Canada's left mourns its leader

Jack Layton's death from cancer leaves the NDP, Canada's social democratic party, with no obvious re

Quicker than anyone expected, far more quickly than anyone wished, Jack Layton died of cancer today, aged 61.

Proud, principled, ambitious for his party, Layton was born into politics (his father had been a Progressive Conservative minister) in the Anglophone enclave of Hudson, Québec, in 1950 and remained a politician to the end, signing off with a moving Letter to Canadians two days before his death. An accomplished athlete at school (and urban cyclist later on), Layton undertook everything he did with the expectation of winning. He was driven and unrelenting in his championing of the poor and the marginalized, and a vocal defender of universal health care, better public transit and housing in Canadian cities. He made his mark in municipal politics in Toronto over two decades before, in 2003, successfully campaigning to become leader of the NDP, Canada's social democratic party. An actual MP's seat would not come until a year afterwards, in the 2004 election, after which the NDP won only 19 of 308 seats but held the balance of power and forced upon the Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin's short-lived minority government what Layton called Canada's "first NDP budget."

Four years later, he was instrumental in a failed attempt to replace the Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a Liberal-NDP-Bloc Québecois coalition and, come the 2011 election, Layton would have none of conventional truths suggesting that as the leader of a third party in a fiercely contested parliamentary election, the destiny of his was to be squeezed out. The unprecedented rise of his party to 103 seats and to the benches of the official opposition in May was unforeseen, and largely attributed to the zeal and persistence of the bilingual NDP leader in Québec, the historically dissatisfied province where he made a point of avidly campaigning. Layton sought amnesty for American Iraq War resisters, better conduct by Canadian mining companies and, in 2006, was nicknamed 'Taliban Jack' for arguing, well ahead of the 2010 London Conference, that members of the Afghanistan enemy should be invited to the table. He was, in Canada, alternative, and will be sorely missed - not just by a party that has, at the moment, no obvious replacement, but by a broad swathe of Canadians wondering now, what is their representation in Parliament.

Noah Richler's letter from Canada appears in the current issue of the New Statesman.

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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.