Three weeks to go until the UK general election, and whatever the result – most likely no party with an overall majority in parliament – the remarkable thing is the serious underperformance of the ruling Conservatives.
The Conservatives inherited a nascent economic recovery in 2010 from a desperately unpopular Labour government that had been in power for thirteen years, and, despite questionable economic policies such as excessive austerity, narrowly managed not to screw it up.
But instead of building on their modest 36.1 per cent vote share in 2010, which forced them to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, polls now show the Tories struggling to break above 35 per cent. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
What should western politicians be most worried about: growth, inequality, the environment, education? To judge from today’s discourse, the answer seems to be none of the above. Instead, in the past month, both Barack Obama, US president, and David Cameron, UK prime minister, have made big speeches on immigration. At the weekend Swiss voters rejected a proposal virtually to end the flow of incomers to their country. But anti-immigration parties have made strong gains in a variety of other European nations, including Sweden and Italy, in the past year.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men
“Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”
So said Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and the same thought was surely the cause of much rejoicing on Friday among the main political party groups in the European Parliament. Seize the moment, and victory will be yours.
The parties’ success in forcing the EU’s national governments to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president is one reason why Friday’s EU summit in Brussels will go down in history. The parties, using the European Parliament as their lever, have rebalanced the distribution of power among the EU institutions in their favour. Read more
Will Scotland go it alone?
The referendum on Scottish independence takes place in seven months and if the Scots vote to go it alone, they will break up a union which has existed for over 300 years. On Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron made an impassioned plea to Scots: “We want you to stay.” But Mr Cameron’s intervention has been treated by the Scottish Nationalists as a sign of panic from the government in London.
In his address to the World Economic Forum, the prime minister was his
fluent self. But there was also an obvious tension between his embrace of
a globalised and open UK and his determination to curb immigration.
This led to a very pointed question from a Swedish MEP on precisely this
contradiction. Mr Cameron defended himself by pointing to the case for
curbing access of immigrants from the EU to welfare benefits and the need
to recognise the challenges created by the huge income gaps between some of
the new members and the old members. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
In theory, David Cameron and Radoslaw Sikorski should get on marvellously. Both the British prime minister and the Polish foreign secretary studied at Oxford and were members of the elite Bullingdon club, which specialises in dressing up, drinking, vomiting and vandalism. Both men have matured into robust conservatives. But last week we witnessed an unedifying dispute between the two politicians, sparked by Mr Cameron’s suggestion that Britain should not be paying child benefit to children living in Poland, even if their parents are working in Britain. In response, Mr Sikorski accused the British of stigmatising Polish immigrants and tweeted (in Polish) a suggestion that Poles in Britain should return home.
(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Thousands gathered in Soweto’s enormous stadium for a lively memorial service celebrating Nelson Mandela’s life yesterday but much of the news focused on the behaviour of the attendees rather than on Madiba’s legacy.
The memorial event was overshadowed by the crowd’s hostile reaction to South African president Jacob Zuma, a historic handshake between US and Cuban leaders and shameless selfies as western leaders hogged the limelight. In a surreal turn of events, it emerged that the man interpreting the proceedings live on television for deaf viewers was a hoax.
Here are some reports and analysis on the significance of the day and the high jinks in the audience. Read more
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Though support for a vote in favour of military intervention in Syria appears to be strengthening in the US, the sceptics still have strong arguments and Obama still has a number of battles to win such as gaining partisan and public support.
♦ A back and forth between the Washington Post’s Max Fisher and writer Teju Cole provides an entertaining and thought provoking exchange on the tone in western coverage of the conflict in Syria, use of chemical weapons and potential western military intervention.
♦ The opening up of the debate on European issues to the wider population afforded by pre-election debates between Merkel and her opponent Peer Steinbrück is a necessary part of moving forward on deepening of the European Union and the healing of the eurozone, says the FT in an editorial.
♦When the Muslim Brotherhood moved to take over the ministry of culture under Mohamed Morsi, Egyptian intellectuals were gripped by a fear “sometimes well-founded, sometimes bordering on hysteria” about the threat of the brotherhood to Egypt’s identity, which helped drive them “back into the reassuring embrace of the military.”
♦ The UK Labour party’s rejection of David Cameron’s proposal for action in Syria is not based on its position, argues David Aaronovitch, but is rather a strategy of following behind the leader to “wait for slip-up and exploit his or her mistakes.” Read more
A Syrian flag flies over the clock town in Qusair (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
By James Blitz and Elizabeth Rigby
Senior parliamentarians and government officials in Britain believe it is highly unlikely that the UK will transfer arms to moderate Syrian rebels at some future date because they believe David Cameron has lost the political support needed to make such a move.
For many months, Britain’s prime minister has been the most forward-leaning of western leaders in arguing that the moderate rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime may soon need arms from the west, partly to tilt the battlefield in their favour.
Last week, Mr Cameron’s position received strong support from the Obama administration in the US, which finally announced that it would transfer arms to the rebels. However, any attempt by the UK to support such a move is now so firmly opposed by Mr Cameron’s own Conservative MPs that he would be unlikely to win a vote in the House of Commons, leading politicians have told the FT. Read more
Syrian rebels in the southern town of Maaret al-Numan (AFP)
US President Barack Obama’s decision to send arms to the Syrian rebels is clearly an important moment in the country’s civil war. It is a decision that will be welcomed by David Cameron, the British prime minister.
Over the last year, Cameron has been one of the strongest supporters for the idea of sending arms to the rebels in order to level the Syrian battlefield and help bring the Assad regime to the negotiating table. A constant theme in his argument is that there must not be a repeat of the Bosnia conflict in the 1990s, in which thousands died while the west stood aside and did nothing. Read more
♦ We love our multilateral organisations here at the FT, so we’ve taken a close look at how Roberto Azevêdo managed to win the WTO DG nomination – visiting a mere 47 countries along the way. Mr Azevêdo struck a pragmatic note in an in interview with the FT, saying a year-end Bali meeting would focus on the “do-able”: “It’s… about instilling confidence that we can still negotiate, that we can still deliver multilaterally.”
♦ After David Cameron welcomed Uhuru Kenyatta to London this week, Richard Dowden considers the diplomatic earthquake that could occur when Kenyatta is expected to report to the ICC. Will Britain “abandon the ICC or isolate their closest political and security ally in East and the Horn of Africa”? Will Kenyatta run the country from a Dutch prison using Skype?
♦ Israel has warned the US about an imminent Russian deal to sell ground-to-air missile systems to Syria.
♦ US military camouflage has developed from two types to 10, just one example of inefficient duplication between different government agencies.
♦ Arguably the most haunting photograph of the collapse of the garment factory in Bangladesh. Read more
(CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)
President François Hollande this week published France’s long awaited strategic defence review, setting out what the French armed forces should be aiming to do in the years ahead. The publication of the document – called the “livre blanc” or “white book” – was an important moment for those following European defence.
In recent years, the US has become increasingly concerned that European states are cutting back on defence spending, leaving the US to do more and more of the heavy lifting in Nato. In 2010, Britain, the biggest defence spender in Europe, slashed expenditure by eight per cent in real terms. The big question was whether France was about to do the same.
The good news for France’s allies is that it isn’t taking what might be called the “Cameron approach.” According to Camille Grand, director of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, France did debate whether to slash defence spending by 10 per cent. “But the French finance ministry lost that argument, much to relief of the service chiefs,” he says. Read more
The future of the UK in the EU is, of course, already a subject of fierce debate. Everybody can see that the chances of a British departure have increased. The question is by how much.
I was interested to discover from a private conversation with a very senior continental official that his worry is that the rest of the EU really does not need this diversion of attention from its immediate concern, which is the reform of the eurozone.
He referred to two specific risks.
First, he is worried that the very fact that the UK may be on the way out will shake confidence in the future of the eurozone. As he noted, people in Asia or the Americas do not understand the details. They will just regard this British decision as calling into question the vitality of the European project, partly, no doubt, because the UK has deep relations with these parts of the world. Read more
By Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children
David Cameron’s speech yesterday was a source of much speculation, interpretation and voicing of opinions here at Davos, even though delivered in London. This is hardly surprising when so much hangs in the balance, not just for the future of the UK but for Europe too.
A lot is also at stake in the UK prime minister’s next speech, starting soon here. Some 2.3 million children’s lives each year, 20 percent of earning power and up to 3 percent of countries’ GDPs. This is the impact of global malnutrition on today’s children and tomorrow’s workforce.
During the height of Olympic fever last year, Cameron hosted a Hunger Summit where global leaders pledged to reduce the number of children left stunted by malnutrition by 25 million by the next Olympics in 2016. I’m hoping Cameron will keep the momentum going by announcing today a follow-up meeting in advance of the G8. This hidden issue needs the attention of the G8 and G20. Read more
The story of David Cameron’s much-delayed speech on Europe mixes farce with tragedy. The fact that the Algerian terrorist attack has once again delayed the prime minister’s landmark address, must make Cameron wonder whether the whole enterprise is cursed.
The great Europe speech was initially meant to be given before Xmas. It was put off, amidst reports that there were still deep arguments about its contents. Cameron himself attempted to defuse the controversy with a risque joke – likening the extended wait for his speech to Tantric sex. It would be all the better for the long build-up, he assured his listeners. Read more
Here’s what we’ve been chatting about today:
James Blitz on why Vladimir Putin’s visit to London on Thursday is probably the most remarkable diplomatic moment of this Olympic fortnight. Read more
From ghost towns to rooftop farms, here are our picks for today: