Limiting Free Speech

This argument appeared in the November 2008 edition of Standpoint.

‘Is there an absolute measure to settle the argument on limits of freedom of speech? No. Each law-making democracy must decide for itself’

What is hate speech? Who defines it? Who decides if it should be punished or not? An Australian, Frederick Toben, has been arrested in London as German courts seek his extradition. In Germany, he has been accused of Holocaust denial, a crime that could inspire others to reawaken Nazism. He and his supporters, like David Irving and the Lib-Dem MP, Chris Huhne, say he should not face his accusers in Germany because Holocaust denial is a question of freedom of expression. In Los Angeles, two British citizens, Simon Sheppard and Stephen Whittle, are also in police custody. They were convicted this summer by Leeds Crown Court of publishing anti-Semitic and racist material. They skipped bail and flew to the US hoping that the authorities there would defend their right to freedom of expression.
There is a separate question of whether courts in one country can ask for the extradition of people to reply to accusations over crimes that may not be considered as such in the original country. The European Arrest Warrant allowed one of the 7/7 accused terrorists to be sent speedily back from Rome. By contrast, before the EAW was introduced in 2003, an Algerian Islamist, Rachid Ramda, accused of financing the 1995 Paris Metro bombing, was able to resist extradition from Britain to France for 10 years before being returned in 2005. He is now serving a life sentence.
However, there is not a settled liberal view on crimes like Holocaust denial. British libel laws are notorious for attacking free expression. Equally, British tabloids destroy families through invasions of privacy merely to boost circulation. Each democracy has its own interpretation of where the boundaries of absolute free expression lie. Even in the US, there is no right to cry "Fire" in a crowded theatre. Britain's race-relation laws going back to earlier public-order acts do not allow speech and publications that stir up hate against black or other ethnic minority citizens.
For some European countries, denying the historical factuality of the Holocaust is an untruth and a core ideological expression of modern anti-Semitism. If Jews were not exterminated by Nazi Germany, there is less moral blame to be attached to Hitlerism, which simply becomes a banal expression of German nationalism, and Nazism can thus be resurrected in modern political forms.
Holocaust denial's founding father was the French anti-Semitic politician, Paul Rassinier, who, like so many who ended on the far Right, started as a Communist and wartime résistant. He was briefly a French MP but lost his seat in 1946 to the Jewish socialist Pierre Dreyfus-Schmidt, a distant relative of the famous Captain Dreyfus. This seems to have triggered a decision to create the ideological theme of post-war anti-Semitism - Holocaust denial. Rassinier's 1950 book Le Mensonge d'Ulysse (The Lie of Ulysses) argued that an international Jewish lobby unleashed the Second World War and that the Jews had invented reports of gas chamber extermination. Following in Rassinier's footsteps, the former Vichy "Commissioner for Jewish Affairs", Louis Darquier de Pellepoix, said in 1978, "The only things gassed at Auschwitz were lice." The theme was taken up by Holocaust-denier Roger Faurisson, who told French radio: "The invented massacre of the Jews and the invented existence of gas chambers unite to create the political financial fraud whose main beneficiaries are the state of Israel and the international Zionist movement."
Holocaust denial unites European, American, Middle Eastern and other modern anti-Semites. The leader of the far-right British National Party, Nick Griffin, has written that "the very idea of Zyklon-B extermination has been exposed as unscientific nonsense". One of David Irving's loudest backers, Lady Michele Renouf, addressed the 2006 Holocaust Denial conference called by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Her speech was entitled "The Psychology of Holocaustianity", whatever that means. In Germany, the far-right breakaway outfit "The Association for the Rehabilitation of Those Persecuted for Denying the Holocaust" is, as its name suggests, a classic front group seeking to portray anti-Semitic politicians as victims of pro-Jewish political correctness.
Post-1945 Germany and Austria based their policies, in part, on the concept of Nie Wieder - Never Again. They decided not to take the risk of allowing a form of post-war anti-Semitism any legal expression. France followed suit as it came to terms with its own complicity in the extermination of French Jewry. Britain has taken other routes, with tough legislation on stirring up race hate, which like Holocaust denial can be defended on freedom of expression grounds, as indeed the BNP seeks to do.
Is there an absolute measure that can settle the argument? No. Each law-making democracy has to decide for itself when speaking or writing crosses the line and becomes a crime because it so generates hate and violence against citizens that the right of each to live free of fear becomes endangered. While organised anti-Semitism is such a potent force in early 21st-century geo politics, it would be wrong to lower vigilance on Holocaust denial.

Book review : Lady Rendell's The Birthday Present

This book review appeared in Tribune
The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine (Viking, £18.99)
31 October 2008
“WHY look into the crystal ball when you can read the book?” was one of Nye Bevan’s immortal metaphors as he invited people to contemplate the Conservatives of his generation. Today it is pointless reading the crystal balls of the press which give David Cameron and his millionaire front bench a free ride as the contradictions, corruptions, cuts and complacency that the next election is in the bag are allowed to flourish without any critical examination.
So as so often in the past it is to the make-believe world of fiction that we must turn to discover the real nature of the men who would govern the nation. Make-believe? Up to a point. In Alan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty we had a Channel 4 type documentary on the Notting Hill world of cocaine-ridden Conservative dinner parties and sleaze-ridden politics in which the devoted young worshippers of the goddess Thatcher cut their teeth.
These are the men who now control the Tory Party – rich beyond the knowledge of all but a handful of voters. Ivor Tesham is a perfect scion of this Conservative world. Like David Cameron he was educated at Eton and Brasenose College, Oxford. He is charming, likeable, smooth and fluent on his feet. Like Boris Johnson he has a winning way with ladies. Tesham represents today’s Old Etonian clique who have won control of today’s Tory Party, sidelining oiks like David Davis and with better judgement than Yorkshire’s laddo, William Hague, who allows himself to be photographed for the Daily Mail swilling champagne with City wealth fund managers at a £1,000 a night luxury hotel for the super-rich on Lake Como.
Ruth Rendell, a Labour peer and crime novelist without peer, writing as Barbara Vine pushes back Tendall’s life a few years to the Thatcher-Major years. He swiftly climbs the ladder of promotion while all the time indulging himself. Above all in bed. He seduces the beautiful young wife of a Mr Pooter in the north London suburbs. Then, setting her up for a some bondage and S+M, something goes terribly wrong.
Tesham is not a killer nor a vicious man. He drinks champagne more than he sniffs cocaine. But Eton, Oxford, wealth and charm do not guarantee core human decencies and month by month our Tory hero slips into a net of deceit with his unwillingness to confront what he has done.
There are other characters of contemporary London – the loneliness of a woman who cannot find a partner or a life. The squalor of living on benefits. Rendell captures the House of Commons brilliantly and holds the reader’s hand as plot and character come together in a seriously satisfying thriller. It can be read as a classic crime novel. But Lady Rendell has done more. She has told us about today’s Tories. We have been warned.

Globalising Hatred: Antisemitism today

This article based on an interview appeared in the Yorkshire Post

Undying hatred - why the spectre of anti-semitism is still haunting us today
30 October 2008

By Sheena Hastings

There's always been a streak of vicious sneering in some corners of Westminster
about the rise to political prominence of Jews.
Benjamin Disraeli's success was greeted by snideness in a few quarters, and
pre-1939 British politics was marked by anti-semitism, most notably in the guise
of Oswald Mosley, who told East Enders during council elections that "Jews
already in this country must be sent to where they belong... No more admitting
of foreigners into this country to take British jobs."
Margaret Thatcher's elevation of Leon Britton, Nigel Lawson and Michael Howard
led former PM Harold Macmillan to opine that the Cabinet was "more Old Estonian
than Old Etonian". According to Greville Janner, (formerly an MP and now a
Labour peer) when he supported the Israeli attack on Iraq's nuclear arms
facility in 1981, Labour colleague Andrew Faulds turned and said: "Go back to
Tel Aviv."
According to Denis MacShane, a feeling that Jewish MPs - of whom there are 22:
11 Conservatives, eight Labour and three Liberal Democrats - are not quite
British still pervades, a feeling encouraged by a certain bitchy Whitehall
prejudice among the dinosaurs of the herd.
Mostly, British Jews live happy and fulfilling lives, says the MP for Rotherham.
Yet there is, according to the novelist Howard Jacobson, "a certain grinding low
level of anti-semitism all Jews learn to live with".
Denis MacShane isn't Jewish, so what is his interest in all of this, and why has
he written a book called Globalising Hatred - The New Antisemitism? He says it
flows from a life spent in great part studying and challenging vicious and
destructive ideologies.
Born in Glasgow, educated at Oxford and gaining a PhD in London, he worked as a
journalist with the BBC before becoming an international
trade union official - which led to him being arrested in Poland and South
Africa as he worked with independent trades unions against communism and
He has been an MP for 15 years, and he was number two in the Foreign Office,
then Minister for Europe under Tony Blair. A French, German, Spanish and Italian
speaker, he has written biographies of Francois Mitterrand and Edward Heath, as
well as many other books and pamphlets on European and global politics.
Three years ago, he led the first ever All-Party Commission of Inquiry into
Anti-semitism, and the material gathered by the Commission forms the basis of
the new book.
"I've always been interested in how ideologies shape the world and its
thinking," says MacShane. "I don't think we as a society are antisemitic in
this country, yet I was interested in the increasing incidence of violence
against Jewish students on our university campuses, and as a minister I
travelled and picked up on antisemitism in other countries."
The evidence taken by the Commission was an eye-opener. "It was quite shocking,
the level of violence that was unreported and unknown to the political community
- verbal abuse, graffiti, some attacks - leading, among other things, to the
hiring of private security around synagogues. No other faith has to take such
measures, although I know there has been some racist feeling against Muslims and
attacks on Asians."
The Commission's rigorous factual report was presented to the Government, and as
a result support and security for Jewish schools was stepped-up. Police forces
also pledged to spend more time investigating antisemitic attacks. The report
concluded that "...too many British Jews lived with a level of fear, anxiety and
concern about their Jewishness that was not acceptable".
No-one, including MacShane, is saying that the Jewish population of this country
is at risk because of a small increase in overt episodes of anti-semitism. The
greater problem, he says, lies in a resurgence of anti-semitic feeling around
across Europe and around the globe. He calls this neo anti-semitism.
The book examines evidence from many countries, including the boasts of
Holocaust denier David Irving, who declared he was "back in business" on his
release by a higher Austrian court after his 2005 incarceration after referring
to the gas chambers at Auschwitz as "a fairytale".
Despite his alleged change of views, Irving told one British newspaper that his
beliefs had merely been solidified further. The Jews, he said, were not only
responsible for what had happened to them during the Second World War, but they
also had caused nearly all of the wars of the last 100 years.
"Anti-semitism is not just traditional Jew-hatred; nor can it be reduced to a
variant of racism," says MacShane. "It is a growing component element of
international politics. Anti-semitism is exported by a number of states and has
an impact on geo-politics that should not be underestimated."
While some thuggish Manchester United fans chanted "Roman's on his way to
Auschwitz" against Chelsea Football Club's Russian Jewish owner Roman
Abramovich, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told students at New York's
Colombia University that he stood by his view that the Holocaust was a lie.
In India, the home of 5,000 Jews, a range of luxurious bedding called "The Nazi
Line" was launched - but the company claimed the word Nazi stood for something
else, of course.
After the death this summer of Bronislaw Geremek, the Jewish Polish social
historian and politician and intellectual founder of the Solidarity movement, a
presenter on a national radio station which regularly broadcasts anti-semitic
propaganda said: "Thank you, God, for taking Geremek away."
MacShane also examines the conspiracy theory about a Jewish lobby which, rather
than being a group seeking the ear of power, anti-semites
say infiltrates all high places and effectively run everything through
"conspiratorial networks and hidden influence and powers".
He says we need to be alert to the manner in which Arab opposition to Israel has
led to Islamist anti-semitism, and how this has escalated the struggle for
territory in the Middle East into a global movement against all Jews.
MacShane believes Islamic anti-semitism is glossed over in a way that prejudice
against any other group would not be. A supporter of the Palestinian state, he
argues that it's not until the cause of Palestinian rights is separated from
anti-semitism that it can truly thrive.
In his examination of the religious texts of radical jihadi Islam, he finds they
are full of abuse of Jews, with an essential ideology that upholds the idea of a
global Jewish conspiracy.
He says a hatred of Jews is being exported and constructed in communities across
the world.
"In denying the right to Jewish identity, the rights of Jews to live on their
terms in part of the land that is as historically theirs as
any Semitic race, the hardline Islamists are playing into the hands of
conservative bigots and the extreme right."
The point of the book, says MacShane, is to sound a warning and underline the
reality of racism and intolerance. The fight is ongoing.
"There are too many people turning a blind eye to anti-semitism, as a global
force and in some areas of British life. Jews can lead full and satisfying
lives, but there's a reluctance among some to acknowledge and be honest about
what goes on."

Hate talk and antisemitism

This article appeared in the Jewish Chronicle

It’s time to confront the hate talk
30 October 2008

Antisemitism flourishes in tough economic times — so we must act now.
Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has the answer to the world's financial turbulence: blame the Jews. Speaking at the United Nations last month, Iran's elected leader accused Jews of "dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centres as well as the political decision-making centres of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner".
He is not alone. "It's difficult, if not impossible, for one honest investor to neutralise the efforts of thousands of Jewish swindlers," was a post on a Yahoo Finance group site. YouTube hosted a video called The Court Jewsters and shows a shot of a dollar-bill emblazoned with: "In Zionist bankers we trusted".
The myth of the conspiratorial influence of the Jews remains as potent and seductive as ever. Our own homegrown Jew-hater, the BNP leader, Nick Griffin, has only one major publication to his name. Called Who Are the Mind-Benders?, it seeks to depict Britain's newspapers and TV under the secret control of a Jewish lobby whose members have cunningly changed their names to avoid being detected.
The rise of a fanatical Islamist antisemitism has been well-documented. From Bin Laden to the Muslim Brotherhood's chief theologue, Sheikh Qaradawi, the constant attacks on Jews and Judaism - and the support for murdering Jewish children and women in Israel or Jewish establishments elsewhere - is central to contemporary Islamist fundamentalist ideology.
For many of my fellow MPs, it is fashionable to think that antisemitism died with the Holocaust. Surely no one in their right mind can believe that Jews are behind the world's major problems or that their religion, beliefs and affinities should again suffer assaults which remind us of the past?
Yet two of Britain's major professional unions, representing university teachers and journalists, adopted resolutions calling for boycotts of Jewish academics and journalists in Israel. The Nazi slogan "Kauft nicht bei Juden" - don't do business with Jews - has been seized on by the extreme left across Europe as its members seek to organise boycotts and censorship of Jews who work in Israel.
Neither union would contemplate for a nanosecond supporting boycotts against Israel's neighbours, where the rights of journalists, independent academics, women and gays are subject to brutal repressions far, far worse than anything that could be laid at Israel's door. But, as with media coverage which seizes on any fault by Israel but glides over what happens in Saudi Arabia, Syria or Iran, there is a double-standard at play, which does no service to truth and still less to the causes that secular, democratic Palestinians uphold.
If the left is guilty of one-sided dislike of Israel and turning a blind eye to Islamist antisemitism, the right is guilty of creating the culture of intolerance in which antisemitism, along with other hates against non-majority races, nations and religions, pullulates.
In 1938, the British population stood at 30 million but the Daily Mail told its readers: "The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring into every port of this country is becoming an outrage." In 2008, Britain's population stands at 60 million, though still only 10 per cent of UK land surface has dwellings on it. Yet to read today's tabloids is to be told that Poles, Pakistanis and almost anyone without a British passport is unwanted.
So, confronting antisemitism also means confronting racism and xenophobia. I tell Muslim constituents in my South Yorkshire constituency that they have every right to respect for their faith but no right to promote an ideology - fundamentalist Islamism - which denies Jews their right to live free of fear.
A fashionable trope has it that ideological hate against Jews is simply a matter of criminality. To be sure, Jew-hating terrorists are criminals. But what drives them on is ideology - a value system which treats Jews as enemies. The same ideology lay at the heart of the late Austrian far-right leader Jorg Haider's thinking. The antisemitism of the far-right parties in Europe is essential to their core beliefs. Although anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-European language currently predominates, the dislike and contempt for Jews is central to Europe's growing extreme right.
Today, it is doubtful if one voter in 10,000 who puts a cross against a BNP candidate's name is aware that Nick Griffin believes that "the very idea of Zyklon-B extermination has been exposed as unscientific nonsense" as well as other antisemitic nostrums that would make Griffin a perfect envoy for the current president of Iran.But, by this time next year, the BNP could have its MEPs in the European Parliament and win its first directly elected Mayor in Stoke.
As Britain heads for economic slowdown and rising unemployment - two handmaidens of extremist politics - the time has come not just to confront contemporary antisemitism, in its open and unwitting forms, but also other forms of hate journalism against Europeans, asylum seekers and those who are not white English Christians.
Antisemitism is the canary in the coal-mine. Listen and the song of tolerance grows weaker and weaker as hate against Jews and others once again begins to fuse into with mainstream political activity.

A European look at the Americain presidential elections

This article is published in the autumn 2008 edition of The Wilson Quarterly, the journal of the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington DC

An Admirable Folly
Every four years, when the British and other Europeans watch with shock, awe, and incomprehension the presidential contest that convulses the United States, I’m reminded of President Julius Nyerere’s joking retort decades ago to American visitors who criticized his one-party state in Tanzania. The United States is a one-party state too, he would say, but since America is so big, it takes two parties to do the job. Nyerere saw no real difference between America’s two major political parties and nothing much at stake in its elections, a view typical of the mid-20th-century socialist tradition he absorbed as a student in England and one that still informs views of American politics from across the Atlantic.
Because European politics are defined by an almost religious divide between socialist and conservative parties, we can look down our noses at the contest between Republicans and Democrats as the equivalent of a squabble over whether you take your tea with sugar or lemon. But this narcissism of small differences makes for hugely enjoyable elections, as personality appears utterly to dominate, and these contests are irresistible to the European news media. As a politician passionate about making the idea of Europe work, it causes me some dismay that British coverage of politics in Germany or France or Spain is picayune by comparison.
The fabled British-Canadian press proprietor and politician Lord Beaverbrook insisted that all politics should be reported in terms of human interest, and there is nothing of greater human interest than the character of an American president. What novelist would have pitched a black freshman senator against a septuagenarian war hero? Europe is agog at the prospect of an Obama presidency, and there are no politicians in Europe who have John McCain’s experience as a warrior and courageous prisoner of war. This is larger-than-life Hollywood politics for Europeans, whose politicians are machine professionals who crawl their way up the greasy pole of power.
Yet in their obsession with personality—the actor Ronald Reagan versus the moralizing Jimmy Carter, or the 1968-generation Bill Clinton versus the preppy George H. W. Bush—Europeans are blind to the fact that the American system is far more likely to produce dramatic change. The shift from the Jim Crow America of the early 1950s to the civil rights America bequeathed by Lyndon Johnson at the end of the 1960s was one of the biggest revolutions in relations between peoples in world history. The gap between the détentist foreign policy of the first President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker and the confrontationist foreign policy of Bush’s son and Vice President Dick Cheney a handful of years later represents a far bigger distance between two approaches to international affairs than anything seen in Europe during the same period.
But foreign affairs do not loom nearly as large in America as they do in Europe. With Germany dependent on Russian gas and oil supplies, and Poland and the Baltic states unable to forget the Soviet occupation of their lands, European elections often turn on foreign issues. In 2004, the Socialist Party in Spain defeated the ruling Spanish conservatives led by José María Aznar because the latter was seen as a puppet of Washington who sent Spanish troops to die in an unpopular war in Iraq. For more than a decade before Tony Blair assumed its leadership in 1994, Britain’s Labor Party was seen as unelectable because it was hostile to European Union membership. Today, EU issues influence all national elections on the eastern side of the Atlantic to an extent unimaginable in the United States. In Britain, the Labor Party likes to present the oppositionist Conservatives as isolationist and anti-European, while right-wing parties present Labor as being too close to Europe and too willing to trade British sovereignty. In the United States, no matter what the rhetoric used to win the nomination, and despite the barrage of mutual accusations that so excites foreign-policy specialists, the question of America’s international relations or foreign-policy perspectives does not sway many voters.
The key difference, however, remains that Europeans elect politicians to run their nations, while Americans elect a politician. Even the most dominant political leaders in Europe—the Margaret Thatchers and Tony Blairs—can only do what their parliaments allow, and must regularly appear before and answer pointed questions from their fellow parliamentarians. In the United States, the chief executive rarely ventures to Capitol Hill except in magisterial passage to deliver his State of the Union speech, which rapt legislators are expected to receive with no sound but respectful applause.
The singularity of the American system—one vote for one person to head the nation—contrasts with the European tradition of one vote for one person who then with other parliamentarians decides who will run the country. It frequently happens that one prime minister can succeed another without a general election, as Gordon Brown did in replacing Tony Blair. The only exception to the European norm is France, with its relatively powerful president elected in a national vote, but even in France a presidency that amounted to an elected monarchy in the days of Charles de Gaulle and François Mitterrand is in the process of being reshaped into one more constrained and dependent on support in France’s parliament.
In Europe, voters choose a team of political personalities in the knowledge that the person who will be finance or defense or interior minister will be as important as the head of government. American presidents, by contrast, are virtually unchallengeable for four years. Every head of government in Europe has to deal with a team of ministers who have their own power base because they have been elected and usually are party grandees. Thus, European voters know not just who will be their president or chancellor or prime minister, but who is likely to be foreign or finance minister. In America, voters decide on a single individual who will lead the nation and, as commander-in-chief, decide when to wage war. Cabinet members are mostly bit players, usually lacking the kind of independent authority European ministers possess.
American candidates seeking a presidential nomination have to promise the passionate and the angry in their political family that they will have what they want: an end to war, lower taxes, health care reform, and so on. Once the candidate is past the hurdle of the nomination, however, these promises start to make contact with public-policy reality, and after the election many fly out the window, as Democrats become free-traders and Republicans embrace protectionism. Of course, European leaders, once in office, bend to reality and external events. But at least up to Election Day, they have to be coherent and offer a manifesto of specific promises that determines if they win or lose. And having won high office, European leaders still have to face fellow parliamentarians who believe in the party manifesto on which they were elected and expect their leader act on it. Failure to deliver on campaign promises can be fatal. A European leader who flubbed health care reform and saw his party lose control of the legislature, as Bill Clinton did in 1994, could never have survived.
To be sure, American presidents are not complete monarchs. They must contend with Congress, state and local governments, and a Supreme Court that decides major issues such as abortion, gun control, and capital punishment (matters that in Europe are reserved for elected legislators). And, of course, a president must face the voters. But America’s chief executive has unparalleled powers, which is one reason why the personalities of candidates—their whims, impulses, and habits—matter more than they do in other countries.
Although the personality strengths and flaws of top political leaders in Europe are under constant scrutiny, nothing matches the minute examination of those who aspire to the White House. John Major succeeded Margaret Thatcher as Britain’s prime minister in 1990 without anyone knowing or reporting that he was carrying on a passionate affair with a fellow Conservative member of Parliament and minister named Edwina Currie. The story came out only when she published her diaries after both had left public life. François Mitterrand became president of France while keeping his mistress and their child in a Paris apartment. I am not making a moral point, but a practical one. To the European eye, the American news media’s relentless invasion of the privacy of those who seek the nation’s highest office is another factor that firms up the perception that personality rather than policy is central to U.S. presidential contests.
Another striking difference between the American and European styles of electoral warfare arises from the fact that paid political advertising is banned from European television, removing some of the heat and personal vitriol from campaigns and keeping the focus on policy differences. I once showed a group of hard-bitten British political infighters the Willie Horton ad George H. W. Bush’s backers used to destroy Michael Dukakis in 1988, featuring the African American Horton, who committed violent crimes while on furlough from a Massachusetts prison. These veterans of the British political wars sat back in horror at the vicious but effective crudeness of the attack, with its blatant exploitation of fears about race and crime.
In British, German, and Spanish elections, televised political pitches are limited to formulaic party broadcasts. Each party is allocated a number of slots—usually of up to five minutes—after the main evening news. An independent commission oversees the broadcasts, and while the tone is partisan, direct onslaughts are out of bounds. Some broadcasts simply present the party leader talking directly to viewers—as boring as can be, especially compared to the normal fizz and snap of television advertising in Europe.
Because European politicians have little direct access to the public through the media, journalists are the perpetual mediators (which leaves politicians perhaps even more obsessed than their American counterparts with controlling the news). Televised inquisitions of wannabe government leaders are a major feature of elections. Some countries have formal debates in which the main candidates answer questions from a panel moderated by journalists. Face-to-face debates between aspirants do sometimes occur (though not, oddly, in Britain, where no prime minister has ever consented to debate the leader of the opposition). Yet, as in the United States, the TV duels usually disappoint, as both candidates are prepared and coached to be expert on defense so that punches rarely land. Moreover, since, other than in France, there are usually more than two main party leaders bidding to win seats in the parliament, there is rarely a one-on-one duel. Instead, European candidates endure tough individual inquisitions by respected TV political journalists who avidly seek to trip them up. This is a continuous process, not confined to elections, and any politician in Europe who aspires to high office has to face regular hard-hitting interviews on TV and the still-popular European radio services such as the BBC, which command big audiences for political programs every week.
Aspiring American presidents mostly avoid such rigors, especially during the primaries, when candidates can largely confine their audiences to the adoring crowds of staged town hall meetings and the small caucuses in some supporter’s living room. Anyone hoping to lead a government in Europe has to convince the public and party professionals over months, if not years, by dominating in parliament, public meetings, and the press, and by walking on the hot coals of a televised grilling without flinching or fumbling. By the time an election arrives, a principal candidate will have been battle hardened in dealing with the toughest of broadcast interrogations. When Tony Blair sought to oust Britain’s Conservatives from power in 1997, he already had 14 years of tough parliamentary experience behind him and had forced his Labor Party to come to terms with economic and geopolitical modernity by imposing his will upon recalcitrant Labor leftists. But the Tories still sought to depict him as Bambi—a child without experience.
However, the greater scrutiny does not necessarily make for better leaders. Europe has had its share of duds. Although politicians such as John Major in Britain and Jacques Chirac in France won elections, the economic, social, and foreign policies of their countries under their stewardship were unimpressive. The Austrian Socialists won power in the fall of 2006, but so ineffective was the new Socialist chancellor that he had to dissolve his government and call fresh elections after less than two years in office. The center-left administration headed by Romano Prodi in Italy won power in 2006 but was so incoherent it could not stay in office for more than 20 months. Even under the presidential system in France, both Mitterrand and Chirac found themselves in office but having to share power with opposition parties that had a majority in the National Assembly and could determine who would be prime minister and hold other cabinet posts.
The differences between the American and European political systems have provided fodder for thousands of doctoral dissertations and books. But today the differences may be more apparent than real. If in the 20th century the contest in Europe was between two different economic systems, free-market economics versus totalizing statism and welfarism, with America firmly supporting the former, the contest today is different. Europeans accept liberal market economics and struggle as American politicians do to find the right approaches to health care, social reform, and the demands of aging voters.
The 21st-century global political contest is now a three-way fight. In one corner is democracy. In another is a new form of autocracy represented by the Russian-Chinese model of politics, with its emphasis on stability, economic growth, and a strong centralized state. In the third corner is Islamist politics, whose practitioners, in different soft and hard manifestations, are seeking to win power from Morocco to Indonesia. Europe and America both support market economics, the rule of law, freedom of expression, and rights for women, gays, and minorities, and thus whatever fur may fly over American presidential contests should not hide the fact that a broader Euro-Atlantic community exists with common values independent of differing systems of political representation.
American democracy, even with the flaws, furies, and occasional fun of its quadrennial presidential bouts, remains an example for the world. When Barack Obama was born and John McCain was a young naval officer, half of Europe lay under communist rule and big Mediterranean nations such Spain, Portugal, Greece, and intermittently Turkey were not yet democracies. By taking the democratic road that America exemplified, Europe has left poverty and bad politics behind. The United States is still needed to inspire others to follow.
European wiseacres often decry the vulgar animalism of the American political system. But it works. In their own way European politics are just as personal, crude, and creatively destructive, but their great differences, rivalries, and contests over who governs are often resolved by private carve-ups rather than the more democratic public spectacles that America conducts every four years. And given the limited quality of leadership it has to offer at the moment, Europe should look in the mirror before it looks down its nose.

We create new barriers to immigration at our own peril

This was published on the Guardian Comment is Free website 21 October 2008

Keep xenophobia at bay
21 October 2008

Britain is the most internationally open of EU nation states. We create new barriers at our peril. Yesterday Phil Woolas, Britain's new immigration minister, sat beside his Dutch opposite number and said that immigration policy needs a rigorous counting in and counting out of everyone who enters Britain. His Dutch colleague would have been bemused as it is impossible to count who enters and leaves the Netherlands because there are no longer any borders there. Even if Europe gave up on the free flow of people and tried to reintroduce stringent frontier controls it still would not work.
When I worked in Geneva 25 years ago at a time when passports were checked at main borders there were still dozens of small roads going from France into Switzerland which had no permanent border checks on them. Schengen – the system that allows Europeans to move about freely – was introduced not in a fit of Euroliberalism but because the system of trying to stop and examine the papers of every car, lorry, bike, or walker crossing the hundreds of thousands border roads of Europe had become impossible.Today most cars drive across Swiss border controls without any check.
Britain actually was a forerunner with its mini-Schengen with Ireland. Even though Ireland is a sovereign republic with policy that over the decades has been at times inimical to Britain, no British politician – even during the worst of the IRA terror attacks – suggested imposing border control or passport checks on Irish citizens coming into Britain.
Recently, the Lib Dems in South Yorkshire distributed a xenophobic newsletter attacking a Labour councillor of Danish origin who has lived in Britain for 24 years. The Lib-Dems described her as "non-British" in a cheap BNP-style dog whistle to local voters. Yesterday in the Commons, UKIP's sole parliamentary representative, Bob Spink, wanted to know how many "non-British" people there are in the workforce. Tories fell in behind the UKIP man and shouted at ministers about the level of this new category of "non-Brit" who work here.
The answer is that we cannot know unless we want to start counting every Irish, American, Australian, Canadian and other foreigner all the time. The queues at our airports are surely long enough as it is without insisting on another long line for everyone who catches a Ryanair or Easyjet holiday flight to be registered.
There are 300,000 "non-Brit" sudents at our universities providing an economic lifeline to stretched university finance as well as creating new cohorts of young men and women who, one hopes, will appreciate their stay in Britain and become economic and political friends of Britain when they go home.
The Federation of Poles produced a dossier of Daily Mail headlines this year which described Poles in lurid, hostile, xenophobic language. Migration Watch constantly attacks foreigners in Britain. Yet now the Poles are going home fast. The easiest way to cut immigration is to have a recession.
Britain has 24,000 foreign-owned firms according to a parliamentary answer I recently received. I would like to see that figure go up and when I am abroad at economic conferences I promise foreign investors they will be welcome in South Yorkshire despite Lib Dem and BNP xenophobia.
But if all the language from top Tories is about limiting the presence of foreigners in Britain and ministers echo that refrain, why on earth should anyone come to a country where the media-political discourse is so hostile?
Britain's economic comparative advantage under Blair and Brown is that we are the most internationally open of EU nation states. We create new barriers and type-cast "non-Brits" as the unwelcome other at our peril.
After the Russia's invasion and dismemberment of Georgia, David Cameron said he wanted to punish Russian businessmen visiting Britain with heavy new visa restrictions. Given today's news about the Tories and the oligarchs, Mr Cameron may regret his comments. But as a strong critic of Russian geo-political bullying I welcome the presence of 150,000 Russians in Britain adding and spending wealth in our country. The dispute with Russia is with the neo-authoritarian Kremlin. The wider and deeper the Russian economy grows the better and while Mr Cameron today has questions to answer about George Osborne and Russian billionaires Britain should not seek to punish Russian economic actors.
If I believed there were easy measures that would reduce asylum seeker backlogs, send back the economic migrants who abuse the asylum rules, or reduce tensions when my constituents hear languages they cannot understand, practices they do not share, or ways of life they cannot understand, I would embrace them.
In the 1930s, the Daily Mail described Britain as an over-crowded island which should prevent German Jews from emigrating here. Then our population was 30 million. Today it is twice that but still only 10% of UK land surface has dwellings on it. And with a bigger population we have become richer and freer.
The Tory idea of a population limit is not far off Canute telling the tide not to come in. We have raised the age at which people can marry. Our brothels and massage parlours pullulate with teenage girls trafficked into Britain to satisfy ever-increasing demand for paid-for sex. But we cannot marry a non-EU citizen until he or she is over 21. Again, as with English language lessons (as if the 800,000 Brits in Spain were expected to speak Spanish) I have no objections but these are surface scratching measures.
Britain has to be open for business, for ideas, for people. The immigration debate as defined by the Tories, the Daily Mail, Migration Watch and the BNP is about shutting down Britain.

Anti-semitism rears its head again

Death of far-right figurehead reveals the insiduous creep of extremism

This article appears in The First Post

16 October 2008

The death of Austria's far-right politician Jorg Haider in a car crash on Saturday draws attention to an ugly truth about modern politics - the new anti-semitism sinking its roots in Europe.
Haider liked to present himself as a man of the people - expressing simple Austrian thoughts about too many immigrants, too much Europe, too much political correctness.
But underneath these standard right-wing tropes - shared by the BNP, UKIP, and populist politicians of the left and right elsewhere in Europe - was a man who carefully developed a politics of anti-semitism. Haider claimed to be inspired by the German right philosopher Ernst Forsthoff, who in 1938 wrote that Jews "were not a religious community but a racially foreign body utterly different from the German people".
Haider compared Jews to the Sudeten Germans who lost property and were forced to leave Czechoslovakia in the mass transfers of peoples that took place in Europe, British India and the Middle East in the years after 1945. When Hitler's aide Rudolf Hess died in Spandau prison in Berlin, Haider wrote Hess had "stayed faithful to true German honour".
Journalists in Europe are reluctant to describe modern anti-semitic politicians as such. Like France's Jean Marie Le Pen who tried unsuccessfully to keep under control his views on Jews, Haider tried to avoid openly direct anti-Jewish remarks.
But by insinuation, choice of metaphor, or expressing his belief that Jews in Germany in 1940 were able to live freely, he was in the mainstream of modern anti-semitism with its banalisation or denial of the Holocaust, its contempt for Israel, and its belief that secret Jewish lobbies have too much power.
In Britain, the only lengthy published works by the BNP leader Nick Griffin are obsessed with Jews. In Who Are the Mindbenders, a pamphlet published in 1997, Griffin depicted the British media in the hands of Jews like Michael Grade who changed their names to avoid identification. In a magazine called The Rune, Griffin argued that "the very idea of Zyklon-B extermination has been exposed as unscientific nonsense".
This and other denials of the Holocaust are a core ideological element of contemporary anti-semitism. If the Holocaust did not happen, Jews have no right to protest and the right of Israel to exist can be openly challenged. Haider's party and a sister far-right party won 30 per cent of the vote in last month's elections in Austria. In Britain, the BNP is steadily gaining ground.
The Labour MP Jon Cruddas, who has to do hand-to-hand political fighting with the BNP in his Dagenham, east London constituency, has warned that the BNP could win an MEP seat in next June's European Parliament election. In Stoke, a BNP candidate stands a chance of becoming the directly elected mayor of the city.
Anti-semitism also lies at the heart of fundamentalist Islamist ideology. From Osama bin Laden to the Hamas charter, the language about Jews is little different from the classic Jew-baiting texts of anti-semitic politicians, going back to Hitler. At the UN in September, Iran's President Ahmadinejad accused Jews of "dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centres as well as the political decision-making centres of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner". This line is no different from Nazi propaganda claiming Jews were in secret control of British and US politics before 1939.
So today's anti-semitism has its state sponsors like Iran and Saudi Arabia. It has its European politicians who play on anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner themes. It has its intellectuals who develop theories about the Holocaust. It has its fellow-travellers who hate Israel and call for boycotts of Jews in Israeli institutions without ever applying the same standards to Israel's neighbours where human rights are ruthlessly repressed. It is not the anti-semitism of the extermination camp or the burning of synagogues. But anti-semitism is back, is growing as a political force, and is once again causing fear among many who thought it belonged to the history books.

Nobel Prize For Centre-Left Economist Hailed

13 october 2008
Welcoming the Nobel economics prize for Paul Krugman, MP Denis MacShane said:
"Paul Krugman is the closest America has to a European social democratic thinker in the tradition of Roosevelt New Deal economics. It is closing time for the long run of the rich-should-get-richer and the poor should be poorer lines we first heard from Margaret Thatcher and which reach their apotheosis under George W. Bush."

Speech in the House of Commons: UK laws and the European Union

The European Union is Not Responsible for UK Laws
8 October 2008
Below a speech by the Rt Hon Denis MacShane MP in a 10 minute rule bill debate. The Tory MP, Mark Harper, wanted bills to have statements on them to show they were passed into UK law in obedience to the EU. Tories, UKIP, the Daily Mail and other anti-European outfits regularly say that up to 80 per cent of more of UK law is decided by Europe. Yet the House of Commons Library can never find more than 10 per cent of UK laws which are in response to EU directives and regulations – which, in turn, are voted upon by UK ministers and MEPs who are democratically accountable. MPs voted on the motion and defeated the Tory line which was connected to the broader anti-European hostility associated with David Cameron and William Hague. Last week, Hague told the Conservative conference that in 2009 , his party would break links with all the main centre-right parties in Europe. This is an astonishing position to take for a major UK party seeking to form a government.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr. Harper) on making a very moderate speech. I am grateful to him for remembering the modest contribution that I once made many years ago in serving Her Majesty on matters European. However, as so often with the Better Off Out group of the Conservative party, his speech and his Bill hide behind them concepts and problems that need to be unpicked.
I would have no objection if on the front of every Bill that comes before this House there were some symbol or statement of its origin. The vast majority of legislation that has emanated from the EU has done so since the Single European Act was passed in 1986. That has had a huge impact on the legislation of 26 other countries. A great number of different groups in those countries think that the Single European Act, with its rather steam-rollering approach to enforcing free trade, is the child of the noble Baroness Thatcher, so perhaps on the front of every Bill across Europe that is connected with that Act we should have a nice picture of Margaret Thatcher to remind Europeans of where some of the best European legislation comes from.
The hon. Gentleman made heavy weather of trying to establish what percentage of our laws come from the European Union. If we think honestly about what takes up our time in the House, what worries our constituents and what fills the front pages of our newspapers, we find that very little is connected with the EU. Having already voted to outlaw wife-beating, I hope that later today we will outlaw child-beating. I do not know whether those on the Treasury Bench are of that mind.
Other issues ahead of us in the next few weeks include stem cell research, time limits on abortion, who might decide on the next police chief of London, identity cards, the length of detention for those suspected of serious terrorist crimes, university admissions and fees, our taxation policy, and what we heard about a moment ago from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the Bill that will follow. Those are all made-in-Britain laws. That is true in France, Germany, Poland, Sweden, Ireland, Finland and all members of the European Union. Of course, that which is connected to the Single European Act has to do with Europe.
In a debate earlier this year, I said that according to the Library—if I have time, I will read out some of its detailed statistics—only 10 per cent. of the laws that impact on us in the United Kingdom, adopted by this House principally through statutory instruments, emanate from the European Union. Then, to my horror, the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the shadow Foreign Secretary, leapt to his feet and quoted another right hon. Gentleman who had said that 50 per cent. or more of regulations came from the European Union. That right hon. Gentleman was the Prime Minister. Naturally, as a devoted admirer and fan of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister over decades, I was very concerned thus to be put in my place. I wrote to the Prime Minister to see whether the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks had accurately quoted him. I have a letter here, very kindly addressed, "Dear Denis", and dated 30 April this year, in which he says
"that—on average—around 9 per cent. of all statutory instruments transpose EC legislation…I believe this is the correct figure."
In a debate in this House on 3 June, the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said that about 80 per cent. of all legislation emanated from the European Union, quoting a German Government source. The BBC and others have been trying to find this German Government source—is it Goethe, Schiller, or Mrs. Merkel?—and find that they cannot. It really is not good enough to come to the House and quote anonymous Germans, whoever they may be, in defence of the preposterous position that 80 per cent. of all our laws come from the European Union.
Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman was in very good company. Only two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of switching on the "Today" programme before 7 o’clock to find Mr. John Humphrys interviewing my favourite Euro-comic turn, Mr. Nigel Farage of the UK Independence party. Nigel—I hope that he does not mind my being familiar, but we get on quite well—said that 75 per cent. of all laws in the UK were now decided by the European Union: 5 per cent. less than the right hon. Gentleman’s figure. I do not know what had happened in the intervening two or three months. As Mr. Humphrys is usually so swift and vigorous in picking up anything that is a palpable untruth, I wrote to the BBC to ask whether that figure was going to be corrected or whether Mr. Humphrys could be politely asked, next time he hears this nonsense, from whatever source, to slap it down.
Before the European Parliament elections it is important that we establish certain accepted truths about the European Union. It is time to nail here in this House, and publicly, the lie that the EU is responsible for 80 per cent. of our laws, according to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, or for 75 per cent., according to Mr. Nigel Farage. I have here a letter from Mr. Malcolm Balen, a senior editorial adviser at BBC News. It is very friendly, but whenever someone from the BBC writes to one of us on these issues they go into a special room, cover themselves in grease, and then go for a swim in oil, so what he says is, to put it mildly, quite hard to grasp. He turns to Mr. Mark Mardell, the BBC’s excellent Europe editor, saying that Mr. Mardell
"has previously researched Mr Farage’s claim, made on Today, that this figure is 75 per cent., and found that it is supposedly based on a German government statement, although no-one has actually discovered it.
Mark points out, however, that this whole area is a contentious one and that the last time he tried to establish an accurate figure he found the subject, in his words, too ‘jelly-like’ to nail down."
We are not dealing with jelly, but with laws made in this country that affect all our citizens. On that point, I completely agree with the hon. Member for Forest of Dean, but we have to avoid a circular argument. That Conservative party front organisation against Europe, Open Europe, issued a document recently stating that the smoking ban and the provisions we have for cigarette packs originated in Europe. In fact, Britain was one of the earliest countries—going back to when there was a Conservative Government—to bring in the "smoking damages your health" warnings. They made the case for it in Europe, Europe made it a European-wide law, which I support, and it then came back into our law. We are seeing law made in Britain transposed through Europe back into our own legislation. We end up in a Kafkaesque world, where ideas start in Britain, and during a period of many years they go to Europe and are agreed there. They then come back into our law and are blamed on the European Union.
This Bill does not contribute one whit to reform or educating the public. It is part of the continuing drive by the Conservative party, as we saw expressed at its conference last week, to cut all links with the ruling centre-right parties in Europe, and—if we were to experience the misfortune of their forming a Government—to take us steadily to the exit door of the European Union. I oppose this Bill.

Speech at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly

Denis MacShane Says Russian MPs Who Voted for Dismemberment of Georgia Should have Council of Europe status questioned
In a series of interventions at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg (29 Sept – 2 Oct), Denis MacShane said that Russian Parliamentarians who voted in Moscow for the dismemberment of the UN and Council of Europe Member State of Georgia were in breach of UN and European law, rules and values. MacShane was attacked in turn by Russian speakers. Below is his intervention in a debate on 1 October.
Mr MacSHANE (United Kingdom). – Thank you, Mr President. The Socialist Group broadly agrees with the presentations made by both Mr Gross and Mr Greenway.
This is a very serious issue. I have here a passport, which was brought into Georgia in a tank. I do not know about other member states of the Council of Europe, but it is certainly not the British army that issues and distributes British passports.
We must find the correct language. That is important. We heard a lot of talk about genocide yesterday, but as Mr Van der Brande’s report showed, 300 were killed on one side and 364 were killed on the other, and many were wounded. Each death and injury is a terrible tragedy, but let us not talk about genocide. That only raises the temperature.
We talk about war. Many countries in the Council of Europe have, during the 60 years of its existence, been involved in terrible wars – I think of France in Algeria, perhaps even of the troubles in Northern Ireland, and of the Balkans and Chechnya. I am afraid that it is not unknown for member states of the Council of Europe to be involved in wars.
Can you have a war in your own country? If you are attacking and shelling bits of your own country, is that war? An invasion is war – when 20 000 soldiers and 2 000 tanks come through a tunnel, that, perhaps, is war. Again, we have to be careful about the language that we use.
Where do we go now? The suggestion made by our two rapporteurs – that we wait for final reports – is correct. I support German Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s call for a full international inquiry, with all the intelligence material made available, so that we can actually get to the truth, instead of having accusation and counter-accusation.
One thing is crucial to the Council of Europe, which is this. States sometimes do bad things – Turkey invaded Cyprus; there were wars in Serbia – but this is the first time in my lifetime when elected parliamentarians have put up their hands and voted to partition a country. In my judgment, the politics of Anschluss are unacceptable. We therefore need an investigation into all the colleagues here present who voted. How did they vote and how did they speak in the Duma or the council of the federation? We need to know, because what Mr Medvedev or Mr Putin do or say as prime minister or president is one thing, but we are responsible for our own actions. I have never voted to recognise Chechnya or any other breakaway country, but colleagues here did.
I therefore hope that the final motion will be agreed. The issue does not stop here. It is quite right not to talk about expulsion in this part-session, but we need clear answers from our Russian colleagues who voted to break apart a member state of the Council of Europe and the United Nations. For my part, I cannot find that acceptable.

Tories on foreign policy

This article appears in the Guardian’s Comment is Free
The Tories are foreign-policy lightweights
1 October 2008

Cameron's Conservatives have cobbled together a reactionary set of measures which would weaken the UK's standing abroad
By this stage in the political-electoral cycle it would be reasonable to assume that a coherent international policy would be on offer from the Conservative party. Yet as ambassadors and international observers turn up in Birmingham, they will find prejudice in place of policy and a revival of the worst failures of both John Major's and Margaret Thatcher's foreign policy still embedded in Tory thinking.
Compared to 1995 or 1996, when Tony Blair and Robin Cook had completely reshaped Labour's international rhetoric to ditch the Euroscepticism of the 1980s and the hostility to open trade of the Labour left as well as promoting a strong pro-American partnership, today's Tories have not the hard thinking about what to do if they take control of Britain's foreign policy.
The latest example is the promise by David Cameron, repeated over the weekend by William Hague, to hold a referendum on the all-but-defunct Lisbon treaty. The Irish no vote could in theory be overcome but even the most pro-EU of Irish observers think that if a second referendum were to be held the Irish no would be even stronger.
In 2009, the EU presidency is held first by the Czech Republic then by Sweden. Neither Prague nor Stockholm have ratified the Lisbon treaty nor give much indication that they will. Poland's president Kaczynski is also refusing to sign the treaty.
Yet Cameron and Hague are insisting on a referendum on a dead parrot. Their cynical tactic is obvious – to corral the anti-European votes which might go to UKIP or the BNP. But to commit the first year of a putative Tory government to the passage of a referendum bill and then the organisation of a giant fiesta of anti-European hate in which the tabloids, the BNP, UKIP and the Better-Off-Out Tories can indulge into their xenophobic rhetoric seems an odd choice.
The no camp will win but only to say no to what is not going to happen. Across Europe and in Washington, partners and allies will look aghast at the frivolity of Britain indulging in such pointless plebiscite politics. And since Cameron cannot deliver what UKIP, Open Europe and many of his MPs want – a withdrawal of Britain to the status of Norway outside the EU, he will just make Britain's look foolish as Sarkozy and Merkel and other serious centre-right leaders take over the leadership of Europe and marginalise Britain.
Cameron's other major foreign policy speech was to denounce the politics of interventionism. The difficulties and controversy over Iraq are well known, but the major theatre of interventionism today is Afghanistan, where Britain and allies are trying to stop Taliban Islamist terrorists win power and in parallel move in for the ultimate al-Qaida and Islamist jihadi goal – control of Pakistan and a fundamentalist finger on Pakistan's nuclear button. Already the Conservative Muslim Forum has called for support for Iran's drive to get nuclear weapons and has said a Tory government should lessen support for Israel. Is that Cameron's policy?
The failure to intervene in the Balkans and Rwanda by John Major remains a blot on British foreign policy. A million asylum seekers left the former Yugoslavia because the Conservatives failed to stand up to and face down Milosevic. Not all interventions work but to rule out interventionism on principle, as Cameron appears to have done takes us back to the worst failures of recent Tory foreign policy.
The small "c" conservative London establishment of ex-ambassadors are united in their view that Russia's invasion, occupation and dismemberment of Georgia has to be lived with and that, in the words of Roderic Lyne, a former UK ambassador to Moscow, writing for OpenDemocracy, "Nato enlargement has been a mistake from the beginning." This will strike a chill into the heart of the Poles and the Baltic States. It will also worry the Finns who are now looking seriously at Nato membership to gain extra security after Russia's military assault and establishment of military bases on Georgian territory. Finland, like Georgia, won independence in 1918. Stalin snuffed out Georgia's freedom and Finland now worries that Russia wants to dictate the international relations of its close neighbours. David Cameron made a bellicose cold war speech in Tbilisi, reminiscent of the more extravagant rightwing anti-Soviet rhetoric of the early Thatcher era, but his policy of rejecting cooperation in the fraternity of centre-right governing parties in Europe runs counter to the accepted view that the best way to deal with Russia is to promote an integrated and united EU line on energy policy and on speaking as one to Putin.
This week in Strasbourg at the autumn meeting of 600 MPs from 47 nations grouped in the Council of Europe, Cameron's foreign policy will come under pressure. Tory MPs have been backing the Kremlin's efforts to increase influence in Europe's human rights watchdog assembly. Earlier this year, Conservative MPs were promoting a former KGB staffer, now one of Putin's key aides in Russia's parliament, as president of the Council of Europe. Cameron's team back the Russian position on Kosovo against UK, American and EU policy. As with the odd pronouncements of the Conservative Muslim Forum, it is not clear if Cameron and Hague actually know what Tory MPs and Peers get up to as representatives of their party at home and abroad.
On transatlantic politics, Cameron, Hague and the Tory's defence spokesman, Liam Fox, appear determined to keep the spirit of Dick Cheney alive even as the Bush era becomes history. Both McCain and Obama have spoken of the need for partnership with Europe to tackle world instability. David Howell, the Tory spokesman on foreign affairs in the Lords, and father-in-law of George Osborne, has spent the past 15 years writing that America is turning to Asia and is losing interest in Europe.
Yet the opposite is the case. Whether on terrorism, on financial crises, on Afghanistan, on Turkey, on missile defence, on opening new bases in the Black Sea, we can see America is more involved with the wider Europe than ever before. When Nato was founded nearly 60 years ago, America worried about a small grouping of nations west of the Elbe. Now, from the Caspian to the Atlantic, US interests are ever more co-mingled with Europe. To be sure, the rise of China and India herald a new future, but 60% of world GDP is concentrated in the Euroatlantic region and the Tory incantation that Europe does not matter any more make no sense in Washington or on Wall Street.
Next year, the International Labour Organisation celebrates its 90th birthday. But the only available Tory policy on global social justice is the promise to take Britain out of its social charter obligations which have provided British workers with five week's paid holidays a year. As inequality rises to the top20 of the political agenda, Cameron wants to weaken such modest international work as it exists to promote social justice.
The year 2009 also sees the 60th birthday of the Council of Europe which was brought into being by Winston Churchill's famous Zurich speech calling for European unity. Its most important achievement is the European convention on human rights and the setting up of the European Court of human rights. But a number of senior Tories have called on Britain to withdraw from the ECHR with its obligation to accept refugees fleeing political and religious persecution. And Conservatives have never liked the rulings of the Council of Europe's human rights court banning violence against children (ie corporal punishment in schools) or upholding women's rights.
Next year is also the 60th anniversary of Nato's founding. Today's Nato has to find a way of getting its European members more involved and more willing to share burdens and take risks. Cameron's hostility to European cooperation and party political partnership leaves Britain isolated and unable to influence the future direction of Nato, the EU and the Euroatlantic economic and security community.
None of this will be debated at the Conservative conference in Birmingham. Never has a British political party prepared to ask voters to entrust it with government with such a wrongheaded foreign policy, which if implemented along the lines of current Tory rhetoric, would seriously weaken Britain.