A miscellany of comment this morning marking what has, in the great scheme of things, been a quite remarkable week in politics and one that will surely be recorded in years to come as having been potentially ground breaking!
It was the late Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson who at some point late in his political career gave us the phrase ‘A week is a long time in politics’ although it was the one-time Liberal politician, former Mayor of Birmingham and first Chancellor of Birmingham University, the Rt. Hon Joseph Chamberlain who in 1886 gave us the lesser known phrase “in politics, there is no use looking beyond the next fortnight”. Events this week once again prove that both these phrases are still very relevant.
Given the brilliant reception of the address given by Prime Minister, Theresa May in Philadelphia last night and ahead of her planned meeting with US President Donald Trump later today, it seems that in the new world order ‘diplomacy can succeed or fail in less than twenty-four hours’!
In a week that has witnessed Mr. Trump not only complete his first week in the White House, sign various executive orders that some opponents will see as being too radical to accept the US President has shown that he is not afraid to be controversial and cares even less about what any of his opponents think. There are of course dangers in this not just in terms of creating a political environment fuelled by hostility but also in the impact his views will have in terms of geo-political stability.
Many this week have chosen to use the well-worn cliché that the ‘jury is out on Donald Trump’ but I sense the better description may be that in America right now the jury, meaning the hostile press and media, has even before the first piece of evidence has been submitted already decided that they don’t like what they see. The reality is that some of the things that Donald Trump has again talked about will never occur. For instance, there is no-way that America will be persuaded to accept that any form of torture is acceptable. Neither is the reality of a building a wall across all 1,800 miles of the Mexican border with the US and while a separate order has been signed in order to weaken aspects of the Affordable Care Act I for one very much doubt that even with Congress and Senate being Republican controlled it will be possible to completely dismantle Obamacare.
I commend that if you can all those who might share with me a view that the speech made by Theresa may last evening in Philadelphia will go down in history as the one that marked the end of our long period of decline in world affairs, read the speech from various sources on-line. Looking on-line this morning the best link that I can find is ‘The Spectator’ and I have included the link further down this commentary piece.
Well researched, well written, well delivered and well-intended, Mrs. May’s speech last night not only delivered a timely reminder of the history and strong links established between the UK and the USA it reminded of the institutions conceived, spawned or inspired by the ‘special relationship’. The United Nations, NATO, World Bank, IMF are amongst the institutions highlighted by Mrs May and her tone of America and Britain working together was maintained throughout. She quoted Winston Churchill’s words
“We must never cease”, Churchill said, “to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the Habeas Corpus, trial by jury, and the English common law, find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence”. She talked of “the value of liberty, the dignity of work, the principle of nationhood, family, economic prudence, patriotism and putting power in the hands of the people”. And importantly, she talked of it being “in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe. This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over. But nor can we afford to stand idly by when the threat is real and when it is in our own interests to intervene. We must be strong, smart and hard-headed. And we must demonstrate the resolve necessary to stand up for our interests”.
I doubt that Mrs. May actually wrote the speech but equally, I doubt that there wasn’t a word that she delivered that she did not believe. The speech encapsulates al that we would like to believe and that we should be seeing to attain. Is it deliverable from our side? Not yet but as set strategy piece it is something that we can work toward. If we are to achieve such goals and share in leadership we would of necessity need to significantly strengthen the Foreign Office just as we would also need to increase our spending on defence over and above the so-called 2% of GDP that we are frequently told that we spend on defence.
While press and media of all colours has generally been gracious in comments related to the speech given by Mrs. May last night, it is besotted by a view that all Mrs May has come to the White House to do is ‘agree’ a basis for a trade deal. The possibilities of an eventual trade deal between the US and UK will clearly be touched on but even if both parties agreed on the basics, something they clearly want to do and will, it will take another two years at least before a real deal emerges. Even then, it will no doubt be UK financial services and insurance sectors that are likely to come out best while the UK will be persuaded to open its market to more US agricultural products. Pity we allowed our engineering and manufacturing sectors and particularly, the various supply chains to become so weak.
Yesterday, following the Supreme Court ruling that a vote triggering Article 50 would be required, the Government introduced draft legislation in the form of a two-clause bill entitled European Union Notification of Withdrawal Bill. It has given MP’s three days of debate on the bill over the following two weeks and despite the mess that the Labour Party is in over how to vote, most believe the bill will pass through the House of Commons fairly quickly. However, some believe that it may encounter more difficulty in passing through the Upper House although from my perspective, given that the Government has ways and means to get its way, I personally doubt that the House of Lords will revolt.
I mentioned the turmoil in the Labour Party over the Brexit bill and the three line whip imposed by the Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Both he and his immediate predecessor, Ed Miliband are content to support the bill but how many other members of the front bench Labour team will follow them into the Government lobby remains to be seen.
Almost unnoticed this week is that Dow Jones Industrial Index passed through 20,000 points for the first time this week and at the end of trading last night stood at 20,100.91 points. In the great scheme of things and on the back of a broadly based rally in US stocks this does not mean that much except that it also shows the flavour of US markets is to a greater or lesser extent prepared to back Donald Trump. Equity markets matter far less than the dollar and it will be the value of the currency that will be most eagerly watched. Should Donald Trump go too far in terms of deliberately starting a trade war with China an additional concern will be whether China retaliates in terms of halting buying US debt? Worth noting that forecast estimate that US national debt will exceed $20 trillion by the end of this year, $9 trillion of which had been added during the eight year Obama term and $5 trillion added during the eight year terms of George W Bush. Frightening isn’t it!
Enough food for thought for now – have a good weekend!
CHW (London – 27th January 2017)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785