By seizing the Crimea, Russia has threatened the international community

Aaron Ellis

As the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine escalated over the weekend, many in the West showed an embarrassing lack of character. Seemingly contemptuous of its international obligations, a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council seized the territory of another country, justifying its actions on the same grounds as Hitler when he demanded the Sudetenland. Rather than appreciate the potential awfulness of the crisis and summon up their courage, however, Westerners reacted to it parochially and with snark.

“It’s Europe’s problem, let them sort it out,” declared many Americans, “we don’t have any interests there”, whereas various Western Europeans commented that, “We cannot be dragged into a war because of Russophobes in the East.” Those on the right of the political spectrum in both Britain and the United States blamed the supposedly ‘weak’ President Obama. Sajid Javid, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, claimed that there is ‘a direct link’ between Ed Miliband’s opposition to intervening in Syria last summer and Moscow’s actions now, making the Labour leader unfit to be Prime Minister. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: Who gives a shit about all this? Russia is invading Ukraine.

The Allies fought a world war for, and built an international system on the principle that states must not be allowed to forcibly redraw their borders – no matter how much the people in the annexed territories ‘like’ their occupiers. We enshrined it in the UN Charter: ‘All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity…of any state’. The system that was created by the Allies (Russia amongst them) was designed to help countries find “the surer ways of preserving peace”, as Margaret Thatcher once said, ways enabling “the peoples of each sovereign state to lead their lives as they choose within established borders.”

When President Putin seized the Crimea, Ukraine became a vital interest of Britain, the United States, the European Union, and indeed anyone else interested in maintaining world peace. Mr. Putin’s actions struck at the foundation of a global order that has, in his own words, ‘underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.’ We simply cannot allow the challenge to go unpunished.

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Diplomacy has achieved more in Syria than bombing would have done

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Aaron Ellis

Pundits across the political spectrum have claimed recently that had MPs supported military action in Syria last summer, the world might just have been a better place today. Yet there is no reason why those who opposed intervention should regret their stance, as there’s no reason to believe that it would have made a difference to the conflict. The truth is that diplomacy has achieved far more than punitive airstrikes would probably have done – at least as far as chemical weapons are concerned.

Last week, Syria enjoyed its longest period of media coverage since the August crisis. On Tuesday, thousands of documents and photographs were published which strongly suggest that the al-Assad regime ‘systemically’ murdered around 11,000 detainees. At the Geneva II summit the next day, negotiations between the regime and the opposition started acrimoniously. And at PMQs, Ed Miliband pushed David Cameron on whether or not Britain would accept more Syrian refugees. Perhaps because of the lack of exciting political news, these were given relatively wide coverage, and some commentators questioned the wisdom of the Commons vote. If we had gone in, journalists might have been reporting much better stories from this devastated country.

On Wednesday, both Matthew D’Ancona on the right and Sunny Hundal on the left argued that non-intervention has caused more suffering than intervention would have done. D’Ancona wondered ‘how many detainees have been maimed and killed’ since the vote. Hundal implied that due to a lack of Western military presence, al-Qa’ida and other militant Islamists have taken over the rebellion. The next day, Dan Hodges (wherever he is on the political spectrum now) basically claimed that only those who supported intervention really care about the Syrians. Presumably, we can only show our sympathy for the millions caught up in the appalling humanitarian crisis by bombing stuff.

These arguments suffer from the same flaws as those put forward by Mr. Cameron last summer. All of them are vague about the military action that was being proposed, and none of them explain why that particular use of force would have generated the desired outcome.

Shortly after the Libya campaign began, the Prime Minister argued that Britain was “sending a message” that “the way to meet the aspirations of people…in the Arab world is with reform and dialogue, not with repression.” Over a hundred thousand deaths later, we can safely assume that Mr. al-Assad did not receive that message, so why would he have gotten the one about chemical weapons? Or murdering detainees? As Mr. Cameron once remarked, “[b]ombs and missiles are bad ambassadors.”

It is easier to think about the potentialities of bombing someone than it is about the potentialities of negotiating with them, yet the Kerry-Lavrov deal has achieved far more than a few airstrikes would have done. Whereas the regime would still have possessed chemical weapons after the attack, they are now actually being removed from Syria. Last September, the regime became a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention. The diplomatic outcome of the crisis is the only bright spot in the civil war, the Foreign Secretary said last week, which is why those who opposed intervention shouldn’t regret their stance. It helped make the world a marginally better place.

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Europe is the ‘elephant in the room’ in our energy debate

Luke Major

Energy has dominated politics for the last few months and the Prime Minister hopes to counter Ed Miliband’s price freeze pledge by rolling back the green levies that contribute to rising bills. Both offers have very little credibility, in my opinion, for a reason that few of our politicians want to talk about. The bottom line is that when it comes to energy prices, both Party leaders’ hands are tried – somewhat willingly – by our links to the European Union.

Although energy policy remains under Member States’ control, the EU’s commitment to becoming the world’s leader in economic decarbonisation exerts pressure on Britain. For example, Mr. Miliband’s 2008 Climate Change Act commits our government to reducing the country’s carbon emissions to at least 80% lower than 1990s-levels by 2050 and can be seen as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the EU’s decarbonisation mission. These legally binding targets are being pursued at an astronomical cost to British taxpayer, cutting off our access to cheap energy by closing down coal-fired power stations and focusing on using heavily subsidised renewable energy instead. Such radical changes were never going to come cheap.

These legally binding targets, which all the major parties agreed with at the time, have caused energy prices to soar for homeowners and businesses alike – pushing more and more people into ‘fuel poverty’. Depressingly, it has been estimated that electricity prices have increased by 17% in the last four years and could rise another 41% by 2040 as further measures within the Climate Change Act come into effect. This reflects well neither on Labour nor the Tories – both of which, despite the posturing, do not seem to be able to do much about it. A cynical person might think that Mr. Miliband has sought to lay the blame at energy companies (whose profits per year average at a quite normal 5-6%) to deflect attention away from his own role in inflating prices. He may also think Mr. Cameron is seeking to distinguish himself from the green-friendly Liberal Democrats to make himself a more viable option to UKIP voters who share Nigel Farage’s scepticism about man-made climate change.

However pressing you might think it is that we continue with decarbonisation, the needs of those who are already struggling with fuel bills will not be met with cheap gimmicks, especially if energy bills do indeed continue to rise. There is a reasonable political and moral case on top of the economic one, for the Prime Minister to include a more ‘laissez-faire’ attitude towards energy policy in any future re-structuring of our relationship with Europe. As already stated, although energy is under Member States’ control, our international reputation depends on us being on song with the EU’s carbon reduction plan – otherwise we could simply ignore all these targets as the enforcement mechanisms barely hold up to scrutiny.

With regards to specifics, the European Commission has stated that it wants to see the shale gas market regulated to the point where it doesn’t pose any significant environmental risk. This is another way of saying that fracking should be made less economically viable and, thus, more expensive when it reaches the consumer. The ‘better off out’ contingent of the Tories would no doubt be wondering why any potential damage to UK landscape should be the concern of the EU (evidence suggests potential damage has been grossly exaggerated), especially when shale gas development could potentially benefit an EU gas market that is being undermined by the shale gas boom in the USA that is flooding our own continent with unwanted cheap coal.

There is also the more complex issue of nuclear power. The EU has state aid rules in place that constrict the degree to which the British government can guarantee financial security to the private companies taking on the risk of building nuclear plants. Once again, the already lengthy and costly process of diversifying and spreading the burden of our energy needs hits those paying the bills in the end.

David Cameron will most definitely be aware of the EU’s impact on our ability to control energy prices, but I fear he has chosen to ignore this up until now because of his previous backing of the Climate Change Act, his husky hugging, and his pledge to lead “the greenest government ever”. He will now face accusations of fraudulent behaviour and political opportunism from his opponents, but if businesses and ordinary people have more money in their pockets as a result of a slowing down of economic de-carbonisation, then it will be worth it.

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'One Nation Labour' is an oxymoron

Jonathan Waddell

Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different time zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws … The Rich and the Poor.

Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil (The Two Nations)

Ed Miliband’s 2012 speech was an interesting one to say the least, and it goes without saying that for many members of the Conservative party such as myself, every time he said the words “One Nation”, a little piece of me died inside. Not just because he so obviously and admittedly stole the term from the Conservatives, not least because he greatly misunderstood the concept but largely because the concept of One Nation, is actually entirely incompatible with his and his parties politics. However, he has managed to continue the front of One Nation Labour on past the 2013 conference and will continue into 2014.

Please now draw your attention to the quote above from Benjamin Disraeli’s Sybil, a book written with the intention of outlining the great problems of working class Britain and the divide between the rich and the poor at the time. This quote is one of the best to outline exactly what he aimed to achieve in his political career and his writing, he explains that not only are the rich and the poor two different types of people, but they have no understanding of each other, no sympathy to each others ideals or lives but perhaps most importantly, no connection to each other. It’s with this that I must stress, there is no vitriol in this statement or message, nor is there malice to the rich or the poor, and for very good reason.

The ideals and purpose of One Nation, is to bring these two nations together, to find that missing connection and make two nations become One Nation. Just look at recent statements by Sir John Major let alone his entire career and compare them to statements Ed Miliband has been making his entire career. The fact of the matter is that while the focus for One Nation Tories is Social Mobility and making the poor richer, the focus of Ed Miliband is to make the rich poorer, to punish ambition and tax success. Social Mobility, in the eyes of One Nation Tories, is the link between the rich and the poor. Opportunity is what it takes to make the Two Nations become One.

Miliband and the Labour party want to attack the well off. Not just those who have inherited wealth but those who have worked for everything they have. That’s not One Nation, that’s class warfare. How does that encourage Social Mobility? How does that encourage someone to work hard, do better, achieve more if once you have achieved more than you ever thought you could, the government take half of your earnings? The simple answer is that it doesn’t, which is why a leftist like Miliband can simply not be a man of One Nation, nor can any leftist party like the Labour party be a party of One Nation. One Nation Labour is an oxymoron. Anyone who wants to persecute any part of society is not someone who subscribes to One Nation, how can they? They don’t see One Nation, they see multiple nations and instead of joining them together, they wish to simply eliminate one of them. Each to their own, but I know I do not want to live in a society that is that way inclined.

Today’s two nations are in fact not as clear as they were back when Disraeli made his observations in Sybil, where it was the middle class factory owners against the working class factory workers. Today we see a society that has wages that spread from the lowest possible to the highest imaginable and everything in between. If we use traditional terms like Working and Middle class, then the difference between them is as little as a Penny on your average wage.

Of course, we also have people who live desperately on the welfare state to get by, and these are now the desperate people in our society who need help. Labour and Miliband think that throwing money at it is the best thing for them, and of course, money will do them well in the short run; it will pay their rent and put food on their table - but what does it do for them in the long run? The reality is that nothing will help them better than opportunity, education, work and social mobility. Ed Miliband’s ‘socialism’ is nothing more than social welfarism, and as much as welfare helps people in the short term, it does little to help anyone in the long run. Today’s two nations is that of people on welfare with little or no way to get into work and young professionals in private sector jobs and working their way up their career ladders. If we wish to see One Nation, we must wish to help those who on welfare make their way onto a path of financial security and social mobility.

If Labour wish to be “the party of the working class” they can have it, because we all know they can’t be the party of One Nation, the party of One Nation has to be a party that encourages hard work, ambition, self-determination and your own path to prosperity, certainly not a party that preaches class-warfare and wants to punish success and ambition. A One Nation party is a party of all classes and backgrounds, not just singling out one and attacking another.

This post was originally posed on the site of Conservative Future Scotland North.

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A politico with some popular music tastes, but too busy for anything classical? Ed showed us the true Miliband on Sunday

Jack Blackburn

Desert Island Discs can do many things. It can be a fascinating insight into music you have never heard, or the story of life you otherwise might not have known but one thing it always achieves is a revelation about the individual being interviewed.

Ed Miliband gave us many revelations. One is that, despite having seen a microphone for most days of his professional life, he doesn’t know that he shouldn’t exhale through his fixed nose straight into the recording apparatus. Everything else we learned about him was far more nuanced.

The crucial moment in Ed’s broadcast came very early when Kirsty Young, not flippantly, remarked that people often viewed politicians’ choices on this programme cynically, before asking “This list … how many people have cast their eye over it and how much of it is your list?” To which, Ed responded “It’s absolutely my list. It’s a list that’s personal to me.” Given that this was the foundation of the rest of the broadcast, let us consider how it progressed.

Ed’s first choice was ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ i’Afrika’, the South African national anthem. A piece that is so beautiful, so tender, so peaceful in the face of horrific oppression, it has regrettably been appropriated and become the universal song of right-on liberals – a sort of PC Internationale. It is a worthy choice in many ways, but it was then followed by ‘Jerusalem’. When explaining his choice of ‘Jerusalem’, Ed mentioned the recent attack on his father and mentioned something about his wife liking walks on England’s green and pleasant land.

I could see no ulterior motive in these selections at all, and if that’s what Ed wishes to boogie to in the sleepy lagoon of the desert island, who am I to say that he shouldn’t? Honestly, if David Dimbleby’s tattoo was a staggeringly personal moment of self-expression, these two choices were the exact opposite of that, a fact that was underlined by his next choice, Paul Robeson singing ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill’. Yes, it may be exactly the sort of tribute song you’d expect from Red Ed, but it was so obscure that I could only think that it did actually remind him of his dad.

Then we got a crawl along the middle of the road. ‘Take On Me’, by Aha. ‘Sweet Caroline’, by Neil Diamond. ‘Angels’, by Robbie Williams. Now, I have nothing against any of those songs. They’re all fine. At drunken university socials on a Friday night, they’re exactly the sort of thing you want. But, all three of them on the desert island? Surely not? What a waste. You only need one such song, if that. Picking three is suspicious. It’s frankly robotic. It’s like they’ve been picked by someone who’s approximating what people like in music based on songs they happened to catch when Top of the Pops was on, or when their wife was in control of the car stereo.

As we concluded with Josh Ritter’s ‘Change of Time’ (which is very dull indeed) and Non, je ne regrette rien (which was presumably intended for brother David’s ears) I pondered what we had learnt. Initially, I thought this was staggeringly dishonest: a selection designed to crudely fabricate an image of a liberal man who knew how to let his hair (such as it is) down to Robbie Williams.

Then I thought, what if I took him on his word? What if he was being honest? Well, then we have someone who genuinely loves Jerusalem and the South African national anthem, and who apparently has no musical taste having occasionally been forced to dip into popular music, but who was too busy poring over books to even dip his toes in classical music.

Maybe Ed’s been more honest than I thought.

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For a supposed ‘wonk’, Ed Miliband has surprisingly few ideas of his own

James Willby

You might remember that there was a break-in at Labour HQ. The joke was that the thieves had gone in looking for a policy but hadn’t come back with anything of note.

There’s been talk of “predators and producers”, of “the squeezed middle”, but the only clear instances where Miliband has produced anything like a coherent vision were with his use of Disraeli’s one nationism and his proposal for a freeze on energy bills. Then with the intervention of former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, Miliband thought he had finally struck gold.

“Many people face a choice this winter between heating and eating” he quoted at a despairing David Cameron.  “These are the ordinary people of this country who this Prime Minister will never meet and whose lives they will never understand.”  It was, to quote a boxing term, a straight KO and the Prime Minister returned to Downing Street to lick his wounds. So, should we Conservatives be worried by such a performance? Does it herald the change of fortunes Labour activists have been so desperate to see? Hardly. 

The Labour leader’s use of Disraeli and Major, whilst good politics, illustrates his Party’s fundamental weakness – simply put, it has no idea who it is or what it’s for. From free schools to referenda, from reducing the taxation on the poorest to green investment, everything that is fresh and exciting is coming from the ongoing tussle between the Coalition parties. The fact Miliband is forced to rely on the words of former Conservative Prime Ministers in his battle with Mr. Cameron shows just how bad the situation has become. Nineteen months from a general election and Labour’s ideas factory is a wizened burnt-out old husk.

Despite endless internal reviews and conversations, it has produced nothing of substance and Miliband’s tenure has seen him hop from bandwagon to bandwagon in a vain attempt to capture the public mood. Chris Bryant’s attempt to get tough on immigration blew up in his face. Tristram Hunt is now floundering over free schools, first backing them then seemingly veering away, and on HS2 I doubt anybody within the Labour Party knows what their policy actually is.

In laying claim to Disraeli’s one-nationism and Major’s compassionate conservatism, Miliband invites us to judge him by their principles. Does his opposition to deficit reduction chime with Disraeli’s observation that “Debt is a prolific mother of folly and of crime”? If he becomes Prime Minister, will he seriously be able to claim that Labour “inherited a sick economy and passed on a sound one” as Major did?  Perhaps we can best sum up Labour’s dilemma by paraphrasing Thatcher. You see Ed; the problem with ‘Milibandism’ is that eventually you run out of other people’s ideas. It might be time to get some of your own. 

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Will Unite ruin Labour’s chances in 2015?

Ryan Gray

This afternoon, the Prime Minister stated that Andy Murray deserves a knighthood for his great Wimbledon victory yesterday. If one could be honoured for doing the most damage to a political party, then Len McCluskey would certainly receive a gong for his outstanding work. The Unite leader is determined to change Labour, whether it kills its electoral prospects or not.

It feels like we have entered a pre-Thatcher time. Unions are angry and loud; threatening strikes and dominating the Labour Party. During the Blair years, they were shoved in a corner, having no apparent influence. Fast forward to 2013 and things are quite different. Ed Miliband is in an awkward spot, given it was the unions that paved his way to winning the Party leadership: what were his biggest allies are now fast becoming his biggest enemies.

As we run up to the next election, 70% of Labour’s parliamentary candidates in 2015 are heavily linked to unions. Indeed, McCluskey refers to these as being ‘Unite MPs’. Of the 67 candidates selected so far for 2015, 27 are linked to Unite either through membership, employment or sponsorship. So its no surprise that people are beginning to question if Labour represent the majority of its own members, let alone the country!

Cracks have been developing in the Party for a while now, but they only became dramatically public this past week. For awhile we have heard left-wing commentators point out Tory divisions on gay marriage, the EU etc, but they have been quiet on the ever growing discontent among different groups of Labour faithful towards each other. Owen Jones recently attacked the Labour MP Simon Danczuk for sounding ‘like a Tory’ due to his support for coalition changes to welfare.

Martin Kettle has excellently examined how current events are suicidal for Miliband. Rightfully pointing out that ‘A Labour party campaigning on an old industrial class-based agenda, with extra powers for unions that are in other respects withering across British life, led by quisling politicians manipulated by union officials who in some cases are old Stalinists, in pursuit of a state-owned economy that would not work and would not be popular, may appeal to a few romantics. But it is an utterly bankrupt strategy.’

Blairite Dan Hodges predicts a showdown, which I see as inevitable also. With such high stakes on the line, expect a vicious debate within the Opposition. And its divisions are most certainly David Cameron’s gain. During PMQs last week, he ridiculed Mr. Miliband about his inability to deal with the unions, having possibly the best PMQs he’s ever had.

Rifts among Labour members and the unions represent a modern dilemma for the Party. Unions failed to reconcile with Blair after losing a bitter battle with Thatcher. After that humiliation, Unite and the far left are determined to make sure they never lose again. But one can not help but think that maybe their actions have done the exact opposite of what they had intended. While unions are powerful, they are not strong enough to take on the public, something Labour should realise if they want to win the next election.



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Defence cuts must lead to a limited world role for Britain

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Louis Reynolds

George Osborne has opted to reduce the MOD’s civilian headcount as part of the latest £11.5 billion savings drive implemented across Whitehall departments. While this cutback will certainly be noticed even within the supposedly wasteful MOD, it is an excellent alternative to further cutting H.M. Armed Forces proper.

Cutting the Forces to some degree is also seemingly the only option the Chancellor can decide upon in his mission to further slim down the British state. With Education and the NHS – which will by 2014-2015 account for 43% of spending – totally ‘ring-fenced’, the other departments must inevitably undergo more substantial butchery than would otherwise be the case, especially given Liberal Democrat misgivings about further cuts to Welfare.

The Armed Forces is also an easy target. Despite occasional and brief protests from the Chief of the General Staff Peter Wall or retired senior officers, the military is often the subject of significant cuts because it is in the culture of Britain’s services to make do. Furthermore, since the end of the Cold War the continuing theme underlining British defence policy has been near constant downsizing. Finally defence cuts, while unpopular and often unwise, are felt less directly by the general public than other spending reductions.

The unequivocal necessity of government spending reductions combined with the political inability of the coalition to meaningfully confront the departments with the most substantial budgets has resulted in a 20,000 soldier reduction of British Army strength, around a fifth of its personnel, over the Coalition’s period in government.

Despite this significant reduction, the Strategic Defence and Security Review failed to properly engage with the changes the government has made to the British Armed forces, merely offering a miniaturised version of Britain’s Cold War capability and a more cautious application of force than that used in the Blair government’s unpopular operations.

The British Army was chronically undermanned and under resourced in its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the early part of the Global War on Terror. The British Army’s failure in Basra and its severely limited utility in Helmand was the direct result (to a considerable extent) of a chronic lack of resources and manpower as well as a commitment which overreached its capability. Britain’s struggle to amply fulfil her supporting role in both of the major conflicts of the early twenty-first century damaged her reputation and risked significant military embarrassment.

Since the withdrawal from Iraq and the declaration of imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan, the British Army has undergone quickly implemented and very deep cuts. The increase to defence spending that would be required to enable the British Army to successfully enter into two such medium scale military commitments today is, in the intermediate term, unforeseeable. Minor mercies such as today’s announcement make little realistic difference to that uncomfortable and poorly addressed fact.

Where does this leave Britain? Despite Ed Miliband’s recent and uncharacteristic outbreak of pragmatism, the Conservative party is respected as a realistic and frank broker. Sensibly reviewing British defence policy in a manner that the public could understand would lay much needed foundations for British strategy, as well as helping to prevent our ‘can do’ military being overcommitted in future operations. It is in the country’s interest, and the Coalition could do so without alienating core voters; moreover, once a realistic vision of Britain’s hard power capabilities has been established, a less nebulous and myopic foreign and security policy could be shaped.

The Coalition cannot take the easy route and conform to the pattern set by the Blair and Brown governments; continual minimisation of an outmoded and unappreciated fighting force. If we cannot afford to substantially augment H.M. Armed Forces, we must think much harder about what role it must play.

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