David Cameron at the annual Confederation of British Industry (CBI) conference on 10 November. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Leader: David Cameron has no answers to the global crisis he describes

While highlighting dangers abroad, Cameron ignores those at home, including the long decline in living standards, the lack of investment and an overheated London property market.

Even before the damage from the last economic crisis has been repaired, the danger is growing of another. After briefly showing signs of recovery in 2013, the eurozone has slumped back into stagnation. Meanwhile, Japan has entered recession again, growth in China is slowing down and geopolitical threats proliferate.

David Cameron’s warning that “red lights are flashing on the dashboard of the global economy” was justified, even if his motives were primarily political. It is in the interests of the Conservatives for voters’ attention to be concentrated on this issue, rather than immigration, on which Ukip leads, and on the NHS, on which Labour does. By alerting the electorate that the storm has not passed, Mr Cameron aims to persuade them not to take a chance on the opposition at the general election. The hope is that a vote for Labour will appear too risky and that a vote for Ukip will appear too frivolous.

But if the Prime Minister’s jeremiad was politically astute it was also disingenuous. Having blamed the 2008 crisis on Labour’s profligacy, rather than global forces, he cannot now reasonably cite the same conditions as an alibi for the coming UK slowdown. While highlighting the dangers abroad, he ignores those at home, including the long decline in living standards, the lack of public and private investment and an overheated London property market.

Mr Cameron is correct to note the harm inflicted on Britain by the parlous state of the eurozone, our largest trading partner, but refuses to add that this results not from an absence of austerity (the policy he promotes for growth) but from a dangerous excess. As Mehdi Hasan writes on page 33, Europhiles should question their faith in an EU that has done so much to choke off demand in member states and so little to support it.

In these circumstances, voters in the UK and elsewhere are easily susceptible to populists and demagogues who seek to demonise immigrants. Politicians have spent a decade complaining that we do not talk about the issue. The truth is that many voters hear about little else. By too often reinforcing the myths about immigration, rather than challenging them, the two main parties jointly ensure that Ukip is the main beneficiary. No voter who heard Labour’s panicky pledge to ban migrants from claiming out-of-work benefits for two years after their arrival and to limit tax credits for those in employment would be reminded that migrants contribute considerably more in taxes than they receive in welfare payments. An OECD report last year, for instance, found that they make a net contribution to the UK of 1.02 per cent of GDP or £16.3bn, because they are younger and more economically active than the population in general.

The truth, which almost no politician will dare utter, is that Britain will need more, rather than fewer, immigrants in the future to meet the challenge of an ageing population. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that should the UK maintain net migration of roughly 140,000 a year (significantly higher than the government’s target of “tens of thousands”), debt will rise to 99 per cent of GDP by 2062-2063. But should it cut net migration to zero, debt will reach 174 per cent.

The Conservatives never miss an opportunity to boast of their “long-term economic plan” and their commitment to balanced growth. But the gap between rhetoric and reality has seldom been greater. Fixated on their ideological commitment to achieve a budget surplus by the end of the next parliament, the Tories offer none of the innovative thinking required to remake the British economy for this new insecure era. After Mr Cameron’s cynical promise of £7bn of tax cuts, even their devotion to fiscal restraint is now questionable.

Rather than managing decline, both Britain and the eurozone need an ambitious programme for growth. In the absence of economic leadership, the world is likely to remain at best trapped in what Keynes called “the long, dragging conditions of semi-slump” and at worst caught in the rapids of another global crisis. 

This article first appeared in the 20 November 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The deep roots of Isis

GETTY
Show Hide image

Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue