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Britain’s weight in world under threat

Britain’s weight in world under threat

OMFIF Advisory Board members on UK politics ahead of 7 May election 

by OMFIF Advisory Board

Tue 5 May 2015

The probability of a weak government in the UK hamstrung by political infighting, including on Scotland, is reducing Britain’s weight in the world at a vital time for Europe. That appears the majority view of members of the OMFIF Advisory Board, commenting on the OMFIF Briefing 29 April in which veteran Anglo-German commentator Thomas Kielinger said a Britain beset by pre-election uncertainty was becoming unrecognisable.

European political patterns are shaping the UK’s future by stealth. It is fascinating to see how a Union may willingly sleep-walk into dissolution.

– Antonio Armellini, former Italian Ambassador 

Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are wedded to the Social Market Economy or stakeholder model, which is in British terms way more left of centre than Labour's policies would ever dare to be – quite apart from Labour's pro-European anti-referendum stance. So, if Labour wins, she wouldn’t have a problem with Red Ed [Miliband] at all.

– Bob Bischof, vice president, German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce

The sight of growing British irrelevance on the international scene is deeply worrying. For the European continent in particular, being taken hostage by the UK for the next two years on a possible Brexit is becoming unpalatable, given the multiple real crisis issues which confront the European Union.

– Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, former Dutch deputy prime minister

This has been an increasingly depressing campaign. Owing to the new fixed term law, it has been going on far too long. The electorate is fed up with a blizzard of numbers, mostly unreliable and unsubstantiated, accompanied by random promises no one (including the leaders) believes in. This has encouraged scepticism and disaffection even though voters are clearly aware how important this election is.

– Consuelo Brooke, private investor

It is puzzling that one of the most stable democracies in Europe is looking fractured as we go to the polls. Each of the two main parties has gone through a parallel process of getting rid of its most successful leader and disowning their philosophy. It would be a dream outcome if the two parties come together in a Grand Coalition. 

– Meghnad Desai, emeritus professor of economics, London School of Economics, chairman of the OMFIF Advisory Board

Coalition government appears to be taking roots in the UK with the most uncertain general election contest since the 1970s. Coalition politics throws up its own problems in terms of the need for compromise. Is it not high time for the UK to adopt some dose of proportional representation as part of an electoral reform for future elections? The first-past-the-post system may have outlived its usefulness.

– Hemraz Jankee, former chief economist, Bank of Mauritius

What seems most striking is the fact that the UK might actually leave the EU. The Tories, and some voters, were always of two minds about the EU. But this time it's different. We wonder whether this is a simple yet serious miscalculation on the part of the governing party, or a reflection of a fundamental shift in public sentiment.

– Sahoko Kaji, professor of economics, Keio University, Japan

The fear about a possible Brexit may be exaggerated but cannot be dismissed completely, even if that turn of events seems rather unlikely. But ironically the UK is becoming more and more like a continental European country. Britain is no longer a ‘heroic nation’ punching above her weight internationally but instead is now doing nearly the opposite.

– Jürgen Kronig, UK-based German commentator

The Conservatives will win most votes, and probably most seats. However Cameron may be gone by the end of the year, even if he is prime minister. If he’s not, he may be gone by the end of May. If the Conservatives end up as the biggest party, but do not form a government, that could cause constitutional tensions, compounded if the Scottish Nationalist gain influence in the governing of England. 

– London-based sovereign wealth fund specialist

A Grand Coalition with the aim of achieving a constitutional settlement for the UK as a whole is a naive hope but non-starter: beyond the present political process to deliver. The real problem is that beyond a certain point the pursuit and use of leverage by the SNP will produce an English backlash: why should they be held to ransom? Perhaps better to let the Scots get out. Such a tragedy to end that way after 300 years.

– Andrew Large, former deputy governor, Bank of England

If the result is another hung parliament it would be indicative of the failure of the first-past-the-post system, a rejection of two party allegiances. A proper democratic response would be for the parties to enact reforms to the UK voting system to reflect newly diverse voting preferences: a proportional system not unlike that seen in Scotland, Northern England, and in much of Europe.

– Stuart Mackintosh, executive director, Group of Thirty 

For 70 years since 1945 Britain has been self-assured, calm, able to move from Conservative to Labour governments without too much passion, and looking down its nose at the mess of Euro-pean politics. Now we live by coalition and multi-party politics. We don’t want to spend money on defence. We want to find someone else to blame for current ills – in our case the EU. Little wonder foreign observers are scratching their heads and asking: What happened to Great Britain?

– Denis MacShane, former UK Minister for Europe

In Scotland the general election is increasingly being treated as a by-election – as an opportunity to 'send a message', rather as part of the serious business of electing a government. Some Scottish voters are saying that they 'are Labour through and through’, but will nevertheless vote for the SNP this time. This behaviour reinforces the sense of Scottish separation, almost alienation, from Westminster and England.

– John Nugée, former Bank of England reserve manager, OMFIF board member

Politicians of all hues are tripping over themselves to offer electoral bribes to entice marginal voters over the line. But this doesn't seem like a great time to be encouraging first time buyers to enter the property market with tax breaks.

– Bruce Packard, independent banking consultant

The SNP poses a problem for democracy in that it stands for both Scottish independence and for quite extreme socialist policies beyond Scotland’s borders, where the electorate is unable to vote for or against the SNP. With the UK not yet ready for a Grand Coalition of Conservatives and Labour and the SNP potentially holding the balance of power, the political situation is liable to be very messy for some time.

– Colin Robertson, former global head of asset allocation at Aon Hewitt

On the other side of the world, in the Americas, there is largely bemusement laced with bewilderment at the UK election. The Scots who are likely to make or break the next government insist they want to leave the Union, so they will stay inside the tent with an agenda to bring the tent crashing down. Can anyone be surprised that the EU, or the US, foresees a shrunken power?

– David Smith, former United Nations Director in Argentina

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