Council of Europe's Dick Marty Causes Unjustified Lurid Headlines about Kosovo

This article was published on the Open Democracy website 

The Human Organs of the Council of Europe: there is no evidence in the Marty report
29 December 2010 

In the midst of the Wikileaks, another story exploded onto front pages around the world which claimed that the present prime minister of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, had been a master-mind criminal involved in the killing of people to extract their kidneys for sale.. 

Not since Pol Pot have quite such lurid statements made about a serving leader of his nation. Thaçi was re- elected In December with just 34 per cent of the Kosovan voters supporting him, a little less than David Cameron and a lot more than George W Bush in 2000. No Balkan election is without allegations of voting irregularities. Kosovan political parties are clannish, linked to dubious business interests, and bankrolled in part by the Kosovan diaspora. Kosovan, like Croatian, Montenegran, Albanian, and Macedonian political leaders are regularly accused (often with justice) of diverting money for their own or for party political ends. And since “business” in the Western Balkans is based on cigarette smuggling and sex slave trafficking as much as legal economic activity the politician who cannot be accused of keeping bad company is a rare animal indeed. Thaçi is no different. But Thaçi who has been in and out of power for a decade operates as a politician closely supervised by an assortment of UN and EU bodies as well as outside observers and visitors. 

The report that has caused the stir is not yet adopted or approved by the Council of Europe, merely one of its innumerable sub-committees. It is written by a forceful Swiss-Italian politician-cum- prosecuting lawyer called Dick Marty. He is close his fellow Italian-Swiss political lawyer, Carla del Ponte, whose book in Italian made identical allegations to Mr Marty’s report. Mr Marty is a member of the Swiss Liberal Party . It is not liberal in the modern English sense but in the 19th century continental sense of supporting the ideology of an ultra-free market, protection of private property rights and a small state. Mr Marty’s party is the strongest ideological supporter of Switzerland’s banking secrecy laws which have indeed, been much used by the Kosovan Diaspora which is strongly present in Switzerland. 

Mr Marty’s report is not a precise judicial document. It contains long rambling enunciations of Western policy as it unfolded in the Kosovo crisis at the end of the 1990s. In this Mr Marty reflects the politicisation of the Council of Europe which ever since it admitted Russia as a member in 1995 had been skilfully used by the Kremlin to advance Russian diplomatic interests. Russia has cultivated allies there in different political blocks. In Britain, the Liberal-Demcratic MP and Council of Europe member, Mike Hancock, has been accused by the Chair of the British All Party Parliamentary Group on Russia of being flagrantly pro-Kremlin in Council of Europe debates. The British Conservative MPs on the Council of Europe sit in the same group at Vladimir Putin’s hand-picked delegation. The Russians, with the support of British Conservative MPs, sought to place a former KGB staffer as president of the Council of Europe in 2008. In short, the Council of Europe is not some disinterested gathering of Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch parliamentarians but a deeply conflicted politicised body where states mobilise to promote support for their current Weltanschauing. 

A top priority for the Kremlin has been to maximise support for anti-US and anti-Nato positions at the Council of Europe. Russia has sought to cultivate allies to protect Serbia and other Slav or Orthodox states from criticism. Efforts by centrist social democrats from Sweden to promote reconciliation between Serbs and Kosovans have been rebuffed. 

Terrible things were done by Serb soldiers and para-militaries in Kosovo once Richard Holbrooke’s forceful diplomacy at Dayton fifteen years ago closed down Milosevic’s Serb nationalist passions further north. Visit Kosovan villages and the Muslim cemeteries have dozens of headstone with people born on different dates but all killed on the same day as Serb execution squads went wild. Equally terrible things were done as some Kosovans turned from the two decades-long peaceful and passive resistance under Ibrahim Rugova and instead for a brief but intense 15-18 month period opted for armed resistance, including the assassination, and brutal treatment of collaborators in the style of the French resistance in 1944. Instead of seeking peace and reconciliation there has been a constant effort by the Serb-Russian axis at the Council of Europe to pretend that Kosovo is a criminal gangster breakaway province of Belgrade that one day would return to Serb rule. 

Discrediting the different Kosovan leaders, nearly all whom took part in one way or another in the resistance struggle against Milosevic which ended with the Blair-Clinton Nato intervention in the summer of 1999, has been a top political priority for Serbs and Russians. Mr Marty together with others hostile to the United States on the Council of Europe has never made any secret of his oppositions to Kosovan independence. He has opposed calls for Kosovo to be given member or even observer status at the Council of Europe. 

Now Mr Marty has produced his highly personalised report which is the biggest propaganda coup for revanchist Serbs since the fall of Milosevic. Rapporteurs at the Council of Europe are workaday politicians. There are dozens of such reports each year. Britain’s (Lord) Frank Judd was one such when he was a delegate. He resigned in disgust when his reports on the brutality of Russia forces under Putin in Chechnya were side-lined by the pro-Moscow alliances at the Council. 

Senator Marty is his own man and his sincerity is not up for question. He believes in what he believes. But a reading of his 19,000 word report throws up one problem. There is not one single name or a single witness to the allegations that Thaçi was involved in the harvesting of human organs from murdered victims. That such disgusting practices happened and happen elsewhere in the world is not in doubt. But Marty fails to link Thaçi directly to organ harvesting though the lurid title of his report - “Illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo” – is designed to maximise headlines. 

Senator Marty does all he can to blacken Thaçi’s name, accusing him of being little more than a criminal who used the crisis of Kosovo chiefly to establish a mafia-style operation. To read this is to require a very great suspension of belief. Hundreds of thousands of Kosovans fled their country as the Serb rage, frustrated that attempts to destroy Croatian and Bosnian identity in the break-up of Yugoslavia had been thwarted, was turned on Kosovo. After all, it had been in Kosovo that Milosevic had made his famous threat “We will beat you” as he unleashed the monster of Serb nationalism at the end of the 1980s. Like the IRA, ETA and other armed political movements, the Kosovans were brutal, greedy and used every illegal means to advance their cause. Marty makes much of the fact that Thaçi and other young Kosovan resistance leaders who formed the KLA (Kosovan Liberation Army) operated as much in Albania as in Kosovo proper. Well, yes, they did just as the IRA floated between northern Ireland or ETA sought refuge from Spanish police in France. 

But Marty is re-writing history as he opts for the Serb world-view which paints all Kosovan resistance as essentially and exclusively criminal. Moreover, argues Marty, it was “explicit endorsements from Western powers, founded on strong lobbying from the United States” that led to “the perception of KLA pre-eminence – largely created by the Americans.” Here Marty wears his anti-US heart on his Council of Europe sleeve. Council of Europe parliamentarians who were active in their parliaments in this period will recall rather that the US refused to put any real pressure on the Serbs and their supporters in Russia who constantly blocked and vetoed effective UN action against the mass murder of European Muslims in Kosovo. President Clinton continually baulked at effective military action to stop the bloodshed. Far from the KLA being the creation and creature of the US, it would be more accurate to depict the KLA as waiting helplessly until the world realised that after Srebrenica, Milosevic was willing to oversee a second genocidal assault on secular European Kosovan Muslims who dared defy his bullying. 

What did happen in the months after the air-assault and then military invasion finally convinced Milosovic to pull out of most of Kosovo was undoubtedly terrible. But Marty is unable to produce one eye-witness who can connect Thaçi to the crime of organ harvesting. Marty says that Kosovans have a clan loyalty that forbids them testifying against leaders. But Thaçi is just one of a number of competing ex-KLA political leaders. There have been thousands of international investigators, police and lawyers operating in Kosovo since 2000. The Serbs have been unable to produce any victims or families of people who were killed and then had their kidneys extracted. According to the BBC, legal experts from the EU operating in Kosovo cannot substantiate Marty’s allegations. 

Senator Marty says he has read the many denunciations of Thaçi with “consternation and a sense of moral outrage”. He claims that MI6 backs his claims but again produces no evidence that he has read MI6 reports naming Thaçi and his group. Moral outrage and consternation are important reactions but should a factual report endorsed by the Council of Europe not have some direct witness statements, some dry facts, some proof, and, find at least one person who can substantiate the link between Thaçi and organ harvesting? 

Perhaps one day such proof will emerge. That Kosovan and Albanian criminal gangs blossomed as the ten-year crisis of the Yugoslav wars of succession destroyed all sense of moral order in the Serb, Croatian, Bosnian and Albanian regions of the western Balkans cannot be denied. That truly evil things were done by men carrying guns and wearing rudimentary uniforms who were half an armed expression of national rejection of Serb rule and half a group of thugs with an eye on the main chance to make money fast is also not in doubt. 

That Kosovo needs law, order and justice is also not in doubt. But as long as Serbia still claims that Kosovo bleibt unser ("remains ours"), as post-war revanchist Germans dreaming of a return to Silesia used to say, there will be no stability and peace and the chance for normal economics and democracy to root themselves in. 

The Marty report is a huge headline win for Serbia’s narrative that all that happened in Kosovo was the result of Albanian criminals. The Swiss Senator may well be right that Thaçi is unfit to be a European government leader. He is certainly right that more investigation is needed. But perhaps before the full Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly debates his report in January might he produce just a scintilla of incontrovertible evidence that would justify the lurid headlines he enjoys producing.

Bill Browder's Tale: a Warning to the West

This article was published in Newsweek 

An American in Exile From Moscow 

13 December 2010

Had you asked Stalin about Earl Browder, he would have snorted in derision. Ask Putin about Bill Browder, and the reaction will be the same. The Browder family’s tortured relationship with Russian leaders is worthy of a Ken Follett novel. 

Earl Browder was the leader of the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and during World War II. A Stalin worshiper, he wielded immense influence in the trade-union movement, which grew in power as America’s war machine sucked in millions of industrial workers. During the years of the Hitler-Stalin pact, Browder was a class warrior opposing the “imperialist” war between Britain and Germany. With the Soviet and American entry into the war in 1941, he used his communist machine to lash U.S. workers into heroic feats of output. But as the wartime love-in between Stalin and Roosevelt turned into U.S.-Soviet rivalry and the Cold War, Browder was dismissed by Stalin for not understanding quickly enough the change in line. Instead he and his son, Felix, a brilliant mathematician, fell victim to McCarthyism, living shrunken lives in the anticommunist hysteria of the 1950s. 

Earl Browder’s grandson Bill grew up as an all-American boy with a head for figures and a fascination for the Russia of his grandmother’s birth. After a Stanford M.B.A. he went to Salomon Brothers at the start of the great privatization bonanza of the 1990s, when nearly half of Russia’s wealth was transferred to two dozen oligarchs. He went into business for himself and built a $4.5 billion investment fund. Such money was too tempting for the kleptocrats around Putin, who had no qualms squeezing the super-rich with threats of jail or exile. What happened to Bill Browder is a cautionary tale for European leaders like President Nicolas Sarkozy, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who have decided to embrace Russia despite its human-rights record, and to President Obama, whose reset strategy is meant to inspire Russia to cooperate with the West on Iran and Afghanistan. 

Browder avoided a spell in the Putlag, as Russians now call the prison network where Putin dumps his opponents. Instead he was expelled from Russia in 2005 as a “threat to national security.” He paid a $230 million tax bill and exiled himself to London. But in 2007 the Russians moved against Browder’s residual one-secretary office in Moscow and charged him in absentia with failing to pay a debt, which he claims he knew nothing about. He hired the best lawyers in Moscow to defend him and investigate fraud by Russian officials trying to squeeze him for cash. The response of the state was to arrest his chief lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who died from 12 months of mistreatment in a Moscow jail. 

Browder gets regular death threats in London, yet he is pressing hard to bring Magnitsky’s killers to justice. On Nov. 16 the U.S. Senate, the British House of Commons, the Canadian and German Parliaments, and other legislative bodies hosted public meetings on the anniversary of Magnitsky’s death. British Prime Minister David Cameron has officially recognized Browder’s complaint about Magnitsky. The European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee voted 50–0 for the EU to blacklist 60 Russian functionaries who were involved in the torture and death of Magnitsky and the fraud he uncovered. Earl Browder was determined to convince Americans of the virtues of socialism and Stalin; Bill is equally passionate about exposing what he calls the “evil” of a new Russian system that can casually put a respected lawyer to death. 

Russia now ranks below Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria in Transparency International’s listings of the most corrupt nations. Valery Zorkin, president of the Russian Constitutional Court, has admitted that his country is “something of a rogue state” in the international legal community. Anthony Brenton, Britain’s ambassador to Russia until 2008, notes with considerable understatement that “it would be much more comfortable” to live in a world that could trust Russia to respect the norms of international law and human rights. The WikiLeaks exposure of U.S. government views on the links between the Russian state and crime only bring into the open what every diplomat talks about privately. 

Russia without the rule of law is unlikely to be a full partner for the democratic world. Earl Browder wanted to impose Russian communism on the West. His grandson is determined that Western rule of law will one day arrive in Russia. He deserves more Western support.

Europe's Crisis of Social Democracy: Shall the Social Democrats Be the Ones to Blame?

This article was published in Tribune
Is the left's decline terminal?
26 November 2010
That there is a crisis of social democracy in Europe is not in doubt. The question is whether it is terminal. The symptoms are worrying. In Vienna, home city a century ago to anti-Semitic, brownshirt politics, 27 per cent of voters supported the extremism of the late and unlamented Jorg Haider's party in this autumn's elections. For the first time in a century, the Swedish social democrats were defeated in two successive elections. The Swedish Democrat Party — a liberal title for a deeply illiberal anti-Muslim party — won 20 seats in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament. Greens have overtaken social democrats in German opinion polls. Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi are unpopular, but neither the Parti Socialiste nor the Partito Democratico looks like forming replacement governments in France or Italy. 
Nothing seems to work. The Swedish social democrats held their noses and entered into a triple alliance with a former communist party and the Greens. The party called for higher state spending and support for public employees. The voters turned away.
In Spain and Greece, the socialist governments face strikes and protests as they desperately seek to regain control of public finances.But it is too late. The necessary reforms were put off because it meant telling the truth to corporations or unions who traded their votes in exchange for no challenge to their comfort zone agreements on taxes and pay. In Spain, those shut out of the labour market by corporatist protectionism, have deserted the left en masse. Organised social democratic parties in the new member states of the EU are weak and marginalised to the point of irrelevance.
In the past, the left debated the future. Now it debates identity. The de-alignment of class politics into a mush of interest group politics has left the left without a voice. You cannot square anti-nuclear greens with those who believe in industry and the right of citizens to press a switch and get light, heat and power. You cannot square the Muslim-hating right or those who preach "Dutch jobs for Dutch people" with any of the anti-racist liberal traditions that the European left painfully acquired in recent generations.

"Wikicapitalism" is constantly morphing and changing. One defeated Labour MP, who could not find another job after the May general election, has been trading shares on her computer. She has made a tidy £32,000 in the past six months. Yes, it is casino capitalism, but the ways of making money are no longer traceable and nor can they be easily reduced to any one particular group to which the left can appeal.
There are 14 2 million holders of ISAs in Britain alone. Some 500,000 local authority tenants bought their council homes after Labour took power in 1997. Many of these homes are let out to new incomers, asylum seekers or social cases that local authorities pay for in order to keep people from sleeping on the streets. Some have gone from council tenant to landlord within a single generation.
These are the new capitalisms the left has to understand. The three great gluepots of Europe's 20th century social democratic left the nation, the working class and its unions, and the welfare state — make less and less sense in the 21st century.
In Italy, Spain, Belgium and Britain, the unitary nation is under threat. Spanish socialists have to make pacts with Catalan socialists, but they do not see the Iberian peninsular through the same eyes. After 1979, Labour became heavily influenced by its Scottish and Welsh regions. The party had a policy for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It had no policy for England.
The great movement of people that accelerated after the end of communism's border controls in 1990 has brought new communities, new cultures, new religion and new demands for rights. Asylum seekers who never went home, relatives who demanded the right to settle and, more recently, hardworking, skilled, white Catholics from east Europe came in and changed townscapes. In big cities, they were absorbed. But when every small town had to absorb the incomers keen to make a new life, tensions became far greater and opened the way to the new politics of identity.
For most of Europe's populist and nationalist right, Muslims have replaced the Jews as those to be targeted as the enemy — a non-indigenous presence owing external allegiances. The myth of "Eurabia" — the idea that Europe is coming under Muslim control — is almost a new fashion.
Geert Wilders, the Dutch Islamaphobe, told a rally in Berlin recently that: "Germany full of mosques and veiled women is no longer the Germany of Schiller, Bach and Mendelssohn." This is drivel. Many Muslims in Germany are Turkish fashionistas or thirdgeneration Turkish-Germans. In contrast to Wilders' wild assertions, Germany has re-created a Jewish community with subsidies for synagogues and an open door to any Russian Jew who claims some German ancestry dating back centuries. However, despite his extreme rants, the Conservatives and Liberals in the Netherlands have accepted Wilders' support to form a coalition government.
In one sense, European social democracy has been too successful. The long era of welfare state capitalism with open borders has proved extremely attractive to those in poorer counties, both in Europe (Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan, among others), as well as to the poor in Africa and Asia and the conflict-ridden Middle East.
The welfare state paid for over generations by local people buckled, as it had to support new arrivals. Social housing — social democracy's great gift to its supporters after 1950 had dried up by 2000. As voters moved from renting to owning and saw little hope for their own children to get rented social housing, they wondered if the left any longer represented their interests.
Many of these problems and most of these incomers could be absorbed by stronglygrowing and job-creating economies. But social democracy in Europe shuns the liberalism of dynamic markets because of their unfairness. Gerhard Schroder became Chancellor of Germany in 1998 with four million unemployed. He left office in 2005 with four million unemployed. He did unfreeze the labour market and Germany now is seeing unemployment fall and growth increase. But Schroder was ousted as Chancellor. The European left has policies for women, gays, children and artists, but does it have one for the working class? Trade unions in all European countries have long given up confronting capitalism. Instead they confront the public with strikes that deny the poor access to transport, council services and schooling. The rich drive past the picket lines of public sector strikers and feel no impact. It is not the fault of unions. The public sector is where recruitment is possible. Which union leader has the organising hunger to get up at 3m to try and recruit Lithuanian fruit pickers or greet the new female proletariat coining off the dawn cleaning shift? 
There are no commonly-read European social democratic thinkers. The German, French or British left intellectual writes for his or her fellow commentators in his or her own country. Whereas the right can unite across borders around a few themes — a smaller state, curbs on Muslims, the reduction of union rights — the left produces long shopping lists of demands and wishes, and refuses to create priorities or a running order.
The left appears incapable of supporting the compromises of power. In Britain, The Guardian began digging Labour's grave soon after Blair and Brown won power in 1997. By May 2010, the main newspaper of the centreleft was urging a vote for Liberal Democrats on the eve of that party ditching its principles and purpose to provide a few ministerial salaries for its chieftains. In the United States, the left-liberal commentariat has used its columns and blogs to undermine the tortuous efforts of Barack Obama to get any progressive legislation through the thickets of the legislative system. Now Britain is run by the Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition and the right controls the US Congress.
Social democratic party organisation remains national. Tony Blair, Lionel Jospin, Gerhard Schroder, Wim Kok and Massimo d'Alema were all prime ministers a decade ago. But this dominance in office was never shaped into a common philosophy or confidence in power. The nationalism of the indigenous left always trumped the hopes of a common European social democracy.
Is it all over? There are plenty of gravediggers of the left. However, for decades after WWII, the Christian democratic right was in permanent power in Italy. Germany and France spent years under rightist control before Willy Brandt and Francois Mitterrand arrived on the scene. Labour spent nearly 20 years in the wilderness after 1979.
Change can happen. It will need brave leaders willing to change the way we see the world. Ed Miliband was right to say that Labour was always at its best when it challenged the conventional wisdom. There is too much conventional wisdom in the higher councils of European social democracy. But to challenge this is to take risks. When European social democracy is ready to bury its past myths, it will again be ready to give birth to a new future. 

For a New Defence Policy in Japan

This article was published in Newsweek 

Japan Teeters on the Edge

8 November 2010

Geographically, Britain and Japan are cousins, two island nations off Eurasia. Geopolitically, they could not be more different. Western Eurasia, with its comfort blanket of NATO, two major nuclear powers, and a burgeoning EU defense profile, could hardly be more stable. Meanwhile, Japan has more than 4,000 islands, many potential flash points for regional peace.

Japan shivers virtually naked as military pressures mount in Eurasia. From the northern ocean borders with Russia to the subtropical seas coveted by China, competing claims to Japan's islands are inching up the global security agenda. While NATO members pledge to fight for one another, Japan has only a one-sided alliance with the U.S., which under the 1951 U.S.-Japan security treaty pledges young Americans to die in defense of Japan, but makes no reciprocal demand on young Japanese. The post-1945 settlement turned Japan into the world's first pacifist industrial superpower, one that neighbors never needed to fear, but one that now has reason to fear its neighbor.

Authoritarian nationalism is reasserting itself in Asia. After Tiananmen Square, Chinese leaders decided the best way to turn young people away from democracy was to teach them patriotic nationalism. Following Orwell, leaders like Jiang Zemin made Japan the key hate country in  schools. In 2005 China's Education Minister said schools should "promote patriotic education" by "using the history of war against Japan."

Japan claimed the East China Sea's uninhabited islands following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95. In September, after Japanese coast guards arrested a Chinese trawler skipper who strayed into the waters off the islands, China unleashed a barrage of nationalist emotion. Japanese cars and shops were trashed in Chinese cities. Japanese businessmen were arrested as hostages. And in a sinister move, China suspended the export of rare earths essential for high-tech Japanese products like electric automobiles. Japan caved in, and returned the arrested fishing-boat captain. This was a humiliating loss of face for Tokyo and a triumph for Chinese nationalism.

Japan looks on with fear as China's military arsenal grows in line with its economic power. Tokyo defense experts say Chinese military spending will equal that of the U.S. by 2020. Having long insisted that it is building up only territorial defenses, China is now building aircraft carriers and negotiating to open naval bases in the Indian Ocean. China is equipping its Air Force with modern warplanes as good as anything the West makes. China's arms industry is starting to export warplanes to Pakistan and Egypt at bargain prices.

How long before China decides that Japan would not summon the will to oppose a quick takeover of disputed islands  that lie thousands of kilometres from Tokyo? We saw India make a very similar calculation when it walked into Goa in 1961, and Argentina do the same when it invaded the Falklands in 1982.

Japan feels equally powerless when it looks at North Korea. Talking recently to parliamentarians from NATO countries, a Japanese Defense Ministry official said that despite North Korea's obvious weaknesses, and a GDP the size of Japan's defense budget, there was little Japan could do if Pyongyang launched a missile attack. Other nations have the military profile to deter such adventurism. Japan's Constitution forbids it from making or preparing for war. As a result, Japan has no nuclear or even conventional missile deterrent. Japan's defense budget has been cut each year so far this century.

With Washington playing balance-of-power politics, and China and India looming larger in that balance than democratic but aging and declining Japan, Tokyo faces hard questions. Should Japan put all its national-security eggs in Washington's basket? Does Japan need to reach out to democratic military alliances like NATO? Does Japan's no-war Constitution need amending so that it can build an Army commensurate with its economic power and regional challenges?

Like an aging relative sitting ignored at a party where everyone else is getting on famously, Japan needs new energy and new policies. A 21st-century security policy would be a good place to start.

The New Franco-British Defence Agreement: Cameron says 'Oui' to Europe

This article was published in the Evening Standard 

Cameron Does Europe as Well as Blair

3 November 2010 

It’s summer 2005 and as I shower and change after an early morning’s tennis with fellow MPs, who should into the Commons changing room wrapped in a towel but David Cameron. I joke that he has to run for leader of the Conservative Party as he is the closest they have to Tony Blair. I add that once elected, he will have to kill some sacred cows, and suggest the Euroscepticism that had done so much damage to John Major’s government might be sacrificed.

“Hmm,” replied Cameron. “I’m more Euroscpetic than you imagine, Denis.” Not any longer, he isn’t. 

Yesterday’s breakthrough deal with France on defence crowns the change in  British strategic policy initiated by Tony Blair when he signed the St Malo accord with President Chirac in 1998. That highlighted the need for Europe to work towards a common defence profile. Yesterday it became reality as Britain and France agreed a wide-range of  policies. 

Europe always starts with one or two countries agreeing a common policy, which then leads to much greater integration. France and Germany locked their currencies together in 1984. Fifteen years later the Euro was born.

The Franco-British deal has the same long-term implications for the defence profile of the EU's 27 nations, most of which are also in NATO. The US will also welcome the Cameron-Sarkozy agreement. 

In September, Hervé Morin, France’s defence minister expressed concern that Europe would become a “protectorat” controlled by a “Chinese-American condominium.” For France, the deal with Britain is precisely to reassert its European leadership on defence matters. 

Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to bury Gaulllist nationalism and re-enter NATO removed one obstacle. The need to cut the deficit gave policy-makers in the UK the chance to nudge Cameron towards a common defence stance. 

As with last week's agreement to a rise in the EU budget, and his repudiation of a referendum on the new EU treaty, Cameron has moved from Thatcher’s “No,No,No” to Blair’s “Oui, Oui,Oui” in six months.

He knows his history. When Argentina invaded the Falklands, Washington sided with the military junta. The first call Mrs Thatcher got from a foreign leader was from French president Francois Mitterrand, who offered to provide all the secrets of the Exocet missles used by the South American nation. Britain has always needed European help. 

Each French president who addresses Parliament has to look at a picture of Waterloo in the Lords. It shows Wellington shaking hands with Blucher, the Prussian general who saved the day. Now a UK premier has shaken hands on a unprecented deal  with a French leader to change Britain’s defence policy in a European direction that, pre-election, no-one would have thought possible. 

Up to May, Cameron fed his MPs the red meat of Euroscepticism, and neo-conservative jokes about French reliability on matters military. The journey from Agincourt to Euro-alliance - as Cameron moves from Henry V to Francophile-in-chief - may be hard for Tory MPs to swallow. But their leader is now as European as ever Tony Blair or even Edward Heath was.

Financial Times article advocating for a Franco-British bilateral drone industry

This article was published in the Financial Times

Time to Create a Eurodrone Industry

14 October 2010
Sixty years ago Europe created a common steel industry. Twenty years later came the first truly common European product, the Airbus. Today the time is right for another: the Eurodrone.

These pilotless planes are transforming warfare. Their strikes against Taliban chiefs win headlines, but they are just as important for reconnaissance, identifying where improvised explosive devices are planted and reporting on enemy movements. Civilian applications far outweigh military use, with surveillance of seas combating piracy, trafficking and pollution. Overflights of pipe-lines, floods, and wilderness can be undertaken without the costs of piloted planes.

In short, the drone industry has huge potential. Yet once again Europe is surrendering mastery of a future industry to other world regions, principally the US. European defence industries are confused and chaotic, so it is up to European governments to form a Eurodrone industrial company based on the Airbus model.

The model should be that of a Kalashnikov, a robust, simple to make and easy to use design to which other specifications can be added needs arise. This will require some surrendering of national military-industrial prerogatives. But just as the Airbus successfully replaced failed national aeroplanes like the Comet or Caravelle, a Eurodrone could showcase Europe’s ability to produce a world-class model for worldwide export.

To work, such an idea must overcome a system of European defence procurement that is unwieldy, and defence industry companies who are addicted to state subsidies, slow and inefficient. Despite a pressing need for good military equipment aimed at modern needs, European defence industries are fragmented and incapable of providing in quantity, quality and in a timely fashion what armed services need.

At a UK-France summit in 2004 French President Jacques Chirac noted that “the most conservative elements in both our countries are first the military, and second our defence industries.” Despite moves during September for closer Anglo-French military cooperation, hopes of building a common tank, or aircraft carrier, or even a rifle are as far away as ever. Defence procurement always makes the best the enemy of the good. Warplanes, for example, even if jointly developed take years to develop and build with ever-changing specifications and are out of date when they finally become operational.

Already drone production in Europe is going in the same direction. Both France and Britain have had to buy US drones as the French and British equivalents are not good enough. Italy and German are developing their own systems, adding extra confusion. Israel has the most advanced production capability, having needed drone surveillance for some time. Ad-hoc joint ventures with Israel exist, but a formal Eurodrone Industry would allow a deeper cooperation.

This proposal requires leadership. France and Britain are the obvious candidates. But current talk of Franco-British defence cooperation is driven by budget pressures, and there is still little sense that Paris and London are prepared to give up part of their sovereign control over defence procurement to create truly independent, autonomous new sectors of the defence industry. To be sure, this reflects diverging views on Atlantacism and cooperation with the US defence industry, but it is a major barrier nonetheless.

Despite these obstacles a Eurodrone may still just be possible. The drone industry is young, and is at an advantage because of its numerous civilian applications. At present, however, the public and private money invested in drones is dispersed across many small segments of national industries. But given that European governments are the paymasters of their defence industries, they can now decide to carve out their respective drone sectors and create a new continental industry.

The opportunity is there to create a new drone company that brings together Europe’s research, development and production capability. If Britain and France create it, Germany and Italy will follow, and the Eurodrone can become a world class product. If European drone production remains as it is, the US will dominate the world market, with Israel in second place. Yet if Europe acts, as it did with Airbus, it could be number one.

UK-Georgian relationship: lessons for the Tories

This article was published by the Guardian website

Don't let Georgia down, Cameron

On the second anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war, the UK should follow the US lead and support Georgian sovereignty

7 August 2010

This weekend marks the second anniversary of the Russia-Georgia war. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, including the "reset button" being pressed by President Barack Obama in terms of relations between the US and Russia. George W Bush was an evangelist for the Georgian people. So was Senator Joe Biden, now the Democratic vice-president.

The switch from a Republican to a Democrat administration in Washington has seen a new, grownup politics on display. The reset button has yielded tangible benefits for global security, but has not been at the expense of Georgia or other US allies in the Caucasus and former CIS. Last month, Hillary Clinton visited Georgia to defy the notion that better relations with Russia means the White House is dumping Georgia. Far from it. The US secretary of state reaffirmed American support for the Georgian government, led by Mikheil Saakashvili, on her visit to Tbilisi. She made clear that "the US is steadfast in its commitment to Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity. The US does not recognise spheres of influence".

The UK government should do likewise. Europe should continue to call for Russia to abide by the August 2008 ceasefire commitment, including by ending the occupation and withdrawing Russian troops from South Ossetia and Abkhazia to their pre-conflict positions.

Officially, this weekend marks the time when the war started; but the independent international enquiry into war noted that the build-up began several weeks before that when Russian tanks, warships and cyber attackers began manoeuvring towards an inevitable invasion of another sovereign state. It takes two to tango and make war, and Saakashvili fell into Russia's trap as he saw armoured divisions crossing his nation's northern borders and opened fire.

Sovereignty and nationhood has also been very much in the news in recent days. The international court of justice has ruled that Kosovo's declaration of independence (UDI) is legal, after many months of deliberation. It was the example of Kosovo that President Vladimir Putin of Russia used as an excuse to invade Georgia, on the bogus grounds that Russian forces were somehow protecting the "independence" of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The judgment of the ICJ – while obviously welcome in Pristina – does, however, prove how wrong and illegal Putin's arguments two years ago were.

The foreign secretary, William Hague, was correct when he said last week that Kosovo "is a unique case and does not set a precedent". Of course the ICJ cannot make instant decisions, and had it decided the Kosovo "unilateral declaration of independence" (IDI) was legal at the time, it may have only fuelled Putin's determination to invade sovereign Georgian territory. His warped thinking was: if the Americans can support a UDI for Kosovo, then why should not Russia act to support similar moves in South Ossetia and Abkhazia? Warped thinking indeed. No parallel can be drawn between the self-determination of Kosovo and the Russian occupation of Georgia's regions.

Kosovo's UDI followed an international intervention aimed at stopping the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians – the vast majority of the population of the region – led by the central authorities of the Serbian Republic. In Georgia's case it was totally different. In the Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia there was an ethnic cleansing of the vast majority of the population (ethnic Georgians and other ethnic groups) by Russian "peacekeeping" troops and their proxies, in the form of Ossetian militias. Therefore recognising the pseudo independence of the occupied territories – in fact, a rampant annexation by the Russian Federation – would validate ethnic cleansing as a tool to change international borders.

But let us not dwell so much on the past. There is good news to talk about in terms of the measures the Georgian government is taking to seek to live with the continued occupation of 20% of its territory (and that Russia remains in breach of all six points of Nicolas Sarkozy's peace plan negotiated two years ago). The government of Georgia has accepted it will not seek or expect to take back its sovereign territories by force. So instead it has drawn up a constructive plan to continue to develop trade, economic, cultural and language links with the occupied territories.

The Russians may be trying to give the Abkhazs and Ossetians Russian passports, but Georgia's minister for reintegration, Temuri Yakobashvili, must be praised for his innovative and ambitious "Action Plan for Engagement" document published this summer. The plan includes concrete steps to build bridges between the different communities. On a recent visit to Tbilisi, Cathy Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, welcomed the strategy as "a significant step forward towards a policy of engagement with the populations living in the regions". She is right with her analysis that "reaching out to the populations is a prerequisite for finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict".

And Georgia has been praised by the international community, financial institutions and NGOs for its progress on democratic reforms, including the opposition in drafting a new constitution and election code. The recent local and first mayoral elections in Tbilisi were a success, with an official report by election observers noting that "significant progress" had been made since previous polls. David Cameron defied the wiseacres of traditional diplomacy when he went to Georgia to stand shoulder to shoulder with this tiny but proud nation as it faced a Russian assault by land, sea and air.

Britain, like America, should now make clear that the Kremlin's annexation of the sovereign territory of a member of the UN and Council of Europe is not acceptable. Cameron must not let down Georgia now he is prime minister.

Housing policies and the sacred "right to buy"

This article was published by the Observer

Can David Cameron match Harold Macmillan's achievement in house-building?

15 August 2010
Right-to-buy and buy-to-let have created an urgent need for social housing – which the Labour government did not deliver

There re nearly half a million reasons why a new council house building programme is unlikely to get off the ground, despite hints last week that the government would like to relaunch council homes to deal with Britain's growing shortage of social housing.

While a London flat this week went on sale for £140m, every MP in the land faces heart-rending tales of people unable to find a home to live in. Until the last months of the Labour government, Labour was in denial over the growing crisis in social housing. The reason was political terror over challenging the sacred cow of right-to-buy, the most prized legacy of Margaret Thatcher's social engineering experiments of the 1980s.

Since 1997, under a Labour government, 481,530 council homes have been sold off. By contrast, in the region with the greatest social housing need, Yorkshire and the Humber, just 24 council homes have been built in the same period.

The Labour fire-sale of council homes boosted house-price inflation and created a growing industry of renting out privately-bought council homes, often to tenants who disrupted the previously stable community of a settled council estate. Local councillors have lost control of housing allocations and MPs are helpless to allay the human misery as parents get older paying high rents with no chance of getting a council home or saving enough to buy a house.

Housing policy in Britain has not been seriously examined for more than two decades. It should not be a party political issue. Harold Macmillan was named housing minister by Winston Churchill in 1951 and built 300,000 houses – private and council – a year. Macmillan worked with Labour councils. His house-building energy kept the Tories in power for 13 years.

Today Conservative councils are just as keen as Labour local authorities to start building again. But housing policy is now spooked by the right-to-buy. It was a vote-winner for the Tories in the 1980s and Labour was so transfixed by right-to-buy that no Labour politician of the Blair-Brown-Mandelson era ever dared challenge this holy cow.

As chancellor, Gordon Brown prevented councils from using their receipts from right-to-buy to build new homes and Labour's failure to challenge this Thatcherite legacy has landed us in the crisis we have now.

Private landlords who buy to rent do not allow their tenants to purchase the property at knock-down prices. But there is no council in the nation that can start a serious Macmillan-style council housebuilding programme with the right-to-buy legislation in place. The new government is proposing minuscule financial nudges to encourage councils to build, but if a tenant has the right to buy a new council home the stock of affordable rental homes just gets smaller.

No one can be blamed for taking advantage of the offer, though limits should be in place to stop homes removed from social housing stock being rented out by their new private owners.

If David Cameron really was a reformer, he should abolish right-to-buy and start council house building going again. He should also look at planning policy as there is now a culture of out-and-out opposition to any proposals to build new homes on land where people want to live – close to their communities and in houses, not high-rise apartment blocks.

In the past three parliaments, Conservative MPs spent hours opposing any proposed new housing estates in their constituencies. The first act of the new government has been to block the use of private land surrounding existing houses to build new homes.

This is sometimes denounced as "garden-grabbing", but the plain fact is that large areas of land around existing homes may be quite appropriate for small-scale developments. This has now been stopped by the new government, which will make it harder to build new homes.

The other reality to accept is that all the council estates since social housing began as a serious policy 90 years ago have been built on farm, green, or local land whose soil is not contaminated by industrial effluent. Yet in the past few years any proposal to build on such land has met with ferocious local opposition. As a result, the present generation of homeowners are destroying any chances for our children and grandchildren to join the housing ladder.

This is the most selfish generation of homeowners in British history. Until we confront our own selfishness, there will continue to be huge housing shortages, especially for young and less-affluent citizens.

Taking on selfishness, the Thatcherite shibboleth of right-to-buy, and the green lobby is a mammoth task for any party. Will it be too much for Cameron? And will any future Labour leader admit the last government had no social housing policy that was worthy of the name?

The new - and weak - UK foreign policy

This article was published in Tribune
Driving down Britain with diplomatic impunity -

Foreign policy is exposing divisions in the British Government

10 July 2010

William Hague’s first big speech as Foreign Secretary failed to address key questions, most ­important of which is Britain’s policy on Afghanistan. David Cameron has said he expects British troops to be out by 2015, with Number 10 briefing that there would be a significant reduction in our forces next year. Working-class British soldiers can no longer be Taliban target practice in order to satisfy the desire of generals to fight a war without strategic or political coherence. Britain should continue nation-building and promoting human rights, but not send our soldiers to die for no ­purpose.

But then up popped Defence Secretary Liam Fox, now known as “13th Century Fox”, after his notorious description of Afghanistan as a 13th century country. Fox went to the Heritage Foundation, the neo-cons’ favourite Washington think tank, and said British ­soldiers would keep fighting and dying even if they were the last ones on the ground in years to come.

Fox is now the London voice of the Pentagon, whose constant briefing against President Barack Obama produced the Stanley McChrystal crisis and led to the ­general’s dismissal. Obama does not want his presidency to be haunted by a new Vietnam. Thus Britain’s Defence Secretary openly ­contradicted the Prime Minister.  However, in his first keynote speech on foreign policy, William Hague ignored the contradictions and political rivalries now coming into the open in this uneasy coalition.

Hague said he wanted more influence for Britain in Europe. Who can object?  But Hague is indulging in wishful thinking if he thinks British influence in Europe will increase as a result of one speech.

He forged the Tory alliance with those Clegg described as “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes” in eastern Europe. This has left this country isolated politically – even if due courtesy is paid by the EU to our new Prime Minister. Hague did not mention the £500 million Foreign Office budget cuts for diplomats.

Unable to defend his department’s modest spending, Hague’s will be a Primark foreign service with everything done on the cheap. He also called for more work to be done in Latin America. I went with Tony Blair to Brazil, Argentina and Mexico on the first ever visit by a serving British Prime Minister to Latin America. Britain does need a greater presence there, but the swingeing cuts in the Foreign Office budget will make this more ­difficult to deliver.

Cameron has not been to Latin America in his five years as Tory leader. Hague’s only visit to the region was with Lord Ashcroft. In Cuba, he broke British and EU policy rules when he met Communist apparatchiks in Havana while Orlando Zapata, a pro-democracy campaigner in Cuba, was dying in prison under the orders of the Castro brothers’ dictatorship. Given Ashcroft’s financial interests in the region, perhaps his relationship with Hague deserves closer scrutiny.

Of course, it would be good to improve relations with the Chinese – but soon it may not be the democracy-deniers of Beijing in the driving seat, but the workers of China as they forge independent trade unions.
Britain also needs a new India policy, as Tory MP Jo Johnson, brother of London Mayor Boris, has pointed out. We has given more than £1 billion in international development aid to India and got nothing in return. India has more billionaires than Britain, a nuclear arsenal and the capacity to send rockets to the moon. Yet it cannot find the political will to have a dialogue with Pakistan over Kashmir.

Forthcoming Foreign Office budget cuts, which Hague is meekly accepting, will see British embassies in Europe effectively reduced to one man, an electric kettle and an email address. The BBC is looking at shutting down all its foreign language broadcasts, which began when General de Gaulle made his famous appeal to resist Nazism in June 1940 on BBC radio.

Robin Cook started his term as Labour Foreign Secretary by referring to an “ethical dimension” to foreign policy. This jarred somewhat, as foreign policy – rightly or wrongly – has to blend realpolitik and moralpolitik. William Hague will not be taken seriously in Europe unless the Tories realign with serious politicians in the EU. And if Britain is not taken seriously in Europe, it will have little clout elsewhere in the world.

New political era in Poland: time to move on for the UK

5 July 2010

The defeat of Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland’s presidential election surely brings to an end the political career of two remarkable men. This summer sees the 30th anniversary of the founding moment of the Polish trade union NSZZ Solidarnosc. The Kaczynski twins, Jarosloaw and Lech, were Solidarity activists but very much on the right-nationalist, ultra-Catholic wing of the movement. Lech became president of Poland in 2005 and Jaroslaw was prime minister of the short-lived populist, rightist coalition between 2005 and 2007. Lech was killed in the Smolensk air crash disaster which wiped out a number of Polish leaders. His bother, Jaroslaw, his identical twin, campaigned to succeed him as president. He handed out leaflets with his brother’s name and face on it, hoping for a Kaczynski sympathy vote. It did not work because the Polish economy and society has moved on dramatically from the era when the appeal of nationalist populist parties could win majorities. Under its pro-EU Civic Platform government, with a number of British-linked Poles holding key portfolios in the Foreign and Finance ministries, Poland has been one of the few EU states to grow during the recession. Polish cities are now modern, vibrant and young.

The last remaining place where the nationalist right-wing identity politicies of the Kaczynksi era lives on is in the European Parliament. There, thanks to William Hague and David Cameron, the Polish PiS (Law and Justice) party heads a European Parliament group called Conservatives for European Reform. Its leader is Michal Kaminski, who started his political career on the extreme Falangist right of Polish nationalism in the 1980s and 1990s, before moving into more mainstream politics as an associate of Jarsoslaw Kaczynski.

Nick Clegg has cruelly described Cameron’s and Hague allies in Europe as “nutters, anti-semites and homophobes.” The Kaczynksi were never anti-Jewish though their coalition government did have anti-semites in it but Jaroslaw was a vicious homophobe. In the election here, David Cameron said, the gay Police Minister, Nick Herbert, would go to Warsaw to march in the Gay pride demonstration there. When the Kaczynskis were in power they tried to ban it. It is not clear if Mr Herbet has honoured that pledge. Conservatives hate being reminded of Nick Clegg’s NASH (“nutters, anti-semites and homophobes”) description mainly because it is true. Tory MEPs complain to anyone who will listen that they are now utterly marginalised in Strasbourg and Brussels because the dominant ruling centre-right and liberal groupings don’t want to touch the ultra nationalist right like Kaczynski and Kaminski with proverbial EU barge-pole.

The death and now defeat of the Kaczynskis give the Tories a chance to rethink their alliance, which is extremely damaging to UK national interests in Europe. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament is more powerful in terms of agreeing EU rules and policy. The auto-marginalisation of Tory MEPs does Cameron no favours. As British PM, he is received with courtesy and Britain remains, under any government, an important EU player and power. But Europe is about politics and political networking and influence. The Kaczynski twins had their brief moment of power but blew it with an incompetent government and then, tragically, a hastily arranged flight to the Katyn memorial site which ended in disaster. Now the Kaczynski era is over. But Cameron and Hague show no sign of being able to move on.

This article was published in Tribune

Labour must avoid xenophobia at all costs

25 June 2010
Some among the Labour leadership contenders have found a reason why we lost the election: Johnny Foreigner. It’s nice, convenient – and utterly wrong.

So it’s the immigrants who are to blame. Like other Labour people, I have been looking for the over-arching reason why we lost the general election. Now some among the Labour leadership contenders have found a reason: Johnny Foreigner. It’s nice, convenient – and utterly wrong.

I cut my teeth in Labour politics in Birmingham in the 1970s. Then working-class support for Enoch Powell’s hostility to foreigners was all the rage. “They” were being let into Britain and were stealing “our” jobs. No one ever stopped a white Brit working as a bus conductor or prevented a white English woman from becoming a nurse. No one has ever prevented white British men from working in construction, but somehow, over a century or more, we have imported millions of Irishmen to do this work. Even today, the biggest group of non-British people from the European Union working on the London Olympics site are Irish. And yes, among them will be some – not many – who work the benefits system and repatriate benefits to Ireland.

Should we re-open European Union treaties to deal with this abuse? I wish any minister in Dublin luck as he or she explains to the Irish why European rules on the free movement of people now need to be revised. The French have long complained about the 500,000 Brits living in France fiddling benefits for children back home. And let us hope no Spanish politician starts to take serious issue with the 900,000 Brits living in Spain, of whom few have even bothered to try to learn any Spanish.

Britain has always known how to reduce the number of non-Brits coming to work in this country. It is called mass unemployment. The Tories are right to say there were fewer Europeans coming to work here when they were last in power. The reason was the four million unemployed at the height of Thatcherism. Instead we had the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet generation of British workers who headed off to booming Germany to undercut German wages by working in the black economy.

In fact, if you go to Berlin now, you will hear Polish and other east European languages, because it is a myth that denying Europeans the legal right to work stops them coming to find jobs that the indigenous population won’t do.

The Polish workers who came to Britain after 2004 did so because Gordon Brown, advised by Ed Balls, had shaped Europe’s most dynamic economy. Britain created more new companies and needed more new labour than nearly every other EU member state between 1997 and 2007.

Spain saw three million immigrants entering its booming economy between 1995 and 2005. There are 500,000 Albanians in Italy, even though Albania is not in the EU. Since 1990, the United States economy has attracted nearly 50 million immigrants – half of them illegal or undocumented.

The far right-wing Michal Kaminski, who David Cameron installed as leader of Tory MEPs in Strasbourg, is known for standing outside Warsaw railway station handing out leaflets to Ukrainians telling them to go home, as they should not come to Poland and undercut the wages of Polish workers.

The Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition may solve Britain’s “immigrant” problem quickly, as its cuts lead to deeper recession and firms laying off staff. However, behind the moans about east Europeans lies a deeper racism about “Pakis” and Muslims. We should not pander to this atavism.

Already there are more east Europeans leaving than coming to Britain as the recession bites and the sharply devalued pound means that wages and overtime in this country are worth 30 per cent less when sent home as ­zlotys. Meanwhile, the private rented sector has enjoyed a boom, as has the Roman Catholic Church, whose pews are filling up with believers. Fruit that otherwise would rot in East Anglia has been picked so that British strawberries are on sale in supermarkets. Our cars can be hand-washed for a fiver and cafés are open 18 hours a day.

Certainly, under Labour we needed stronger trade union laws to support British workers and an improved education system that supported working-class jobs and let children leave school at 16with employability skills. Many employers say that, after 13 years of the Labour Government, they were required to teach basic skills to young workers. Can we blame any for hiring a Pole or Litvak who already had those skills? And how many firms kept operating in Britain instead of re-locating abroad because they had a flexible labour market? There have been many proposals emanating from the European Parliament or the European Commission designed to support workers in Britain, whether “native” or foreign. Without exception, these were opposed the Treasury, its ministers and special advisors.

Two years ago, the Federation of Poles in Britain produced a report showing 80 xenophobic anti-Polish headlines in one newspaper over a short period. That paper was the Daily Mail. Must Labour go down the Mail road?

Allies in Europe: Cameron must choose

This piece was posted on the Guardian website

Europe and the two faces of David Cameron

17 June 2010
The PM seems conflicted over the 'nutters, antisemites and homophobes' of his EU allies: where does he really stand?
On Wednesday night David Cameron did not turn up for dinner with his fellow Conservative prime ministers in Europe. The deals and decisions that Europe takes are pre-cooked, if not decided, at the dinners and informal meetings where EU leaders meet as party political animals. Civil servants churn out articles for prime ministers like the one co-signed today by Cameron and Sweden's beleaguered prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, in the FT, but the real wheeling and dealing is done on a much more party political basis than is commonly realised.

For the first time in decades a British prime minister has excluded himself from these key dinners of influence. Cameron's new allies in Europe were famously described as "nutters, antisemites and homophobes" by his deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. Sadly, Clegg's hyperbole appears to be justifiable.

In a plangent appeal, Professor Dovid Kotz of Vilnius University in Lithuania wrote about Cameron's new allies thus:

"The tiny, fragile Jewish communities that remain in eastern Europe are seriously undermined by the official British approval of its governments' distortions of the memory of the Shoa. In the UK's new political climate it is easier than ever for David Cameron to withdraw from the dangerous EU grouping and admit: 'I made an honest mistake.'"

In Britain, Cameron has done a deal with Lib Dems that, in effect, has isolated his Europhobe rightist MPs. But in Europe he persists in maintaining an alliance that seems at complete odds with his more centrist style in Britain. As Professor Rafal Pankowski notes: "Antisemitism is crucial to the Polish radical right [and] homophobia is particular has played an increasingly important role in rightwing populist propaganda." Any examination of the voting record of Tory-linked MEPs in Strasbourg proves the point.

Cameron is willing to slap down Eurosceptic Tory MPs in the Commons as he did yesterday to Douglas Carswell who raised the issue of a referendum on Europe. But Cameron appears unwilling to take on Daniel Hannam, the strongly anti-EU Tory MEP.

Or is it just a matter of time? The problem is that time is of the essence in Europe. Big decisions are being taken under the guidance of the dominant EU conservative groups. They are not just eurozone countries. Poland's Donald Tusk and other east and south-east European as well as Nordic states headed by centre-right parties all take part in the collective discussions within the EU party political networks.

Today Cameron will have a brief meeting with Michal Kaminski, the notorious Polish MEP who heads the Tory-created group in the European parliament. Without retelling Kaminski's malodorous political past, it is sufficient to note that he has no influence or status in Polish politics, none in EU circles, and that his line on the CAP is 100% at odds with that of British Tories. Why a British PM is giving status to such a marginal figure on the European landscape is a question only Cameron – or perhaps William Hague – can answer.

For the City, for British business, and for the national interest, it is a real problem that Cameron will be absent from an EU conservative dinner tonight. The French have a saying, les absents ont toujours tort (absentees are always in the wrong); it is always wrong not to turn up. British interests need our prime minister to be there where it counts, not dining with Clegg's "nutters, antisemities and homophobes".

When I first raised these problems a year ago Cameron protested privately to me, and got tetchy in the Commons when I spoke of his curious alliance. But now the issue is not about political point-scoring but about the national interest. Cameron should seek to sit at the same table as mainstream conservative parties in Europe and leave the extremes to their own devices.

On Labour and immigration

This article appeared in the London Evening Standard

Labour is wrong to scapegoat immigrants

8 June 2010

One of the best things about the new politics is that it is less and less reserved for white Anglo-Saxons.

David Cameron copies President Sarkozy and puts a Muslim woman, Sayeeda Warsi, in his Cabinet. Nick Clegg has a Dutch mother and a Spanish wife. Labour's new intake is full of able Muslim women MPs from London, Birmingham and Bolton. In west London, with its big Polish community, Labour did well in Hammersmith and Ealing. Overall, Labour scored in post-modern multi-cultural cities where foreigners are seen as a source of energy, not a threat.

Yet for some wannabe Labour leaders, it's the immigrants who are to blame for losing the election. It's nice, convenient — and utterly wrong.

No one ever stopped a white Briton from working as a bus conductor or a white English woman from becoming a nurse. No one has ever prevented white Britons from being construction workers but somehow, over more than a century, we have imported millions of Irishmen to do this work.

Even today the biggest group of EU non-British workers on the London Olympics site are Irish. And yes, among them will be some who work the benefits system and repatriate their benefits to Ireland.

Should we re-open EU treaties to deal with this abuse? I wish any minister luck in Dublin as he explains to the Irish why European rules on free movement of people need to be revised. The French have long complained about the 500,000 Brits living in France fiddling benefits for children back home. And let's hope no Spanish politician starts to beat up on the 900,000 Brits living in Spain of whom, at last count, about 90 had learned any Spanish.

Britain has always known how to reduce the number of non-Brits coming to work in Britain. It is called mass unemployment. The Tories are right to say there were fewer Europeans coming to work in Britain when they were last in power. The reason was four million unemployed at the height of Thatcherism. Instead, we had the Auf Wiedersehen, Pet generation of British workers who headed off to booming Germany to undercut German unions by working for lower wages on their building sites.

The Polish workers who came to Britain after 2004 did so because Gordon Brown, advised by Ed Balls, had shaped Europe's most dynamic economy. Britain created more new companies and needed more new labour than every other EU member state between 1997 and 2007.

Already there are more East Europeans leaving than coming to Britain as the recession bites and as the sharply devalued pound means wages are worth 30 per cent less when sent home as zlotys or crowns.

Meanwhile, the private rented sector has enjoyed a boom, as has the Catholic Church, whose churches fill up with believers. Fruit that otherwise would rot in East Anglia has been picked so that British strawberries are on sale at Tesco. Our cars are hand-washed for a fiver and our Caffè Neros are open 18 hours a day.

Powellism-lite is dead-end politics. Britain and Labour are internationalist or we shrivel to irrelevance. The Tory cap on skilled workers from outside the EU is pure protectionism. Labour should think long and hard before indulging in anti-immigrant populism.