View Full Version : Blair Flies Off To Save His Crumbling Legacy

06-05-2005, 11:43 AM
Blair flies off to save his crumbling legacy



WHEN Tony Blair climbs on an aircraft, it is normally a sign of trouble. In the next month, he'll fly to Washington, Moscow, Berlin, Luxembourg, Paris and Singapore: a sign of big trouble. Something is going badly wrong.

His vision of a 25-member European Union run along British economic lines is fading. Hope of a breakthrough at the G8 is also slight, and government attention is shifting to subsidising an accompanying pop concert and protest. With his legacy crumbling before his eyes, it's time to head for Heathrow and see if anything can be agreed ahead of the coming G8 and Euro summits. His chances for success are bleak.

On Monday, Blair leaves for the White House, where he has two demands of President George W Bush: climate change and aid for Africa. To move America one inch on either would be a great victory. The president, however, has a famous disregard for consensus. His aides laugh openly at the idea of "cutting a deal" with the G8 - or "the Europeans", as this group is becoming known in the White House.

The G8 includes Canada, on-side with America, and Japan, which writes big cheques to avoid upsetting anyone. So, to Bush, the annual G8 summit is an invitation to compromise with France, Germany, Italy and Britain. Take the Kyoto Treaty. If signed by everyone, it would simply see global temperature rising by 2.35°C rather than 2.5°C by 2100 - but it would cost $346bn in trade, making the world demonstrably poorer. Yes, the United States has 4% of the world's population and generates 25% of greenhouse emissions. But the US also generates 30% of world economic output - something every country that trades with it is grateful for.

To Americans, Kyoto is a costly gimmick - which is why Bush tore it up. Blair's only hope is to take US pledges, such as cutting its own greenhouse emissions by 12% by 2010, and repackaging them at the G8.

Next, Africa. For the last 18 months, the US has rejected Gordon Brown's peculiar idea of front-loading the next 30 years of aid to Africa, so more is paid now and less later. Its premise is that less aid would be needed later. But why so? The Chancellor hasn't explained; his pop-star economics naively presume that aid makes Africa less poor, permanently. After four decades of trying, there is no proof that the impact of aid lasts beyond the short term. America has rejected the British proposal and presses ahead with its rival scheme: a Millennium Challenge Account, which links aid to good governance. It has trebled US aid to Africa under Bush.

On both the environment and Africa, as with so much else, Europe is from Mars and America from Venus. The US is pressing ahead with its own ambitious agenda - and believes Europe is engaged in a delusion.

When the Prime Minister travels to Berlin and Paris, he will find another interplanetary divide has opened up in the EU. Blair's great achievement was to sign up its 25 leaders to his liberalising economic agenda. The Lisbon Agenda of economic reform, agreed in 2000 and involving deregulation and opening up labour markets, has meant five years of France and Germany pretending to swallow Britain's economic medicine. In their referendum last weekend, French voters spat it out. It wants its social model: more protectionism and stronger barriers to cope with the threat it perceives not just from India and China, but from Eastern Europe.

To Blair's horror, his EU achievement is unravelling before his eyes - and what he thought he had has turned out to be an illusion. There never was any consensus on the economy: Lisbon was a con all along. The lesson of the French 'no' was emphatic: Blair can use his lawyerly skills to forge an agreed paper between himself and Jacques Chirac, but no treaty can force culture change on France or Germany.

His idea of EU statesmanship - steering Europe by getting its political elite onto the same page - has dissolved in those two 'no' votes. France and Germany do not and will never believe deregulated markets are the answer.

With such a fundamental split over the economy, how can Britain ever join the Euro? No-one in 10 Downing Street believes this is possible in the foreseeable future: the tide will, if anything, go the other way.

Hilariously, Blair can only be released from his promise to put the EU constitution to the British public by a unanimous vote at the next Brussels summit in a fortnight's time. And this will not be forthcoming. A wounded Chirac will now shore up popularity at home by attacking Blair - demanding the Prime Minister suffers the same humiliation as he has endured. He doesn't want France to be the country that killed the deal.

When Blair arrives back in London, the worst surprise of all could be waiting for him. There are increasing signs that the British public agree with Chirac on their right to a referendum, and with Bush on overseas aid.

Watching the jubilant scenes in Paris and Amsterdam, and the long faces of their defeated leaders, the Brits now want their turn at this Mexican wave of democratic uprising, and to share in the fun of thwarting the political elite.

A Mori poll on Friday found 67% of the public want Britain to carry on with the referendum on the EU constitution, even if 55% want to vote 'no'. They agree with the European Commission that every country must have its say.

So in Brussels, Blair will be battling for Blair - not for Britain. The population here agree with Brussels for once: the show must go on.

And on Saturday, a YouGov poll showed that 83% believe aid to Africa is not spent wisely - questioning the entire ethos behind Brown's proposed avalanche of handouts and debt relief for African governments.

Here is another thunderbolt: could it be that the public's understanding of Third World aid is more sophisticated than that of singers from the 1980s? Might the public be sceptical about the pop-star economics now spewing out of the Treasury?

Suddenly the voices of Sir Bob Geldof and his fellow protesters seem rather out of tune with the vox populi. Perhaps, in accepting the Treasury's dubious Africa aid agenda unthinkingly, 10 Downing Street has been sold a dud?

David McLetchie was booed in the Scottish Parliament when he offered mild criticism of Jack McConnell's halo-seeking expedition to Malawi. The Tory leader should stick at it: the Scottish people are far smarter than their MSPs.

This should have been so different. Chairing the G8 and EU should have made 2005 the crowning year for Blair. Now he is darting from country to country trying to save his legacy.

Washington wants something more substantial on Africa. The EU is too diverse for any single economic plan. Instead of forging consensus, Blair's summits may simply show that Britain, America and Europe are still worlds apart.