Britain can't be more like Switzerland

This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Let's Stop Dreaming of Being Swiss

14 December 2011

Switzerland is one of the best countries in the world. But Britain it isn’t. The dream of Britain becoming Switzerland plus nuclear weapons and a seat at the UN Security Council is just that – a dream Here’s why.

In the film version of Graham Greene’s “The Third Man”, Orson Welles, makes the point that “after 500 years of history all Switzerland has produced is the cuckoo clock.” That was inaccurate and unfair. The cuckoo clock comes from southern Germany, not Switzerland. And the history of Switzerland is full of far more turmoil and conflict – including a civil war in 1848 and the army opening fire to kill and wound scores of unemployed workers in Geneva in 1933 – than is commonly realised.
A Swiss anti-fascist shot dead the leader of the Nazi party in Davos in 1936 and the stability in Switzerland is the product of an iron discipline that arises from endless consensus and compromise. But once a decision is arrived at it is accepted. “What is not banned, is obligatory “ is a Swiss dictum. There is endlessly minute regulation from the number of potatoes that can be grown – all much more generously subsidised than the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy allows – to rules about running a bath or flushing the lavatory after 10 pm.
The core secret of Switzerland are the cantons which have control over taxation, education, policing and other swathes of policy which in London are controlled by Whitehall. The full title of the canton of Geneva is “the state and republic of Geneva” and Swiss cantons are very clear about their identity and independence. 
If British Eurosceptics want every county in England to decide its own tax levels it might have some idea of what their vision of a Swiss Britain might be. In 1938, the Swiss equivalent of the CBI and TUC signed what is called the “Peace Treaty” which enshrine trade union rights in exchange for unions agreeing to avoid strikes.
It is this industrial peace rather than the legendary bank secrecy laws that have made Switzerland rich. Industry takes up 29 per cent of the Swiss economy more than twice the share of British manufacturing. Swiss watchmakers did not roll over in face of cheaper watches flooding in from Asia. Instead they rolled up their sleeves, massively re-organised the industry into luxury watch-makers and the mass selling Swatch. This is the Swiss secret. The application of mind to matter to produce a product that becomes a world-beater on both price and quality. 
Vince Cable wants to rebalance the economy. He will have a long way to go before he can match the Swiss share of manufacturing in the economy. The devalued British pound has done little to help exports compared to the over-valued Swiss franc – now pegged to the Euro. Swiss banks have to have much higher capital reserves than the City would ever accept. As for banking secrecy, as Nick Shaxson, argues in his exposé of tax havens, “Treasure Islands”, the world centre for funny money transit and preservation is the City, the English trust system and the network of Cayman and other islands protected by Britain to allow companies and individuals wriggle out of paying tax.
Would we accept in Britain the permanent coalition which has awarded the Swiss Socialists a quarter of all seats in the Federal Cabinet since 1959? Do we want referendums on the design of religious buildings as the Swiss organised to humiliate Muslims and their mosques with minarets? The share of immigrants in the Swiss population stands at 15 per cent. Albanian is the fourth language in Switzerland as more Kosovan asylum-seekers were accepted there than any other EU country. UK’s ugly anti-foreigner outfit Immigration Watch would explode with rage if it contemplated Geneva where nearly half the population was not born in Switzerland.

I lived and worked in Switzerland for more than a decade. Two of my children were born there and I love its culture, cuisine and mountains. Income tax was low but property, defence, and cantonal taxes plus astronomic health and dental insurance costs took away just as much of my pay as if I had stayed in Britain. The Swiss countryside is a delight but the flats and houses are the smallest in Europe.

Every Swiss law has to be in full compliance with EU directives and the Swiss pay a billion francs to Brussels to help new member states. So the idea that there is a non-EU Alpine heaven on offer to Britain is nonsense. Let Switzerland be Switzerland. What is to be done with Britain is a different question.

The Tory Eurosceptics have won their once-lonely battle

This article was published in the "Comment is Free" section of The Guardian.

There's little point in Britain staying in the EU now – Bill Cash has won

10 December 2011

The massive slump in imports into the UK announced on Friday is in many ways more important than Bill Cash's victory in Brussels. The voice we are hearing is that of David Cameron, but the script has been written by Bill Cash. His long (and initially lonely) campaign to reduce Britain's place and influence in Europe is now gathering speed. There is now little point in Britain being in the EU as all the key decisions will be taken by the 17 eurozone nations, plus the six which want to join the euro. Denmark keeps its currency but the Danish opt-out is purely nominal as the Danish crown follows the ECB policy in all regards and Danish exports are based on quality of goods, not a devalued currency.

Economic analysts are urging caution on the better trade figures announced today. The main news is the massive slump in imports as British demand shrinks thanks to the drop in consumption brought about by government policies. Britain is not spending and banks are not lending, so it is little wonder that fewer goods are coming into the UK. In that sense Britain is part of the generalised crisis of the EU economic zone. Tories and the rightwing press have sought to paint the EU as the source of the UK's economic troubles. It would be more accurate to report that weak, near-recession UK economic policy is doing serial damage to the rest of Europe, which no longer find buyers for their goods and services in Britain.

Bloomberg Business News has noted that manufacturing shrank "at the fastest pace in two and a half years in November". So much for rebalancing. And David Cameron, whose family wealth comes from the City, showed that in Brussels he would prefer to leave Britain isolated rather than negotiate a deal with the rest of Europe for a new treaty that began to move Europe away from the era of unchallenged, unregulated finance capitalism that brought about the crash of 2008, and provoked the subsequent recession.

George Osborne is currently taking the EU commission to the European court of justice over its decision that euro derivative trading should take place within the eurozone. Currently 75% of this trade happens in London, where hundreds of thousands of EU financial sector workers are located. The ECJ, like any court, smells the political coffee and Cameron's isolationist veto will reduce still further the UK's standing as a serious EU player. The loss to the UK of euro derivative trading may not matter in Rotherham, but it will hit the City and financial sector employment in London.

Cameron was within his rights to insist that any new EU treaty should not damage Britain. And, paradoxically, he may have saved the eurozone rescue package, as it is doubtful any new treaty would get through the sieve of an Irish or Danish referendum. But EU leaders knew that, and were happy to guarantee Irish low corporate tax rates and other sweeteners to ensure the treaty would be accepted.

Instead Cameron now finds himself without any friends. He has isolated Britain from the dominant centre-right political grouping where many EU decisions are discussed ahead of the main council meetings. Contrast this to Margaret Thatcher who was a robust, engaged European player. Yes, she won her (fully justified) rebate, but she did so by being in the room where decisions were made. She supported the Single European Act – the biggest sharing of sovereignty with other nations in UK history. She backed Jacques Delors for commission president. She increased the UK contribution to the EU from £656m in 1984 to £2.4bn in 1990. She lost her cool over the famous Delors TUC speech, but history will place her as a powerful influence wielding UK prime minister operating in Europe.

Cameron has now handed over power to France and Germany to decide Britain's fate. The iron law of five centuries of British statecraft – opposition to any continental hegemon – has been cast aside. The new rules will be shaped without UK input. They are not narrowly on sorting out EU debt problems, though it is remarkable that a Conservative prime minister is rejecting German demands for tough enforceable controls on public borrowing and spending.

Britain will have to comply with the new rules of face restrictions on access to the new market arrangements. John Major thought he had won "game, set and match" with his Maastricht treaty opt-outs in 1992, but his victory proved hollow – just as Cameron's veto will turn out to be.

On Tuesday, at a major business leaders conference, a top French business leader said Britain was "anti-European". I corrected him, pointing out that France had voted "non" to the EU constitutional treaty in 2005 and that 400,000 French citizens made a living working in the City – our country was that EU-friendly.

But I fear the Frenchman was right. Bill Cash has won and there is little point in Britain staying in the EU now. Will we prosper outside, or semi-withdrawn? Norway implements more EU directives than Britain and all of Swiss laws have to be EU compliant. Both nations pay billions to Brussels as a kind of fee to get market access.

But no one has made the case for Europe in British public life for several years now. The press is vehemently hostile. Tony Blair did make some pro-EU speeches but always in Europe, never in Britain. After 2007, the pro-EU cause was silent in government. The chief boast for some in the party is that Britain never entered the euro – something which was never on the cards, because of well-known economic difficulties. The once proudly pro-EU party of Paddy Ashdown, Charlie Kennedy and Ming Campbell is now silent. Britain has never been so marginalised and few MPs have won as big a victory as Bill Cash did in Brussels this morning.
Press Release

Serbia Does Not Merit EU Accession Status After Tadic Again Snubs Kosovo Says UK MP

8 December 2011

Speaking at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC Denis MacShane MP, former Minister for the Balkans in the UK Government said that the EU should not reward Serbia’s refusal to bring about a  final settlement in the Western Balkans by its continuing refusal to admit that Kosovo exists.

MacShane, a senior foreign minister in Tony Blair’s government travels regularly to the Balkans and has just published a book, ‘Why Kosovo Still Matters”. “Today we have in a nutshell the problem that confronts all policy-makers in the Balkans. The president of Kosovo, Aitfete Jahjaga, one of the new young women political leaders in the region addresses the Kosovan Parliament in Serbian, appealing for help from Belgrade to find a settlement. To speak in Serbian will be seen by some ultra-nationalists amongst Kosovo Albanians as a provocation. But Kosovo is Albanian and Serb just as Spain is Spanish and Catalan, Belgium is Flemish and French, Switzerland is German and French and Italian. She is reaching out to Serbs in Kosovo and to the political elites in Belgrade with this linguistic gesture.

“But from Belgrade we have an article from my friend, President Boris Tadic, in the Frankfurther Allgemeine Zeitung, saying No, Never, No Way will Serbia recognize Kosovo as an independent nation state in line with the ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Hague and along with 85 other nations like the US, France, Germany, the UK, Japan, Canada and Turkey.

“It cannot be right for the EU to reward such intransigence and contempt for EU policy on recognition which is backed by the democratic international community. Sadly I believe that the EU should continue to try and knock heads together but it would be wrong to open accesses negotiations for Serbia based on the Serb nationalist myth that Kosovo is just a breakaway province that one day will return to Belgrade’s rule.

“In his FAZ article, Mr Tadic makes a bizarre comparision between West and East Germany – one in the European Community, and one outside until reunification. But there is no question of “reunification” of Kosovo and Serbia. In addition, there were many West German politicians at height of the Cold War who refused to recognize East Germany until Willy Brandt came along and decided that reality was moer important than fantasy. The reality is that Kosovo exists and the fantasy is that Serbia should not exercise hegemony over any part of Kosovo.

“It is a tragedy that President Tadic, a profoundly decent man, has not had the political support in Belgrade to face down his ultra-nationalist and a the remaining nostalgics for the days of Greater Serbia in the Milosevic era but the EU cannot afford to compromise its principle and values by indulging Belgrade’s belief that it does not have to come to terms with the reality of Kosovo’s existence,” Dr MacShane told international policy experts at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC today ( 1230 EST 8th December).

Why Anti-semitism is on the rise

This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

The Beast is Back

30 November 2011

It just won’t go away will it? Next year Verso will publish a book by the French intellectual Alain Badiou, a professor at the heart of the Paris intellectual establishment in the École Normale, which argues that anti-semitism is an invented concept created by Zionists to justify oppression of Palestinians.

But what would he make of the statement by a prominent British pro-Palestinian activist, Stuart Littlewood, who has just written of Britain’s Ambassador in Israel, Matthew Gould, that “Many will feel it is intolerable for a Christian country like Britain to be represented by a Jew.” I first came across Mr Gould when he was the preferred wordsmith of Robin Cook, no mean scribbler himself. Cook recognised a good writer which are far more rare in the Foreign Office and in Whitehall than might be thought.

I did not know that Gould was Jewish because when you work with people you do not start, at least in the England I grew up in, by checking a person’s religion. I don’t ask if a British friend who clearly comes from the sub-continent is Muslim or Hindu, and unless he is wearing a turban, I cannot work out if someone is a Sikh.

But Mr Littlewood clearly believes that his (Christian) Britain should not have a Jew as an Ambassador. Gould is Ambassador to Israel just as the excellent diplomat Francis Campbell who didn’t quite finish training as a priest was a first-rate Ambassador to the Vatican. In 2011 are we really saying Jews cannot be diplomats in Israel or Catholics diplomats at the Holy See or, as in the case of Sir Michael Pakenham, a brilliant ambassador to catholic Poland.

I was proud to see the first Muslim ambassador appointed to a European country when I was Minister for Europe. I am tempted to say that some of my best friends are Ambassadors and I have no idea which of them are Jewish. I can think of one or two I know to be Jews and one of two I think may be Jewish but I don’t care and don’t want to care.

But it appears to matter to Mr Littlewood and he seems to believe that “Many will feel it is intolerable” that Jews can be Ambassadors. It mattered to Oliver Miles, himself a former Ambassador to Libya, who protested that a Jew, Sir Martin Gilbert, was sitting on the Chilcott inquiry. Sir Martin is one of our greatest historians and his account of the Dardenelles inquiry into that first world war folly, more than justifies his presence on the Chilcott inquiry. 

At the Oxford University Conservative Association last month a student sang a ditty about killing Jews in the Holocaust. At St Andrews University earlier this year two members of the Palestine Solidarity campaign burst into the room of a Jewish student from New York, called him a “Nazi”, urinated in his sink and ripped a Star of David off the wall to wipe their genitals.

For M Badiou, these are just exuberant expressions of solidarity with the suffering Palestinians. I think that is rot. Anti-semitism is here, there and where you would never expect it. I hope the FCO appoints its Ambassadors because they can serve the nation well. If they wear, a kippur, go to mass, or take their prayer mats with them is none of our business.
This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Forget the people, the elite must rule

31 October 2011

Europe is the No 1 obsession of the political elite in Britain. Never has there been such a focused effort to force the British people to accept the position of the dominant elite in politics and the media. Dissenting voices are pushed to one side. Opponents of what the ruling elite want are dismissed with contempt.

Commentators beginning with A for Anderon, B for Brogan, C for Charles Moor, D forD’Ancona and ending with W for Waugh all make the same points in their different ways as if they had nothing else to write about. MPs on and off the record talk about Europe with a passionate intensity as if this was 1917 or 1940 and England had to be protected from the Bolshevik or Fascist menace. Wealthy political donors pour money into think-tanks to propagate the correct line on Europe. Never in the last 60 years has the dominant British political elite convinced itself of its belief that it’s Eurover time to use the cute formulation of Sam Coates of The Times.

But like so many elite projects there is an almost complete disconnect from the British people. Poll after poll has more than nine out of ten voters seeing Euope as being of little importance in their daily lives. Three days in my constituency last week produced not a single person in different meetings, public events, social occasions, or my Saturday surgery who mentioned Europe. I had four emails before the EU referendum vote and other than a few coupons without addresses from the Daily Express no-one in my constituency appears to share the elite’s almost-manic focus on Europe.

This Yawn of Indifference between the obsession of the elite and the disinterest of voters is further evidence of the disconnect between politicians and the people. The project to redefine, reduce, or renegotiate Britain’s EU membership pits the political-media elite against the people in a way rarely seen in British politics in a generation or more.

All international treaty commitments involving a superior authority (League of Nations, WTO, Law of the Sea, European Court of Human Rights, International Court of Justice etc) produce opposition from nation-firsters. The populist left was for many years hostile to the post-war alliance with the USA. In the early 1980s when Chris Mullin was handing out his pamphlet “How to Deselect Your Labour MP” it was impossible to be selected for a Labour seat unless you sported a CND badge or denounced the “Commons Market” as Dennis Skinner still likes to call the EU. Both unilateral nuclear disarmament and anti-Europeanism were projects of the left political elites (including constituency activists) out of touch with voters’ concerns. Today the right political elite (especially constituency activists) is obsessed with Europe in a similar fashion. But are voters?

Euroscepticism has some fair points. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing never tires of saying that the European Commission and its directives are too busy-bodyish and much more should be left to national regulation. Many in Europe dislike Single Market directives. They have launched their own campaigns against liberalising services which constitute 70 per cent of the EU economy. They would like nothing more than to repatriate powers from Brussels to Paris or Madrid to stop the EU Commission from insisting that financial services should be conducted on a common EU level. They welcome the efforts of the UK elites to renegotiate EU competences as it sets importance precedents to reduce the specialist role of the City as the main single market locus for financial trades.

Of course opinion polls will always provide an echo for public opinion. Stopping immigration, sending people home, bringing back capital punishment – a favourite of the BNP and other right-wingers who have launched an E-petition for hanging - find support. 750,000 people, rather more than the 100,000 in favour of the EU plebiscite petition debated with such solemnity last Monday, have signed a Bodyshop petition to say the Government should introduced a guardianship system for trafficked children. The Prime Minister has said No and, to my knowledge, no MP has got up on his or her high horse to insist the 750,000 should be listened to and the law changed.

But that’s the problem with elites. They are always right. The people are always wrong. Forget the 96 per cent of voters who don’t think Europe is important. Forget the 750,000 voters who think protecting trafficked children should be a priority. When our political-media elite want something nothing else counts, does it?

Europe set to become the Irish question for today's MPs

This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Beware the European Question

30 October 2011

The reverberations from Monday’s debate will echo for the remainder of this parliament. The Conservatives are not just banging on about Europe they have taken every instrument out of the political orchestra and making as much noise as possible. Yesterday Bill Cash, introduced a 10 minute rule bill, calling for the government to put to a referendum any plans to create fiscal union amongst Eurozone member states. It is a marvellous piece of Cash chutzpah that instead of, as usual, complaining that Europe is telling us what to do he is proposing that the UK should dictate to the Eurozone with the threat of a plebiscite in a country that does not even use the currency.

Poor Lord Ashcroft rightly warns on Conservative Home that Europe can lose the Tories the next election. No-one in the Tory end of the Tea Room is listening. The Faragesiste Europhobes are to David Cameron what the Tea Party are to Republican hopes of beating Obama. But the Prime Minister has only himself to blame as he, William Hague and other Tory leaders since John Major, all erected the call for a referendum on Europe into a totem of Tory philosophy. Adam Holloway, a decent, respected, liked MP, was selected and elected because he believed Cameron and Hague and did not realise the referendum and renegotiation promises became inoperative after May 2010.

Luckily David Cameron flies to the Commonwealth conference from Brussels otherwise he would be obliged to make a statement tomorrow. This morning, Yesterday in Parliament mocked the Conservatives for allowing Europe to dominate FCO questions. But, wait, the Commons again debates Europe tomorrow, this time the Council of Europe which has oversight of the European Court of Human Rights. This is nothing to do with the EU but for Tory Europhobes anything with the word Europe in instantly turns them into Mad-Eye Moodys. In the EU, Cameron has allied the Conservatives to what Nick Clegg rightly called “nutters, anti-semites and homopohobes.” Their group, Conservatives for European Reform (CER) is slowly disintegrating. The Latvian Freedom and Fatherland Party has dissolved into another right-wing party which lost most of its seats in the Latvian parliamentary election. The Polish Law and Order Party lost badly in both the parliamentary elections last month and the presidential elections a year ago. The Czech ally of the Tories now faces accusations of serious share-trading fraud against two of its MEPs.

In the Council of Europe, the Conservatives sit with Putin’s hand-picked delegation of Kremlin approved MPs. The former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, and leader of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament argues in the International Herald Tribune this week that the Council of Europe should no longer allow the Russian delegation sit at the Council of Europe as it does not consist of independent MPs.

In short the Tories keep very odd company in Europe. But this will reinforce the growing isolationism that was reflected in Monday’s vote. Cameron has PMQ’s today and while he may seek comfort at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference most of our Commonwealth friends have many more protectionist barriers against UK exports than is realised.

When Cameron comes back, Europe will haunt his premiership much as Ireland haunted prime ministers in the 19th and early 20th century. And where does Labour stand in all this? Ed Miliband certainly took the right decision on the vote and forced Cameron onto the back foot with his insistence that the prime ministers could not skip off to Australia as the European economic crisis intensified. But an examination of the Labour MPs who spoke in the debate shows that not a single new or younger Labour MP sought to make the case for Europe. Ten Labour MPs spoke against Europe and voted with the Tories and only five – all long-serving Labour MPs with memories of Labour Euroscepticism – spoke up for the official party line. To be sure fewer than 20 Labour MPs voted with the anti-EU Tories and their position is long-held and well-known. But is it worrying that no new Labour voices and none of the 2010 or 2005 intake took part in the debate. This may be due to lack of interest and opinion polls say that 96 per cent of voters do not consider Europe to be an important issue. But Labour ran out of speakers an hour before the debate ended. This should worry the leadership.

Yeats got our Europe debate right when he wrote:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”

You have to be in the Commons chamber to feel the intensity of passion amongst Tory MPs – egged on by the EU hating Tory tabloids and Telegraph – which is unlikely to fade away despite Michael Ashcroft’s sensible appeal. The white coats are flapping as never before.

The two elections in Europe that Britain should watch

This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Forget the US – Two Elections in Europe Count Right Now

10 October 2011

Today two elections vital to Britain’s future are taking place. In Poland, the Civic Platform government headed by Donald Tusk, is likely to be re-elected. This will the first time since the end of communism that a party forming a government in Poland will have won a second term. It marks the coming of age of Polish democracy. Two of the key – and most successful - ministers in the Polish government, Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, and Finance Minister, Jacek Rostowski, are British educated, know London well and would like the two countries to be close.

In France, the choice is made today of who will stand against President Sarkozy in next spring’s election. The contest is based on a primary system as the French socialists copy Labour and move away from a closed selection made at a conference or party cabal. Although Sarkozy is a political street fighter and is soon to be the first president of France to become a papa while in the Elysée the polls are not looking good for him. The French right is badly split between Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party and the ultra-nationalist Eurosceptic National Front, headed by Marine le Pen, who has sought to reposition her party away from the crudely racist, anti-semitic style of her father’s leadership.

But to watch the Sunday political shows on television or to catch the World This Weekend, the British media world just does not acknowledge that two vital elections and political choices that will impact on Britain are taking place on the continent. Instead on Sky we were treated to an interminable interview with an American political pundit (unknown to this keen observer of US politics) about the confused and confusing list of Republican wannabee candidates.

This disdain for anything political that happens across the Channel is not new but as Britain becomes more and more mono-lingual our editors and news-shapers have lost all interest in anything that happens other than in the United States.

Take the Polish election. Britain and Poland used to be the closest of friends. From Spitfire pilots in 1940, to Margaret Thatcher’s denunciation of Soviet communism in the 1980s, or Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for Poland joining the EU this century, Warsaw has looked to London as its best friend, after Washington in the world. Not any more. The grievances between the two centre-right governments or major countries at either end of the European Union are growing, are worrying, and are serious.

Tusk and Cameron have fallen out badly over the latter’s crude political support for the ultra-nationalist Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the PiS (Law and Order) party. Last autumn Cameron hosted a red-carpet reception for Kaczynski at Downing Street on the eve of the Polish presidential election where Kaczynski was easily defeated by Tusk’s candidate, Bronislaw Komorowski. This was seen as blatant and crude interference in Polish internal political affairs. Cameron is tied to Kaczynksi in the Conservative Party’s alliance with ultra-nationalist and anti-EU political parties – dubbed by Nick Clegg as “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes”. Rostowksi and Osborne disagree on EU financing and the future shape of the European union. The Poles are the fourth biggest contributor to the UK rebate. They recall how Mrs Thatcher quadrupled Britain’s contribution to the EU budget between 1984 and 1990 to help poor countries like Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Greece grow. Now Britain wants to freeze all EU budget support for Poland.

On foreign and defence policy, Warsaw is angry at William Hague’s refusal to support Sikorksi’s ideas on EU defence. Poland offered to provide free accommodation and training terrain for British soldiers when they leave Germany. It will be very costly to relocate these armoured army units in the UK. But Hague and Fox dismissed Sikorski’s offer out of hand.

As a result Poland now looks to Berlin as its main ally in the EU and is forging links with central, East, Baltic and Nordic states in the EU as there is no friendship on offer from Tory London. This is a barely reported failure, if not worse, in Britain’s European policy. The re-election of the Tusk government should produce a re-think in London but if Polish politics gets no coverage why should Whitehall think Poland is important.

On France, clearly the choice of a socialist candidate does not mean an automatic change of power next spring. But if there is a convincing choice of the man or woman to try and win the Elysée for the left for the first time in 30 years, then Britain should take note. Even if Sarkozy does win, there is every chance that the Socialists or a coalition of non-UMP parties could win a majority in the National Assembly as parliamentary election follow on directly from the presidential contest. Britain should thus prepare for a socialist Prime Minister, Foreign and Finance ministers taking opposing position to the UK across a range of EU and foreign policies.

Cameron has placed a great deal of UK ouefs in the Sarkozy panier. The UK-French defence Treaty and Cameron’s following Sarkozy’s initiatives on the Libya interventions are two main achievements of Tory foreign policy since May 2010. Both can be justified but if there is a change of either president or parliament in Paris in a few months’ time post-Sarkozy France will have very little contact or natural friendship with Tory Britain.

But at the BBC and Sky, editors are oblivious to anything happening east of White City and Hounslow and even our serious papers (other than the FT) have so downgraded their coverage of European politics it is doubtful if more than a few specialist MPs and foreign policy wonks have the faintest idea of the key importance of the Sunday elections for Britain’s future

Demands for Russia to uphold the rule of law

This article was published in The Guardian 

David Cameron's trip to the Kremlin must address the Sergei Magnitsky case 

12 September 2011 

In diplomacy there is an unofficial statute of limitations on rows that poison state-to-state relations. November will see the fifth anniversary of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko by Russian agents in London. David Cameron will certainly raise the case when he goes to Moscow for his first trip to the Kremlin but equally certainly will have to swallow the Russian dismissal of the crime. But he will find it less easy to swerve around the case of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer employed by a British citizen and his London-based investment company. Magnitsky exposed the biggest tax swindle in Russian history, and was put to death by Russian officials for his pains.

The Magnitsky case is poised to return to Parliament as a private members' bill will push for 60 named Russian officials to be put on a visa ban by Britain with any assets they have in Britain frozen. In the United States, Washington has already imposed a similar travel ban on named Russians who took part in the process that led to Magnitsky being arrested, flung in prison and so harshly treated that he died in the manner that Solzhenitsyn described in his novels on the communist Gulag.

Magnitsky was employed by the American-born Bill Browder, now a British citizen. His grandfather, Earl Browder, was leader of the US Communist Party in wartime years until he was fired by Stalin for failing to toe the Kremlin line. After getting his Stanford MBA, the grandson went to Russia in 1990 and developed one of the most successful investment funds operating in the country.

But making money in Russia requires political approval and Browder refused to enter the world of corruption that Putin's economic model demands. Instead, he hired a leading tax lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, to defend his interests in Moscow after Browder himself had prudently moved his office to London as he refused the pay-offs Russian officials demanded.

Magnitsky discovered that Russian police were involved in a $230m tax claim against Browder which they were diverting to bank accounts of corrupt officials. The lawyer had a name as an anti-corruption crusader but was not involved in politics or seeking to do anything except ensure Russian law was observed.

He was arrested in 2008, beaten in prison, denied medical treatment for pancreatitis and died in November 2009. Even Russia's Council for Human Rights, set up by President Dmitry Medvedev, has accused Russian Interior Ministry officials in connection with Magnitsky's death.

The Interior Ministry and the Kremlin have rejected demands for an investigation. But Magnitsky's widow and friends in Russia and his former boss in London have not given up. They have met opposition from government bureaucracy, especially in foreign ministries that dislike individual cases messing up diplomatic relations. The Democratic US Senator for Maryland, Ben Cardin, tried to enlist the State Department's help but was brushed aside. So he launched his own bill, the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, and got Senator John McCain and 18 other senators to back it. Faced with the anger of the legislature, the US executive buckled and earlier this month Hillary Clinton listed 60 Russian officials linked to Magnitsky's death who now face a travel ban. The Dutch foreign minister refused to heed Dutch MPs when they asked for similar action. So the Dutch parliament voted by 150 to zero for a travel ban to be imposed. German and French MPs are looking at similar measures. FCO ministers in replies to me and other MPs have also pooh-poohed the idea of actually doing something to hold Russia to account over Magnitsky's death. So now there is a private member's bill which, alas, does not have the force of a US Senate's draft act, but which nonetheless signals parliamentary concern over FCO foot-dragging.

David Cameron could show leadership by agreeing the travel ban before he goes to the Kremlin so that Mr Putin understands that Britain does want to see the rule of law upheld and that employees of British firms should not be put to death. Putin's response to Britain's demand for the extradition of Andrei Lugovoi in connection with Litvinenko's murder was to put Lugovoi in the Duma, which is an extension of the Kremlin, not an independent parliament. Mr Cameron will get no joy on the Litvinenko case. But he can and should take action on the Russians who put Sergei Magnitsky to death.

Thinking about a 21st-century European Union

This article was published in The Independent

Slash and burn: less Brussels, better Europe

7 September 2011

Has the word "leadership" been expunged from the dictionaries of Europe? It is not just David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel who are all on holiday. The crisis of the eurozone exposes a Europe whose institutions no longer work.

For Britain, George Osborne has had the boldest response to the crisis, when he welcomed the idea of joint economic governance and fiscal policies for the 17 eurozone nations – a startling change from previous British policy, which for centuries has been dedicated to preventing the formation of a hegemonic ideological, economic or religious continental puissance. The Osborne doctrine in favour of a single economic governance for 75 per cent of the EU is dramatic and new.

Can this open the way to changing the sterile, petty, point-scoring dialogue of the deaf between Europhiles and Europhobes, federalists against nationalists, that most voters treat with contempt?

Britain could take the lead in a new argument about changing the way the EU is run. The first priority is to stop the unending growth of the Commission. It now has 27 commissioners, with more in the Balkan waiting room. Most do overlapping jobs with an army of officials justifying their existence by producing ever-increasing minutiae of regulations that drive most European citizens mad with fury. Less Brussels will make better Europe.

Second, the European Parliament sees fewer and fewer voters electing barmier and barmier MEPs at each election. The near-10,000 national parliamentarians in the 27 EU member states feel completely excluded from all European decision-making. The answer is to connect national parliaments to Strasbourg, where the European Parliament should be elected in thirds every two years so that it is more in tune with national electorates. A second chamber consisting of national MPs should be set up to check legislation. The Commons committee system needs revision so that EU policy and laws are examined jointly by MPs and MEPs.

Third, the EU should see if direct democracy can play a role. Handling this is tricky. The Commons will have to debate and say no to hanging because most petitions and plebiscites bring out the worst atavistic and xenophobic instincts. Anyone can follow a mob. In Switzerland, referendums cannot challenge judicial rulings and there may be ways of consulting people to reduce the sense of the EU being run by elites and for elites.

Britain is neither going to fold into Europe nor quit the EU. In the middle ground, new politics and institutions are needed to shape a better 21st-century EU. Britain can opt out of the euro but we cannot opt out of being a European nation. A historic compromise is needed so that Britain can be inside the EU tent, and leading in Europe.

Presidential elections in Abkhazia draw attention to the complicated question of finding an independent voice for this small Balkan region

This article was published on the openDemocracy website

Abkhazian Elections: Russia's Pawn in Georgian Election Game?

1 September 2011

During the Soviet emporium, Stalin and his epigones imposed to run Russian colonies set great store by the forms of democracy. An unverified aphorism has Stalin saying: “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” Elections were held and each leader claimed a voters' mandate. Opposition parties nominally existed but without freedom of media or assembly were pale instruments. Later this month, like a new production of Anton Chekhov play, the world will see the same process in Abkhazia with an “election” fixed for tomorrow, 26th August. Only certain residents of Abkhazia are allowed to take part in the vote. The ethnic Georgians who bravely remain in situ on their own land in their own country are forbidden to take part. The thousands of residents expelled from Upper Abkhazia during the August 2008 war are not allowed a say. Nor are the almost four hundred thousand removed in previous conflicts. During the 2009 vote, the EU rightly argued that “elections in this region of Georgia can only be valid after all refugees and internally displaced persons are given the right to a safe, secure and dignified return to their homes”. The same applies to this election.

Prior to 1992, the ethnic composition of Abkhazia was 46% Georgian, 18% Abkhaz, 15% Armenian and 14% Russian, with other minorities making up the rest. Since then, nearly all the Georgians have been forced out, their homes burned and destroyed, and their land dished out to new Russian residents. Those displaced have been looked after by the Georgian authorities the best they can, but understandably they long to return to their homes.

Some 47,000 Georgians have tried to return home to the Gali District of Abkhazia. In a report just out from Human Rights Watch (Living in Limbo. The Rights of Ethnic Georgian Returnees to the Gali District of Abkhazia 8 August 2011) HRW lists the humiliation and discrimination the Russian-controlled Abkhazi authorities visit on the Georgian returnees. They are required to obtain Abkhazi passports to work, obtain benefits, or get high school diplomas. Russian is being imposed as a language of education in schools as the Kremlin seeks to eliminate Georgia culture and history in the region of the country under their control. HRW insists that even though Abkhazia has no status other than as a region within the international borders of Georgia, the authorities there “have obligations under international law to respect human rights. Under international law, all human rights applicable within the territory of Georgia also apply to Abkhazia.”

As in Transnistria, Russia is content to create a no man’s land without freedom or democracy. Georgia’s President Saakashvili has pledged not to use force to take back the territory and so Tbilisi is trying a different strategy of opening up Georgian healthcare and educational facilities to residents of Abkhazia, rebuilding transport links, and facilitating greater connections between communities ripped apart by conflict.

Abkhazia is next door to Sochi where Russia plans to hold the 2014 winter Olympics. This month’s electoral charade will not solve anything and international attentions will focus on this frozen conflict. There is no future for Abkhazia as an international pariah and Russian puppet. Abkhazia is a beautiful area with great potential. Georgia offers full autonomy akin with other areas of Europe like South Tyrol or Swiss cantons which have a considerable degree of self-government within an overall state structure.

But as in the imbroglio over Kosovo where Russia backs Serb intransigence in preventing a final settlement in the western Balkans, the Kremlin prefers to keep its sores festering on the edge of its former imperium rather than seek cures and partnership with the new nations that have re-entered history after 1989.

Like Alsace-Lorraine after 1870, the 175,000 strong Abkhazia is firmly under foreign occupation and control. While Mr Putin organises photo-shoots on a bizarre three-wheeler granny’s bike alongside proper Harley-Davidsons, the old Russian election machine will produce the result the Kremlin wants. Despite promises made to President Sarkozy after the August 2008 war, thousands of soldiers remain based in Abkhazia, including one base with 4,500 men. Missile battalions, including S-300 surface to air missiles, have been stationed by the Russian army. Russian authorities have been handing out Russian passports to the remaining population. New Russian settlers are moving into local communities.

Russia has already organised one election in Abkhazia in 2009 which was "won" by Moscow's man, Sergei Bagapsch. The European Union stated at the time that “it does not recognise the constitutional and legal framework within which these elections have taken place”. Turkey, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia, Norway, Ukraine, Moldova and Azerbaijan all refused to recognise the validity of these elections.

The Russian campaign to encourage recognition of Abkhazian “independence” has been a failure. Only Venezuela, Nicaragua and the Pacific island of Nauru have signed up. It is notable that no member of the Commonwealth of Independent States has endorsed the campaign, even Russia’s closest allies.
In reality it is irrelevant who wins the election, whether it is Alexander Ankvab, Sergei Shamba, or Raul Khajimba as the winner will be a puppet of his Russian masters. The victor will not only lack legitimacy because he will lead a proxy state, but even on its own terms the election is a sham.

Osborne the surprise Euro-federalist

This article was published by the Yorkshire Post 
Why the future of Europe is the issue that won't go away 
23 August 2011 
ORDER has been restored. The streets are calm. An inquiry will be held. New initiatives launched. The normal inter-party bickering resurfaces.
But lurking behind the post-mortems on the three days when the state lost control of the streets is another much graver political question. Just as Ireland was the issue that divided British politics in the 19th century, Europe is emerging as the 21st century issue which is causing a maximum headache for all political leaders.
For 10 years, successive Conservative opposition leaders promised their activists, and the nation, a Eurosceptic future if ever the Tories won power. But the iron truth is that Euroscepticism works in opposition but Ministers have to be Eurorealists when they accept the seals of office.
None more so than David Cameron. He has told unhappy Tory MPs that there is no question of an in-out referendum on the EU. He has also had to point out that Britain does more trade with Ireland than with China and India. Thus shipping billions of taxpayers’ money via the EU or the IMF to stop economic collapse in Britain’s trade partners is a painful necessity.
Far from the emerging economies being the saviour of an offshore Britain, all that China, India, Brazil, Russia and Turkey want to do is increase their exports to us while decreasing imports of made-in-Britain goods and services. The first victim of the eurozone crisis has been the City. Nine out of 10 banks in the City are foreign-owned and owe no loyalty to the UK. The British Stock Exchange has suffered bigger losses than EU bourses.
In the past, anaemic European growth was offset by stronger US performance. But the Alan Greenspan era is over. While European politicians were criticised for all being on holiday, American politicians were all present in Washington and made such a disastrous hash of squabbling among themselves that perhaps it would have been better had they been on vacation.
The Chinese could hardly believe their eyes and promptly lectured the Americans on the need to return to coherent capitalism and slash spending and debt. Karl Marx is turning in his Highgate Cemetery grave as the last great nominally Communist power on earth gives the United States lessons on economics. However, the Chinese should be careful about what they wish for. If the US does go in for British-style cuts and austerity, who will buy all the made-in-China goods waiting in containers in Shanghai and Shenzhen for export to the US? US debt pays for China’s export boom. In fact, the absence of a co-ordinated world response to this crisis has made it worse. Leadership in Europe or on Capitol Hill has been utterly absent.
Even the most fervent of pro-Europeans has to admit that the EU institutions have failed utterly to rise to the needs of the crisis. Instead, there is a question mark over the future of the euro. But, if the single currency goes, it will take the single market down with it.
“Adieu to the EU” may be a welcome slogan in some quarters but it will plunge Britain and the western liberal free trade democracies into as big as crisis as the 1930s.
One British politician, however, has announced what needs to be done. The Chancellor George Osborne has called for eurozone fiscal co-ordination and supra-national economic governance for nations using the euro.
This is an historic moment. Osborne is seeking to reverse centuries of British policy which has always opposed the creation of a single, hegemonic continental block with one ideology, one religion, or one economic and trade policy. Now, in the biggest move by a Conservative since Robert Peel embraced free trade or Harold Macmillan promoted the welfare state, Mr Osborne has become a Euro-federalist as far as the continent is concerned.
He believes that as long as the pound exists, Britain can live with a fiscal union eurozone. But 75 per cent of the £12,000 trillion EU economy – the world’s biggest – uses the euro. Non-EU states like Switzerland and Norway have to abide by EU rules. If Mr Osborne’s advice is taken, a single continental eurozone with common budget rules will dictate to every other EU member state and set the rules for banking and financial transactions, including those of the City. President Sarkozy of France and Germany’s Chancellor Merkel met yesterday to begin preparing for a single continental economy.
Is that what Mr Osborne has in mind? If so, can he take Tory Eurosceptic MPs with him? And what does Labour have to say? For 15 months since the election, all party leaders have preferred to say, see and hear as little about Europe as possible. That period is over. Europe is about to re-enter British politics big-time and devour those politicians who do not have convincing answers to the question: what is to be done with the EU?

The Crisis of the Spanish Socialists: Another Sign of the Decline of the European Left

This article was published by Progress

Can the Socialists pull through in Spain?

3 August 2011

The early elections called in Spain for November will further reduce the profile of the left in Europe as a serious governing force. Unlike Jim Callaghan or Gordon Brown who clung limpetlike to office until the last possible days of their terms, the Socialist leadership in Spain have seized the initiative.

They are going for a November election five months ahead of the normal election date of March next year.

The Spanish socialist prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is standing down. Instead the Socialists will be led into the election by 60-year-old Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, a veteran from the Felipe Gonzalez era. Will some of the old Gonzalez magic rub on Rubalcaba? Zapatero is presenting himself as the pilot who has weathered the economic storm since 2008 and saved Spain from the humiliation of Greece.

Now he steps down and allows Spaniards to make a choice on who heads the government over the next period. Rubalcaba faces one of the lowest profile, greyist rightwingers in European politics. Mariano Rajoy, like Rubacalba, has a beard and is also a long-serving leader of the conservative Partido Popular. He lost the 2004 and 2008 elections but plods on at the head of a party whose dominant figure remains José Maria Aznar – George W Bush’s second best friend in Europe (whisper not who was GWB’s amigo Numero Uno).

The PP is divided and lacks clear policies. Many of the economic problems that helped cripple Spain’s economy like an uncontrolled housing boom, provincial governments allowed to borrow money as if it would never have to be repaid, or city and regional savings banks which were used as private cash chests for social projects to boost the profile of left and right politicians, stem from the Aznar years.

Zapatero won power in 2004 in a surge of anger against the Iraq war and the disgraceful way the PP government tried to blame the March 2004 Madrid bombing where 191 were murdered and 1858 wounded by Islamist terror on ETA, the extreme rightwing Basque separatist movement.

The incoming government focused on social policy – especially women’s rights and reducing the power of the ultra-conservative church. The economy fuelled by three million immigrants between 1996 and 2006 – mainly from Latin America and east and south-east Europe – seemed to be booming. But, as in the US, Britain, Ireland, Greece and other countries where the spirit of Alan Greenspan ruled no-one paid attention to unsustainable levels of government, banking and personal debt building up.

When the reckoning came it was savage. one million houses or flats were built or partly built but unsold. Unemployment, especially in the construction sector, soared. Students graduated with degrees but no jobs (Does Sr Osborne have Spanish blood, by chance?) The main Spanish banks are toughly inspected and controlled by Spain’s central bank. Unlike the Treasury’s, Bank of England’s and FSA’s lax financial supervision which led to the run on Northern Rock and the Labour government having to spend billions to keep British banks from closing the Spanish banks came out of the 2008 financial crisis seemingly in good shape. But with billions of euros of unsold property on their books, even their balance sheets now look dodgy and the constant hedge fund speculation against Spain remains a worry.

Spanish workers and public servants paid a price with job losses, a direct cut of all state employees’ pay and other reductions in public expenditure. The revolt of los indignados ( The Indignant Ones) who occupied the centre of Madrid this summer like the Paris students of 1968 was the final rupture of confidence between young people and the socialist government. Antielitism is now big politics across the Euro-Atlantic community. Whoever is in power suffers. Street protests, however, cannot replace convincing policies for government.

The Socialists will go, yet there is no appetite for a PP government. Read El Pais or El Mundo and almost every week there are reports of a grisly scandal of deep corruption between PP mayors and regional bosses and local business. Socialists are also tempted as planning permission for windmills seems to require oiling local political machines. But the PP politicians have been helping themselves to public money on a scale not seen elsewhere in Europe.

Yet so unpopular are the Socialists that although the early election call and the change of leader has boosted the left a little in the polls there is no one in Spain who foresees anything other than a change of government in November. Rubalcaba promises to increase taxes on the rich, big companies and the banks. But discovering leftism at the end of a long period of left government has not in the past or anywhere else paved the way to staying in power.

The PP is unlikely to win an outright majority. To please its regional allies it will have to temper its ultra-centralism and contempt of devolved government in Spain. There is an ugly rightism at work with threats to repeal laws on gay marriages, make healthcare more expensive and abortion more difficult. Diplomats fear that a PP government may play the Gibraltar card provoking the pointless squabbles with London that were a feature of the Aznar government.

Spain has had a long 30-year run of stable governments after the death of Franco. The pragmatic, reformist, pro-US and pro-globalisation social democracy represented by the long Felipe Gonzalez years set the tone. EU funding helped greatly initially but Spain is now an EU net contributor. Spain finally turned its back on both its Franco past but also the previous three centuries of decline and isolation once the gold and silver of Latin America ran out. What emerged after 1980 was a mature, confident, democratic Spain with a growing economy as well as providing great footballers, great movies, great architecture and a home for 900,000 Brits who, unlike immigrants into the UK, were not required to learn Spanish or adapt to their new home.

Is it Adios to that happy Spain? Like other European countries and the US, Spain is now in a transition era. The Spanish socialists suffer from the same deficit as the rest of the European left. Plenty of rhetorical criticism of the existing order but a crushing voter deficit as the left parties of Europe are downgraded by electorates who want a new story. Yet the right in Spain has a looming policy and personality deficit. The November election will produce a new government. But not a new Spain.

Learning from Czeslaw Milosz

This article was published in The Tablet

Freedom, faith and a Polish poet on the underground

22 July 2011

There is a treat for users of the London Underground. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Polish Catholic intellectual and poet, Czeslaw Milosz, the Poems on the Underground team have put up some of his crisp short poems on the tube.

The coincidence of the centenary of Milosz with Poland taking over the six month presidency of the European Union is a reminder that Poland remains not only Europe’s most Catholic nation but increasingly an important European power. Both the Polish Finance Minister who is delivering economic growth that George Osborne can only dream of and the Polish Foreign Minister were educated in Britain. Indeed Radek Sikorski, Poland’s and Europe’s most forceful foreign minister was in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford alongside David Cameron and George Osborne in the 1980s.

Milosz, like his great friend Pope John Paul II sprung to global prominence 30 years ago. In 1978 the Polish Pope arrived in the Vatican. Two years later, Solidarity was created and the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Czeslaw Milosz.

Milosz himself shied away from being defined as a Catholic poet. “I may be too much of a sinner and a heretic to be considered a real Catholic intellectual though a priest who studied my work decided there was no obstacle to calling me a Catholic intellectual even though I do not call myself a Catholic poet.”

Like Pope John Paul II Milosz also spent the war years in Poland and then worked briefly as a diplomat after 1945 before realising that his need to write freely was incompatible with living under communism. His 1951 classic, “The Captive Mind” argued that whatever communism’s claims to be a force for social emancipation and economic equality its denial of intellectual freedom and religious belief made communism incompatible with humanism, hope and rationality.

Then, the left was still enthralled to the heroism of the Red Army in defeating Hitlerism and to the claim that communism would build a better world. The Labour Government in 1945 refused to allow the Polish Spitfire pilots of 1940 or the Polish infantry who had assaulted Monte Cassino or landed at Arnhem in 1944 to march in the great victory parades after the war. For Whitehall, being nice to Communist Russia was then a priority.

This shameful silence on the crimes of communism can find echoes today in David Cameron’s refusal to mention by name, the Chinese Nobel peace laureate, Liu Xiaobo in public for fear of upsetting the Chinese communist dictators who have locked away in the Chinese gulag this great and noble pacifist and pro-democracy intellectual.

Milosz was luckier than Liu and got out to live in the United States. He taught European literature at Berkely telling his students to get to grips with TS Elliot and Dostoievsky as European culture was not to be limited by national boundaries. He kept writing poem after poem in Polish, writing for small publications long before the net or modern forms of communication could bring his poetry and his ideas to a wider public.

In 1970, he wrote a poem addressed to the petty tyrants running Poland after their security forces in the best style of the despots in Syria or Bahrain shot dead an early pro-democracy demonstration in the city of Gdansk.

“Do not feel safe.

The poet remembers.

You kill one,

Another is born.

The words are written down,

The deed, the date.”

Unlike W. H. Auden who excised his major political poem about the Spanish Civil War from later anthologies because he felt embarrassed by the commitment expressed in it, Milosz always refused to despair or give up hope that one day his Poland would be free. In 2005, Tony Blair asked me to attend the inauguration of the monument to Solidarity put up in Gdansk to the workers shot dead in 1970. Milosz’s poem is inscribed there to be read in decades, centuries to come.

The church in Poland in the communist years created some space for intellectuals, including those in exile, to be published. The Polish equivalent of the Tablet, Tygodnik Powszechny (Universal Weekly) was able to publish Milosz. Catholic political intellectuals like Tadeusz Mazowiecki kept insisting to the leaders of Solidarity, including those ready to unleash a more hot-headed nationalism, the central importance of peaceful protests and never allowing any violent provocations to provide the communist ruling elites with an excuse for a crackdown. The term, “the self-limiting revolution”, was used to define both the ambition but also the careful choice of tactics by Solidarity.

To visit Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk and other Polish cities in the first flowering of freedom in the communist world thirty years ago was to see an explosion of publishing of books forbidden by Stalinist censorship. Milosz’s poems and “The Captive Mind”itself were top of the books published in the sixteen months of Solidarity freedom between August 1980 and the repression of the union in December 1981.

In the West, the Polish uprising was seen as a forlorn romantic gesture against the still invincible might of communism. It was in the tradition of the myths of the Polish cavalry charging German tanks in 1939 or Polish uprisings in the 18th and 19th century against Russia. But this was always to patronise a much deeper liberal European tradition in Poland.

Joseph Conrad, the most famous Pole to write in English rejected the idea of the Poles as a Slav nation. “The Polish temperament with its tradition of self-government, its chivalrous view of moral restraints and exaggerated respect for individual rights: not to mention the important fact that while the Polish mentality, western in complexion, had received its training from Italy and France and historically had always remained, even in religious matters in sympathy with the most liberal currents of European thought.”

Milosz’s western liberalism could be seen in his approach to contraception and abortion. The latter he considered “a great crime” but he did not think that the Poles like other western democracies should legally seek to ban it. He was nostalgic for the Latin Mass but it was just that - nostalgia. He described himself as “an ecstatic pessimist” echoing Gramsci’s “optimism of the spirit and pessimism of the intellect.”

Before he moved to America, Milosz lived in France at a time where Albert Camus wrote: “The great event of the 20th century was the forsaking of the values of freedom by the revolutionary movement. Since that moment a certain hope has disappeared from the world and a solitude has begun for each and every man.”

Such was the despair and misery of any European intellectual in the mid-century as they looked both on what had happened to the great European culture of science, music and poetry that was Germany which had succumbed to xenophobic right-wing politics. It was also the despair of Poles, Czechs, Hungarians and citizens of the Baltic states who also seemed to see only a black hopeless vista stretching out to eternity as communism crushed European freedom in the eastern half of the continent after 1945.

Milosz is a testament to the need to reject the ultimate sin, that of despair, that of giving up in belief and hope.As he wrote:

“Human reason is beautiful and invincible...

It puts what should be above things as they are,

Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.

So we write Truth and Justice with capital letters,

lie and oppression with small.”

Today the spirit of Milosz can be felt, if not always seen, in Arab countries and in China and wherever else human reason is temporarily crushed by communist or other forms of dictatorship. The poems we can read on the Underground at the moment are a reminder that the spirit of freedom and the hope of reason never die.