Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tales of Two Allies

Big Society, Little Country

I saw a taped speech of U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to his Conservative party on C-SPAN delivered on 9/27. It was a combination of a pep talk and a broad policy outline.

Except for the posh accent, Cameron makes for a viable centrist American politician; it would be great to have a few like him negotiating with the Democrats on domestic programs--and, who knows? maybe such will emerge after the catharsis of these midterm elections and the brief look at the abyss it seems likely to afford us all.

Britain is different from the US in many ways, but Cameron is dealing with the same issues--fiscal responsibility, government cutbacks, tax increases, getting past the culture of the bailout and out of the Great Crater to something like normalcy--that we are going to be confronting in the near future, and the terms in which he speaks already seem familiar.

As an example of how American he is, Cameron's "Big Society" puts devolution--a new British federalist division of powers between Parliament and local councils--at the center of his program. Britain has allowed some self-government to the outer regions--Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland--in recent decades, but both those regional bodies and the county and town councils throughout England have had powers which were nominal in most areas. Those outer regions will have heard it all before and will not be impressed, but they don't support the Conservatives much anyway--this particular dose of political seduction is aimed at England--beyond London.

Cameron's smart play is to talk of sacrifice for all, but to focus it on the British civil service, a body above mere politics with great power and job security through all administrations; Cameron seeks to make it the political equivalent of despised "Washington". Next, Cameron will seek initial sacrifices from those who have high incomes, who will lose tax credits for dependent children. Another move guaranteed to be popular, though it probably made a few of the assembled party bigwigs squirm a bit. Still, a great policy idea, and it amazes me that the Democrats have not been able to sell the equivalent--ending the tax cuts for the rich--to our electorate.

I noticed that Cameron never made a single reference to the support of the Liberal Democrats, upon which his majority depends. Their livers have clearly become chopped; they can grin and bear it--which will become progressively tougher to do--or walk out and face electoral doom, having never gained their referendum to bring them something more like representation proportional to their numbers among voters.

Tough Sell for Israelis
Perhaps it is exactly the difference that having something more like proportional representation makes, but when it comes to getting Israel to agree to continue their moratorium on new settlements in the occupied territories, Prime Minister Netanyahu's junior partners in the coalition, the right-wing religious parties, are the tail wagging the dog.

Or so the wily Netanyahu would lead people to believe: poor thing, he can not get them to agree not to start new settlements (the approved ones have been continuing to build throughout), it would bring down the government. The possibility of having a peace agreement, or alternatively the threat of losing this round of peace negotiations, is not sufficient incentive for them to tolerate this loss of "rights".

Apart from massive guarantees apparently on offer from the US just for extending this moratorium for a couple of months, Netanyahu claimed that he needed to toss them a very large bone: a bill approved by his Cabinet going to the Knesset that would require all new Israeli citizens to swear an oath of loyalty to "a Jewish state". This new law is a calculated affront to the critical (for peace, anyway) Israeli Arab (i.e., Muslim) population, some 20% (and growing) of the nation's total. But, although they vote, they are on the outside of this and every other Israeli government. Labor's ministers in the Cabinet voted against this proposal; unlike the right-wing parties, their support does not seem necessary for Netanyahu government policy.

It's not looking promising....

No comments: