A round of Cuba Libres!

Keyboard activists plot Cuba's political future, while Tories salute Miliband's apology

In the week Fidel Castro declared he would not complete his half century as leader of Cuba, the blogosphere said farewell to the longest ever serving communist leader.

Conservative Party Retile, who fears an “endless hagiographic encomia” from the BBC and Channel 4 following the announcement, writes: “Rather like one of his speeches, you rationally knew it would come to an end at some point, but had trouble really believing that it [would].”

Daniel Finkelstein brings together a collection of, what he describes as, some of the best reporting of Cuba under Castro's leadership, including Arthur Miller's account of when he met the bearded one.

Luke Akehurst bids farewell to Castro and looks to Cuba’s future: “Maybe the communists would win, but personally I hope Cubans would choose a third way which kept Cuba's commitment to free healthcare and education while bringing in freedom of speech, political pluralism and an end to the command economy.” Perhaps some sort of utopia will suffice.

Dave Osler uses his experiences of living in Cuba to weigh up the pros and cons of Castro’s regime. He concludes by describing his own dystopia: “We need to stress that a democratic opening is essential if Cuba is to avoid the build up of discontent on the scale of 1980s Eastern Europe, and the eventual introduction of a particularly savage brand of neoliberal capitalism.

“I’d hate to go back in a few years and find that heart-stoppingly beautiful Old Havana had reverted to its former role as one big extended casino-cum-whorehouse theme park for gringos.”

David Miliband’s apology on behalf of the government for cover-ups over US rendition flights was greeted by praise by some unlikely sources. Both Iain Dale and the Daily Mail’s Benedict Brogan showed support, the later writes: “His public performances have been criticised, often justifiably, as too glib or juvenile, but he hit the right note, and it was refreshing to have humility rather than swagger at the despatch box.”

The good will across the political divide extended to Tom Watson’s blog. When John Redwood responded to a Watson post, Ellee Seymour wonders if it marks a turning point in political bogging and if it is the first time an MP has posted a comment on another MP’s blog.

The Labour MP had quoted Redwood’s statement on the Conservatives’ view on the nationalisation of Northern Rock. The interaction was supported by other political bloggers, including Tim Ireland and Curly, for its civility. A far cry from the oft-raucous Commons floor.

Owen Walker is a journalist for a number of titles within Financial Times Business, primarily focussing on pensions. He recently graduated from Cardiff University’s newspaper journalism post-graduate course and is cursed by a passion for Crystal Palace FC.
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Theresa May gambles that the EU will blink first

In her Brexit speech, the Prime Minister raised the stakes by declaring that "no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain". 

It was at Lancaster House in 1988 that Margaret Thatcher delivered a speech heralding British membership of the single market. Twenty eight years later, at the same venue, Theresa May confirmed the UK’s retreat.

As had been clear ever since her Brexit speech in October, May recognises that her primary objective of controlling immigration is incompatible with continued membership. Inside the single market, she noted, the UK would still have to accept free movement and the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). “It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all,” May surmised.

The Prime Minister also confirmed, as anticipated, that the UK would no longer remain a full member of the Customs Union. “We want to get out into the wider world, to trade and do business all around the globe,” May declared.

But she also recognises that a substantial proportion of this will continue to be with Europe (the destination for half of current UK exports). Her ambition, she declared, was “a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement”. May added that she wanted either “a completely new customs agreement” or associate membership of the Customs Union.

Though the Prime Minister has long ruled out free movement and the acceptance of ECJ jurisdiction, she has not pledged to end budget contributions. But in her speech she diminished this potential concession, warning that the days when the UK provided “vast” amounts were over.

Having signalled what she wanted to take from the EU, what did May have to give? She struck a notably more conciliatory tone, emphasising that it was “overwhelmingly and compellingly in Britain’s national interest that the EU should succeed”. The day after Donald Trump gleefully predicted the institution’s demise, her words were in marked contrast to those of the president-elect.

In an age of Isis and Russian revanchism, May also emphasised the UK’s “unique intelligence capabilities” which would help to keep “people in Europe safe from terrorism”. She added: “At a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.”

The EU’s defining political objective is to ensure that others do not follow the UK out of the club. The rise of nationalists such as Marine Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland and the Dutch Partij voor de Vrijheid (Party for Freedom) has made Europe less, rather than more, amenable to British demands. In this hazardous climate, the UK cannot be seen to enjoy a cost-free Brexit.

May’s wager is that the price will not be excessive. She warned that a “punitive deal that punishes Britain” would be “an act of calamitous self-harm”. But as Greece can testify, economic self-interest does not always trump politics.

Unlike David Cameron, however, who merely stated that he “ruled nothing out” during his EU renegotiation, May signalled that she was prepared to walk away. “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain,” she declared. Such an outcome would prove economically calamitous for the UK, forcing it to accept punitively high tariffs. But in this face-off, May’s gamble is that Brussels will blink first.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.