UK News

Insights from the UK and beyond

from Hugo Dixon:

UK should get on front foot with City

It is perhaps too much to expect Britain’s Conservative-led government to lead any initiatives on Europe, such is the orgy of self-destruction in the party over whether the UK should stay in the European Union. But, insofar as David Cameron manages to get some respite from the madness, he should launch a strategy to enhance the City of London as Europe’s financial centre.

Britain has in recent years been playing a defensive game in response to the barrage of misguided financial rules from Brussels. It now needs to get on the front foot and sell the City as part of the solution to Europe’s problems. The opportunity is huge both for Britain and the rest of Europe.

The chance of getting the EU to swing behind a pro-City strategy may, on the face of it, seem pie in the sky. Many people blame financiers for the financial crisis. So how could they be part of the solution? What’s more, Continental Europeans have long tended to be suspicious of financial markets.

Hence, the plan by 11 EU countries (not including the UK) to apply a tax on all financial transactions. Hence, too, the recent decision to cap bankers’ bonuses thoughout the EU (against London’s objections) and a scheme, so far not agreed, to do the same for fund managers.

from Mark Leonard:

UK Independence Party renews culture wars

Over the past week, Britain has been shaken by a political earthquake. The previously marginal UK Independence Party (UKIP) burst onto center stage to capture almost a quarter of the votes in local elections around the country, threatening to upset the stable two-party system that has existed for the last century. Nigel Farage ‑ the Claret-quaffing, cigar-smoking former city trader who leads the party ‑ breathed life into abstract ideas of sovereignty by highlighting the inability of European Union member states to control their borders. He predicted “hordes” of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens legally migrating to the UK. The mainstream parties are struggling to respond.

UKIP is just a small part of a broader phenomenon spreading across the developed world that resembles a political backlash against globalization and interdependence.

from Thinking Global:

Is Europe losing faith in the EU?

A wall of photos of European Union citizens outside the EU Commission building during the celebration for the Council of Europe in Brussels May 4, 2013. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Happy Europe Day!

If you don’t know May 9 is Europe Day, then you find yourself in good company with a majority of Europeans. Even in the most buoyant time, this holiday – marking the Schuman Schuman Declaration, presented by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman in 1950, that launched the European Coal and Steel Community – doesn’t come with the transcontinental fireworks of America’s July 4.

from The Great Debate:

Europe’s fight to save its bees

Bees hover around a flower in Lompoc, California October 1, 2011. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Last Monday, the European Union banned the most commonly used pesticide group in the world, the neonicotinoids – neonics for short. The ban is set for two years and may be extended.

from John Lloyd:

The nuance behind the iron

There’s no time more apt for murmuring the ending of Brutus’s speech in Julius Caesar than the week of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral: “The evil men do lives after them/the good is oft interred with their bones.” No time better, either, to add that the “evil” that, in this case one woman, did is little examined by her detractors, who prefer to stick to a diabolical version of her 12-year rule.

Margaret Thatcher (narrowly) won the 1979 election because the Labour government of the 1970s, under Prime Ministers Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, had unsuccessfully tried to make a contract with the trade unions. In such a contract, pay would have been calibrated to productivity, and increases would be low in order to bring down high rates of inflation and to keep up investment in the socialized education, health and welfare institutions that disproportionately benefited the lower classes. It was the kind of social deal that the Germans and the Scandinavians had and still – in part – have: one that produces economies that, not by chance, have escaped the worst of the economic buffeting of the past five years.

from The Great Debate:

Thatcher: Master of the ‘unexpecteds’

The passing of Margaret Thatcher comes at a time when the great theme that shaped her years as Britain’s prime minister – the frontier between government and the private sector – is again the focus of serious public debate. Her historic achievement was to widen the frontiers of the “market” and, as she said, to have “rolled back the frontiers of the state.”

There is, however, a pendulum in this relationship between government and private sector. The role of government in the economy has expanded greatly since the 2008 financial collapse, along with government debt. So we will likely again see a struggle to rebalance the respective realms of state and market. And it will again be a battle.

from The Great Debate:

Margaret Thatcher, an enlarger of British freedom

My immediate and lasting  memory of Mrs. Thatcher -- Maggie as we called her -- is sitting next to her in the late sixties at a dinner table as she scorched a bunch of City of London financial types. I was astonished. She wasn't yet the Iron Lady. She wasn't  in government. Labour was in power. She was  an obscure back bench Conservative MP, elected only in 1959, noticed in those sexist days (has much changed?) as much for her hats and aggressive hair style as for  her passionate defence of grammar schools under threat of closure from Labour.

What she did with the City of London men  was later characterised as a  "hand-bagging." A black Asprey bag she always carried was metaphorically wielded against people she saw as standing in the way of the greatness of Britain as Boudica, the leader of a British tribe, wielded a lance against the Roman occupiers. I suppose that as a new national editor (of The Sunday Times), and with normal male presumption , I had expected to lead the questioning of the ten or so big names and the table. I didn't stand a chance. Maggie pounded and pummeled them all by herself for an hour. I can't pretend this is verbatim but it went something like this: "All you people are interested in is moving paper around, making money not things. What are you doing for British industry? When are you going to help business stand up to  the unions?"  They murmured, they shuffled, they were outclassed. British elections -- six weeks to  a vote and no paid television ads -- have never been as corrupted by money as much as American, so she was not turning off a potential source of funding as an American candidate would fear to do. Still these were  men -- all men of course  -- who were influential and articulate and used to reverence not rebuke.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Even Britain has now abandoned austerity

The Age of Austerity is over. This is not a prediction, but a simple statement of fact. No serious policymaker anywhere in the world is trying to reduce deficits or debt any longer, and all major central banks are happy to finance more government borrowing with printed money. After Japan’s election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the undeclared budgetary ceasefire in Washington that followed President Obama’s victory last year, there were just two significant hold-outs against this trend: Britain and the euro-zone. Now, the fiscal “Austerians” and “sado-monetarists” in both these economies have surrendered, albeit for very different reasons.

Much attention has been focused this week on the chaos in Cyprus. Coming after the Italian election and subsequent easing of Italy’s fiscal conditions, the overriding necessity to keep Cyprus within the euro -- and its military bases and gas supplies outside Russian control -- will almost surely mean another retreat by Germany and the European Central Bank from their excessive austerity demands. But an even more remarkable shift has occurred in Britain. The Cameron government, which embraced fiscal austerity as its main raison d’etre, was suddenly converted to the joys of debt and borrowing in this week’s budget.

from John Lloyd:

A free press without total freedom

Journalism gyrates dizzily between the dolorous grind of falling revenue and the Internet’s vast opportunities of a limitless knowledge and creation engine. On the revenue front, no news is good. The just-published Pew Center’s “State of the US News Media” opens with the bleak statement that “a continued erosion of news reporting resources converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public.” Not only, that is, is the trade shrinking, but those who once depended on its gatekeepers have found their own ways to visibility.

Journalists’ task, as large as any they have collectively faced in 400 years of their trade’s existence, is to find a way to continue the journalism that societies most need and citizens are least willing to pay for: detailed, skeptical, truthful, fair, investigatory writing and broadcasting. It’s a big ask. The British are in the process of not answering it. They are staging a sideshow: not an unimportant one, but in a minor key all the same.

from Blogs Dashboard:

A devalued pound can’t save the British economy

There it goes again. Sterling has been dropping sharply this year against the U.S. dollar and especially the euro, as Britain turns to a tried and trusted remedy for its economic problems: devaluation. Even with its slight uptick on Wednesday, sterling is down more than 6 percent against the euro since the beginning of 2013 and has slid 10 percent over the past six months.

This is not something the British government is boasting about, especially at a time when there’s concern over -- and sometimes a high-level condemnation of -- countries such as Japan that allegedly seek to manipulate their currencies. But it’s also not something the British government or the Bank of England is trying to hide – or stop.

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