John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

header

IRISH GENERAL ELECTION

Ray ButlerLAUNCH OF RAY BUTLER CAMPAIGN
I would like to set out why I believe it is important that both Ray Butler and Minister Damien English are re elected to the Dail.

Both have worked hard as members for this locality and are deserving of support on that basis alone.

But, more importantly, their re election would enhance the possibility that the country will have a stable government from next month on.

Fine Gael is the party with the best chance of being able to form, alone or with stable partners, a majority government. That is important to everybody.

The lack of a stable government could drive up interest rates and derail the economic recovery, whose signs are visible everywhere.

As I know from personal experience in 1981/2, governments, without a majority, can have good ideas and clear plans, but, without a majority in the Dail, they cannot be sure they can put them into effect.

In particular they cannot be sure they can pass a budget, and without a budget , the affairs of the nation cannot be managed.

If government budgets cannot be guaranteed, interest rates are liable to soar, as they did in the early 1980’s, because that would make would make lenders nervous.

Thanks to errors of the 2002 to 2008 period, Ireland’s level of government and private debt is such that we must avoid that.

The global economy is not stable at the moment.

Global debts are greater that they were before the 2008 crash.

The European banking union is incomplete without mutual deposit insurance.

Investment in energy is being cut back, and energy companies are in trouble, which raises the possibility of oil prices being highly volatile, upwards as well as downwards.

The ageing of society in most of the western world, and in China, is going to put a dampener on growth prospects for countries, like Ireland, that export to those markets.  Slow growth would make debts that were sustainable unsustainable.

Ageing is also going to require us to spend progressively (and unfortunately incalculably) more on health.

In short, the economic future is uncertain.

In uncertain times, a country needs a government that is capable, in the interests of the people, of making quick decisions, and of implementing them, speedily. That means a government that knows it can pass laws and budgets, without needless haggling with special interests.

That is why is why we need a majority government, and why it is in the national interest, that Ray and Damien are both re elected to the Dail.

Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, at the launch of the Fine Gael  General Election Campaign in South Meath by Ray Butler in Trim Castle Hotel at 10.30 am on Thursday 4 February

[Untitled]

THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE IRISH PARLIAMENTARY PARTY ON THE 1916 REBELLION

220px-Major_William_Redmond_bust,_Wexford_cityI have been asked to address the above topic.

If one scrutinises the record of debates in the House of Commons in 1916, one can get a sense of the perspective of the Irish Party members.

The remarkable speech of Captain William Redmond, the MP for East Clare, in March 1916 gives a sense of how he and other Irish soldiers fighting on the Western front , as they saw it to defend the violated neutrality of Belgium, would have seen things.

He spoke of their terrible conditions, but also of their cheerfulness. “The harder the conditions, the more cheerful they seem to be” be said. Willie Redmond, a man in his late 50’s, and 35 years an MP, was to die of his wounds later in the year. Willie Redmond  would have been  disappointed to think that, within days of his speech, a Rebellion would have been initiated in Dublinin alliance with Germany, against whom he and other Irish soldiers, all volunteers, were fighting on the Western Front.

 That would be one perspective….before the Rebellion.

During the Rebellion itself, the Irish Party leaders were dispersed and had difficulty communicating with one another. John Dillon was in Dublin, Joe Devlin in Belfast, and John Redmond and TP O Connor in London.

After the Rebellion, on 11 May, another perspective came to the fore, this time expressed by John Dillon MP in the House of Commons.

He spoke of his opposition to the Rebellion and of how Irish Party MPs had persuaded some of their constituents not to take part. He referred particularly to Thomas Lundon MP in Limerick. He said nine out of every ten Irish people were opposed to the rebellion.

But he went on to condemn the house searches undertaken after the Rebellion was over in parts of the country where there had been no trouble at all. He said it was “insanity” to leave Ireland in the hands of General Maxwell.  He said his prime object in his speech was to stop the executions. He said the river of blood was undoing the work of reconciliation.

He recalled that when the American Civil War ended, Abraham Lincoln did not execute anyone

He said Premier Botha had put down a pro German rebellion in South Africa without any executions. The Irish Rebellion was also undertaken in alliance with Germany so this comparison was apt.

John Redmond had also urged the Prime Minister to stop the executions the day before Pearse and Clarke were executed.

In his speech in the House of Commons, John Dillon drew attention to the stupidities of the post Rebellion repression by Sir John Maxwell.  He gave the example of the Commander in Chief of the Irish Volunteers, Eoin McNeill , who, by giving a clear military order that the the rebellion was not to take place, in Dillon’s words “broke the back of the rebellion on the very eve of it, and kept back a large body of men from joining it”. Despite this , McNeill was also imprisoned by the British.

Incidentally, given that a democracy relies on military discipline, the commemoration of actions taken in breach of orders, is inherently uncomfortable for soldiers and politicians alike.

In considering the overall policy record of the Irish Party, one must draw attention to a few important points.

Earlier in 1916, the Irish Party has prevented conscription being applied in Ireland, while it was being applied on the entire island of Britain.

A year and a half earlier, it had had another vital parliamentary achievement which invalidated the case for a Rebellion. The principle of Irish legislative independence for Ireland was  won from the Imperial Parliament, in September 1914, by the passage into law and signature by the King of the Home Rule Bill. That happened BEFORE any rebellion here, and, as Conservative leader Bonar Law subsequently admitted, there was no going back on Home Rule. The point of principle was won without a shot being fired.

This, along with the transfer of the effective ownership of the land of Ireland into the hands of those who were working it, were signal achievements of the Irish Party. Indeed it was the Irish Party achievement of land reform, which created an Irish rural middle class, that in turn enabled  Ireland to remain democratic in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when so many other new states became authoritarian.

The only open question was whether or how Home Rule might apply to Antrim, Down, Armagh and Derry (and perhaps Fermanagh and Tyrone). The open question was whether such exclusion would be temporary or permanent.

But if that exclusion was once accepted, there was no barrier in the way of the rest of Ireland progressively winning ever greater degrees of sovereignty. That could have been achieved by peaceful negotiation, if it was what the voters of the 26 or 28 counties wanted.

Indeed some of the exclusions from the powers of the Home Rule Administration(eg. Marriage law and tariffs) were only put therein the first place, to reassure Ulster Unionists, when  it was envisaged, as in the original Home Rule Bill, that  that all 32 counties would be fully included from the outset.

The same principle of legislative independence, conceded to Ireland in September 1914, was conceded b to Canada, Australia and other dominions.  We know now that they all of them proceeded to full sovereignty, without   the suffering and bitterness of war.

The path of violence, started upon by Pearse and others in 1916,and followed from 1919 to 1923 by his imitators, was traversed at a terrible price.

I believe the Irish Parliamentary Party would have been aware of this. They would have realised that once violence is introduced into the blood stream of politics, it is very hard to get it out again. So it has proved.

Given the value Irish people place on each human life, those who take life, have the primary burden of proof to discharge. It was for them to prove that no other way was open.  I believe that the Irish Parliamentary Party would have felt that that test was not passed by those who initiated the Rebellion in 1916.

They would have felt  that Home Rule, already law, could, once brought into force have led Ireland to the same position of Canada enjoys today, if that was the wish of the Irish people.

The Home Rule Parliament would have elected under the same wide suffrage that applied in 1918. Sinn Fein would have won significant representation in the Home Rule House of Commons, as would the Irish Labour Party and the group led by Tim Healy. All three groups would have pressed for ever greater degrees of independence, going beyond Dominion status.

Home Rule was not brought into force immediately on its passage into law because it was felt that it would distract from what was expected to be a short duration war effort. That postponement was not controversial in Ireland at the time .Indeed John Dillon had said “No rational man would expect the government to set up an Irish Parliament while war was raging”

Home Rule could have also come into effect in late 1916, and Carson had agreed to that on the basis that the six counties would be excluded for the time being and would be administered directly from Westminster. That did not happen because some Conservative members of government, Lansdowne, Selborne, and Long, objected because of the disturbed state of Ireland in the wake of the Rebellion and the fear that Germany, who had allied themselves with the rebels, would exploit the situation militarily.

But, regardless of that Home Rule would have come into effect at the end of the war, if that was the path the Irish people chose in the  December 1918 Election. They did not do so

It would not be  credible to say that the UK would have denied to a Home Rule Ireland, the powers it freely granted to dominions like Canada and Australia, under the Statute of Westminster of 1931, if that is what the Irish people really  wanted.

The suffering of the War of Independence was, I believe, not needed to achieve Dominion Status.

In the 1918 Election, the policy of the Irish Party, led by John Dillon, was Dominion Status for Ireland.

The policy of Sinn Fein, led by Eamon de Valera was complete separation of the 32 counties from the UK on the basis of the 1916 Proclamation.

Sinn Fein won the election but, after all the killing in the War of Independence, all they ended up with was Dominion status, the very policy of their defeated Irish party opponents.

Therein lay the roots of the Civil War from 1922 to 1923. After all the deaths of the War of Independence, the separatists had to accept, in the Treaty, the exact policy of their democratically defeated  Irish Party opponents of 1918.

It is said that Home Rule would have left British forces on Irish territory. But so also did the Treaty of 1921. It left the UK military in control of ports on Irish territory.

But these ports were handed back in 1938, through entirely peaceful negotiation.  The fact that those ports could be won back by purely peaceful negotiation on the eve of World War Two, shows that the limitations on Home Rule could also have been negotiated away, peacefully.

If a nation is to learn anything at all from history, it must be willing to examine, using all it knows now, what might have happened, if a different historical choices had been made. Otherwise there is little point studying history.

The choice to use force in 1916, and again in 1919, must be subjected severe reappraisal , in light of what  we can see  might been achieved, and was in fact achieved by other former British dependencies, without the loss of life .

Remarks by John Bruton at a Seminar on the 1916 Rebellion, organised by the Society of Former Members of the Dail and Senate,  in the Senate Chamber in  Leinster House Dublin at 2.15 pm on Friday 22 January.

European-Union-flag-006

THE UK VOTES TO LEAVE………WHAT HAPPENS THEN?

The-UK-and-EU-flags-010

Paper prepared by John Bruton, former Taoiseach, on what would happen if the UK votes to leave the EU, the procedures and options available, and the implications for Ireland , the European Union and the UK itself.  

Next June the people of the UK may vote to leave the European Union. At the moment, a narrow majority favours remaining in the EU, but a large group are undecided. That group could swing towards a “leave” position, for a variety of reasons, including what might be temporary EU problems with refugees. However temporary the reasons might be, a decision to leave, once made, would be politically irreversible.

So it would be wise for Ireland to give thought now to how it might react to a decision by UK voters to leave the EU , and how it would play its hand in the subsequent negotiations. A number of scenarios will arise and Ireland needs to identify its red lines in each one of these.

THE NEGOTIATIONS COULD ONLY TAKE 21 MONTHS

The negotiation of a UK withdrawal from the EU will be done under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. It will have to be a quick negotiation because Article 50 contains a two year time limit. In practice the negotiation of withdrawal arrangements will all have to be finished in about 21 months.

From the date that the UK Prime Minister informs the European Council of his/ her decision to implement the referendum decision, the two year time limit starts to run. Assuming a June 2016 Referendum, I calculate the Withdrawal Treaty would have to been negotiated, ratified, and brought into force by July 2018.

So the negotiations themselves between the EU side and the UK side would probably have to be finished at latest by April 2018, to allow time for parliamentary ratifications.

In the event that no agreement had been reached within the deadline, the EU Treaties “would cease to apply” to the UK. The UK would simply be out of the EU, without even a trade agreement.

This would be exceptionally disruptive of the UK economy, and of some, but not all, EU states’ economies. It would be particularly bad for Ireland. Our exports to the UK would be at risk, and the border would be deepened with incalculable consequences.

UNANIMITY OF ALL EU STATES NEED TO EXTEND THE TWO YEAR LIMIT

The two year limit could be extended, but only with the consent of all 27 members of the EU. If the negotiations had become contentious, or if the UK demands bore heavily against the interests of one or two states, one could see the required unanimous consent for an extension of negotiating time being withheld.

This risk of a single refusal to extend time for negotiation, adversely affects the dynamics of the negotiation, from a UK point of view, because the UK has more to lose from failure. It is not inconceivable that a populist government in a member state might hold a time extension for the UK hostage to obtain some other unrelated matter, such as debt relief. A European Parliament in election year could also be a source of uncertainty.

While a time extension would require unanimity, the actual negotiation of the terms of withdrawal would need a “Qualified Majority” within the European Council.

NO GUARANTEE OF PROTECTION OF IRISH INTERESTS IN WITHDRAWAL TREATY

That means that the terms of the Withdrawal Treaty would need to support of 72% of the 27 EU governments, collectively representing at least 65% of the total EU population. Ireland, on its own, could not block a Withdrawal Treaty that contained terms that were against Irish interests. Nor could Ireland guarantee it would be agreed on terms that would adequately protect Ireland’s interests. For example, Ireland could not necessarily prevent passport controls or customs posts on the border in Ireland.

While 72% of EU member state governments must agree to the Treaty terms, 100% of the 27 national parliaments must do so, and ratification could become entangled in General Elections in some states in the interim.

While our fellow EU member states will undoubtedly recognise the Ireland will suffer more than any other EU state from a UK withdrawal, that does not guarantee that Irish interests will be taken into account in all cases. Quid pro Quo will apply, and that could cause difficulties on vital Irish interests on EU issues that have little direct bearing on the UK Withdrawal as such.

Given the short time involved, the UK will not have the option of pursuing a relaxed post referendum exploration of different types of external association with the EU. It will probably have to decide at the outset what form of relationship it is seeking. It will have to choose among options that do not require the EU itself to change its Treaties.

The options were well described in a recent paper by Jean Claude Piris, former legal advisor to the European Council.

OPTION ONE…..UK JOINS THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC AREA

The simplest would be to join the European Economic Area (EEA), while leaving the EU itself. The EEA allows Iceland, Liechstenstein and Norway to take part in the EU Single Market, but without being in the EU Agricultural, Fisheries, Judicial and Foreign Policies.

In the EEA, the UK would still have to contribute to the EU budget, to apply EU Single Market rules without having the say it now has in them, and to allow free movement of EU migrants to work in the UK on the same terms as locals.

Ireland’s problem with this option would be the departure of the UK from the EU Common Agricultural Policy which would raise issues of fair competitive access for Irish farm produce to the UK market. Management of Atlantic Fisheries would also become more contentious.

OPTION TWO……THE SWISS APPROACH

Less simple, would be for the UK to seek to make tailor made agreements with the EU, like Switzerland has. This negotiation would be a very complex process where tradeoffs would have to be sought between different sectors and national interests. The Swiss model has not worked well from an EU point of view, and one could expect EU negotiators to take an exceptionally tough line if this is what the UK seeks. The issue of access to the UK labour market for EU citizens would certainly be a demand from the EU side in such a negotiation.

In practice, if not in theory, the UK would have to implement EU law in all the areas for which it sought access to the EU market. This would be very problematic from the point of view of the financial services exports from London to Europe.

Once such a deal had been concluded, the EU side would be under pressure to tilt its own internal rules to favour financial service providers in the EU itself. If a system of mutual support and mutual supervision of financial service providers existed within the EU, and the UK was not part of that, there would then be valid grounds for objecting to UK financial service providers benefitting from a market they were not supporting on the same basis as EU providers.

This could hurt London, and Dublin could be a beneficiary. Outside the EU, the UK could do little to stop this. The European Banking Authority would have to leave London and there would be a good case for relocating it in Dublin.

OPTION THREE……A CANADA STYLE AGREEMENT WITH THE EU

Another option would be for UK just to seek a trade agreement with the EU, like Canada has. This option is favoured by some of those who want the UK to leave the EU, so it needs to be studied.

The first thing to say about this is that it would have to be negotiated within the two year time limit applying to a Withdrawal Treaty under Article 50, and would presumably have to be part of the Withdrawal Treaty. The existing Canada Agreement took 6 years to negotiate and dealt with a much less complex relationship than that between the UK and the rest of Europe. It is very hard to see how all this could be done in the time frame. The European Parliament would actively involve itself in the details. The UK would be excluded from the European council discussions on the topic.

A Canada type agreement would not necessarily mean continuing tariff free access to the EU for all UK goods. Some tariffs remain on some Canadian goods for the time being.

It is unlikely that a trade agreement like this, or even a Customs Union of the kind Turkey has with the EU, would allow the UK access to the EU financial services market and financial services are one of the UK’s biggest exports.

It is clear that under a Canada style agreement, the UK would have to comply with EU rules on any goods or services it wanted to export to Ireland or to any other EU member state. The UK would have no say in the framing of these rules, but it would still be bound by them.

Of course, the UK would be free to make its own rules for goods and services sold within the UK, but the downside of that would be that UK firms would then have to operate under two different rule books, one for the UK and another for the EU, thereby adding to their costs and damaging their competitiveness.

Once a Canada style agreement had been made, the UK would be out of the EU and would have no control over any further rules on new topics that the EU might need to make.

The Canada agreement is clear that it does not restrict the EU making “new laws in areas of interest” to it.

If the Canada model was followed there would be a Regulatory Cooperation Forum to cover this sort of thing. In the Canadian model, this Forum would allow

  • “exchange of information and experiences”,
  • “only provide suggestions and make no rules” and
  • “not have decision making powers”.

In other words the UK would be in a worse position than it is as a voting member of the EU.

If , after the UK had withdrawn, the EU deepened its service market further, allowing new access rights across border for service providers within the EU, the UK would miss out on this and would have to negotiate access for its service providers on a case by case basis.

The rights of the 1.8 million UK citizens now living in EU countries would also be less secure. UK citizens, living in Ireland or the continent, would enjoy only what Canadians enjoy.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO EXISTING EU TRADE DEALS, AND TO EU LAWS NOW ON THE UK STATUTE BOOK?

Furthermore, the UK would have to start from scratch negotiating trade agreements with countries all over the world, to replace the trade agreements it now has with all those same countries as a member of the EU.

The UK Parliament would certainly be busy as well, in that it would have to pass new UK laws to replace all the EU regulations that are now part of UK law.

The only alternative to this would be for the UK to decide to leave all the “acquis” of EU rules and regulations, which are now supposedly so objectionable, on the UK statute book, as they are, for a long time to come.

One proponent of UK exit from the EU, Lord Lamont, admitted, in a debate with me recently, that this is what they would have to do.

Leaving the EU, only to leave EU rules on the UK statute book, seems like a lot of trouble to achieve very little!

A SECOND REFERENDUM?

There would be no second referendum on the final terms of any Withdrawal Treaty.

This has been made clear by Chancellor Osborne. That has to be his position because, if there was to be such a referendum, the choice would presumably be either to leave on the basis of the terms of withdrawal Treaty, or stay in on the basis of the EU membership exactly as it is today.

If such a second referendum was formally in prospect, it is hard to see that the EU side would have any incentive at all to offer the UK any concessions at in the Withdrawal Treaty negotiations. They would be mad to do so, because all the concessions would achieve, would be to make withdrawal more attractive.

CONCLUSION

I believe that the architects of the UK’s renegotiation/referendum strategy did not adequately consider how hazardous the voyage is, on which they have so casually embarked. They may have overestimated the EU’s political capacity to devise yet another special deal for the UK.

Ireland, for its part, will have to adopt a very tough, deliberate, and multifaceted negotiating strategy, as long as this avoidable uncertainty prevails.

newspapers

RESPONSE TO “SUNDAY INDEPENDENT” ARTICLE OF 3 JANUARY

Sunday Independent

An article in the “Sunday Independent” by Gene Kerrigan claimed that it was “nonsense” to claim that Home Rule, enacted into law in 1914 could have led, peacefully to Irish independence. Below is my response to this which the paper published on 17 January

Gene Kerrigan said on Sunday  3 January that does not think John Redmond should have supported voluntary recruitment to the UK Army in 1914, and, from that questionable proposition, he leaps to the conclusion that the 1916 Rebellion was both necessary and right.

These are two separate questions.  The killing, on the western front or at Gallipoli, did not justify the additional killing planned by the 1916 rebels, or vice versa.

Conscription was not imposed in Ireland during the Great War, although it did apply in Britain. All the Irish who fought in the Great War were volunteers. Conscription in Ireland was threatened in 1918, but it was not applied, because of mass political agitation, not because of the use of violence in Dublin two years earlier.

Redmond’s 1914 decision to support voluntary recruitment was made for a number of reasons, one of which was that Home Rule had just been passed into law. It was not just “promised” as Mr Kerrigan says, but passed into law and signed, after a long struggle which required Redmond to threaten to bring down the Liberal Government if it did not abolish the House of Lords’ veto.

It is wrong to describe the tough parliamentary tactics Redmond adopted as mere “mediating between rulers and ruled”. As did Parnell in his time, Redmond was willing to use the ultimate parliamentary weapon, bringing down the government and precipitating a General Election, to achieve his goal , the passage into law of Home Rule for Ireland.

Without that threat by Redmond, the UK Parliament would not have conceded the principle of Irish self government, when it irrevocably did so in September 1914, after three years parliamentary struggle, and in face of threats in Ulster.

Redmond was no mere mediator. He was a tough democratic politician who made the hard choices.

Mr Kerrigan may believe that big powers have no obligation to defend the neutrality of small countries, when the latter are attacked. Redmond did not agree with that approach. He accepted in his Woodenbridge speech that France and the UK had an obligation to defend the neutrality of Belgium when it was invaded, without any provocation at all, by Imperial Germany in August 1914.

Redmond believed Belgian neutrality should be protected.   I wonder what course Mr Kerrigan would have advised the Belgians to adopt, if he had been around in 1914.

He is , of course, right to say that our task today is to understand ” what the choices were for those who created this state”.

If so, the first thing one must do is accept that they did actually HAVE a choice.

They could have chosen not to start the killing and dying in Dublin in 1916. Most Irish people, at the time, did not think they made the right choice, including this newspaper.

The military commander of the Irish Volunteers, Eoin McNeill, also thought it was wrong choice at that time, a “mistake” in other words.

There are other reasons, apart from military discipline, to question the choice made. Mr Kerrigan himself suggested in his article on 3 January that the 1916 leaders, who went ahead against McNeill’s orders, deliberately and knowingly, sought to bring suffering on their own people, in order to achieve their political goals. Mr Kerrigan endorsed this calculated provocation of foreseeable, and foreseen, suffering imposed on uninvolved Irish people.

As Mr Kerrigan put it, the leaders of the rebellion had what he called a “pragmatic belief” that, if they staged a rebellion, the authorities

“would strike back viciously, its oppression undisguised, and thereby inflame nationalist feeling “.

He is not alone in this interpretation, but we should think very carefully about what it really means , before we decide that  the actions of the 1916 leaders are to be treated, from now on,  as  the seminal event of our modern, peaceful,  democracy.

 Mr Kerrigan’s claim is, after all, that the rebel leaders, coldly and calculatedly, to advance their political goals, foresaw, and even sought, the sufferings, that fell on the Irish people as result of their military actions. It would be difficult to reconcile that approach with any known concept of a just war.

The bulk of the suffering in Dublin in 1916 was not by the “Volunteers”,   but by I would call  the “Involunteers”, the  civilians and unarmed police, who did not choose to put their lives at risk, who were  just getting on with their daily work, but were killed  anyway.

The 1916 leaders made what Mr Kerrigan praises as a “pragmatic” choice to set in train events that, with foreknowledge, led to all those deaths, then and later between 1919 and 1923.

Now some will claim that Home Rule was inadequate. It was. In practice, I believe it would only have applied to a maximum of 28 counties.  There would not have been a United Ireland.

 But after three generations of some among our people continuing with   the sort of  “pragmatic” violence, that  your correspondent mistakenly praises, we do not have a United Ireland today either!

The fact remains that, through solely parliamentary methods, the principle of Irish legislative independence had been already won from the Imperial Parliament, in September 1914, BEFORE any rebellion here, and, as Conservative leader Bonar Law subsequently admitted, there was no going back on it.

The same principle of legislative independence was conceded b to Canada, Australia and to the other dominions.  We know now that they all proceeded to full sovereignty, without the necessity of a Civil War.

A Home Rule Ireland would have done the same, if that was the wish of the Irish people. After all, the Home Rule Parliament would have elected under the same wide suffrage that applied in 1918.

I believe Ireland would then have proceeded, by negotiation over time, to full independence on the basis of the votes, not the bullets, of the Irish people.

Commemoration is one of the ways by which a people defines itself, and tells itself what it regards as important now and for future generations.

I believe peaceful democratic achievements, like land reform, the enactment of Home Rule in 1914, the enactment of the 1922 and 1937 constitutions, and the declaration to the Republic in 1949, should therefore be commemorated, with equal or greater prominence than  military actions.

 

books

TED HEATH

book“Edward Heath, the authorised biography” by Philip Ziegler was published by  Harper Press in  2011, but it is even more relevant today, as the UK contemplates whether it should undo the major work of Ted Heath’s career, that of bringing the UK into membership of the European Common Market, now the European Union.

I only met Ted Heath once, in 1997 in the European Parliament, when we both received the Schumann Medal from the European People’s Party.  In my case, it was in recognition of the success of the Irish EU Presidency of 1996.

In his case, it was for something much more significant, and more difficult, reversing the post war isolation of the UK from the task of building an economic base for a peaceful Europe.

In fact Ted Heath had made his maiden speech in the House of Commons in 1950 in the Schuman Plan for unifying Europe’s Coal and Steel industries, in which the then UK Labour Government had refused to take part. He wanted the UK to take part.

I was delighted to meet him, as I had long admired him, not only because of his stance on Europe, but for his pragmatic and non ideological approach to politics.

As Prime Minister, while he favoured competition and trade union law reform, Ted Heath attempted to reach understandings on incomes policy with trades unions and employers, an approach that was reversed by his successor Margaret Thatcher.

She relied on reducing the money supply to bring down inflation, while he hoped it could be achieved by agreement. Her policy worked, but the social cost was high. His policy did not work because some key Unions, notably the miners, refused to cooperate, and the TUC was unable or unwilling to get them to change their minds.

Unlike Margaret Thatcher and all his other successors as Prime Minister, Ted Heath had served as a soldier in World War Two. This direct experience of war, and a pre war visit to Nazi Germany, led him to put great emphasis on the need for Britain to positively contribute to the building of a structure of peace in Europe, as a participant not just as a bystander.

This biography reveals that, when in 1970 he eventually succeeded in overcoming the French veto on UK membership of the Common Market, Heath expected to be pressed to join the proposed common currency as soon as it could be set up. He was for the idea himself, but felt it would not be popular in the UK. By the time the UK eventually joined in 1973, the volatility caused by the oil crisis and the fragility of sterling would have precluded the UK from joining the single currency, if it had in fact been launched then.

This biography explores Ted Heath’s difficult and solitary personality. While he had some very close friends, he never married, and was not gregarious.

He never accepted his ejection from the Conservative Party leadership and this meant that he never regained much positive political influence, despite remaining in the House of Commons until he was 80 years of age.

2016 drawing

A BAD START TO THE NEW YEAR

2016 drawing
The clash between Saudi Arabia and Iran over the execution of a Saudi cleric of Shia Muslim faith, and the occupation of the Saudi Embassy in Teheran in retaliation for that, is deeply worrying for many reasons.

The two countries are supporting opposite sides in the Syrian Civil War, and the participation of both countries would be vital to any chance of the brokering of a truce in that long running and deeply destructive war.

If the two countries now have no diplomatic relations with one another, it is hard to see how they can contribute to the talks in Vienna aimed at ending the war. That is tragic.

The two countries are also supporting opposite sides in another civil war, in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, which can least afford a regional power struggle being staged on its territory.

Many of the people executed in Saudi Arabia were on the death row for a long time.

The Shia cleric was condemned to death in 2014, so the timing of his and the other executions on the one day is significant. It may have been designed for domestic Saudi opinion, to send a message internationally, or both.

Some have suggested that the Saudis are raising the temperature in the region because they are worried about the Iran nuclear deal, and the fact that this may end of Iran’s economic isolation, which might change the balance of power in the region. Iran has the much bigger population, and greater unrealised economic potential.

Also executed on the same day as the Shia cleric were a number of Sunni opponents of the Saudi government, who have been on death row for some time too. A sort of sectarian balance of pain may have been sought by having all the executions at the same time.

Given the chronic underdevelopment of the entire region, and the high levels of unemployment, the diversion of scarce resources to proxy wars is not in the interest of the people of the region.

Low oil prices are reducing the revenues of both countries, and one would think they could both ill afford the support they are giving to opposite sides in proxy wars in Syria and Yemen.

If the increased friction between the two countries prolongs, or intensifies, the Syrian Civil War, this will add to the refugee flow to Europe and to the suffering and the political instability flowing from that.

Europe has an obligation to take refugees, but so also have all the other countries of the world. So far there is little sign of help coming from any continent other than Europe.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia practice the death penalty on a wide scale, which emphasises the large gap in values between both of them, and the European Union, where the death penalty is banned.

European countries have strong common interests and values, but they are having increasing difficulty in giving effect to these values in a coordinated way.

paul mason book

AN INTERESTING CRITIQUE….BUT HOW VIABLE IS THE ALTERNATIVE?

paul mason bookPaul Mason, the economics editor of Channel  4 News, has written “Post Capitalism , a guide to our future “, which  offers a critique of the existing global capitalist system.
 
He points out that capitalism is only 200 years old and has gone through many changes. Economic systems do not last forever and can sometimes collapse suddenly and painfully.
 
In its present phase, global capitalism is, he says, “driven by network technology, mobile communications, a truly global marketplace and information goods”. He says this model is now stalling.
He argues that many of the innovations now emerging are ones that derive from discoveries that produce services that are(or should be) intrinsically free, in the sense that, once invented, they can be reproduced indefinitely, almost without  extra cost. 
 
New software applications, and new pharmaceuticals are, for example,  profitable only so long as they are protected by patent or copyright exclusivity. That is a fragile enough protection, it  is arbitrary, and is dependent on a continuing global consensus.
 
As their societies age, he also believes the debts of many developed country governments are un payable, without drastic cutbacks in services to the elderly. Debt default by a major country could blow the whole global financial system apart.
 
He argues that the capitalist system has only kept itself going, by bringing into the for profit sector, services that previously were provided free, like childcare and care for the elderly. Rapid urbanisation has made family care, outside the market, impractical for many thus creating new” for profit” markets in care services of all kinds
 
Meanwhile the market is incapable of finding solutions to global threats like climate change. There are so many players. With contradictory interests, that no one is in charge, and capable of imposing a solution.
 
Inequality in incomes and wealth are reaching what he regards as unsustainable levels. This is driven by technological change. Work that requires only a high school level of education is harder and harder to find. 
 
Education is becoming as much a means of sorting out job applicants as it is a method of releasing a student’s potential.
 
Those who control technology and finance, and have key skills, qualifications, and intellectual property, are commanding an undue share of the flow of wealth. States are too weak to curb this activity. 
 
Underutilised capital is being accumulated in the financial sector because of a lack of good investment opportunities.  This is driving down interest rates, and creating conditions for another speculative bubble. Mason  blames lack of spending power among workers for the lack of investment opportunities.
 
His solutions are not as well worked out as his critique.
 
He wants everyone paid a basic income by the state, whether they work or not (notwithstanding the fact that admits that the same states are already horrendously in debt).
 
He wants the state to intervene to promote the provision of more goods and services for free, like the free service provided by Wikipedia. He also wants the state to use the criminal law to penalise rent seeking behaviour in business and to strengthen the role of trade unions. 
 
Given that that people and businesses, who want to avoid doing what one country wants them to do, can easily move to another country, his model could not be implemented without reintroducing capital controls, and reversing the benefits of globalisation.
 
Most of his proffered solutions are thus impracticable for one country, acting on its own. They would require some form of, self sufficient, global government and the author offers no clue as to how that might be achieved.
 
He wants the un payable debts of states to be gradually reduced through inflation, which he accurately describes as financial repression.
 
He believes this financial repression should be engineered by the central banks.  This would destroy people’s savings, pensions, and insurance policies, which are underwritten by the very debts he wants to write off or devalue. As he puts it, his policy would “reduce the value of assets in pension funds, and thus of the material wealth of the middle classes and the old”.
 
People would never vote for solutions along those lines, and nothing in this book will persuade them to do so. The only way they could be introduced would be by stealth.
 
The book is useful in that it offers an insight into the logical outcome of the policies espoused by left wing anti capitalist protest parties.
 
It also portrays the risks that lie ahead for the world, if the defects in the present system, which the author correctly identifies, are not tackled properly.
 

NATIONALISM’S UNEXAMINED LIFE…….

NYT obituaryAn ideology that does not have all the answers.
 
I  was in Asia when I read the New York Times obituary of Benedict Anderson posted above.
 
I confess I had never read any of his books but was struck by the huge contemporary relevance of the quotations from him in this  fascinating obituary.
 
Many of the disturbances in the world today are driven by the phenomenon Anderson spent his life analysing…..nationalism.
 
For example,
  • it is nationalism that lies behind the tension between China and its neighbours over islands in the South China Sea.
  • It is English nationalism that lies behind the UK effort to detach itself from the EU, while still enjoying its benefits.
  • It is French nationalism that is fuelling the growth in support for the Front National.
  • And it is, of course, a particularly virulent form of  American nationalism that lies behind the anti Muslim, and anti Mexican, rhetoric of Donald Trump and friends. 

 

 
Nationalism frequently defines itself by the people it is AGAINST, rather than by the values it is FOR.
 
US Senator Cruz exemplified  this aspect of nationalism when ,in a recent speech, he called for “moral clarity” in US foreign policy, defining moral clarity as knowing how to identify America’s enemies!
 
Unfortunately nationalism often has to pick on violent events to provided cohesion for the “imagined community” that is the “nation”.
 
In Ireland, for example, we are embarking on a year of celebration of killings and death, in the Dublin rebellion of Dublin in Easter Week 1916,  and this rebellion, and the Proclamation that launched it, is being presented as the  “founding event” for the Irish nation. 
 
This is historically inaccurate.
 
The Irish national identity was built,  much earlier, by peaceful agitation, by people like Daniel O Connell, Charles Stewart Parnell and others, much more than it was, by the killing and dying of the 1916 to 1923 period. In fact O Connell’s movement was arguably the first peaceful mass democratic movement in the world. 
 
But I fear that will not be not the message that will be conveyed to Irish school children during 2016. 
 
One interesting thing about nationalism is that is so un self critical.
 
It does not examine the assumptions it makes, whether about
+ who belongs to the nation,
+ who can opt out of the nation,
+ whether a nation is about territory or people and
+ whether the nation comes before the individual or vice versa.
Another thing to note is that nationalism is modern, and not an ancient, ideology.
 
It came about, as Benedict Anderson says, because  the other forces, that  previously sufficed to persuade people to cooperate such as a shared religious belief or a shared allegiance to a ruling dynasty, had lost their force . Nationalism has replaced Communism in Easter Europe since 1989.
 
Nationalism also uses simplifications of history, and mysticism, to  avoid asking difficult questions of itself.
 
This is evident in Japan, in its approach to China and to the legacy of its  war in China from 1936 to 1945.
 
Similar over simplifications and blindness to the other side are also present in the dispute between Israeli and Palestinian nationalisms.
 
These conflicting interpretations of history make it difficult for people, whose objective interests may actually largely coincide, to cooperate fruitfully with one another.
 
That is why I believe there should be an open debate about what nationalism really means.
 
The 150 traditional “nations” of the world ,who met in Paris on our global climate,  are all  of them far too small to cope on their own with the  challenges of global interdependence, global waste, and global environmental degradation. Nationalism does not have an answer to that problem.
 
While nationalism will always be with us, it needs to accompanied by other, more global, foci for loyalty and common action.

NEW INSIGHTS ON NINETEENTH CENTURY IRISH FAMINES AND ON THEIR IMPACT IN NORTH AMERICA

irish-hunger-and-migration
I recently read  “Irish Hunger and Migration……Myth, Memory and Memorialisation” which is edited by Patrick Fitzgerald, Christine Kinealy and Gerard Moran and published by  Irelands Great Hunger Institute,  in Quinnipiac University in Connecticut
 
HOW WAS THE GREAT FAMINE REMEMBERED?
 
A number of years ago I visited the Museum Exhibition on the Irish Famine in Quinnipiac University. 
 
Having grown up in Ireland, and read Cecil Woodham Smith’s seminal work on the Irish Famine, I was well aware of the drastic impact the Famine of the 1840’s had had on my own country, and how the strict application of free market economics had needlessly increased the appalling death toll when the potato crop, on which the majority of the Irish people survived, failed in 1846. 
 
But I was puzzled as to why a University in the United States, the home of free enterprise, would be devoting so much attention to an event, however appalling, that had occurred on another continent, 150 years previously, given all the other horrors that had occurred elsewhere in more recent times.
 
This book answers the questions that were on my mind back then
Beyond Ireland itself, the Irish Hunger, and the wave of immigration to the Americas that it caused, had a huge impact on the psyche, the demography, and the religious diversity of North America itself.
 
It provided much of manpower that fought the American Civil War.
 
Its memorialisation provides a shared source of identity for generations of Americans of Irish ancestry.
 
 Initially, the memories of the starvation in Ireland were suppressed by the Irish immigrants, whose immediate goal was to fit in as Americans, and indeed to maintain their sanity, by not dwelling too much the horrors they had left behind.
 
By the early 20th century the situation had changed, and Irish Americans were ready to talk about  the Famine. But they tended to do so in a simplified way, which highlighted British neglect , as proof of the case that Ireland should separate itself from Britain politically and economically.
 
For example, the Famine was remembered as if all its victims had been Irish Catholics, and as if Irish Protestants had escaped. As this book shows, that is simply false. The death rate in many Protestant areas of Ulster was just as great, but it suited neither the Unionist nor the Nationalist myth makers to emphasise that.
 
This reminds us that memorialisation of any historic event serves a different function in each succeeding generation. The way we commemorate an important event in the past, tells us what it is about the past, that we regard as important (and unimportant ) today, and thus how we see ourselves now and in the future. 
 
If, for example, we only commemorate the dead on one side of a conflict, that shows us that, for us, the conflict is not really over at all.
 
As our current needs change, so too will be the way we commemorate the past.
 
This point is brought out very well in one of the essays , by Catherine Shannon,  which describes  how a  coastal community in Massachusetts  commemorated the fatal shipwreck of 99 Galway and Clare emigrants fleeing famine at home in 1849. The way the local commemorations of this shipwreck changed, in tone and format over time, showed how the Irish community in that part of Massachusetts  made the transition from marginalisation and obscurity, to  noisy self assertion, and then ultimately to complete and contented integration.
 
FAMINE RELIEF IN QUEBEC, AND BY THE QUAKERS
 
This collection of essays also deals with the integration of Irish Famine immigrant in the French speaking community of Quebec. Much help was given to the starving Irish by French speaking Catholic orders of nuns. But eventually the Irish settled down  so well in Quebec  that a concern grew that Irish influence might displace the French in the hierarchy of the local Catholic church!
 
The vitally important role of the Quakers in famine relief in Ireland is described, as is how the Quakers drew on their Irish experience, in helping in famine relief in Finland in the 1850’s.
 
IRISH IMMIGRANTS IN THE CONFEDERATE ARMY
 
The part played by Irish immigrants in the defence of the Confederate States of America is described by David Gleeson. Here the Catholic and Protestant Irish made common cause. 
 
Forinstance, Randall McGavock of Nashville, a planter and proud of his Ulster Scots roots, was happy to emphasise his Irishness when seeking a command in the Confederate Army.
 
This was presumably because this would make it easier for him to recruit the post famine Irish immigrants to his command.
 
Randall, one of whose descendants is a good friend of mine, lost his life at the head of his Irish troops at the battle of Raymond in Mississippi in May 1862. I have seen the standard of McGavock’s regiment at my friend’s home in Franklin Tennessee. It features a harp on a green background
Another Irish supporter of the Confederacy was the Young Irelander, John Mitchell.
 
 
A Derry Presbyterian , Mitchell was an opponent of the constitutional politics of Daniel O Connell and  had taken part in the 1848 Rebellion in Ireland.  In America, however, he became a strong supporter of slavery. 
 
Writing in the Richmond Examiner, of which he was editor, he justified secession on the ground that the North has broken the compact establishing the United States by its attack on the “God given” institution of slavery. He also criticised the statement in the American declaration of independence that “all men were created equal”.
 
THE FORGOTTEN FAMINE…1879 TO 1881
 
For me, the most interesting of all the essays in this book is the one by Gerard Moran on the forgotten Irish famine of 1879 to 1881.
 
This later famine was also due to potato blight, but its effect was confined to the western seaboard, and to some poorer inland counties like Monaghan and Longford, because it was only in those parts of Ireland that exclusive dependence on the potato for food had persisted, after the terrible experience of the 1840’s.
 
Still reliant on the potato, the population in these counties had increased  in the 1861 to 1881 period, whereas population had been allowed to fall in the rest of the country. This meant that when, in 1879 after a series of earlier poor harvests, blight struck, starvation was  immediate  in the counties still that were still unsustainably dependent on the potato.
This time , however , relief was provided with greater speed that it had been in the 1840’s.
 
The Lord Lieutenant’s wife, the Duchess of Marlborough, wrote a letter to the “Times” newspaper  in December 1879 drawing attention to the famine. Her letter sparked the formation of the Mansion House Relief Fund and also to a fund bearing her own name.
 
Gerard Moran alleges that the Land League “was a reluctant participant in relief operations because it diverted  its activities away from  its main functions as a political and agrarian organisation” and he  quotes Parnell as launching a blistering attack on the Mansion House Relief Committee and its chairman, Edmund Dwyer Gray, which led to Irish Americans contributing to the Land League’s political fund, rather than to the direct relief of starvation through the Mansion House Fund. 
 
This, perhaps, points up a deeper conflict of interest between the west and the east of Ireland.
 
In the west, the priority was simple survival, whereas in the east, the priority was wresting the ownership of the land from the landlords, and transferring it to the Irish farmers. 
 
This book enables the reader to understand the global impact of the Irish famine, and  it acts as an antidote to the misuse of famine memory in the service of contemporary identity politics.
 
 

THE US PRESIDENTIAL CONTEST…….BIG NEWS FROM IOWA?

US political parties
The news that Senator Ted Cruz, the Texas Senator, is beating Donald Trump by 10 percentage points in the latest polls in Iowa, increases the possibility that he will be the eventual Republican nominee.
 
Iowa will host the first contest of the Primary season. It will be followed by New Hampshire where Trump still leads the Republican field by a large margin.
 
Also according to the latest research, Cruz would be 2.5 percentage points behind Hillary Clinton is a General Election contest confined to the  two of them, and probably further behind if Donald Trump were to enter the race as a third party candidate. Trump would be even further behind Clinton in a two candidate race.
 
The  potential Republican Presidential candidate  most likely to beat Hillary Clinton is a head to head is Ben Carson, and that is by just 0.4 percentage points over a range of polls.
 
Senator Rubio of Florida has also been ahead of her in some polls.
 
Jeb Bush would lose to her but by a narrower margin than most of his Republican rivals, but the early primaries are not ones in which he can be expected to do well.
 
Cruz has a poor record of working with fellow Senators and some Republican leaders have suggested they might not even vote for him in November.
 
He gave a speech in the Heritage Foundation recently which sets out his foreign policy approach.
 
He wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and raised the spectre of “terrorists swimming across the Rio Grande”. He says that 40% of illegal immigrants in the US are visa overstays.
 
He says the US needs “moral clarity” in it foreign policy. “That starts with defining our enemy” he claims. 
 
This is a mistaken view. Moral clarity, I would argue, starts by defining one’s OWN values rather than by defining ones enemy. But defining one own values is much harder work, than is picking an enemy.
 
He argues for a foreign policy based on pursuit of America’s interests, and against making democracy promotion a central goal. He is thus critical of US support for regime change in Egypt, Libya and Syria. “We do not have a side in the Syrian Civil War” he states frankly.
 
In many ways Ted Cruz is appealing to the same core views as Donald Trump. Both are addressing anxieties among the American middle class that America’s standing in the world, both materially and psychologically, has diminished.  
 
It is something that is important to them, and goes to the heart of their identity. This sense of decline is accentuated by the fact that middle class incomes in the US have stagnated, while the top tier of society has gained.
 
Hillary Clinton would like to address this question, but many of her financial backers would lose if she did so. While she is well ahead in most Democratic contests, she could lose to Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire. Sanders is from the neighbouring state of Vermont. 
 
She also has to cope with the conclusion of the FBI investigation into her use of a private email for State department business.  Disclosure of classified information to outsiders would be a serious matter if it is found to have occurred, inadvertently or otherwise. Evidence of any subsequent attempt to cover up mistakes would also be a big problem.
 
One has the sense, at this stage, that the Presidential Election next November  will not settle things, and the United States will remain deeply divided, with at least  one house of the Congress continuing to resist the President of the day.

Page 1 of 37

COPYRIGHT JOHN BRUTON & CONTENT