Top 10 Politicians' Christmas cards

The Staggers verdict on cards sent from seats of power around the world

It's that time of the year again, when politicians carry out their festive duty.

Politicians being politicians, few shy away from such a valuable message-sending opportunity. The cards range from the political to the progressive, from those that double up to benefit charity to others that remain ambiguously open to interpretation.

Scroll down for a New Statesman look at politicians' Christmas cards from Britain and abroad.

 

1. From the US president, Barack Obama, and the first lady, Michelle:

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Non-religious and stately. The message of the Obamas' first Christmas card -- "May your family have a joyous holiday season and a new year blessed with hope and happiness", signed by Barack and Michelle Obama -- was apparently important enough to be discussed in Congress. Well, at least now we know what they've really been doing with their time.

 

2. From the Canadian Liberal MP Scott Brison:

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From the sound of it, there really shouldn't be that much fuss about this card, which Brison sent to 5,000 of his friends and constituents. Gorgeous landscape, adorable golden retriever, happy good-looking couple -- but this is also known as the "Brokeback Brison" card because Brison is Canada's first gay MP in a same-sex marriage. Since a story about the card ran, it has had an overwhelmingly homophobic response. The Globe and Mail news website, for one, had to shut down its comments section for the story.

Calling foul against critics is Brison, who protests: "I'm not the first politician to have a family picture on a Christmas card."

Fair enough.

 

3. From the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd:

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Another one to stay away from religious references is Rudd's. This does it in "good leftist style", says a man who received the card, Jon Ray. Possibly the strangest of the lot, it makes no mention of Christmas but instead features one of Brisbane's CityCat ferries, and the names of the city's suburbs.

Psychologists and card scrutinisers, feel free to give your verdict on this one.

 

4. From Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

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From 10 Downing Street comes this ambiguous card from Gordon Brown, who chose to feature a photograph taken by 19-year-old Jordan Mary, winner of the Young Environmental Photographer of the Year.

It hasn't gone down that well with critics. David Breaker, who gave the card a 1/12 rating, writes:"Surely it's never wise in politics to be involved with anything greatly diminished and hanging by a thread in a cold, frosty environment, populated only by prickly and poisonous things, all of which will be gone in the New Year?"

5. From the former prime minister Tony Blair:

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He may now "do God", but Tony Blair chooses to steer clear of religion, going for the narcissist's fallback option of printing one's picture on the cover.

 

6. From the Commons Speaker, John Bercow:

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Another Godless card yet again, posted on Guido's blog. Sweet kids, boring card.

 

7. From Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond:

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The card's cover, featuring a painting by the artist Gerard Burns titled A New Journey, has riled critics with its independence innuendo.

Said the Tory whip David McLetchie: "Alex Salmond is trying to politicise Christmas, having already attempted to politicise the Saltire, Scotland's national days and our children's education. His obsession with independence is blinding him to reality."

But kudos to Salmond for managing to portray McLetchie and other critics as overworked grumps.

Replied a spokesperson for Salmond: "Messrs McLetchie and Rumbles should lighten up and get with the Christmas spirit -- they are obviously badly in need of a festive break."

At least proceeds from sales of the painting will be going to charity.

 

8. From the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg:

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Smart move by Clegg to feature a innocently-sweet-and-all-things-nice drawing by his sons Antonio, eight, and Alberto, five.

"It is very sweet," mused the clinical psychologist Mr Bracey to the Times. "It's not conveying any political messages and is just simple and naive."

To criticise Clegg's card aesthetic quality would be Scrooge-like.

 

9. From the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:

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Daredevil Johnson is the only one of the lot who has dared to say "Merry Christmas". London bus users may disagree.

 

10. From the Conservative leader, David Cameron:

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Sending a request to Santa here, Dave?

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Theresa May’s Brexit speech is Angela Merkel’s victory – here’s why

The Germans coined the word “merkeln to describe their Chancellor’s approach to negotiations. 

It is a measure of Britain’s weak position that Theresa May accepts Angela Merkel’s ultimatum even before the Brexit negotiations have formally started

The British Prime Minister blinked first when she presented her plan for Brexit Tuesday morning. After months of repeating the tautological mantra that “Brexit means Brexit”, she finally specified her position when she essentially proposed that Britain should leave the internal market for goods, services and people, which had been so championed by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. 

By accepting that the “UK will be outside” and that there can be “no half-way house”, Theresa May has essentially caved in before the negotiations have begun.

At her meeting with May in July last year, the German Chancellor stated her ultimatum that there could be no “Rosinenpickerei” – the German equivalent of cherry picking. Merkel stated that Britain was not free to choose. That is still her position.

Back then, May was still battling for access to the internal market. It is a measure of how much her position has weakened that the Prime Minister has been forced to accept that Britain will have to leave the single market.

For those who have followed Merkel in her eleven years as German Kanzlerin there is sense of déjà vu about all this.  In negotiations over the Greek debt in 2011 and in 2015, as well as in her negotiations with German banks, in the wake of the global clash in 2008, Merkel played a waiting game; she let others reveal their hands first. The Germans even coined the word "merkeln", to describe the Chancellor’s favoured approach to negotiations.

Unlike other politicians, Frau Merkel is known for her careful analysis, behind-the-scene diplomacy and her determination to pursue German interests. All these are evident in the Brexit negotiations even before they have started.

Much has been made of US President-Elect Donald Trump’s offer to do a trade deal with Britain “very quickly” (as well as bad-mouthing Merkel). In the greater scheme of things, such a deal – should it come – will amount to very little. The UK’s exports to the EU were valued at £223.3bn in 2015 – roughly five times as much as our exports to the United States. 

But more importantly, Britain’s main export is services. It constitutes 79 per cent of the economy, according to the Office of National Statistics. Without access to the single market for services, and without free movement of skilled workers, the financial sector will have a strong incentive to move to the European mainland.

This is Germany’s gain. There is a general consensus that many banks are ready to move if Britain quits the single market, and Frankfurt is an obvious destination.

In an election year, this is welcome news for Merkel. That the British Prime Minister voluntarily gives up the access to the internal market is a boon for the German Chancellor and solves several of her problems. 

May’s acceptance that Britain will not be in the single market shows that no country is able to secure a better deal outside the EU. This will deter other countries from following the UK’s example. 

Moreover, securing a deal that will make Frankfurt the financial centre in Europe will give Merkel a political boost, and will take focus away from other issues such as immigration.

Despite the rise of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party, the largely proportional electoral system in Germany will all but guarantee that the current coalition government continues after the elections to the Bundestag in September.

Before the referendum in June last year, Brexiteers published a poster with the mildly xenophobic message "Halt ze German advance". By essentially caving in to Merkel’s demands before these have been expressly stated, Mrs May will strengthen Germany at Britain’s expense. 

Perhaps, the German word schadenfreude comes to mind?

Matthew Qvortrup is author of the book Angela Merkel: Europe’s Most Influential Leader published by Duckworth, and professor of applied political science at Coventry University.