Author: Chris Brown

Safe Conducts, Immunities and International Crimes

The arrival in the UK of the Libyan Foreign Minister and former Head of Intelligence, Moussa Koussa, raises some interesting questions. Consider the facts: one the one hand, although Moussa Koussa has, apparently, been a force for moderation in recent years, in his heyday he was an unapologetic defender of the use of force against Libyan dissidents and other opponents of the regime. Quite possibly he planned the Lockerbie and Niger airline bombings, and, if he didn’t, he knows who did and was complicit in the crime and in other acts of terrorism by Libya.  In short, there is a prima facie case that he has committed crimes against humanity for which he should answer in the appropriate national courts or at the ICC in the Hague.  The British Government is insistent that he hasn’t been given any kind of guaranteed immunity from prosecution – and, indeed, no national government would be in a position to give such a guarantee.

On the other hand, it is clearly very much in the interests of the people of Libya that as many as possible of Gaddafi’s associates jump ship, indeed that Gaddafi and his family themselves leave the country, and it is equally clear that the possibility of prosecution in an international court makes this outcome less not more likely. Given a choice between spending the rest of his life in prison in the Netherlands or holding out in Tripoli and hoping that something will turn up, Gaddafi will probably choose the latter, even if the most likely endgame involves a last stand in the family bunker rather than continuing stalemate.  In short, building a golden bridge to allow your enemy to flee (or, more prosaically, providing a safe conduct for a journey into exile) is good realpolitik – but in this case it would also probably save lots of Libyan lives.

I suggest there is a clear difference here between the interests of the international community in seeing crimes against humanity punished as a way of deterring future criminals, and the interests of the Libyan people in removing a criminal regime as effectively and painlessly as possible. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC disagrees; he regards punishing crimes against humanity, in simple terms, as a matter of law and order. Criminals should be tried and if convicted, punished; plea bargains if they co-operate are in order, but immunities and safe-conducts are not, even if the people most directly concerned, in this case in Libya, would be prepared to countenance them.  Even if the overwhelming majority of Gaddafi’s victims were, and are, Libyan (certainly the case, even taking into account his foreign activities) it is not up to the Libyan people to decide his fate – these are crimes against humanity.   Punishing such crimes is in everyone’s interests, including the interests of the Libyan people – there is no clash here.

I’m unconvinced. Here’s a hypothetical; one of the great achievements of the 1990s was the peaceful transfer of power in South Africa, which was based on a deal struck between De Clerk and Mandela to the effect that the crimes of the Apartheid era would go unpunished – there would be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission but no trials of those who defended the Apartheid state.  Suppose, during the negotiations De Clerk and his associates had gone to London and been arrested there (as an assertion of universal jurisdiction over crimes against humanity) to stand trial for past wrongdoings, and as a result the deal had collapsed and South Africa had descended into chaos. Would such an outcome have been in the general interest? I’d suggest not – too high a price would have been paid by ordinary South Africans for the assertion of a principle.

But I’m well aware that the position I’m arguing here is not without its downside. One of the great achievements of the rule of law domestically is to take matters of justice out of the hands of individuals. Instead of regarding crimes as personal matters to be settled by vendetta, revenge or the payment of money to compensate for blood-guilt, they become offences against the state – in the UK in the Middle Ages, the King’s courts gradually asserted control over such alternative means of resolving disputes, and we still describe criminal trials as Regina vs. the defendant.  Ocampa’s position is that the same principle should apply internationally – we are all the victims of crimes against humanity not just whichever group they were committed against, just as murder in a domestic system is a crime against the whole society, even though there is a specific victim. But is there really an international society analogous to modern domestic society, or are we still in a self-help system where individual states make their own decisions on such matters? 
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Theses on Consistency and Intervention

 Since Stephanie has quoted me on the subject, I thought I’d share some thoughts on intervention and consistency.

1.     Consistency is a virtue – but it isn’t the only virtue. Sometimes good judgement points us in the direction of inconsistency; this is so in personal life as well as domestic and international politics. We (most of us) overlook failings in our friends which would upset us in our enemies.  In the realm of sexual politics, we (most of us) cut some slack for Bill Clinton in a way that we wouldn’t, and didn’t, for Clarence Thomas. We (most of us) were prepared to see force used to expel Saddam from Kuwait, but looked the other way when India took Goa or Tanzania overthrew Idi Amin. These are judgements that involve inconsistency but they are, I think, easily defensible on other grounds.
2.     The only consistent approach to intervention is ‘don’t intervene’.  Those with the capacity to act can’t act everywhere and there is no algorithm that will tell us which of the numerous bad things going on in the world deserve the attention of the well-meaning powerful, and which don’t. If consistency is crucial, the only way to achieve it is by not acting.
3.     Many people are happy with the idea of universal inaction; after all, that way there is no collateral damage from enforcing no fly zones, no accidents that have to be apologised for, no need for an exit strategy and so on. But bystander status doesn’t give us clean hands. If those who have the power to act sit and watch while atrocities are committed which they could have prevented then they share at least some of the responsibility for what takes place.

4.     It is interesting that many people on the left are happy to make this argument when it comes to famine relief or the responsibility to act to combat world poverty; they are also happy to use the argument in those cases where no intervention takes place.  But when states actually intervene rather than stand by and watch they are accused of imperialism. No pleasing some people. Of course, the powerful are indeed morally-responsible bystanders in those cases where they don’t intervene. There is no way round this – but it isn’t a reason for being a bystander everywhere.
5.     Actual interventions are never simply ‘values-bases’; they always involve old fashioned, selfish, national interests. There is no reason to be ashamed of this; mixed motives are the norm when it comes to state as well as personal behaviour. No state is going to risk the lives of its soldiers or incur the financial costs of action for altruistic reasons alone.
6.     This does NOT mean ‘it’s all about oil’. If it were all about oil, the logical thing to do would be to look the other way while the Colonel re-establishes control and continue to do business with him as we have in the past. The reasons for acting in Libya as opposed to Côte d’Ivoire, is certainly partly because the former has more oil (and oil is important to all of us) but it’s also because Libya is a Mediterranean country which means that the fallout from a catastrophe is much closer to home for the Europeans who have pushed for action, and because if the Colonel remains in power it is a racing certainty that he will return to his old terrorism-supporting ways – indeed he’s already threatened as much. These are all good reasons that act to support the desire to prevent a massacre in Benghazi and elsewhere and to pressure Gaddafi and sons to take a long holiday in Zimbabwe, and they are all morally legitimate reasons.
In short, intervention in this case may or may not be a good idea – on balance I think it is a good idea – but, either way, arguments about consistency are beside the point.

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Wikileaks, the Daily Telegraph and the ‘Special Relationship’

In his Introduction to the recent New York Times collection of materials on Wikileaks, Open Secrets Bill Keller comments on the way in which the newspapers involved shaped the leaks in accordance with their own agendas. Thus, the Guardian gave extensive coverage to leaked US army accounts of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, reflecting their scepticism about the war; the NYT, on the other hand, took the view that they had already given front page coverage to all the major incidents and so gave this matter much less emphasis. There is no doubt that the Guardian’s perspective was much more in line with that of Julian Assange – but that hasn’t prevented a major fall-out between Wikileaks and the Guardian over the latter’s book and its portrayal of Assange and so now, rather incongruously, the Daily Telegraph, the voice of the Conservative Party in the UK, has become the major recipient of new Wikileaks material. It is interesting to see what they have made of it, where their emphasis lies.
The short answer seems to be that they are interested in highlighting the extent to which Anglo-American relations have soured in recent years. This partly comes through in the material on Libya and the release of al-Mehgrahi in 2009, which admittedly could be seen as serving a Conservative agenda given that it was the last  Labour Government that behaved disingenuously, but goes wider than that.  For example, we have also been told how the US spied on the Foreign Office and gave British nuclear secrets to the Russians. This is all pretty much on a par with telling us about the religious affiliation of the Pope but the emphasis given by the Telegraph suggests that for this newspaper at least  the ‘Special Relationship’ is no longer very special and they are happy to advertise this fact.

What makes this of wider interest is that it fits with other straws in the wind. Consider, for example, the obvious lack of any personal chemistry between President Obama and David Cameron. This isn’t particularly surprising – they have very little in common apart from the possession of first class intellects – but what is rather surprising is that the government doesn’t seem to be concerned by this state of affairs.  Tony Blair clearly regarded establishing a personal relationship with whoever is elected US President as part of the job-description of the British Prime Minister, and most of his predecessors would have agreed, but not Mr Cameron. There is a fascinating contrast here between the PM’s attitude and that of France’s President Sarkozy who has gone out of his way to ingratiate himself with the US President, a role-reversal which has left French public opinion bemused and a little irritated. 
Nor is this simply a matter of personal chemistry.  Foreign Secretary William Hague’s briefings on his current tour of the Middle East have been very critical of Israeli belligerence in a way that opens up a  more substantial gap between British and American policy on the region than has been apparent for a long time. The contrast with Tony Blair’s position on Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006, where Blair was alone among European leaders in refusing to call for an early cease fire, is striking.
It may be that we are witnessing a real moment of change in Britain’s foreign policy.  We should be clear that this doesn’t amount to a re-orientation towards a European as opposed to an Atlantic identity; even though Cameron has better personal relations with both Sarkozy and Angela Merkel than he has with Obama – and it’s difficult to think of any time since 1945 when something similar could be said of a British PM – there is no intention to change in a fundamental way the semi-detached attitude towards Europe characteristic of British governments. Nor will we cease to be loyal allies of the US in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Rather, I think it is a case of a genuine reassessment of Britain’s power in the world and a willingness to abandon at least some of the illusions of grandeur that for so long have survived the end of empire and the loss of real great-power status. David Cameron may actually be the first British leader to have a genuinely post-imperial attitude towards the world, someone who is comfortable to be the Prime Minister of an middle-power and who doesn’t need to have his or his country’s self-esteem boosted by American approval.  In a rather confused, half-assed way, the recent Defence Review reflected this position; it was confused because clearly the Defence Secretary is unreconstructed, but the effective scrapping over time of the new aircraft carriers, and the delay in replacing Trident can, I think, be seen in this light.

But what of the Tory Party?  This is where the Telegraph’s handling of Wikileaks is interesting.  It clearly suggests a scepticism about Britain’s relations with the US, but does it indicate acceptance of a new, lesser but more realistic, understanding of Britain’s place in the world?  We will find out over the next few years.

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Wikileaks and the global public interest

A couple of observations on the Wikileaks diplomatic info-dump as seen from London. First, European governments have been unanimous in their condemnation of Wikileaks, disgraceful undermining of diplomacy etc etc.  But what do they really think? I’m sure they will be philosophical about the content of the US cables. These are the sort of assessments that every diplomat makes, and is supposed to make; I would bet a year’s salary that the sort of things American diplomats said about David Cameron would pale into insignificance beside the sort of things British diplomats said about George W. Bush – indeed I’d bet a month’s salary that they were barely more complimentary about Barack Obama in the early days of his run for the Democratic nomination. There used to be a custom that British Ambassadors when they finally left a posting would write a long, frank valediction – Matthew Parris has just published a collection of these Parting Shots and very amusing (and occasionally xenophobic) they are, and certainly not the kind of text that the locals would have been allowed to see at the time. That’s the nature of diplomacy – as is the allegedly horrifying proposition that diplomats were requested to collect information on their opposite numbers; the State Department added the rider, ‘if possible’ to this general request, and I image US diplomats at the UN and elsewhere will have immediately assessed that e.g. collecting Ban Ki Moon’s credit card numbers wasn’t going to be possible and will have binned the memo.

The point is, foreign governments will understand all this, but what they will find unforgiveable is the fact that the US Government did not protect their own diplomatic correspondence adequately.  It simply isn’t good enough that accounts of conversations with the King of Saudi Arabia or assessments of Putin’s involvement with the Russian mafia are simply graded as Secret and potentially made available to anyone remotely connected to the military and/or homeland security.  Diplomats may understand the need for frank assessments of friends as well as enemies, but popular opinion, led by tabloid journalists and professional anti-Americans will play these indiscretions for all they are worth and then some. This is a self-inflicted wound, and it is no good blaming Wikileaks – although there are things we can blame them for.
This gets to my second point which is that I find it interesting that critics such as Assange are actually so obsessed with what they imagine to be an evil Empire that they come to possess the faults they attribute to it, in particular an insular inability to understand that not everything is about America, and that local actors aren’t simply reacting to US policy, but have goals and minds of their own. The Middle East leaks are a particularly interesting illustration of this point. Without actually saying so, Wikileaks manage somehow to convey the impression that America is stirring up hostility against Iran in the region, a position gratefully accepted and repeated by the Iranian government – but the leaks make it clear that virtually all of  America’s allies in the region want her to get tougher with the Iranians. What Wikileaks has done by releasing this material has been to make it more difficult for America to keep its friends on the reservation, but they seem completely blind to this, presumably on the principle that an increase in the chances that Israel will attack Iran with Saudi covert assistance is a worthwhile price to pay for the opportunity to lessen US influence in the world. This is a rather peculiar understanding of the global public interest; it makes sense only if you are so obsessed by America that nothing else matters.  
The general point is, there are times when it would be good to reduce American influence on particular issues, but there are times when it would be very, very bad indeed.  Wikileaks seem incapable/unwilling to distinguish between these two situations, and that is what makes it a public menace.
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The Anglo-French Treaty and the BBC World Service: Hard Power irrelevance and a threat to the Soft Power of the UK and the West.

On Tuesday of this week, amid much pomp and fanfare (and a certain amount of suppressed hilarity) an Anglo-French Treaty was signed, providing for 50 years (no, really, 50 years) of defence co-operation. I’ve posted on this at the LSE blog here and haven’t much to add – basically there is less to this than meets the eye.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, a little noticed policy poses a genuine threat to one of the major sources of British ‘soft’ power, the BBC World Service.  As part of a wider deal on the funding of the BBC, funding for the Service is to be shifted from a grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to the BBC itself.  A Good Thing you might think, escaping from political control to the independent BBC? If so you would be very, very wrong. This is a disaster in the making.
Although obliged to fund it, the FCO exercises no control over the World Service which has operated in practice as a body independent of both the Government and the BBC.  Now it will become part of the latter. Many foreigners think of the BBC as the source of quality news and documentaries, and boring ‘heritage’ costume dramas (sorry, that was editorialising). This is true, but it is also true that the BBC is a ruthlessly competitive organisation, continually searching for ratings success and seeking to sell its programmes abroad. The loss-making elements of the BBC are continually under pressure; domestic loss makers, such as the serious music and culture channel Radio 3, have a certain amount of protection because they have a vociferous and articulate middle-class audience who give the BBC a bad time whenever cuts are threatened.  In spite of the assurances on continued funding that have been given, I doubt very much whether the World Service – and especially its foreign language broadcasts – will, in practice, have the same kind of protection.  They cost money and their audience doesn’t have a vote or much of a voice in Britain.
It is significant that virtually no British politician has expressed concern at the fate of the World Service – but Hillary Clinton has.  She, and the State Department in general, are well aware that the BBC World Service is an important asset not simply for Britain but for the West in general; when Barack Obama wanted to talk directly to the Iranian  people he used the BBC’s Farsi service because of its loyal audience in Iran, based on the reputation for integrity it has earned over the years with the Iranian people. Let’s hope it is still there in five years time.
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What do you call an aircraft carrier with no aircraft? HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The London School of Economics runs a blog on British politics to which I contribute occasionally; this week I’ve posted on the British Government’s defence review, and I thought I’d share this with the Duck readership. A little bit of context: the new British government is simultaneously engaging in developing a National Security Strategy, while conducting a Comprehensive Spending Review and a Defence Review. The previous government made a number of rather bizarre defence procurement decisions without much sense of how they would be paid for so there is a problem here not entirely of the present government’s making. The majority Conservative Party in the governmental coalition is traditionally in favour of a strong defence, and in particular wishes to replace the existing Trident submarines – Britain’s nuclear deterrent – when they become obsolete. The Liberal Democrats, minority party in the coalition are less gung-ho generally and want an alternative to a submarine based deterrent.  Liam Fox, the Conservative Defence Secretary is on the right-wing of the party, and stood for the leadership against the current Prime Minister, David Cameron.  Cameron and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, are rather more firmly based in the 21st century and I suspect are less pro-defence spending than Fox, but the latter has out-manoeuvred them in the short term at least… now read on!

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Fun and Games in Delhi

The Commonwealth Games begin tomorrow in Delhi, which offers a good excuse for some thoughts on two neglected topics in contemporary international relations – India and the Commonwealth. With 54 nations involved the Games are a major international sporting event, and were bid for by India as a way of demonstrating their emerging significance in the world, a kind of Olympics in a minor key that would do for the Indian bit of the BRIC nations what the Beijing Olympics did for China. To put it mildly, things have not quite worked out as intended. Some twenty plus firms were involved in the construction of facilities, corruption was near universal, and ten days ago the athlete’s village was still under construction and filthy. A small bridge collapsed injuring dozens. Part of the roof of the weightlifting venue fell down. A heavy Monsoon rain has led to dengue fever being epidemic in Delhi and – you couldn’t make this up – two days ago the Chief Medical Officer for the games went down with suspected typhoid. A plague of frogs is the obvious next step. In the insult to injury category, the Pakistani team have complained about poor security, a complaint that does seem to be justified; an Australian journalist strolled round the village with an imitation bomb in his rucksack without being challenged. A games official managed to make things worse by suggesting that complaints about hygiene and cleanliness reflected western standards which weren’t appropriate, a position that many Africans and Asians found rather offensive – strangely, their athlete’s didn’t appreciate the idea that they were OK with their beds being smeared with doggy-doo.

All this has lead to a stream of press commentary, Indian as well as British, Australian etc, to the effect that this reveals the hollowness of the Indian economic miracle, that first world India co-exists with a very visible third world India, and generally that this sort of thing wouldn’t, indeed didn’t, happen in China. I’d draw a somewhat different message. Yes, third world India is more visible than third world China, but that isn’t because the latter doesn’t exists, it’s because it is hidden up-country, out of the way of western TV cameras. Yes, there is corruption and in China some of the people involved had they dared to have misbehaved would probably have faced a firing squad – but that’s the difference between India and China. For all its many faults, India is a relatively free, pluralistic society. Corruption and incompetence survive because the draconian measures need to end them in a poor country would be unacceptable – and, for that matter, haven’t succeeded in China.

In any event, the games will go ahead and I predict will be successful if, at times, enjoyably chaotic; those stars who have pulled out may regret their decision. The Chief Minister for Delhi, Sheila Dikshit, took personal charge of the project, the village has been cleaned up at high speed by drafting in cleaners from luxury Indian hotels, that is staff who were well aware of the standard required, and the other facilities are, more or less, finished albeit only in the nick of time. The moral is that Indians are excellent improvisers and muddlers-through. My bet is that this quality will serve them well in the years to come. Sooner or later – I’d guess sooner – China will hit a serious political speed bump and the authoritarian regime there will either have to clamp down on the economic miracle, or change dramatically and risk anarchy. India hits political speed bumps approximately once every six weeks (the latest concerns the Mosque/Temple at Ayodhya), but its institutions are resilient and it survives, and will prosper. More power to its arm.

And what of the Commonwealth? It’s a confusing institution to most Americans, and nowadays to most Brits as well – if you want to find an enthusiast, find a Canadian, or perhaps a member of the British royal family. The cynic might say that originally the British Commonwealth, as it then was but nowadays very definitely isn’t, was designed to allow traditionalist Brits to think the Empire was still in existence. But while British no longer care about the loss of Empire, the Commonwealth survives and prospers – indeed it now has new members who weren’t even former British colonies, Mozambique and Rwanda. How did this happen?

Different countries have different reasons for supporting the Commonwealth – in Canada’s case it is to distinguish them from big brother down south, for Rwanda’s political class it is a way of countering French influence, for all the developing countries it is a source of aid and favourable trade with the developed country members. Looked at from a global perspective it is interesting that this is one of the few institutions where national leaders from North and South can relate to one another in an informal context. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGMs) which take place every two years (next meeting 2011 in Australia) under a rotating Chairperson (currently Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar of Trinidad & Tobago) are occasions where leaders from differently parts of the world can talk informally without interpreters and in a kind of family atmosphere, under the benign gaze of the nominal Head of the Commonwealth, Queen Elizabeth. Incidentally, interesting if pointless factoid, because the Queen is the Head of the Commonwealth, members don’t have Embassies to each other, they have High Commissions – even the Republics go along with this fiction.

The Commonwealth has at least a nominal commitment to democratic government, and has suspended from membership (and thus trade and aid privileges) countries where coups have taken place or where there are systematic violations of civil liberties. All in all, it would be difficult to argue that the Commonwealth is a major player on the world stage, but it does make a small contribution towards making the world a more civilised place, and in that task we need all the help we can get.

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Miliband of Brothers (Stolen from Channel 4, but too good not to reuse)

For my first Duck post to be so parochial is a shame, but I can’t resist commenting on the result of Labour’s leadership election, declared a couple of hours ago. For someone such as myself who was once, briefly, one of Ralph Miliband’s students at LSE in the 1960s, the idea that the son of the author of Parliamentary Socialism should now be the leader of the British Labour Party is weird. That he should have obtained that post by beating his elder brother is positively surreal. Brothers have quite often competed for the top job in old-style monarchies – indeed, in the Ottoman Empire it was standard practice for the winner to have his male siblings garrotted, food for thought for both David and Ed Miliband this evening– but I can’t think of any similar instance in a modern political party. But perhaps we ought not to be surprised. David and Ed may be actual brothers, but virtually the entire leadership of the British political class, including the Prime Minister and his Deputy, have so much in common that they form an unofficial fraternity. They are all white men, late 30s or early 40s, educated at Oxford or Cambridge, former political advisers and policy wonks none of whom have ever held what members of the public would regard as a proper job for more than a month or two. They even wear the same suits and ties.

Ed beat his elder brother on the fourth round of voting by 50.6% to 49.4% after trailing on the first three rounds, in itself hardly a ringing endorsement, but more significant is the composition of his support. The Labour Party system for electing a leader, introduced in 1983, employs an electoral college in which one third of the votes go to the party’s Members of Parliament and European MPs, one third to ordinary members of the party in the constituencies, and one third to the unions. David won the first two categories (heavily in the early ballots) and Ed got home only by winning a larger proportion of the union vote. He is the first leader of the party elected under the new system not to have the support of all three elements of the college.
Miliband’s first speech as leader made the usual ritual references to a fresh start and reaching out to the public, but the reality is that the unions voted for him because he declared himself willing to support them in their campaign against the cuts in public spending that the Coalition is about to introduce, while David supported a more nuanced approach, recognising that the deficit poses a real problem and that the Labour Party, if it were still in government would be proposing at least some cuts. This was the position on which the Labour government fought the last election; David believed it was the correct policy and – rightly in my opinion – that that the general public simply wouldn’t accept as credible a reversal of this stance in opposition. Just such a reversal is what the new party leader is now going to be held to by the unions who put him in power.
Quite right too, I imagine some members of the traditional left will say – but an indiscriminate policy of support for industrial action in these circumstances will simply play into the hands of the Coalition. The core electoral battleground in the UK nowadays is in the southern half of England – Labour wins the Celtic fringe and much of the North, but this year only around 50 of the ca. 300 (out of 650 in total) parliamentary seats in the South of the country. Not enough – and the last thing that is going to bring these voters back is a campaign of strikes. Moreover, back in the 1970s the Unions were powerful enough to bring their members out for weeks at a time, and really did challenge the ability of government to govern. Nowadays the rank-and-file won’t stand for the loss of pay such long strikes lead to, and loss of legal immunities make long strikes hazardous for the unions themselves; it’s a matter of 24 hour stoppages at most, which irritate the public, but leave the government unworried.
Perhaps Ed Miliband will be able to find a way to keep the unions happy while not alienating the people he will need to vote for him in 2015 when the next election comes along. But he’ll have to do this knowing that the MPs in the Parliamentary party, and the ordinary members in the constituencies wanted someone else for the job. He might surprise us all by squaring the circle, but somehow I doubt it – my bet is that the terms under which he won the leadership of the party will ensure that he never wins the Premiership. That was certainly true of an earlier Labour Leader (and strong supporter of Ed), Neil Kinnock, and it is the view of the Government which has been silently praying that Ed would beat his brother. One senses a sigh of relief in David Cameron’s very generous welcome to the new leader.
As someone favourably disposed to the Labour Party I think this is regrettable – but even a neutral might feel that if there is one thing we have learnt in Britain over the last thirty years under both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, it is that good government positively requires a strong and credible opposition. Perhaps more important, the lack of a strong, well-led Labour Party will have consequences in Europe where the Right continue to dominate (note the unprecedented strength of the extreme right in the recent Swedish election) – and there’s a real irony here. Last November, when Europe was appointing its ‘President’ and ‘Foreign Minister’, David Miliband would have been a shoo-in for the latter job; he turned it down in order to stay in British politics. How he must be regretting that decision now – and given the zero impact of the person who actually got the job (Lady Ashton since you ask) the rest of the European left will share those regrets.

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