UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

from John Lloyd:

On Syria, England defects

Thursday’s British House of Commons vote against Britain aiding in a Syrian intervention led me to center on one question: what will happen to the U.S.-UK relationship? Is that alliance now gravely weakened? Can it survive in a meaningful form?

Specifically, will Britain ever again be able to partner with the United States in any future military interventions? Without Britain, the United States will certainly carry on. It has a new best friend in France -- french fries top of the menu now! -- and maybe Turkey will be willing, too. In the UK, Prime Minister Cameron says Britain will remain committed to mobilising opposition to the Assad regime, delivering humanitarian aid, and deploring the use of chemical weapons.

George Osborne, the chancellor, said that the U.S.-UK relationship was a “very old one, very deep and operates on many layers.” President Obama, in an astonishingly passionate speech he gave to the UK Parliament in May 2011, agreed, calling it “one of the oldest, one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known.”

After the vote, both sides did a bit of squirming, saying that democracies sometimes bite leaders’ bottoms. And, to be sure, the UK and the U.S. have taken quite different views since World War Two -- on the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Suez, on Vietnam, on the U.S. invasion of Grenada -- with “bruises on both sides” (as a U.S. memo on the Grenada row between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan put it), but no lasting damage. 

from Mark Leonard:

Syria and the politicization of British foreign policy

Syria’s population -- at the heart of so many proxy battles for influence -- last night found itself drawn into a different kind of conflict -- this time over the future of British politics. After the British Parliament's vote against action in Syria, the former Liberal Democrat leader, Lord Ashdown, tweeted that Britain is a "hugely diminished country" this morning: “In 50 years trying to serve my country I have never felt so depressed/ashamed.” But is he right to see this vote as a retreat into isolationism? I think it is rather a step into a more modern diplomacy, one where politics do not end at the water’s edge.

Once the dust settled on the vote, David Cameron’s closest ally, Chancellor George Osborne, said there will be a lot of "soul-searching" about Britain’s role in the world. There is talk about the shadow of Iraq, pacifism and anti-Americanism as a result of an unholy alliance between conservative little-Englanders and pacifists of the left. But though these tendencies were both represented in the lobbies of the House of Commons, they still represent a minority of the political spectrum. It is worth remembering that the Labour leader Ed Miliband did not argue against military action in principle, and even made a point of saying he could support intervention without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

from Breakingviews:

Review: Thatcher’s determination battled her flaws

By Martin Hutchinson
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The first volume of Charles Moore’s authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher covers the British prime minister’s life “From Grantham to the Falklands”. In his recounting of her childhood and early years in power, Moore shows her great determination, which was often needed to overcome previous mistakes.

from Hugo Dixon:

Cameron, UK hurt by Syria vote fiasco

Rarely has a UK prime minister done so much damage to himself in a single week as David Cameron has with his mishandling of a vote authorising military action against Syria. Cameron may cling onto power after his stunning parliamentary defeat on Thursday night, but he will cut a diminished figure on the domestic and international stage. In the process, he has also damaged Britain’s influence.

Cameron’s litany of errors began with his decision to recall parliament from its summer holidays in order to give the green light to British participation in a military strike designed to punish Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime for its alleged use of chemical weapons against its people last week. The decision to get parliament’s approval was right, even if not constitutionally necessary. The mistake was to rush things before all the evidence of Assad’s culpability had been gathered and published. In France, which is also contemplating military action, the parliamentary debate is scheduled for next week.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Mark Carney abandons Thatcher-era supply-side policy

The era of laissez-faire monetarism is over, as the world moves by small but inexorable steps towards a new kind of Keynesian demand management. One after another, governments and central banks in the leading economies are accepting a responsibility for managing unemployment that they abandoned in the 1970s, during the monetarist counter-revolution against Keynesian economics. On Wednesday it was Britain's turn, as Mark Carney, the new governor of the Bank of England, joined Ben Bernanke in making the reduction of unemployment his main monetary policy goal.

Carney was until recently Canada’s top central banker and was headhunted by the British government specifically to inaugurate a new era of “monetary activism.” On Wednesday, at his first official press conference, he lived up to this billing.

from Felix Salmon:

How not to compete with payday lenders

I'm in the UK at the moment, where it's quite amusing to see the amount of attention paid to national institutions for which there is no American equivalent. Obviously, there's the way in which a woman having a baby became front-page news for days on end, generating astonishing quantities of coverage despite the fact that all the facts could be summed up in a single tweet. And then, on the financial side of things, you have the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

Yes, financial. The head of the Church of England gave a long interview to a magazine called Total Politics, and if you get through the first 3,000 words or so, you'll eventually find two paragraphs on the subject of payday lending. The archbishop says he would like to compete with High Street payday lenders, helping to build up a network of "credit unions that are both engaged in their communities and are much more professional".

from Nicholas Wapshott:

The birth of a new prince

Now, after a torrid summer marred by natural tragedies, needless death, and devastating destruction, comes undiluted happy news. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, has given birth to a prince. So, the first child of a commoner to be welcomed into the British royal family in modern times (Wallis Simpson tried to gatecrash in 1936 and was promptly asked to leave) has delivered an heir to extend the Windsors’ influence into the next generation.

The birth has set off genuine rejoicing around the world as a harmless piece of fun that only a humbug could find offensive. And the impeccably authentic upstairs/downstairs soap opera that makes “Downtown Downton Abbey” look like “The Days of Our Lives” has provided another romantic twist in an endlessly colorful plotline that began nearly two thousand years ago with the Kings of the Angles.

from John Lloyd:

In Britain, a summer of quiet revolution

The British Isles are sentries in a turning world. The monarchy, pageantry, the mediaeval House of Lords, titles, accents, the established Church of England with the Queen at its head -- they all give the adroit illusion of continuity and the primacy of tradition over change.

But this summer there are diverse changes modernizing the Isles. These revolutions, small and large, will not be reversed, and will contribute significantly to a redefinition of what it is to be British (and Irish). The illusions of tradition will remain, as diligently served as ever. The core is hollowing out.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Contemplating life after Murdoch

Rupert Murdoch has been summoned back to explain to British lawmakers comments he made at a private meeting with his London tabloid journalists. It seems that whatever regrets he has expressed in public about the phone-hacking and police bribery scandal that has so far cost his company $57.5 million, in private he thinks the affair has been overblown. There have been 126 arrests so far, with six convictions, a further 42 awaiting trial, and up to 10 more awaiting charges.

The Fox boss told his reporters and editors, all facing jail time, he didn’t see why the police were making such a fuss about “next to nothing”; that “payments for news tips from cops? That’s been going on a hundred years”; and promised them -- though he was careful not to run afoul of the law -- he would give them their jobs back “even if you’re convicted and get six months, or whatever.” He also pledged to use his newspapers to exact revenge on the “incompetent” police for pursuing the investigation so vigorously.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Who will get credit for Britain’s economic turnaround?

Mark Carney, the former head of the Bank of Canada who has just taken over as governor of the Bank of England, presided Thursday over his first monthly meeting of Britain’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC). The meeting produced no change in monetary policy, yet Carney is already being hailed as Britain’s economic savior. The BBC even paid him the greatest compliment that any middle-aged white male could wish for, when it compared his appearance and hairstyle to George Clooney’s. Carney may continue basking in this adulation because he is lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

He has arrived at the BoE at the precise moment when the economic figures have started to suggest that the British economy is pulling out of its longest and deepest recession on record. One of the main reasons for this turnaround has been a sudden pickup in housing prices and mortgage lending, the traditional driving forces of the British economy. This improvement, in turn, has reflected a bold new government-backed borrowing program, whereby the British Treasury is guaranteeing up to £600,000 of new mortgage debt for anyone who can put up 5 percent of equity into buying a home. While this audacious policy attracted surprisingly little attention in the media when George Osborne announced it in his March budget, British homeowners and bankers were quick to catch on. As a result, house prices are rising rapidly across Britain, mortgage lending has rebounded to its highest level since the Lehman crisis and homebuilders’ shares have almost doubled. And all this is before the government incentives are expanded from newly-built houses to secondhand properties and remortgages in January 2014. For the moment, house prices are being bid up by cash-rich buyers who are front-running the government subsidies, in the confident expectation that a full-scale property boom will begin in 2014.

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