their English counterparts, it’s not clear whether an independent Scotland would automatically join the European Union or would be forced to apply for readmission.  Scotland would also face protracted negotiations with England (or perhaps the ‘United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’) over splitting the current UK debt burden, as well as defense, currency, immigration, citizenship and other myriad arrangements.

Polls show that Scottish voters today oppose independence — around 40% to 55% of voters would vote ‘No,’ and just around 25% to 35% would vote ‘Yes.’  But the campaigns won’t hit top speed until later in 2014 after the UK vote to elect members to the European Parliament.

Next: Brazil

Does Venezuela need its own Margaret Thatcher?


Though the snap Venezuelan presidential election — just six days away — will likely have huge implications for the country’s economic policy, and though most economic commentators would agree that Venezuela is in dire need of economic reform, neither candidate seems especially keen on discussing those reforms in a campaign that’s been heavy on personality and emotions.Venezuela Flag Icon

But the negative aspects of legacy of chavismo — a growing public sector and nationalized industries, ever-expanding army of bureaucrats, widespread power outages, crumbling infrastructure — sound an awful lot like much of the problems that the United Kingdom faced in the late 1970s.

Is Venezuela entering its own ‘winter of discontent?’  And if so, does it need a Margaret Thatcher?

When it comes to South America, Thatcher is most well-known for the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982 (see Thatcher pictured above during that war).

But one Venezuelan blogger has already argued that Romuló Betancourt, the first democratically elected president of Venezuela in 1958, was its ‘Thatcher.’  Betancourt’s major contribution was normalizing democratic elections and peaceful transfers of power, an institution that has so far continued in Venezuela without interruption, even throughout the chavismo era.  Economically, the Betancourt government’s most notable achievement was land reform that boosted rural peasants.

Perhaps the better example of Thatcherite economics in Venezuela is the second term of Betancourt’s successor (and one-time interior minister) Carlos Andrés Pérez (pictured below).  Despite presiding over the largesse of the oil bonanza that to the rest of the world was an oil crisis, Pérez (or ‘CAP’) returned to office with high hopes that he could unlock another era of plenty on a relatively populist campaign built on empty promises.


Upon election, he rapidly sought a $4.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, in return for crushing reforms that included a tax overhaul, a reduction in tariffs and custom duties and privatizations of state-owned companies.  But those reforms (the ‘paquete‘ or the ‘package’) most controversially caused the price of gasoline prices to rise (and the secondary price of public transportation) due to the elimination in Venezuela’s famous gasoline subsidy — to this day, Venezuelan gas prices are the lowest in the world, and Venezuelans believe cheap gas is practically a birthright.

The reforms led directly to the Caracazo riots in Caracas on February 27, 1989 — as Francisco Toro and Juan Cristobal Nagel write in their wonderful compilation of 10 years of blogging about chavismo (from an opposition viewpoint), the Caracazo marked an incredible rupture in Venezuelan life:

Until then, Venezuelans had seen themselves as different, more civilized, more democratic, better than their Latin American neighbors.  Thirty-one years of unbroken, stable, petrostate-funded democracy had made us terribly cocky.  In a sense, the riots market Venezuela’s re-entry into Latin America.  The country was no longer exceptional: just another hard-up Latin American country struggling to put its democracy on a stable footing.

Those riots ultimately led to the dismantling of Venezuela’s two-party system, CAP’s impeachment in 1993, and two coup attempts in 1992 — one in February 1992 by a little-known lieutenant colonel named Hugo Chávez, who would of course take power by democratic means just six years later in a landslide election victory.

So if Thatcherite policies ultimately paved the way for chavismo, could chavismo pave the way for a countervailing turn back to neoliberal reforms?  Fast-forward two decades, and the country with the world’s largest proven reserves of petroleum finds itself with a budget deficit last year that equalled 17% of GDP and a public debt burden that’s now equal to 50% of GDP.  So if he wins the presidential election, Chávez’s anointed successor Nicolás Maduro will have far fewer economic tools at his disposal than Chávez did to achieve his goals.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles certainly isn’t going around the country advocating the elimination of gasoline subsidies, but Capriles seems far likelier than Maduro to enact the kind of policy reforms that could balance Venezuelan finances back toward a more stable equilibrium.

But say what you will about the positive aspects of chavismo in reducing poverty in Venezuela and giving voice to a largely forgotten underclass excluded from the country’s oil wealth for a half-century, Venezuelan finances are hardly in great shape, and the winner of Sunday’s election will face significant financial pressures — all the more so if oil prices fall over the next six years.


Margaret Thatcher has died


We all woke up in the United States this morning to the news that Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, died at age 87.United Kingdom Flag Icon

There’s not much I can add (Andrew Sparrow’s live blog at The Guardian is a good place to start) to what will certainly be a week’s worth of paeans to someone who was undoubtedly the most consequential British prime minister since Winston Churchill — and, serving fully 11 years from 1979 to 1990, the United Kingdom’s longest-serving prime minister in the 20th century.

As Peter Hennessy wrote in The Prime Minister: The Office and its Holders since 1945, Thatcher was a ubiquitous presence rivaling Churchill or David Lloyd George:

Friends in the Health Service told me that by the mid 1980s, psychiatrists engaged in the early diagnosis of their more disturbed patients ceased asking them for their own names and birth dates and so on, and asked instead for the name of the prime minister.  If patients failed to remember that, they knew they were properly sunk.

You’ll hear over the next 48 hours the extent to which Thatcher changed Great Britain, Europe and the world, but most immediately, it’s remarkable the extent to which she changed the Conservative Party.  Her influence still lives on today in Tory prime minister David Cameron’s government in the same way that Ronald Reagan’s ghost hovers the Republican Party, even today, in the United States.

It’s not just that she was a woman in a party of old men — German chancellor Angela Merkel won’t likely go down in history in the same breath as Thatcher.

It’s not just that she came from a humble background in a party of aristocracy — her predecessor Edward Heath came from an even more humble background.

It’s that she in many ways was the first truly conservative prime minister of Great Britain, in that her free market fervor really represented a radical departure from the paternal ‘One Nation Tory’ stance of her predecessors.  It’s easy today to forget just how truly broken the UK economy had become in the late 1970s under Labour — strikes, inflation, economic malaise, rubbish uncollected in the streets.  But she inherited a Britain that had reached a post-war nadir, and that turned around in her time in office.

She so transformed British politics that Labour prime minister Tony Blair, when he came to power in the landslide 1997 election, was essentially a Thatcherite — he not only pulled the Labour Party (‘New Labour’) far from its trade union roots, but he arguably pulled it to the right of the Old Tories under Heath and Macmillan.

Even still, it’s amazing the extent to which party grandees — not just Heath, but former prime minister Harold Macmillan in particular — held a special disdain for her, and Hennessy provides in his book even more salacious details on Macmillan’s visit to advise Thatcher in 1982 in advance of her decision to send the British Navy to liberate the Falklands Islands from an Argentine occupation:

Macmillan did not care for Mrs. Thatcher or her style of government.  Seven years earlier, shortly after she had become Leader of the Opposition, he told me, ‘You couldn’t imagine a woman as Prime Minister if we were a first-class power.’

On that April day in 1982, he shuffled in ‘doing his old man act,’ and gazed around the room he had come to know so well between 1957 and 1963.  It was unusually empty.  Mrs. Thatcher was due to see a group of her backbenchers that evening and space had been made ready.  ‘Where’s all the furniture?’ said the old statesman to the new.  ‘You’ve sold it all off, I suppose.’

With colleagues like those, it’s easy to see how Thatcher came to relish confrontation with not only the old-guard Tories, but Labour, and then an entire world full of adversaries from Jacques Delors to the Soviet leadership.  While that confrontational attitude sometimes misfired, both at home (the unpopularity of the poll tax and her anti-European sentiment led Tories to pull the plug on her premiership) and abroad (her oddly Germanophobic opposition to Helmut Kohl’s reunification of West and East Germany), her 11-year tenure really did transform the United Kingdom and Europe:

The essence of Thatcherism was to oppose the status quo and bet on freedom—odd, since as a prim control freak, she was in some ways the embodiment of conservatism. She thought nations could become great only if individuals were set free. Her struggles had a theme: the right of individuals to run their own lives, as free as possible from the micromanagement of the state.

Here’s a great clip — from her last speech in the House of Commons as prime minister — that captures the essence of Thatcherism:

Photo credit to Denis Thorpe of The Guardian.