Daily Archives: October 22, 2008

I’ve been visiting London and the north of England for the past few days. Since I moved to the US in 2005, I’ve neglected British politics somewhat. I look at the news now and then, but it all seems increasingly strange. The saga of Gordon Brown is completely bewildering to me – his popularity now restored by the worst financial crisis in the country’s history? Whatever happened to “no more boom and bust”? Whatever happened to “prudence with a purpose”? (Allow me to mention a headline I once wrote for The Economist: “Gordon and Prudence–It’s So Over.” Little did I know.) It all seems such a long time ago.

And yet, in other respects, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Mohamed Fayed is on the front page of the Evening Standard still, this time questioned over an alleged sexual assault – which he vehemently denies. Peter Mandelson is back in government, and “Tory sleaze” is a resurgent theme: these stories seem to have the same Russian oligarch in common, which is a new twist, but still. When Mandelson left office for the second time, and the papers were saying his political career was over, I bet my friend and FT colleague Gideon Rachman a fiver that he would be back for a third spell in due course. And so it proved. However, Gideon now denies all knowledge of this wager. Did I dream it? I think not. I am searching for documentary support. Had blogs existed back then, I feel I would be in the money.

Private Eye is the fixed point around which the country revolves. Could anything be more English? The current issue has a disappointingly indulgent review of three new television programmes about America:  travelogues looking at the United States as though it were another (much more vulgar) planet, narrated with effortless superiority by Stephen Fry, Simon Schama and Griff Rhys-Jones. I sampled all three, as it happens, and could not stand to watch more than five minutes of any of them. Simon Schama, striving for intellectual depth as well as flattering visuals, was worried about the water shortage out west. Driving through the Nevada desert, he talked about “paradise lost”. Was it a green and pleasant land before the gluttonous appetites of Las Vegas stripped it bare? Who’d have thunk? Never mind, I am very fond of the Nevada desert.

Also from the current Private Eye, a feature called “Dumb Britain” compiles idiotic answers from TV quiz shows. It has this:

The Weakest Link

Anne Robinson: In education, what is a formal cap worn by academics and also a piece of equipment used by bricklayers?

Contestant: Trowel

As a friend said when I read that out to her, “Aw.” But really, “The Weakest Link” is still in business? And Anne Robinson, I imagine, is still very stern and rude to her guests – who, if they prevail against her scorn and all odds, stand to win as much as Gideon owes me, or even a little more. How come she hasn’t died of boredom?

Back to the Standard, and another very British story. A 16-year old is stabbed to death for no reason. The killer is sentenced to 12 years. He should be out for his 30th birthday. The judge is quoted: “This was an unprovoked attack, but I accept that your intention was not to kill when you used [the knife] to inflict that fatal wound and that you have behavioural and learning difficulties.”

Yes, I dare say stabbing people falls under the heading of “behavioural difficulties”. Calling Theodore Dalrymple. Get me back to the land of the sane.

Apologies: I jotted this down a few days ago and then forgot to post it. I’m blaming jet lag (see next post). Anyway, for the record…

What form will the backlash against lightly regulated capitalism take in the US? I ponder the question in this piece for the FT’s Analysis page:

Even before the worst financial crisis since the 1930s bore down on the US this summer, the country seemed poised for an ideological shift. The administration of President George W. Bush was immensely unpopular. Anti-trade and anti-business sentiment was on the rise and both main political parties, in different ways, were responding.

The technocratic market-friendly liberalism espoused by Bill Clinton and the New Democrats was already much less prominent in Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. As the country’s economic difficulties have worsened, the pro-market theme has not so much subsided as disappeared. Mr Obama now is far more likely to talk about the bankruptcy of “trickle-down economics” than the need for competition and incentives.

John McCain, the Republican candidate, has yielded nothing to his opponent in the stridency of his recent denunciations of “Wall Street greed”. The administration, meanwhile, has been forced to swallow what remained of its rhetorical commitment to market forces and deregulation with a $250bn bank recapitalisation – a plan that Hank Paulson, Treasury secretary, described as “objectionable” but necessary.

Where might this lead? Does the present upheaval, as some have speculated, point to the end of a distinctively American capitalism? On the whole, this seems unlikely – though the pressures on “American exceptionalism” have rarely looked so strong.

Read on here.

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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