Neil O’Brien: Challenges for the new Prime Minister 1) Energy. The Treasury will advise limited nuclear and carbon capture. It should be ignored.

1 Aug

Neil O’Brien was until recently a Miister at the Department of Levelling up. He is MP for Harborough.

Ah, the 1970s. The nostalgia industry has given the decade a familiar iconography.

Flared jeans and Milton Keynes… Mullahs in Iran….The Magic RoundaboutMy Sweet Lord and Concorde… decimalisation, stagflation and women’s’ liberation… Star Wars, Jaws, The Doors… Vietnam, Spam and Glam…. roller skates and economic policy mistakes.

Some of the most enduring images of the 1970s are the multiple energy crises. Office workers typing by candlelight during the miners’ strike. Cars queuing for petrol after the oil shock.

Among the most urgent questions facing our new Prime Minister is: are we heading back to the 70s this winter?

Gas prices in Europe went up a third last week after Russia said it will limit the flow to Germany. Goldman Sachs says recession in Europe is more likely than not. The US is already in recession. Last week saw predictions that household energy bills here could hit £4,000 a year.

Britain has decent gas supply: just under half our gas comes from our own continental shelf, a third via pipeline (almost all from Norway) and a quarter from LNG imports.

But the UK is unusually gas dependent: 40 per cent of our energy is from gas, compared to 25 per cent in the EU. Both UK and EU are in a traded market, with prices many times higher than the longer run average.

The UK also starts from really high industrial electricity prices, so increases are even tougher on industry.

A really high price becomes pretty similar in practice to a physical shutoff. Energy feeds into the price of everything else: McDonalds just raised the price of a cheeseburger for the first time in 14 years.

Countries around us are preparing for the worst. Germany is both ramping coal power and reducing demand, creating a market to reward companies that reduce gas consumption. EU members just reached an agreement to reduce gas consumption 15 per cent over the winter.

Short term

Over recent decades, policy focussed on optimisation not resilience: making things leaner, not tougher.

Now, in a more volatile world, that looks like a mistake. We stopped requiring a copper wire alongside new fibre phonelines, meaning a powercut now means phones cut too. We shuttered gas storage, sold gold, outsourced the production of vital medical kit to a dictatorship that hates us…

It’s the same story in energy, so our short-term options are limited. We can try increase our tiny gas storage. In February, the UK had just 8.5 terawatt-hours of stored gas, versus 36 in France, 79 in Germany and 84 in Italy – ten times more than us.

The Business Department just gave Centrica permission to try reopen the Rough storage facility, closed in 2017. But there are big engineering challenges. And while storage can help smooth spikes in prices, it doesn’t stop long term increases. Nor is there an option to stop exports: we export gas in summer but import in the winter. We’ll be extremely dependent on continental partners sticking to their side of the bargain.

National Grid have persuaded four out of five remaining coal power stations to delay closure which will help.

We could build a contractual market for demand reductions from businesses, as countries others are. National Grid imply they’re trying to do this, but their winter outlook is a bit opaque, perhaps to avoid people freaking out. An orderly market is better than industrial firms being forced out of business by price spikes. Public sector buildings could be the first participants.

Government could promote domestic savings too – it’s amazing that turning down the thermostat one degree can save large amounts.

Long term

In the longer term we’ve more options. What we do about nuclear is the biggest choice. Reducing reliance on gas would spike Vladimir Putin’s energy weapon.

At present, just 15 per cent of our electricity is nuclear, but only one station is being built, and all existing stations will be closed within a decade – Hinkley Point B shuts this week. The Energy Security Strategy included an aspiration to increase nuclear to 25 per cent of electricity by 2050, and said we’d take one new project to final investment decision this Parliament.

Yet the decision on nuclear is far from made.

In the new Prime Minuster’s early meetings, Treasury officials will sketch out an attractive-looking scenario with more limited nuclear, in which unproven technologies like carbon capture take the strain.

They’ll probably skim over the fact that this scenario involves us installing solar panels covering an area nearly the size of Greater Manchester.

They will argue that Great British Nuclear should be a “small, nimble organisation” and that we should “leave it to the market” to develop.

This would mean we build absolutely no new nuclear power, and the new Prime Minister should ignore them:

  • Even if prices fall, Russia has shown it will use energy as a weapon, and that won’t change.
  • Gas prices already soared in 2021, pre-invasion – as Dieter Helm points out, uncertainty is high and we can’t assume a future of low, stable prices.
  • With the global population exploding and relative power of the west declining, we should reduce our dependence on the kindness of strangers.
  • Demand for electricity is soaring: the Review of Electricity Market Arrangements last month suggested we need to triple capacity by 2035.
  • Renewables are intermittent, and can’t always supply at the key moment. National Grid calculates “Equivalent Firm Capacity”: how much reliable capacity a resource can displace without increasing the risk of blackouts. A combined cycle gas turbine is rated at 90 per cent, coal and nuclear at 80 per cent, but offshore wind at just 8.5 per cent, onshore wind at 6.3 per cent, and solar at 3.3 per cent, because it’s not sunny during the UK’s winter use peak. We need firm power.
  • The volume of onshore renewables we are already planning is likely to lead to extensive industrialisation of the countryside.
  • By a happy coincidence, the potential sites for new nuclear tend to be in coastal locations needing levelling up – the coasts of Cumbria and Lancashire, Anglesey, Hartlepool and so on.

Two things drive the cost of nuclear. The first is the cost of capital. The recent decision to move to a system where it is funded on balance sheet largely solves that.

The second is commissioning at scale. The countries that built nuclear cheaply benefitted from learning-by-doing – having the same teams building the same thing again and again. That’s what the French did in the 1970s and 1980s (in red below) and the South Koreans more recently (in pink).

The new Prime Minister should gear up Great British Nuclear to commission a substantial pipeline of plants. It should get control over the nuclear sites and drive the use of as much British content as possible.

There are choices about which technology to use. Newly nationalised EDF are unlikely to want to do more. We could partner with the Koreans, arguably the world leaders. We could buy back technology from Westinghouse, or buy equity in it. (Gordon Brown sold it to Toshiba in 2006, it’s now owned by a Canadian fund).

Or we could order a substantial number of small/medium sized, factory-built reactors from Rolls Royce, which might also open the way to exports in coming decades. That might also give some more flexibility we would be buying in smaller “lumps”.

Either way, the key is to make a clear decision and stick with it, and not do what the UK keeps doing, and building expensive one-off reactors.

Churchill said you should “never let a good crisis go to waste”. The new Prime Minister should seize this grim moment to end our energy dependence on hostile powers.

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Stephen Booth: Winter is coming, and Putin shall use Europe’s reliance on Russian gas to break the West’s resolve

28 Jul

European reliance on Russian gas has always been a weapon available to Vladimir Putin. Now winter is coming, and Putin is using it to exert maximum pressure to test the resolve of the EU countries that are most dependent on Russian gas, in the hope that he can find cracks in the West’s collective position. This week Gazprom announced that Russia-to-Germany gas flows via the Nord Stream pipeline will fall to about 20 per cent of normal capacity, halving the current supply.While the EU will feel the brunt of the coming supply crunch, the UK cannot escape the knock-on effects on prices. Households have already seen huge increases to energy bills. Unfortunately, the worst is yet to come.Last week, the European Commission warned that a complete Russian shutoff was likely and that EU countries should reduce their gas consumption by 45 billion cubic meters (bcm) from August to March – equivalent to an EU-wide cut of around 15 per cent. This week, EU energy ministers reached a watered down deal that, when accounting for various carve-outs, produces a gas savings target of closer to 10 per cent, or around 30 bcm, according to analysts.Island states such as Malta, Cyprus, and Ireland, which do not have a direct connection to the European grid, are fully exempt from the target. As are countries whose electricity systems are connected to the Russian grid and which would need to burn gas for electricity should Moscow completely cut them off – such as the Baltic states.EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson has previously said that the gap between supply and demand “would be around 30 bcm in an average winter, 45 bcm in a colder one, and even larger if the winter is exceptionally cold — and we assume that non-Russian [liquefied natural gas] and pipeline supply will remain high through the winter.” Therefore, the deal reached this week might not be enough to cover any shortfall if this winter is colder than average or if there are any issues with non-Russian supply.Due to the legacy of strategic miscalculations under Angela Merkel, Germany is among those countries that would be worst affected by a Russian gas shutdown. Germany’s decisions to phase out its nuclear generating capacity and double down on Russian gas are now coming home to roost, and sympathy from fellow EU member states has been limited.A decade ago, the eurozone debt crisis tested European solidarity to the limit. Germany insisted that the southern members of the single currency do their fiscal “homework” after living beyond their means. “We can’t have a common currency where some get lots of vacation time and others very little,” Angela Merkel told a party conference in 2011. Eurozone members in receipt of financial aid were subject to tough austerity measures that were both economically and politically painful.Now the shoe is on the other foot and there has been some notable reluctance to bail out Germany following its strategic blunder on energy security. Several member states pushed back strongly against the European Commission’s original proposal for gas rationing. The main argument being that it’s unfair to ask the same level of effort from all countries, when some are much more dependent on Russia than others. In a thinly veiled jibe at Germany, Spain’s Energy Minister Teresa Ribera Rodríguez said, “Unlike other countries, we Spaniards have not lived beyond our means from an energy point of view.”Greece, Portugal, Italy, and Cyprus – all on the receiving end of lectures on fiscal rectitude from Berlin throughout the eurozone crisis – also opposed the Commission’s original gas plan. Meanwhile, the Polish government’s spokesman, Piotr Müller, suggested that Germany is making selective calls for solidarity. “I would like to see the same solidarity on the part of Germany by supplying arms to the east of Ukraine in order to make Europe safer,” he said.The economic impact of a cessation of Russian gas exports is likely to be severe. Since April, the IMF has already revised down its projections for EU growth to 2.8 per cent in 2022 and 1.6 per cent in 2023. The outlooks for Germany and Italy – the largest and third largest eurozone economies are both highly dependent on Russian imports – are substantially lower than forecast in April. Next year, the German economy is expected to grow by only 0.8 per cent and the Italy’s by 0.7 per cent.However, this latest forecast does not take into account the increasingly likely scenario of a complete Russian gas shutoff. In this scenario, the IMF estimates that Germany and Italy would both face supply shortfalls of around 15 per cent of their normal consumption. The economic knock-on effects of this supply crunch would be significant. The IMF estimates that this would further slash another 1.3 percentage points from the EU’s 2023 growth forecast, resulting in “near-zero regional growth”.The UK would not be directly impacted by physical gas supply disruption, as it imports only around 4% of its gas from Russia. However, it is affected by rising prices in the global markets as demand in Europe increases, increasing consumer bills, and adding further upward pressure to inflation. The new Prime Minister will face increasing calls for further economic support to households, and the leadership candidates should prepare the public for further bad economic weather to come from the Continent.

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Book review: Murray tries and fails to stir up panic about a “war on the West”

27 May

The War on the West: How to Prevail in the Age of Unreason  by Douglas Murray

This author makes, in his introduction, a number of preposterous claims. Here is his opening paragraph:

“In recent years it has become clear that there is a war going on: a war on the West. This is not like earlier wars, where armies clash and victors are declared. It is a cultural war, and it is being waged remorselessly against all the roots of the Western tradition and against everything good that the Western tradition has produced.”

How can Douglas Murray suggest that this “war”, as he terms it, has only “in recent years” become apparent?

At pretty much any time one cares to name in recent centuries, conservatives have feared that tradition is in danger both from barbarian invaders, and from reformers within the gates who wish to sweep away all we have built, and erect a glittering new edifice in which their reign of virtue can begin.

The French Revolutionaries promised this. Various varieties of Communist promised it. In the 1960s, rebellious students and satirists set out to subvert every traditional source of authority.

In order to justify his hysterical tone, Murray goes in search of enemies who today pose a mortal threat. By page four he has found the Communist Party of China, and complains:

“almost nobody speaks of China with an iota of the rage and disgust poured out daily against the West from inside the West.”

That is true, and this reviewer would not wish for one moment to downplay the horrors perpetrated by China. But the same double standard was applied by many in the West to the Soviet Union.

The problem is not new, and working out what to do about it, or how to contain it, is the work of decades, perhaps of centuries.

But Murray’s fiercest argument is with those inside the West who wish to debilitate the West. In 2017, he recalls, he brought out The Strange Death of Europe, in which (as he says in the volume under review) he asked why the Europeans have allowed mass migration, “and why they were expected to abolish themselves in order to survive”.

According to Murray, only Western countries “were told constantly that in order to have any legitimacy at all…they should swiftly and fundamentally alter their demographic makeup”.

That is a gross over-simplification. In pretty much every Western country, there have been big arguments about immigration. In Australia, the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy, pretty much anywhere one cares to name, politicians have come to realise they will only possess legitimacy if they avert unrestricted immigration.

Africans are at this moment suffering in abominable camps in Libya because the European Union has devised ways to stop them crossing the Mediterranean.

A further paradox, untouched on by Murray, is that many British politicians of immigrant descent – one thinks of such figures as Kwasi Kwarteng, Rishi Sunak, Suella Braverman, Priti Patel and Kemi Badenoch – express conservative opinions with wonderful gusto.

If Enoch Powell were still alive, he would perhaps concede that the British nation and British political tradition have proved more adaptable, and durable, than he had feared.

Where does Brexit fit in Murray’s narrative of a war on the West? He ignores that question and is instead indignant that “we have been pushed into racial hyper-awareness”:

“In recent years, I have come to think of racial issues in the West as being like a pendulum that has swung past the point of correction and into overcorrection.”

He continues:

“Racism is not the sole lens through which our societies can be understood, and yet it is increasingly the only lens used. Everything in the past is seen as racist, and so everything in the past is tainted.”

Is this really true, or is the pendulum already swinging back against such a simplistic reading of history? On one of my regular walks I pass a house, on a leafy slope on the Highgate side of Hampstead Heath, in the window of which for some months I was faintly irritated to see a hand-written sign which said “SILENCE IS VIOLENCE”.

The sign has now been taken down. I accept that this does not amount to conclusive proof that the moral panic which swept at hurricane force across Britain as well as America after the murder of George Floyd has blown itself out.

But things have died down a bit. No more statues have been thrown into Bristol harbour. Churchill still stands in Parliament Square, his plinth at present unsullied by accusations that he was a racist.

On page 126 of his book, Murray alludes to a Policy Exchange pamphlet in which Andrew Roberts and Zewditu Gebreyohanes rebutted the slurs cast at Churchill in February 2021 during a panel discussion at Churchill College, Cambridge.

So the pendulum does still swing, and contentions which for a short time have held sway are exposed to criticism, and cease to be quite so fashionable. It turns out to be possible to disapprove in the strongest terms of racism, without supposing it offers a complete interpretation of the past.

Gebreyohanes has just become Director of Restore Trust, an organisation set up, as she explained in a piece for The Times, to return the National Trust to its founding values and objectives.

Murray is in grave need of opponents, and inclined to magnify their importance. Many of those he finds are in the United States. He digs up Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, both of whom used to be more influential than they are now, and various other figures who may or may not become influential.

Karl Marx is dug up too, and we are reminded of some of that thinker’s today unacceptable views on race. Murray remarks ruefully that although the bust of Marx in Highgate Cemetery has from time to time been daubed in red paint, there have been “no online petitions or crowd efforts to pull it down and kick it into a nearby river”.

There is actually no river nearby, and to kick this colossal bust anywhere would be a difficult task, liable to end in many stubbed toes.

Marx, however, suffers what is in some ways a greater humiliation. He is ridiculed, or treated as a mere curiosity. If one does not wish to pay to enter the cemetery, one can see him through the railings on the southern edge of Waterlow Park, at a distance which reduces the bust to an acceptable size.

That is how the British public has long been inclined to deal with intellectuals who take themselves too seriously: it peers through the railings and laughs at them.

It seldom occurs to Murray that the best way to deal with fashionable absurdities is to laugh at them, and to trust to the good sense and conservatism of the wider public. Edmund Burke (absent from this book) put the point with genius in his Reflections on the Revolution in France:

“Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome, insects of the hour.”

Murray has flattered the loud and troublesome insects of the hour by writing a whole book about them.

Since this ill-titled volume went to press, Vladimir Putin has ordered the invasion of Ukraine. There the true war on the West is being waged. The Ukrainians’ fight for freedom reminds us how trivial most of the pseudo-war recounted in this book really is.

Matt Hancock: Putin’s war is reminding us of a lasting truth – that our system and values are better than his

25 May

Matt Hancock is a former Secretary of State for Health, and is MP for West Suffolk.

The battles we see across Eastern Ukraine, for Mariupol, Donetsk, Severodonetsk and countless towns and villages, is not just a fight to protect European security against brutal, criminal, aggression. Of course, it is that – and, alone, that need to bring justice for the horrific crimes committed is enough to justify the war.

It is not even just a fight for the immutability of international borders, and the protection of all nations from strong offensive neighbours, vital as that is. It is not even just about protecting the food supplies to the poorest countries on earth, although that alone is an ethical imperative.

The battle for Ukraine is a fight for enlightenment values, of the liberty of people and the freedom of self-determination of nation states.

The brave soldiers fighting these battles for Ukraine are winning a fight for us all. In doing so, it is critical we support Ukraine in a fight to win. It is, as the inspirational Volodymyr Zelensky has said, for Ukraine and Ukraine alone to determine her future. That is what self-determination is all about.

The recent drive, apparently coordinated between Paris and Berlin, to push Ukraine for a compromise settlement must be resisted, as it would incentivise aggression, on the grounds that at least you might win some ground. Would you offer a wolf the sacrifice of just one limb?

On the contrary, Russia’s attack has so spectacularly failed in its bid to split NATO and undermine the West, and we must ensure that Ukraine alone decides her future. Giving up any ground now may appear to help in the short term, but it will undoubtedly cause far-reaching problems down the line.

If we fail to support Ukraine to win back her land, what’s stopping China, or any other dictatorship for that matter, doing exactly what Russia has done to Ukraine? Any such action would inevitably act as a green light – offering little to no deterrent.

While the war in Ukraine still rages on, we have seen some progress this week. Amid the bitter fighting, one border post was recaptured, painted in the now familiar yellow and blue that we see on flagpoles everywhere. In a highly symbolic manoeuvre, the Ukrainian army has pushed back the invaders to their border. Who are we to tell the Ukrainian people that some of them would have to live under the Russian yolk, with the dictatorial tyranny this brings?

For this war is bigger than being about security, or justice. It’s about our way of life.

Here, I see a glimmer of hope. For we can now see, with the clarity that comes from a shocking sight, that the drift to dictatorship in Russia and China has awful consequences.  Throughout my political life, support for democracy has waned, and those who see the cacophony of debate as a weakness have espoused their “strong man” theory of government.

I have long worried about the increasing numbers of people who have seemingly admired one party systems, and seen the long term horizons and lack of debate as a good thing, or at least, a price worth paying for prosperity and strength. In the wake of the economic crash, the expenses scandal, and growing social media noise over the past decade or so, it’s been harder to make the argument for the principles embedded in the enlightenment of the promotion of individual liberty and democratic institutions as the cornerstone of a good society.

If, like me, you think that everyone has a contribution to make, and that the role of society is to help everyone reach that potential, then the counterexample that the rights of the individual should be subordinate to the needs of the state seemed to be gaining ground. Open, liberal democracies support innovation and protect people from the overweening state.

Instead, over the past decade, the Russian invasion of Crimea, and President Xi’s removal of term limits should have told us clearly where this move away from supporting democracy would lead. But the case for democracy, especially among younger voters, has increasingly fell on deaf ears.

But democracy isn’t only morally superior but practically superior too. Dictatorship is not only bad but rubbish. Dictators and dictatorships suffocate innovation. By their very nature, they restrict freedom and don’t allow people to get on with whatever they choose to do without getting consent from any given dictatorial regime.

In a dictatorship, people tell you what they think you want to hear. I know from experience that, in liberal democracies like ours, plenty of people tell you what you don’t want to hear. It is essential we in the West don’t take this for granted and win again the case for democracy.

Now those of us who cherish democracy, with all of its noise and flaws, have two stark and real examples. China’s continued attempt at a Zero Covid policy is bringing misery.  Its refusal to use vaccines that work, like the Oxford vaccine, because they aren’t Chinese, is plunging their economy into freewill and driving up prices and harming prosperity everywhere. And just look at the shocking treatment by the Chinese dictatorship revealed by the Uyghur Police Files story this week.

China’s abuses of minorities and Russia’s horrific war are showing dictatorship up for what it is. Talking to the wonderful Ukrainian family I’m hosting in my home in West Suffolk makes me feel this particularly acutely.

No longer can democracy be seen as a soft alternative to bold and decisive regimes.  So yes, we must help Ukraine win its war, for the justice for people in Ukraine, and we must support them to win without concession to bolster security everywhere.

But even more than that, we must win once again the case for freedom, for the moral force of the democratic way of life, and win over another generation that this, in the words of Churchill, is the worst system, except all the others that have been tried. That, once more, is proving itself a timeless truth. That is what our brothers and sisters in Ukraine are fighting for – and we must be with them to the end.

Peter Franklin: Don’t turn the Conservative Party into a cargo cult

23 May

Peter Franklin is an Associate Editor of UnHerd.

In the 1930s and 40s, the US military established military bases across the south Pacific. As a result remote island cultures, with little or no contact with the outside world, suddenly found themselves face-to-face with the might of twentieth century America. Though the islanders were in no position to understand the outsiders’ technology, for a brief moment they were able to share in its benefits. But then something terrible happened: the visitors went away again.

It may be that some of the islanders were happy to see the back of the Americans, but others were desperate for the visitors — and their hitherto unimaginable wealth — to return. Indeed, in some places that longing took on a religious aspect.

So-called cargo cults sprang up in numerous locations. Cult practices sometimes took the form of ritually re-enacting the mysterious things that the visitors got up to — like clearing landing strips in the jungle. In other cases, mock aircraft were created out of local materials and symbols like the Red Cross reproduced as objects of reverence. The hope was that such rites would somehow bring back what had been lost.

Cargo cults might seem ridiculous to us — and in fact the term itself has fallen out of academic favour for that very reason. However, we westerners would be foolish to assume that we’re not susceptible to the same kind of thinking. Instead of working through the challenges that face us in the here-and-now, it is often easier to re-enact scenes from an imagined heyday.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with respecting the past and trying to learn from it. But equally we must be aware that our problems are constantly changing, and the solutions that we apply must change with them.

I’m worried that a discombobulated Conservative Party has forgotten this. Consider, for instance, our response to the return of inflation — and the criticism directed at the Bank of England for not getting on top of it. Clearly, we’ve got a major problem on our hands, but the idea that we can solve it by yanking up interest rates — because that’s what worked before — is pure cargo cultism.

The inflationary monster today is not the same beast that was slain in the 1980s. Nor does its origin lie in the last decade or so of very low interest rates, otherwise it would have shown itself years ago. Rather, the beast was born out of the extraordinary disruption to global supply chains caused by the pandemic and compounded by Putin’s war.

There was a furious reaction when the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, suggested that policymakers were helpless in the face of these inflationary pressures. Bailey could have chosen his words more carefully, but he’s a lot closer to the truth than those who believe that UK interest rates can control global commodity prices.

Other Conservatives see a lack of growth as a bigger problem than rocketing prices. In the long term, they’re probably right — but they’re wrong about the means by which they want to revive the economy: i.e. tax cuts. Again, we see a demand for the ritual re-enactment of policies from the Thatcher era; but the conditions that applied then don’t apply now.

We’re not perpetually on the wrong side of the Laffer Curve. Rather our number one economic problem is the chronic failure of British business to invest in productivity improvements — despite the incentives of lower Corporation Tax, cheap migrant labour and minimal borrowing costs. The Chancellor acknowledged this structural impediment in his Mais Lecture earlier this year, but even he felt the need to appease the tax cut fetishists in his ill-fated Spring Statement.

The ritual re-enactment of past triumphs isn’t limited to economic policy. The Conservative cargo cult is also attempting to resurrect the Right to Buy. To widespread groans, the Government has dusted off a policy to extend the Right so that housing association tenants can buy their homes too.

This is fine in principle, but the offer isn’t attractive without a hefty discount on the market value of the relevant properties— and who is going to pay for that? First proposed in 2015, the Government has already tried, and failed, to make this policy work. There’s no reason to suppose that a second attempt will be any more successful. One has to ask whether a serious effort will be made at all — or whether the announcement was just an excuse to conjure up the past.

However, I don’t want to give the impression that the conservative cargo cult is only about the 1980s. Thatcherite nostalgia is big part of it, but there are more recent triumphs to hark back to — not least, our miraculous escape from the clutches of the EU.

However, the problem with getting Brexit done is that you can’t do it again. Or can you? One fears that the main reason why the government has chosen this moment to unpick the Northern Ireland Protocol is that it needs a Brexity distraction. But if they think they can summon up the spirit of 2019, they’re badly mistaken. Brexit was about getting the EU out of our lives and allowing the UK to forge its own path. That means levelling-up and shaping and economy that works for everyone, not refighting old battles.

That’s why my heart sank when I read about Suella Braverman’s call to bring back the Conservative Party’s torch logo. Digging up this old totem really would be the ultimate cargo cult move. But anyone who thinks that dressing up in Margaret Thatcher’s clothes is going to stop Labour from taking back the Red Wall or the Liberal Democrats from making in-roads down South is deluding themselves.

If the Conservative Party really wants to honour its past, then, like Thatcher, it must fearlessly face-up to and tackle the problems of the present. If that means breaking new ground and attempting the previously impossible, then so be it. After all, our greatest duty to tradition is to take it forward into the future.

Robert Buckland: Russia, Britain and human rights. Putin has contempt for international law. And we should not be careless with it.

13 May

Robert Buckland is MP for South Swindon, and is a former Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor.

There can be no doubt that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a naked act of aggression. The people of Ukraine, over 12 million of whom have been forced to leave their homes, have endured nearly three months of shelling, bombing, separation from loved ones, loss of homes, loss of livelihoods and most tragically, loss of lives.

Heartbreakingly, they are set to endure more still, with no peace agreement in sight, and no apparent sign of Putin making any concessions, despite his increasingly isolated position on the world stage.

The International Court of Justice has ordered Russia to “immediately suspend” its military operations in Ukraine. The International Criminal Court Prosecutor, Karim Khan, has opened an investigation into the conflict, saying that he has reasonable grounds to believe Russia has committed war crimes.

And the Council of Europe – the continent’s leading human rights organisation and home to the European Convention on Human Rights – has expelled Russia, after 26 years of membership.

During recent months, Putin has shown a blatant disregard for international law and disdain for the rights of his citizens at home. The West and its rules-based order has been branded an illegitimate “empire of lies”, with domestic dissenters cast as “traitors” who need to be purged through a “self-cleansing of society”. Chilling, to say the least.

None of his actions or rhetoric have occurred in a vacuum, however. The suppression of independent media, already muzzled in the early years of his regime, became all-consuming after his illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At the same time, Putin consciously began decoupling the Russian legal system from the laws and principles set out by the European Council. This first manifested in occasional high-profile cases, in which Russian Courts would ignore precedents outlined by the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

By 2015, a new law gave Russia’s Criminal Court the ability to ignore Strasbourg judgments on human rights if they conflicted with Russia’s Constitution, and by 2020 Putin had signed a decree into law that declared Russian law to be supreme over international norms.

The decoupling from western institutions and rejection of international law strengthens the Kremlin’s power and authority, but it is an authority that is increasingly having to be manufactured, rather than genuinely earned. Even nominally democratic events such as the referendum validating Putin’s 2020 constitutional amendments were littered with corrupt practices, with Russians enticed to vote by the offer of free smartphones or apartment blocks, and given the choice of only yes or no in ratifying 206 separate proposals.

Whilst Russia’s expulsion from the Council of Europe sent a clear message to the Kremlin that their illegal invasion was not going to be accepted by the international community, it has left the Russian people even more exposed to the whims of a despotic and increasingly paranoid regime.

As a result of the Russian expulsion, they are no longer protected by the European Court of Human Rights, and the many thousands of Russians who have lodged appeals to the European Court (just under one in four of all cases) are left in legal purgatory. On top of this, there is also now a very real chance Russia could reinstate capital punishment – recently described by Dmitry Medvedev, the country’s former president, as “a good opportunity.”

The European Court of Human Rights has often been the subject of criticism here at home, but it is a force for good in the world and I strongly believe that the UK should remain a party to the Convention that it oversees.

It is always worth remembering that British lawyers drafted the Convention before its adoption in 1950. Britain has led the way on the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms. The unprovoked and unjustified attack by Russia on Ukraine underlines more than ever how important it is to safeguard fundamental human rights and freedoms, across Europe and the world.

I was pleased therefore to see the Government confirm their intention to update the Human Rights Act and to reaffirm that remaining in the Convention remains Government policy. It is vital that, in the current context of war in Europe and a direct threat to our values, Britain retains its leading role in the defence of fundamental rights and freedoms. I welcome Britain’s firm and continuing support of the work of the International Criminal Court in its investigation of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.

The work of the Independent Review of the Human Rights Act, set up by me as Lord Chancellor to consider the case for reform and chaired ably by Sir Peter Gross, provided a thoughtful, comprehensive and stable platform for change.

I am not convinced, however, by calls for a “Bill of Rights” to entirely replace the 1998 Act. I am concerned that, in trying to make a political point about the primacy of our own laws, which I entirely agree with, the Government risks creating more uncertainty but giving rise to a new set of rights, with their meaning being determined by domestic courts in a way that will only increase the tension with Parliament, rather than reduce it.

Many of the problems that the Government has identified as a reason to reform the Human Rights Act cannot be solved purely domestically anyway, and some of the solutions proposed could actually make things worse, by increasing the number of people in the UK who feel the need to go to the European Court.

More importantly, proposals that would enable the UK Parliament to disregard European Court rulings and define Convention rights as something other than the Court, as ultimate arbiter, itself determines, sends entirely the wrong message about the UK’s support for and commitment to international law.

The Government would be better advised to implement the Gross recommendations and codify the recent approach being taken by the Supreme Court, which has made it clear that the rights contained within the Convention do not have an autonomous meaning in our domestic law and that it is not for the Courts to, in effect, “gold plate” these fundamental rights.

Garvan Walshe: Finland and Sweden’s NATO application shows how much Russia has already lost 

12 May

Garvan Walshe is a former National and International Security Policy Adviser to the Conservative Party.

Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO is more evidence that Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been a monstrous mistake. Moscow has maintained an effective veto on Swedish and Finnish membership since ether Cold War. Now, with Russian troops bogged down in the Donbas, Helsinki and Stockholm can join while Russia’s too busy to do much about it.

It also complicates Putin’s tactical situation.  NATO forces could soon be positioned to open a second front north of St Petersburg, limiting Russia’s ability to intimidate the Baltic States, and to broaden the directions from which Murmansk on the Arctic coast can be subject to counterattacks.

Instead of Finland defending a 830 mile border with Russia, Russia will now have to defend another 830 miles of border with NATO. The island of Gotland, from which the Baltic Sea can be controlled, will be a NATO, not just a Swedish, island.

But the most important difference is geopolitical. Look at the globe from the top, and list the countries across the Pole from Russia: the United States (through Alaska), Canada, Greenland, Iceland, the UK, Norway, Sweden and Finland. This arc sweeps down through the Baltic States, Poland and the other countries that escaped Soviet domination in 1989, to Ukraine. All except Ukraine are in NATO – and Ukraine is inflicting the biggest defeat of Russia since the Japanese in 1905.

Apart from the US and Canada, which must also pay attention to Chinese ambitions in the Pacific, all these states see resisting Russian aggression as their main defence policy task. 

This will remain the case until the Russian state comes to understand that its purpose should be to improve the lives of Russian people, and that this is hindered, not helped, by paranoid militarism. Yet that process won’t even begin until Putin leaves office, and could well be reversed, even if he’s followed by a liberalising successor. Both Tsar Alexander II’s and Boris Yeltsin’s openings were overturned.  

These first-line states, of which the UK, Poland and Ukraine are the main military powers, can expect to maintain decades of containment of Moscow. As well as strengthening their own cooperation, they need to keep the rest of the Western alliance involved. 

Even setting aside the risk of a second Trump administration, a United States that returns to isolationism, or is simply focused on China, would be unable to help mount a defence against Russian aggression in the way it has this time. Continental European powers such as France and Germany under less immediate threat to Russia need to be persuaded who their real friends are.

The German government is divided. While Annalena Baerbock, its Foreign Minister, has been steadfast in her support for Ukraine, Olaf Scholz appears to lack the courage of his convictions, and needs continually to be pushed to live up to the Zeitenwende he announced immediately after Russia invaded.

And as Emmanuel’s Macron’s speech on Monday showed, France still struggles to shrug off its reflex of seeking somehow to involve Russia in contributing to security in Europe. This thinking has long been obsolete: a democratic Germany inside the EU has long made a Russian balance to Prussia unnecessary, and Poland’s integration into the West made it unsustainable.

But winning the political battles in France and Germany (and maintaining Mario Draghi’s new pro-Ukrainian consensus in Italy) will take more concerted diplomatic effort. It’s been entertaining to watch the friendly rivalry by former European schoolmates as they compete for visits to Kyiv and videotaped addresses by Volodomyr Zelensky. Whether they are Anglo-Swedish NLAWs (anti-tank weapons), US Javelins, German Panzerfausts or French CAESAR howitzers, all contribute to Ukraine’s fight for freedom. This is not a race, but a collective effort in which all democracies should take part.  

Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO, accompanied by British security guarantees for both countries until the NATO accession process is complete, is one such initiative. Denmark joining the EU’s defence policy (it currently has an opt out: a referendum is due on 1 June, and ‘join’ has a 20 point lead) is another.  The requirement is not necessarily unity of institutions, but unity of action, which must be pursued through NATO, EU initiatives and the British-led Joint Expeditionary force. 

Next winter, when inflation and high energy prices are due to bite, will prove critical. Russia will put every ounce of its political manipulation effort into splitting Germany, France and Italy from the front line states. It is an essential British interest that these efforts fail. 

Lasting peace in Europe will only come once Russia, like Germany has, abandons imperialist ambitions, reforms its militaristic culture, and retreats from all territory in other states that it has occupied. Putin’s defeat won’t be enough on its own to trigger the introspection and reconstruction that Russia needs. But it is a necessary step, and his inability to enforce Moscow’s ban on Finnish and Swedish NATO membership is evidence that he is starting to lose. 

Stephen Booth: Brexit’s legacy, the Northern Ireland Protocol, small boats – and Britain’s tense relationship with Macron

5 May

Stephen Booth is Head of the Britain in the World Project at Policy Exchange.

To the relief of the French and European establishment, Emmanuel Macron’s re-election makes him the first two-term French President in 20 years since Jacques Chirac. However, the 17-point margin of his victory over Marine Le Pen does not tell the whole story. Voter turnout was the lowest in a presidential run-off since 1969 and Le Pen increased her vote tally from 10.6 million in the second round in 2017 to 13.2 million this time around.

It is probable that Macron will secure a working majority in the National Assembly elections in June. But with such a high percentage of disaffected voters on the left and the right, and both camps opposed to giving Macron a mandate to pursue his economic reforms, surprises cannot be ruled out.

Five years is a long time in politics. However, the nature of Macron’s victory and the trend towards polarisation of the French political system does beg the question of what his domestic legacy will be. Having decimated the traditional centre-left and centre-right parties, which has allowed the fringes on the left and right to flourish, can the centre produce a successor to Macron in 2027?

Nevertheless, in the immediate term, Macron will feel that his victory puts him in the ascendency on the European stage and he will continue have a strong influence over the direction of the EU, including on relations with the UK. Hopes of a swift reset of Anglo-French relations following Macron’s re-election look unlikely to materialise. France’s Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, made a point of telling reporters after Macron’s victory that “our first challenge will not be the relationship between the UK and France.”

Macron is likely to double down on his vision for EU integration and “strategic autonomy”. He has some like-minded allies for this agenda, such as Italy’s Prime Minister, Mario Draghi, who this week called for “pragmatic federalism” in the fields of economy, energy, and security and defence.

However, in security and foreign policy, Macron could struggle to assert French leadership within the EU as he would like. The crisis in Ukraine has strengthened the position of key UK allies, particularly among the Nordics, Baltics, and several Eastern countries, that EU policy must not undermine or be in competition with NATO. Macron’s previous efforts to open a seemingly unilateral dialogue with Vladimir Putin and his ambivalence towards US leadership of NATO continue to make them suspicious of French strategic direction in this area.

The Prime Minister’s leadership on Ukraine has built up goodwill towards the UK in many of these countries, and the UK should continue to work with these nations on making the case that European security cooperation should enhance rather than detract from NATO. The UK’s response to Ukraine illustrates that Global Britain does not come at the expense of a commitment to European security and prosperity in the most fundamental sense.

Clearly, there remain difficult issues between the UK and France where Macron appears reluctant to help. For example, notwithstanding the Government’s new policies to tackle people smuggling and illegal cross-Channel migrant crossings on small boats, the problem would be much more easily addressed through French cooperation to stop the perilous crossings at source on the French coast. However, politically, this remains a bigger problem for the Government than for Macron.

Meanwhile, France remains strongly opposed to a softening of the EU’s stance in the talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Queen’s Speech on 10 May is expected to include plans for a bill giving the Government new powers to replace parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol unilaterally, in an effort to break the impasse.

The UK should brace itself for a political reaction from Brussels, but it should continue to underline its overriding responsibility to uphold the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. It should emphasise to its allies, in the EU and outside it, that a new political bargain that commands the consent of both communities in Northern Ireland is in the wider European interest and trumps the narrow focus on the EU’s technocratic regulatory order.

With growing fears over unfair Chinese competition and supply chain resilience resulting from the experience of the pandemic, France’s calls for a more interventionist and strategic EU industrial policy may find an increasingly receptive audience. This could have implications for economic competition and cooperation between the UK and the EU, particularly in strategic technological and energy sectors.

The UK should work with Germany to ensure that a renewed EU focus on resilience does not spiral into a form of protectionism that strains UK-EU economic relations further. Germany’s Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is still bedding into the leadership role vacated by Angela Merkel. His three-way coalition is in the process of dramatically changing the course of German foreign and energy policy in response to the war in Ukraine, and Berlin’s recent commitment to buy US F-35 jet aircraft illustrates that Germany will not necessarily instinctively “buy European”, as Macron would wish.

Meanwhile, despite the recent Anglo-French flashpoints, which also included the row over the AUKUS alliance, more amiable bilateral relations in several areas should be mutually advantageous. The UK should continue to emphasise that both countries remain important security partners within the NATO framework. Germany’s newfound appetite for defence spending may offer Macron another option on paper, but German strategic culture and its readiness to act is likely take far longer to change significantly.

Equally, the UK, unlike Germany, shares French enthusiasm for nuclear power as a means of bolstering domestic energy production. The UK would benefit from French industrial expertise and the UK offers a willing commercial partner.

Much has been made of the poor state of the Anglo-French relationship since Brexit. Personality clashes between Macron and Boris Johnson may well have something to do with it. However, the root remains the geopolitical fallout from Brexit, as viewed in London and in Paris, which are to be found in the concepts of Global Britain and EU strategic autonomy. Both countries therefore look set to continue to rub along uneasily, mixing elements of cooperation and competition along the way, but the UK has tools at its disposal to offer a constructive Anglo-French and UK-EU relationship.

John C Hulsman: The Ukraine war solves China’s ‘Batman Problem’ with Russia

13 Apr

Dr John C Hulsman is the Founder and Managing Partner of John C Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk firm. He is also a life member of the US Council on Foreign Relations.

There has always been one giant intellectual problem with a fully-fledged Sino-Russian revisionist alliance coming to challenge the present Western-dominated world; someone would have to be Batman and someone would have to be Robin.

‘The Batman Problem’ has always stopped these two great powers from fully coalescing into a cohesive alliance.

Yes, they share a hatred of the American-dominated world, as well as the urge to revise it into a more autocratic-friendly multipolar construct, where they are free to dominate their immediate regions: In the case of China, East Asia, in the case of Russia their ‘near abroad’ (the Caucasus, Belarus, and, above all, Ukraine).

Together in power terms, they alone jointly have enough geostrategic wherewithal to actually challenge the present order.

Russia, for all that it is overall a fading great power, has more nuclear weapons than any other country, and – following strategic reforms implemented after the Georgia War of 2008 – was seen as possessing an increasingly capable military.

In Vladimir Putin (and in direct contrast to the Tower of Babel that characterizes EU decision-making) it was also seen to have a ruthless, capable leader at its helm, one not afraid to deploy troops and take casualties, as he did in 1999 in Chechnya, 2008 in Georgia, 2014 in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and 2015 in Syria.

While Russia provided the military muscle, China was simply the world’s most important rising power, with an economy that has increased in size a whopping ten times since only 2000.

At present, only these twin autocracies in tandem pose any real threat to the established order. As both are also revisionist powers, their structural alliance was always a real possibility.

Also, in macroeconomic terms, an energy-ravenous, booming China beautifully complements a one-crop economy like Russia -along with the US, and Saudi Arabia/OPEC, one of the three global energy great powers – even as Chinese manufactured goods can fill the Russian market.

Earlier on, Russia’s sophisticated weapons export market also helped a rising China begin to catch up with a militarily dominant America, as Beijing provided Moscow with desperately needed trade.

So, for ideological, strategic, and macroeconomic reasons, the two seemed to be a geopolitical match.

Yet, practically, while the two did tend to side with one another over the past years, and while the chemistry between Xi Jinping and Putin is very good (oddly, the characteristically unemotional Xi often speaks warmly of their genuine rapport) a fully-fledged alliance has never blossomed.

Much as in the new era (up until the Ukraine war) the EU tilted toward the US while also flirting with a neutralism in the brewing Sino-American conflict – based upon a mixture of French Gaullism, German mercantilist isolationism, and general incoherence – Russia tilted toward China, while maintaining a certain geopolitical distance.

The reason for this is ‘The Batman Problem.’

For Putin’s too-often unremarked-upon domestic popularity (presently the latest independent Levada Center poll gives him a stratospheric 83 percent approval rating) is founded on his ironclad desire to ‘Make Russia Great Again.’

Following in the footsteps of his hero, Peter the Great, Putin has restored Russia to great power status after a weak tsar (Boris Yeltsin) left it a mendicant, even as he has shaved the aristocratic Boyars’ beards, in his case corralling the oligarchs who had run roughshod during the later shambolic days of Yeltsin’s reign.

However, as was true for the Russian Tsar, it is through the cauldron of war (in 2008, 2014, and 2015) that Putin has made it clear that, at least as a regional great power, Russia is once again a force to be reckoned with.

As a true believer in Great Russian nationalism, it was neither in Putin’s own biography or character, or in his political interests, to play second fiddle to China, as assuredly he would have to do in any ironclad alliance, giving the yawning differential in their power capabilities.

At best, Russia is a power on the wane, beset with intractable economic, demographic, corruption and political problems, while China is indisputably a rising superpower. For an alliance to work, Russia would have to play ‘Robin’ to China’s ‘Batman,’ serving as the weaker, less important player in any alliance.

Until the advent or Russia’s catastrophic miscalculation in the Ukraine War, this is something Putin desperately did not want to do, given his Great Russian Nationalism power base, as well as his own inclinations.

Historically, ‘The Batman Problem’ has caused the Sino-Russian alliance trouble before. Following the death of the (in Communist terms) revered Stalin in 1953, Mao broke with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev over precisely this issue, no longer content serving as second banana to a USSR with a new, untested leader.

Simply put, Mao was happy to play Robin to Stalin, but not to his lackeys who succeeded him, given China’s own gigantic power potential.

Until Ukraine, the shoe has been very much on the other foot, as Putin refused to swallow the bitter pill that second-class status in any Sino-Russian alliance would make necessary. But that was before Ukraine.

Now, militarily discredited, economically beset by unprecedented sanctions (and with the real threat of the West turning off the natural gas spigots in just a few years), and an international pariah (at least in the West), Putin’s freedom of geopolitical maneuver is extremely limited.

His only real play is to join with China and challenge the present world order. But he is doing so as ‘Robin,’ to China’s ‘Batman,’ from a position of increased weakness. But, for China, at last, Ukraine has solved ‘The Batman Problem’ preventing a formalized Sino-Russian alliance, which will now come into force, very much on Beijing’s terms.

However, for Beijing, Ukraine’s re-ordering of the global power configuration is very much a mixed blessing.

On the one hand it is pleased that its superpower rival, the US, must now keep more military resources in Europe than it would have otherwise, tempering Washington’s ‘pivot to Asia,’ as China strives to expand its power in the Indo-Pacific. America no longer has the luxury of facing only one hostile, revisionist power at a time.

The biggest strategic benefit China and Russia gain from their joint alliance is perhaps that it frees both countries from the necessity of vast military deployments along their shared 4000-kilometer border. This allows Russia up to face Nato in Europe and China to face the US and its allies single-mindedly in the Indo-Pacific, while leaving this critical internal border largely unmanned.

But, far worse for Beijing, the European Union has awoken from its long strategic nap. As a result of the Ukraine War, economic powerhouse Germany has committed to re-arming after two generations, and Brussels (mirror-imaging what is happening in Russia) is firmly back in the western alliance camp, along with the US, the UK/Anglosphere countries, and Japan.

Gaining a quasi-neutralist Russia while losing a quasi-neutralist EU to America is not a good geopolitical outcome from Beijing’s point of view. While the Batman problem has been solved for China, its ‘alliance of autocracies’ is still very much the lesser force at the global level, to the ‘alliance of democracies.’ That is, if they can get their act together.

Why the hell, Le Pen asks, should French voters be less free than the British?

12 Apr

An unenviable choice faces French voters. On the one hand they could stick with Emmanuel Macron, who has strutted and fretted his hour upon the international stage, or at least has sat at the other end of an enormous marble table to Vladimir Putin.

Macron pretended, perhaps even to himself, that he could avert the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He couldn’t, and now hastens, before the final round of the presidential election on 24 April, to try to reconnect with a sufficient number of his compatriots by pretending that he cares about such mundane questions as the price of petrol.

When ConservativeHome profiled Macron, we noted that he

“is extraordinarily good at attracting attention to himself, and thus denying it to his opponents, who face an unenviable choice between being sane but invisible, or else insane but unelectable.”

Marine Le Pen, who in 2017 reached the final of the last presidential election but then lost to Macron by the decisive margin of 34 to 66 per cent, has this time sought with some success to be sane but electable.

When ConHome profiled Le Pen in 2015, it noted that she was trying to learn from the mistakes of her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who in 2002 terrified the French establishment by reaching the second round of the presidential election, but who then lost by 18 per cent to 82 per cent to Jacques Chirac, because even the Left rallied round to stop Le Pen:

“most of her life has been devoted to her father’s movement, and in recent years to its ‘de-demonisation’: the striking of a more moderate tone, which makes it harder to write her and her followers off as a band of repellent racists.”

The younger Le Pen has striven with considerable success to seem unthreatening, and for a time, Macron underestimated her. As Ambrose Evans-Pritchard observes in The Daily Telegraph:

“The Élysée has been strangely slow to see the danger of her pastoral style of campaigning, and her new, carefully cultivated image as the matron of the nation, photographed with her six cats (she has just got her breeding licence).”

Le Pen is closer to Putin than Macron. She is so disreputable, so hostile to immigrants, that Nigel Farage would have nothing to do with her.

She wants to leave to leave NATO, and to defy the European Union. It she were to win, she might shatter the so far for the most part united western response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

So all those of us who want to keep Putin under united western pressure will hope that the opinion polls putting Macron in the lead are correct.

But the result of the French presidential election is not up to us. It is up to the French, who face a question which occurs all over Europe.

What is the future of the nation state? Is it to throw in its lot with a supra-national body, the European Union, even at the expense of national freedom?

Brexit was often written about as if it was a question only for those strange, old-fashioned people the British. Modern nations like France and Germany could not be susceptible to such out-of-date feelings.

But voters in France and Germany do, as it turns out, still have nationalist emotions, and even think those emotions have much to do with freedom and democracy.

The chances are that Macron will once again finesse this problem, and will beat Le Pen. But that does not mean the problem will go away.

What is the place of the nation state within the European Union? The traditional, Napoleonic answer of the French elite was that France’s role was to run the EU.

That is the answer of Macron, the brightest living representative of that elite. But will the French workers and peasants allow him, as the polls at present suggest, to get away with it? Or will they dare, in their bloody-mindedness, to vote for Le Pen, and support her vulgar and illiberal proposals to give immigrants fewer liberties?

One hesitates to ask such a tactless question. The likelihood is still that a majority of French voters will decide Macron is the lesser of two evils.

But even if they do, the question posed by Le Pen will not go away. Why the hell, she demands, should French voters be less free than the British?