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Saving The Special Relationship

Saving The Special Relationship

By Michael Lach, PHA Public Affairs

 

Trump May Holding Hands - Special Relationship

Image Courtesy of; thesun.co.uk

 

Donald Trump has been President for little over a week, but there has already been significant political change. In that time Theresa May held hands with the new President at the White House, mass protests broke out in London and the UK in relation to Trump’s controversial immigration policy, and 1.5 million people signed a petition in protest against Trump receiving a state visit.

These events mark the significant problems that Theresa May’s government face with Donald Trump.  On the one hand, Trump has been hugely supportive of Brexit, has spoken positively of his “Scottish roots”, moved Winston Churchill’s bust back into the Oval Office and talked up his wish to quickly secure a trade deal with the United Kingdom. This has reassured many within the Government that the so-called special relationship will flourish.

Thousands of people gathered in cities across the UK this evening, including Glasgow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff, to voice their opposition to Donald Trump’s travel ban targeting several Muslim majority countries. Take a look at the powerful scenes from London in our latest Instagram Story. Photo: @eleni.stefanou

A post shared by The Guardian (@guardian) on

On the other hand, Trump has shown himself to be volatile and controversial. His recent executive order preventing refugees from entering the US has resulted in his reputation amongst the British hitting rock bottom, with 10,000 protestors demonstrating outside Downing Street with just a day’s notice. The Prime Minister has also come under criticism for not being quick enough to denounce Trump’s Immigration ban, instead simply stating “the United States immigration policy is a matter for the United States”.

In reality, Trump’s Presidency represents a dangerous balancing game. If handled well, May could create a strong relationship with the United States, akin to the Reagan and Thatcher days. Furthermore, a potential US-UK trade deal would be hugely beneficial to the UK economy going forward and would be a threat to the European Union who Trump has denounced multiple times.

Actor Shia LaBeouf has been released following his arrest earlier this week at an anti-Trump art installation in New York. The "He will not divide us" installation aims to run for as long as President Trump is in office. People who pass by are invited to visit @movingimagenyc to deliver the words "he will not divide us" into a mounted outdoor camera, repeating the phrase as many times and for as long as they wish. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

A post shared by The Guardian (@guardian) on

However, if this relationship can only be achieved by May curtailing to every single one of Trump’s whims and wishes, and refusing to steadfastly oppose the policies he puts in place, she will face severe criticism in both the press and her party in the UK.

Coincidentally, however, if May decides to actively disagree with any controversial policies that President Trump might pursue, it could jeopardise any positive future relationships, trade deals, or cooperation on other important issues (e.g. NATO, intelligence sharing, etc.) that the UK might hope to work with the United States on.

Ultimately, it can be argued that whatever route May and the government take there will inevitably be pitfalls attached.  For the Prime Minister, the only option available to avoid damaging her relationship with the notoriously thin-skinned President is to somehow craft a personal friendship with him. This will allow her to challenge him on policy objectives whilst protecting British interests with the United States.

Theresa May Donald Trump White House Meeting

Image Courtesy of; www.mirror.co.uk

Trump, Brexit, Corbyn – the rules of political engagement have changed

Bandying about insults, interrupting his opponent, a winding monologue packed with hyperbole and absent of any detail.

Casual observers of US politics could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon an episode of The Apprentice. Except it couldn’t be The Apprentice, could it? Sure enough, that was Trump stood up on stage, but with Hillary Clinton alongside him?

No observer, this was not reality TV – this was just symptomatic of the direction politics in the US and the UK is lurching towards.

The less attentive amongst the public would have been left aghast at Donald Trump’s performance in the first US Presidential debate – how could such a man be anywhere near the race for the White House?

Donald Trump, US election

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr

And yet to those who have been paying attention – Trump’s rise is part of a continuing trend in global politics. There has been a noticeable and collective rejection of the establishment permeating across the British and American political spectrums.

The political shift in the last twelve months has been as fast as it has unexpected. For people in the UK, it started in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election, with the Labour leadership race after Ed Milliband tendered his resignation.

Jeremy Corbyn defied the predictions of every pundit, expert and media outlet to secure the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015 with the largest mandate in the party’s history. Why were people so drawn to Corbyn? Maybe it’s because he is different, he represents change – an alternative to the status quo.

What has followed is twelve months of utter turmoil for the Labour Party and the relentless savaging of Corbyn in the mainstream media.

From a refusal to sing the national anthem, to arguments over trident and defence, to the Labour anti-Semitism scandal, to the Virgin train farce – Corbyn has staggered from one PR disaster to the next, with the baying media falling over each other in their eagerness to sink their teeth into him.

David Cameron described it best, when he said that Corbyn is like the Black Knight from Monty Python, just as he seems to have been defeated and cast aside, he gathers himself and limps on.

Jeremy Corbyn

Image courtesy of Eric the Fish on Flickr

But what this really seems to be demonstrating, is just how wrong the mainstream media are getting politics – three of the most seismic political events of the last year have been the Labour leadership contest, the EU referendum, and the US Presidential race – and so far the media have got two out of three wrong.

Nobody gave Corbyn a hope of surviving a month, then he wasn’t going to see out the new year, then every media outlet told us that Owen Smith was a far more ‘electable’ candidate. The Telegraph, the Sun and the Mail ridiculed him, the Guardian lamented his destruction of the Labour Party. If people believed all they read in the news Owen Smith would surely have thrashed Corbyn with a 99.99% majority.

And yet here we are, blinking at Groundhog Day twelve months on, with Corbyn securing his re-election in a head-to-head with Owen Smith by winning a commanding 61.8% of the vote.

But then what about Brexit? This surely was something that everyone knew the answer to. Every political party beyond UKIP was united behind the idea of staying in the EU.

The Prime Minister wheeled out experts from every imaginable industry to warn against the dangers of leaving the European Union. A ‘Leave’ campaign was fronted by the hapless trio of the lamentable Nigel Farage, the abject Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – a man with all the charisma of a pencil.

All conventional wisdom pointed towards one result – a vote to Remain in the European Union. But another result came and went, and again it went against the prediction of almost every informed expert. Why were people so drawn to Brexit? Maybe it was immigration, maybe it was sovereignty but once again it represented change – and this is how the Leave campaign pitched it – an alternative to the status quo.

Eu flag, brexit

Image courtesy of Marlena on Flickr

So now here we are, with a matter of weeks left until the next President of the USA is decided. Hillary Clinton has the bulk of the mainstream media –newspapers and TV networks on her side. She has the celebrities, the business people, the backing of the political elite.

But it all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Just how confident are the pundits feeling right now about who the next President of the United States will be? How confident does anyone feel in making any predictions over what’s coming next in politics?

Whatever you or I may think of Donald Trump (a great deal of it, I’m sure, is not printable) one thing he does represent is change. He may be incendiary, vitriolic, and arguably unhinged – but if there is one thing he doesn’t represent – it’s the political status quo.

First we got Corbyn, then we got Brexit. It’s crazy to think, but betting on Trump to win doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.

So buckle up, what happens next is anybody’s guess.

What will Prime Minister Theresa May mean for Britain and the Conservatives?

Theresa May

Theresa May. Image courtesy of the Home Office

On Wednesday 13th July, Theresa May will become Britain’s second female Prime Minister. After an intense yet short campaign, energy minister and Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom, Home Secretary Theresa May’s last opponent in the Conservative leadership contest, has withdrawn her candidacy after controversial comments on motherhood highlighted her inexperience. Following Leadom’s withdrawal, David Cameron announced that he would tender his resignation to the Queen tomorrow, and Theresa May would become PM straight after.

Theresa May, in contrast to Leadsom, was billed as the experienced candidate in the leadership contest.  An MP for almost twenty years, she became the Party’s first female chairman in 2002. In 2010 she became Home Secretary, making her one of the longest serving Home Secretaries in British history and the most senior female in the Conservative Party, singling her out as a potential future leader.

As a politician, May has been careful to distance herself from the old Etonian men’s club that has surrounded the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Johnson. In short, she has sought to make herself an alternative to the traditional political elite. She has been a cautious campaigner, not favouring loud statements which characterised her campaigning (or lack thereof) for the Remain campaign.

She is known to be one of the most hardworking cabinet ministers, and there have been doubts over her ability to delegate work; something which is difficult as Home Secretary but cannot be sustained as Prime Minister. She has also been accused of hiding behind her special advisors which came to the forefront during her very public head to head with Michael Gove in 2014. She has, however, enjoyed surges in popularity, particularly following the deportation of radical cleric Abu Qatada, something which previous Home Secretaries had been unable to achieve. She has been known for taking a tough line on immigration, something which can be expected to continue in the wake of Brexit.

She is known for being “bloody difficult”, with a reputation for being a fierce negotiator, however, perhaps this is just what Britain needs when heading into Brexit talks. Indeed her background in finance (underplayed in the leadership contest) will perhaps help her combat the economic worries that will arise with Brexit negotiations.

As Prime Minister, Theresa May will also be able to reunite the Conservative Party. After a bitter split between the Leave and Remain camps, the Tories appears to be desperate to avoid the current instability that is engulfing the Labour Party. Despite having campaigned for the losing Remain camp, May enjoyed strong cross-party support, gaining 199 votes in last wee

Andrea Leadsom

Andrea Leadsom. Photo courtesy of Policy Exchange on Flickr.

k’s MP ballot, compared to Angela Leadsom’s 84. In her withdrawal speech, Leadsom emphasised Britain’s need for a strong and stable government, something which infighting amongst the party during a prolonged leadership campaign would prevent.

Furthermore, the speed of her selection as Party Leader means that Cameron will not be a lame-duck Prime Minister until September. This is a positive move, particularly for business, as drawing out the process would only increase uncertainty surrounding Britain’s EU exit and delay the recovery Britain needs to make following such a divisive vote.

Most significantly Theresa May has stressed her objective to re-establish trust in politics. The Brexit result was a real kick for the political establishment. The people of Britain voted against a political elite that they felt had failed them and did not represent them, with Tony Blair suggesting that the leave vote was a protest against the establishment. May appears to have heard this and understood the need to respond. Talking in Birmingham, May pledged to place the Conservative Party “at the service of ordinary working people”. In a throwback to Ed Miliband, she promised to be tough on big business, something which voters were keen to see in the last general election. She promised workers and consumers roles on company boards and strong rules protecting pay. May assured the disillusioned that firm change would come to British politics.

Finally, Theresa May has ruled out any chance of Britain remaining in the EU, putting an end to speculation by political commentators that Brexit may not happen, as the referendum was not legally binding. May has put an end to these rumours declaring that “Brexit means Brexit” and that she would not ignore the vote of the British public. Yet uncertainty surrounds what Brexit will actually mean, particularly for those EU migrants who May has claimed might not be guaranteed a right to stay, and exactly when Article 50 will be triggered, which May has said will not be before the end of 2016.

However, this will not end the period of political uncertainty in Britain, particularly in relation to calls for a snap general election. Following Leadsom’s withdrawal, Tim Farron tweeted his belief that the Conservative Party no longer has a mandate. This is particularly significant given Theresa May’s past criticisms of Gordon Brown for not calling an immediate general election after he succeeded Tony Blair, when she criticised him for the lack of a democratic mandate. However, during her leadership campaign, she said she would not call a general election, providing further stability for the country.

Only one thing is certain: despite being the ‘stability’ candidate Mrs May will certainly be thrown straight in at the deep end and will be put to the test with Brexit renegotiation and will have to act quickly to heal the rifts in the Conservative Party.

By Olivia Gass

The Privacy Shield – Safer Harbour or Sinking Ship?

This week, technology firms across Europe breathed a heavy sigh of relief as Brussels and Washington reached a deal in the eleventh-hour on transatlantic data transfer and privacy rules to replace the defunct ‘Safe Harbour’ agreement, which was ruled illegal in October 2015.

The new Privacy Shield pact, also known as ‘Safer Harbour’, will see the US give an annual written commitment that it will not conduct mass or indiscriminate surveillance of EU citizens, which will then be audited by both sides once a year.

But what went wrong? And why is it so important?

To answer that, we need to go back to the case of whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who in 2013 leaked thousands of classified documents revealing details about the global surveillance programme.

Perhaps the most infamous of these was the PRISM programme, which collected data from around the world including emails, video, audio, photographs, documents and other related materials in collaboration with at least nine companies – Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, Youtube and Apple.

This then brought the Safe Harbour agreement into question. EU privacy law forbids its citizens’ personal data from being sent outside of the union to locations without “adaquate” privacy protections, so the deal saw the US promise to abide by these standards. However, in order to avoid drawn-out procedures delaying transfers, the deal also allowed companies to self-certify their data practices.

Last year, a concerned Austrian law student called Max Schrems took Facebook to court in Ireland after filing a privacy complaint that effectively challenged the safeguards Safe Harbour had in place – he won. The old deal was scrapped and watchdogs were given three months to ‘put their house in order’.

 

Max Schrems

Max Schrems, Activist. Image courtesy of abdeslam ait hida on Flickr

 

This left some 4,000 companies in limbo and half a trillion dollars of trade at stake. Apart from the tech giants, who hold all user data at their US headquarters, there were many small businesses that had relied on the agreement to outsource their human resources, payroll and other tasks involving personal data about customers or staff.

So it’s no surprise that many organisations were quick to celebrate and get back to business as usual.

However, not everyone is pleased. Schrems, along with privacy agencies across the continent, have since pointed out that the that the US has not changed its surveillance techniques to be compliant with European law – something that leaves plenty of scope for Privacy Shield to being ruled invalid, just like its predecessor. Meanwhile, the European’s Data Protection Authorities have warned businesses to hold fire on signing up until April while they analyse the legality of the agreement.

My main question, however, is whether the EU would ever dare enforce the law again. Besides the turmoil and angst caused by the first ruling, there’s no denying the benefits multinationals like Amazon and Google bring to an economy, so would they ever risk the potential backlash? Think about the issues surrounding tax avoidance – where’s the real action there?

To me, it feels like we’ve reached an impasse – the US wants to snoop, the EU doesn’t like it, but neither want to lose what the other has. So instead they crack open the champagne and watch a leaky ship slowly sinking in a shark-infested harbour, because what else can they do?

Brits on the fence: what will clinch the Brexit referendum?

By Arvin Khanchandani

 

David Cameron Brexit Speech Referendum

Image courtesy of Brett Jordan, flicker.com

 

Just two months ago, in September, 55% of the public wanted Britain to stay in the European Union, according to a poll conducted by ORB for the Independent. However, last week, the poll figures indicated that the tides are turning: currently, 52% of Brits are in favour of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. This is the first time the ORB’s survey has shown a majority for ‘Brexit’.

The momentum is clearly with the two ‘out’ campaigns – Leave.EU and Vote Leave – which have started merger negotiations to establish a single, robust campaign championing ‘Brexit’. In contrast, the dominant ‘in’ campaign – Britain Stronger in Europe – has been comparatively underfunded and criticised for focusing on the negative consequences of a potential ‘Brexit’, rather than highlighting the benefits the UK enjoys from its EU membership.

So, with ‘Brexit’ increasingly becoming a tangible reality, what will determine the outcome of the referendum?

Which model?

The main challenge for the ‘out’ campaigns is to convince the public that, in the event of ‘Brexit’, the UK will still have the access to the EU single market, while enjoying greater control over socio-political issues important to Brits, such as immigration and border control. However, these two goals are contradictory in nature as the single market encompasses all ‘four freedoms’ of goods, people, services and capital. In this context, it will be crucial for the ‘out’ campaign to present a coherent message about what relationship they envisage Britain having with the EU if it decides to leave.

A possible option would be to follow European Economic Area (EEA) members – Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway – who remain outside the EU but participate in the EU internal market. This, however, comes at a price as they are required to adopt all EU legislation without having a say in shaping it.

British Eurosceptics largely seem to prefer the Swiss ‘à la carte’ model which is based on a series of bilateral agreements with the EU. This means that Switzerland has access to only selected parts of the single market and it is only in those areas that it must adopt the pertinent EU acquis. However, the EU is growing increasingly frustrated with this model. According to the Council report, it ‘is creating legal uncertainty and has become unwieldy to manage and has clearly reached its limits’. Against this backdrop, the EU might be unwilling to allow another country to follow Switzerland’s suit.

However, while Switzerland is able to negotiate free trade accords with other countries independently of the EU, it still has to subscribe to the EU freedom of movement. This has left Switzerland facing what many see as similar problems to the UK; due to high levels of immigration and limited space, many areas are lacking critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, schools and housing. The Swiss actually voted in favour of introducing quotas for all migrants in Switzerland in a referendum in February last year. However, such quotas would violate the terms of the Swiss free movement of people treaty with the EU. It is questionable whether Switzerland will be able to execute the will of its people and whether Britain would have more bargaining power if it found itself in a similar position.

The demographic war

Battle lines will also be drawn between the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns when it comes to demographics. The latest ORB survey indicates that only 31% of 18-24 year-olds favour ‘Brexit’, yet the figure increases twofold in the 65+ age group, soaring to 62%. Therefore, if the ‘in’ campaign manages to coax the youth to the ballots, the result of the referendum should favour the ‘inners’. The importance of this to the ‘in’ campaign can be seen by how hard the Lords are fighting to extend the franchise to 16 year olds for the referendum.

Euro crises

External developments may also sway swing voters one way or the other in the ‘Brexit’ referendum. Currently, the EU is facing pressures on many fronts: the poor handling of the Greek crisis, the sluggish growth rate of its economy, its impotence in the face of the refugee crisis and its inability to contain the immediate terrorist threat, to name but a few. Should the EU find effective solutions to these multi-faceted challenges, the European integration project will regain its credibility and once again appear attractive in the eyes of Britons.

On the other hand, if it fails to deal with these problems, or if they are further exacerbated (for instance, by Greece leaving the Eurozone or by more terrorist attacks in European cities), the EU’s appeal will quickly diminish to the point that ‘Brexit’ becomes inevitable.

Conclusion

In light of the EU’s lacklustre performance in many areas crucial to the well-being of its peoples, ‘Brexit’ has ceased to be a mere political fantasy. While there are many factors to consider when predicting whether Britain will stay in or opt out of the EU, it seems most likely that the ‘status quo bias’ will ultimately decide Britain’s future. This does not mean that all is lost for the ‘Out’ Campaign – if they can consistently overshadow the ‘in’ campaign, or if the EU’s credibility is further undermined by the timing of the referendum, the public may be less opposed to change.

The Greek financial crisis – Twitter’s take

For the past few weeks the news agenda has been dominated by the Greek crisis and what seemed to have become the never-ending discussions by political leaders to end the stalemate. However, at the same time that the political negotiations and debates were taking place, the online world of social media was also heating up.

Social media and Twitter, in particular, are now the key channels where people express views, debate, criticise and argue, but what is even more interesting is how users use humour and creativity to address hot topics on these platforms. Major political topics and personalities are targeted through a different lens, pointing out elements that are often exaggerated and have become almost stereotypical. The aim? To give a new spin to the grim reality and in many ways to challenge ‘authority’ and emphasise its ‘weak’ points.

Interactivity and engagement are among the key perks of social media and coupled with humour and political satire, they make a powerful mixture. Hashtags like #ilovetsipras and #merkelmeme gained in popularity with users tagging caricatures and other content, while hashjacking like in the cases of #greferendum and #agreekment also inspired users to post their own version of political analysis in a humorous way.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Is humour people’s way of dealing with a highly stressful and uncertain situation? Politics and humour have always been different sides of the same coin. Political cartoons made their presence in the UK in newspapers as early as in the 1700s. The internet, however, has enabled the creative potential of humour to unleash and at the same time it has also made it easier for satirists to bypass censorship and stay anonymous.

What was even more interesting was that the parallel online satirical trend that followed the EU talks had no geographical limit with users across the world participating and engaging with one another and exchanging jokes, cartoons and memes. Humour creates a global communication channel and social media have made it possible for this content to enjoy a global reach they never would have had otherwise.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

What the recent example of the EU talks on the Greek crisis shows is that humour is a fantastic way to create virtual community bonds among users that would potentially have never interacted otherwise. It is also a great shock absorber helping people to make sense of reality and look at things in a more positive way. It is clear that the social media frenzy over the Greek crisis will continue in the weeks and months to come.

After all political satire was a Greek invention.

The Greek financial crisis – Twitter's take

For the past few weeks the news agenda has been dominated by the Greek crisis and what seemed to have become the never-ending discussions by political leaders to end the stalemate. However, at the same time that the political negotiations and debates were taking place, the online world of social media was also heating up.

Social media and Twitter, in particular, are now the key channels where people express views, debate, criticise and argue, but what is even more interesting is how users use humour and creativity to address hot topics on these platforms. Major political topics and personalities are targeted through a different lens, pointing out elements that are often exaggerated and have become almost stereotypical. The aim? To give a new spin to the grim reality and in many ways to challenge ‘authority’ and emphasise its ‘weak’ points.

Interactivity and engagement are among the key perks of social media and coupled with humour and political satire, they make a powerful mixture. Hashtags like #ilovetsipras and #merkelmeme gained in popularity with users tagging caricatures and other content, while hashjacking like in the cases of #greferendum and #agreekment also inspired users to post their own version of political analysis in a humorous way.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Social media has been awash with satire throughout the crisis.

Is humour people’s way of dealing with a highly stressful and uncertain situation? Politics and humour have always been different sides of the same coin. Political cartoons made their presence in the UK in newspapers as early as in the 1700s. The internet, however, has enabled the creative potential of humour to unleash and at the same time it has also made it easier for satirists to bypass censorship and stay anonymous.

What was even more interesting was that the parallel online satirical trend that followed the EU talks had no geographical limit with users across the world participating and engaging with one another and exchanging jokes, cartoons and memes. Humour creates a global communication channel and social media have made it possible for this content to enjoy a global reach they never would have had otherwise.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

Coverage of the issue has been mixed to say the least.

What the recent example of the EU talks on the Greek crisis show is that humour is a fantastic way to create virtual community bonds among users that would potentially have never interacted otherwise. It is also a great shock absorber helping people to make sense of reality and look at things in a more positive way. It is clear that the social media frenzy over the Greek crisis will continue in the weeks and months to come.

After all political satire was a Greek invention.