The lady and the Tramp.

The lady and the Tramp.

Has Mrs May sown the seeds for her party’s future downfall by calling an election?

The open outcry futures markets in London were in their infancy when the then Prime Minister  Margaret Thatcher called for an Election to take place June 9th 1983. To many people the City was a total mystery, however the film ‘Trading Places’ had caught the public’s imagination and suddenly it was relatively easy to explain your job to friends as they  had seen a portrayal of it on the big screen where Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykrod exchanged  their lives . On further  reflection it was a pain and if I had a pound for every person who said “Looking good Billy Ray“  thinking that they could speak the language of traders I would be a very rich man!  Now open outcry markets, sadly in my opinion, have gone however there are some interesting parallels between 1983 and 2017, as well as some amusing differences.

Margaret Thatcher is  revered as a great leader by many and equally still loathed by many, but if we look back at her approval ratings ‘at the peak of her popularity (in June 1982, after the recapture of the Falklands),  59% were satisfied with her performance, while her rating fell as low as 20% satisfied (in March 1990).’  Source Ipsos Mori.  She was though, a canny politician and seized her one chance to go to the country whilst still bathing in the public’s approval of her government’s victory in The Falklands war despite the 907 deaths that had occurred.  Theresa May is enjoying similar popularity approvals which were recently running at a record 61% whilst her opposite number Jeremy Corbyn languishes at 23%.

The contrast between Thatcher and Michael Foot, the then leader of the labour opposition, also mirrors todays contest.   A committed socialist and a man possessed with a strong intellect he made two fatal mistakes as leader to compound his biggest mistake of accepting the leadership.   Firstly he  appeared at the UK’s annual Remembrance parade in 1981 in a scruffy jacket , now I am no fashion correspondent but the contrast with the older  be medalled politicians standing behind him could not be stronger and the Conservative  press enjoyed a field day at his expense and the image became planted  in the public’s imagination and still is. Coupled with a manifesto which a Labour colleague,  Gerard Kaufman, described as   ’the longest suicide note in history’  Michael Foot was in many ways in a similar position to that which Jeremy Corbyn finds himself in now with an amazingly similar approval rating of 24%.

Despite the contrasting styles of the two leaders being echoed today the policies on that ever present irritant Europe could not be more different.   Margaret Thatcher,   as so many of her war affected generation,  was in  strongly  pro-European and was standing on this  ticket whilst Labour was looking to withdraw completely.  The Labour party was also looking, as is its tradition, for renationalisation of many industiries, higher taxes as well as the abolition of the House of Lords. These staunchly socialist policies led to a break away party, The Social Democratic Party where several prominent figures in the Labour party,  known as the gang of four,  broke away to form a political alliance with the Liberals.  This scenario is not beyond the realms of possibility; indeed it is quite likely that we see another break away party after this election.

Mrs Thatcher duly won her mandate and increased the conservative majority by 40 seats whilst the labour party just about polled the second largest number of votes.  Despite polling just under 600,000 votes less than the labour party, The SDP only managed 23 seats and as a result never really got the foothold in the country that many thought they deserved.  The 4% swing to the conservative party gave Mrs Thatcher the most decisive victory since that of Labour in 1945 and allowed her to rule and introduce radical reforms which changed the UK for ever.

The parallels and contrasts between the 1983 and 2017 Election are striking not least the opportunistic calling of the election by leaders, one who saw and now one who sees an opening to strengthen their grip on authority and power.   As in 1983 it appears,  if the polls are to be believed that there will be another crushing victory for the Conservatives as the Labour party fights a series of internal battles whilst led by  a hard left leader.  However there is hope for the Labour Party and it comes from History.  As another famous British Prime Minister, Pitt the Elder, said in 1770 “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” or to put it in traders language the higher you are up the tree the more you show of your arse.  This was the case in 1983. Two future Labour Prime Ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, were both part of the new intake in 1983 as was a fresh faced Jeremy Corbyn.  Margaret Thatcher ruled for another seven years with decreasing authority and was finally deposed by an internal coup in 1990. With the minefield of Brexit to negotiate and a Conservative party never at ease with itself over Europe it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Mrs May , as did Mrs Thatcher , has sown the seeds of her own downfall.

 

 

 

Trop c’est trop !

“No reason to get excited, ”
The thief – he kindly spoke,
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour’s getting late.”

Trop c’est trop ?

Whether it’s toothache, a trading position or politics there comes a point when enough is enough and action has to be taken, and so you go to the dentist, cut your position or vote for a drastic alternative. The degree of pain that a country can take is the sum of its population’s tolerance and when this reaches breaking point profoundly different politicians offering palliative solutions are elected.

By the late 1970’s Britain was a country showing serious signs of decay and social unrest and perceived by many as being run by all powerful trade unions. The winter of 1978/1979, remembered as the ‘winter of discontent’, due to the number of strikes, was the final straw PM Jim Callaghan’s government. The Government lost a vote of no confidence and was forced into an election which it failed to win. The country had had enough and felt the need to turn to the hard right policies of Margaret Thatcher.

The 1997 election of New Labour centrist Tony Blair was as much a reaction to the harsh years of Margaret Thatcher’s reform as it was to the sleaze and scandal of John Major’s administration. By the mid-1990s every single banana skin that a government could attract littered Downing Street and Conservative MPs and Ministers duly obliged by consistently slipping up. During the later years of that administration Tony Blair slowly moved the Labour party towards the right and in doing so gathered much of the centre ground and having done so won a landslide majority. The appeal of something completely different to a disaffected and desperate country was neatly summed up by Blair himself after that election when he pompously said ‘A new dawn has broken, has it not?’

Is France ready to leap forward and chose a really radical candidate for their next President?  For centuries before the revolution in 1793, it appears that political leaders in France were chosen on the basis of who had the curliest hair in many ways this was as good as any method! Since the revolution, more particularly since the last war the French establishment has maintained political control. This has led to a moribund country and rise of the present two candidates for the presidency both presented as “outsiders”. Despite Macron presenting himself as the radical candidate he is a fully paid up member of the Kleptocracy and for France to embrace real change they will need to plump for Marine Le Pen

Is France sleepwalking towards  ending Schuman’s dream ?

Is France sleepwalking towards  ending Schuman’s dream ?

 

To my generation and the generation of my parent’s and grandparent’s the formation of  European Union, or a common market for coal , steel and other goods was seen as a powerful tool to stop the fighting that had decimated Europe in the preceding 50 years. To put this into context Europe lay in ruins and only Marshall aid from the USA stopped it descending into further chaos. The older generations at the end of the Second World war surveyed not only countries laid to waste but also population’s .High amongst the suffering were France.

At the end of the First World War France had suffered over 2million boys and men killed with nearly 4million injured, 1.5 million of those permanently maimed. That translates into 60% of the male population between the ages of 18-28 that had been killed and 73% of all men mobilized. Just pause for a moment and reflect on these huge numbers and the impact this had on the nation, walk down as street and count 10 men and then take 6 away and see the gap that leaves or look at the stand at a football match and mentally empty it by over half .Tragic is the only word . France didn’t suffer so much in the Second World War from deaths and casualties as in reality it couldn’t as there were precious few boys left to die but they did suffer the ignominy of a brutal occupation and still lost a further 600,000 mainly men.

At the end of the First World War France, alongside the other victorious nations, wanted to exact revenge from Germany and in doing so laid the seeds for the establishment of the Nazis and the Second World War by demanding punitive reparations . Thankfully after the Second World War we had learnt something from history and out of a broken nation came the forerunner of the European community, as we now know it , the ECSC. The European Coal and Steel community was first proposed by Robert Schuman (French Foreign Minister at the time) on May 9th 1950 and seen as a tool to bind Europe together by trade following the thought process that countries that are reliant on each other for trade tend not to fight each other as Schuman said at the time his aim was to “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible”. After over 70 years of peaceful coexistence in Europe with closer ties than Schuman ever envisaged amongst more nations than he could ever have dreamt of it seems somewhat sadly  ironic that France stands on the edge of an electoral decision that could have a profoundly damaging impact on the project.

It looks increasingly likely that the French election will be very close with all three candidates on pretty much level pegging in the polls. To an outsider Franҫois Fillon seems too tainted  to succeed having paid his wife €1m for a non-existent job in the scandal known as Penelopegate . In French politics it seems acceptable to keep a mistress but paying your wife for being your wife is too much for the electorate and so it looks unlikely that either he or Hamon will make it through the first round. This leaves a centrist Macron, a left winger Mélonchon and a right winger Le Pen.If Macron , often perceived a Justin Trudeau light ,makes it through the first round he will beat whoever joins him in the second round vote which would be a nice easy outcome for the markets which would bumble on till the next European crisis , possibly in  Greece or Italy as they are  never far from imploding , and being cynical nothing much would change and as such it should lead to a strengthening of the Euro. And here lies the rub, is nothing changing good enough for the French Public ? Secondly if Hollande endorses Macron, his former economy minister will that reinforce the feeling of continuity of political thought process and be the kiss of death for him?

Suddenly it looks possible that Europe’s worst political nightmare is a possibility, a long shot but an increasing  possibility. Fillon and Hamon out, the light weight Macron struggling under the endorsement of Hollande and then what do we have left? Mélonchon and Le Pen. There is never too much point in studying the small details of campaign promises but the headline policies are enough to send a severe shudder through the markets and put the Euro under strain. Le Pen has stated that “The French have been dispossessed of their patriotism. They are suffering in silence from not being allowed to love their country … The divide is no longer between the left and the right, but between the patriots and the globalists.” Le Pen’s manifesto p ledges to take France out of the Eurozone and – unless the EU agrees to revert to a loose coalition of nations with neither a single currency nor a border-free area – to hold a referendum on France’s EU membership.

Mélenchon looks like he is making a strong run in as we head for the first round vote next Sunday. He has been electrifying recently and has a ready wit as well as a fast mind as was shown by his strong showing in the TV debate. He has plans to not only tax the rich with a tax of 100% on incomes over €400,000, exchange controls but also crucially a referendum on whether France stays in the Euro and Europe unless Europe makes radical changes .Ouch .

History and numbers tend to have symmetry about them and wouldn’t it be Ironic that the new president will be decided by a run-off Vote on May 7th and if as it is starting to look more possible  the run off is between Le Pen and Mélenchon it may well be that 67 years to the day that the dream started , May 9th 2017, that the first steps to unravel it are taken .We could be in for a very interesting ride indeed!