Monthly Archives: August 2013

On Thursday night, a British government lost a vote on military action for the first time in at least 100 years. The House of Commons voted 285 to 272 against the UK government’s non-binding motion for possible military action in Syria. David Cameron said that: “It’s clear to me that the British parliament and the British people do not wish to see military action; I get that, and I will act accordingly.” Phillip Hammond later confirmed that there would be no UK participation in any US intervention. 

In foreign policy, legality is often an afterthought. It is no different in the case of Syria. International law – a mix of treaties, customs, norms, standards, resolutions and rules without a universally accepted third party enforcement mechanism – should come second to questions of morality and strategy. Ordinary Syrians probably care little for esoteric debates about jus ad bellum. Nevertheless, it is worth reading the UK government’s legal position on military intervention against the Assad regime. By resting its case on humanitarian intervention, Britain is making a flimsy and bold legal argument. 

Without the US government there would be no iPhone, says economist Mariana Mazzucato in her new book ‘The Entrepreneurial State’. She tells the FT’s John McDermott that the state has played a leading role in generating innovation and growth.

Mark Carney, the new Bank of England governor, wants to make sure everyone is clear on the definition of a threshold. His first attempt at explaining the BoE’s “forward guidance” policy was met with scepticism by the bond and currency markets. Today during a speech in Nottingham, he had another go. In particular, he was keen to stress that a return to a 7 per cent unemployment rate, the threshold set by the Bank of England earlier this month, would not necessarily lead to a sudden rise in the base rate.  

“Illegal, yet legitimate”, was the Independent International Commission on Kosovo’s verdict concerning Nato’s military intervention in 1999 against the Serbian government. As the US, UK and others discuss action against Syria, the war in Iraq inevitably looms large. However, it is the case of Kosovo that is being studied by lawyers inside the Obama administration (according to the New York Times) and debated on legal blogs. 

After Detroit filed for bankruptcy some commentators decried it as an inevitable example of the failure of “big government”. However, as New York evaluates the legacy of Michael Bloomberg, whose 12-year reign comes to a close at the end of this year, and prepares to vote on his successor, there is an argument that the mayor has made the opposite case. 

Last weekend I spent a pleasant hour in a dark, sweaty hovel where a shirtless man and his accomplice induced a crowd to scream, clap, rave, meditate and sing karaoke. These things happen in Scotland, albeit with greater frequency during the Edinburgh festival. But Wonder & Joy is no ordinary show. It is the creation of Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans, two comedians whose Sunday Assembly, a self-styled “godless congregation”, opened in January in London and has since spread globally. 

The Edinburgh Fringe is a month-long display of entrepreneurship and ruthless capitalism. Ayn Rand probably wouldn’t have enjoyed The Ladyboys of Bangkok but she might have appreciated the furious competition among the city’s festival performers.  

In 1987, Michael Heseltine observed that “the Treasury never sleeps”. He might have added that it therefore never dreams.