Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Saving Europe: The UK Election

On May 5th, the Brits elect their next parliament, pretty much determining if the UK is absorbed in the EU. Here are the main contestants and what the US can do.

Blair’s Labour. Pro-EU absorption. As an example, Blair just traded key Brit economic interests to help the absorption go through, by agreeing with Chirac and Schroeder to ban a free market for services in the EU. Since the UK is a service economy, this is a big hit. However French polls show that competition for services could cause the French to vote against absorption, so action had to be taken.

Conservative. Anti-EU absorption. Maggie’s party, but a shadow of what she created. Currently led by an opportunist control freak who has alienated his base. Opportunism included moving his party from supporting to opposing the Iraq war. Not unreasonably, this got him blackballed by the Bush administration.

Liberal Democrats. Very pro-EU absorption. Has about 20% of voters.

UK Independence. Very anti-EU absorption, single issue anti-EU. Has a core of maybe 10-15% of voters, but single-issue stance makes it so hard to see this growing.

A wild card is Gordon Brown, Blair’s number 2 and opponent within the Labour party. If Blair suffers a major reverse at the election, Brown might take his job. As Finance Minister, Brown has prevented Blair from dumping the Pound for the Euro. And, unlike Blair, he vacations in the US. But he’s a statist who has diverted about 0.5% of UK annual growth into socialist nostrums, so he’s more in tune with Euro socialists than Republicans. There’s no way of knowing what he’d do if he led the Labour party - he's just Not Blair.

So, from a US and anti-EU absorption viewpoint, here are the outcomes ranked in order of desirability.

1. Conservative and UKIP form a coalition.

Preferred because dependence on UKIP will limit opportunism in the Conservative leader.

2. Conservative win.

Vulnerable to the leader switching sides, which given the enormous pressures the EU will bring to bear is a distinct risk.

3. Labour wins with very small majority.

This maximizes the chance that Blair will be forced to resign and Brown will take over. Then it’s a crapshoot, but the risk of a good outcome beats the certainty of a bad Blair outcome.

4. Labour wins convincingly.

Blair will then use every trick in the book (and many not yet invented!) to get a Brit Yes for the referendum on EU absorption. And he’ll ignore a No vote. The US kisses Europe goodbye.

How can US influence the outcome? Of course direct interference would be both improper and counterproductive.

Instead, I suggest that the Bush administration removes negatives from the Conservative party, by informally repairing relationships with it. Nothing big, just a few mid-level meetings with Conservative pols, delivering Brit headlines along the lines of “Conservatives Level US Playing Field”. And, to stop Blair wrapping himself in the flag, have Cheney make some of his amiable-wise-owl-style comments about alliances transcending individual politicians.

I appreciate that many Americans may find it hard to see Blair as an enemy. And in fairness, he’s not - he’s just a viscerally pro-EU opportunist. He allied on Iraq to trade on gut Brit support for the US. Then used his ally status to delay the invasion 6 months by persuading the US to jump through UN hoops. He was good cop to Chirac/Schroeder’s bad cop. His military contribution in Iraq has been weak, he continues to victimize the troops he sent there, and is now planning on pulling them out.

Bottom line: the Bush administration should make (small time) nice to the Conservatives and wave Blair farewell. Then trust the British people.