Monthly Archives: July 2008

Otherwise known as an announcement that I’m going on holiday for three weeks. If I blog during that period, it will probably be a bad sign indicating either:

a) There is a global crisis of such enormity that I feel compelled to comment. Read more

Last time I was in Brussels I was approached by a red-faced Eurocrat, with an Irish accent, who spluttered – “Why did you do it? Why did you give that idiot his job back?”

I was a little taken aback by this – and asked which idiot ( in fact, “eejit”) he had in mind. “Tyler Brule”, he spluttered.

I replied that I have no influence over hiring decisions at the FT. And I pointed out that Tyler has many fans – me included. In fact, just to prove my it, I am going to devote this post to a Brule-style exercise: a list of my favourite wine stores around the world.

Of course, if it was a proper Tyler Brule article, at least one of the stores would be in Tokyo and another would be on a Swedish island. My own top five are in London, Paris, Reims, San Francisco and Brussels. And I would like to encourage people to send me their own recommendations. Read more

In normal weeks, I try to say something original in my column and to avoid writing in clichés. But this week I have decided to change tack. Read more

It looks like Plan B for the Lisbon Treaty might be in trouble, already. It was pretty obvious at the last EU summit that the idea is to proceed with ratification and then to try and force the Irish to re-consider. Given the irritating inflexibility of the Irish constitution, that would mean a second referendum.

But a new poll commissioned by Open Europe suggests that a second referendum would result in an even bigger Irish No vote. Some EU leaders reckon that the Irish are bound to re-consider, if all the other 26 countries can be persuaded to ratify. But “isolate Ireland” looks like a dubious strategy. First, I’m not sure it’s going to be that easy to secure ratification everywhere. Second, the new poll asks Irish voters how they would react if all the other countries have ratified. Answer – they become even more stubborn. Read more

The British papers are full of excited commentary about the Glasgow East by-election and last night’s catastrophic defeat for the Labour Party. But it seems to me the really significant event in British politics yesterday was news of the theft of David Cameron’s bike.

Opinion is divided on the meaning of the bike theft. My colleague Stefan Stern thinks that the photo of the Tory leader searching for his bike made him look foolish – “That little boy lost look rather undermined the more statesman-like image he has been trying so hard to create.” On the other hand, Mary Cunningham (well-known commenter on this blog) reckons that it will cement Cameron’s image as “one of us”.

I think I’m with Mary on this one. The bike theft incident has it all. It underlines that Cameron really does cycle around London. He is also revealed as someone who shops at Tesco’s on his way home from work – and as a victim of street crime. What could be more normal than that? In fact, it’s so perfect that I wondered whether Tory Central Office might not have arranged the bicycle theft. I put this to a colleague who used to work there, who responded – “They couldn’t manage to do anything as organised as that.” Read more

I have just watched Obama’s Berlin speech. As so often with him, it was the spectacle that counted. A beautiful summer’s evening, a cheering multi-racial crowd (I didn’t know there were so many blacks in Germany), the charismatic young senator.

What Obama actually had to say was pretty much beside the point. But I thought the speech itself was competent. The only bit where it really took off was when he gave his “I love America” peroration at the end. To get a German crowd cheering an evocation of the American dream was an achievement – and it did link into his big theme, which appeared to be something to do with “our common humanity”. (As a Dalek, I was unmoved by this.)

Generally, the speech was artfully-designed to avoid giving offence either to American voters or to a German audience. Wisely, Obama obeyed the nostrum that “partisanship stops at the water’s edge” – so he did not bash Bush or McCain or pander hugely to German hostility to the Iraq war. When the crowd began to chant “Obama” in response to his promise to “bring this war to an end” – he did not milk the moment, and moved swiftly onwards. The only vaguely tough bit, was when he appealed for more German help in Afghanistan – a call that was met with tepid applause. Anyway, Angela Merkel appears to have ruled that out in advance. Read more

I appear to have endorsed Barack Obama by accident. Brad DeLong – well-known blogger and economist – has a note on his weblog headlined – “Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times endorses Barack Obama”. And WCM asked yesterday – “Gideon’s endorsement of Obama for (global) Commander-in-Chief. Premature? Politically motivated? Deserved? ”

Oddly, despite the headline on my column – “Obama for commander-in-chief” – I wasn’t consciously sitting down to write an endorsement column. What I was aiming to do was to respond to the polls that show that McCain is much more trusted as future commander-in-chief. But c-in-c is not the only role performed by the president.

There are a few subjects on which I prefer McCain. Trade is the most obvious. I also think he has taken sound positions on immigration and on campaign-finance reform. And I accept that McCain was courageous to take an unpopular position on the surge – and that he has been largely vindicated. (Although he was wrong to back the war in the first place.) Read more

The constitutional reforms pushed through by President Sarkozy yesterday are impressive for two reasons.

First, he got it done. Read more

The American economy is in a mess. The US is involved in two draining wars. The Republican party is deeply unpopular. The McCain campaign is in chaos. Read more

In most countries there is no shortage of ambitious politicians clamouring to be prime minister. But Belgium seems to be an exception. Poor old Yves Leterme has tried to resign – but the king has just ordered him to soldier on.

When I lived in Brussels, Brits used routinely to make two observations about Belgian politics that were guaranteed to irritate the locals. The first point was that Belgium was bound, eventually, to break up. The second was that if even the Belgians couldn’t stand each other, what hope was there for “ever closer union” in Europe?

The Belgian retort was usually that the Brits were being sensationalist – and that Belgian politics is far more complicated and co-operative than a casual observer might realise. I tend to agree that the long anticipated break-up of Belgium is still a long way off. But I also think that the sanguine interpretation of Belgian politics is becoming harder and harder to maintain.

As for the implications of Belgium’s plight for the European Union, I have had some  thoughts on that. Read more

Much of the comment on Barack Obama’s big foreign policy speech has focussed on his clash with McCain about withdrawal from Iraq. The arguments here are well-rehearsed. Basically, I’m in sympathy with Obama’s argument that it was a breathtaking mistake to throw more resources at Iraq than Afghanistan – and I think his desire to switch focus is right.

But listening to the Obama speech I had several immediate questions about what he had to say about Afghanistan and – in particular – Pakistan. Read more

Rupert Murdoch’s arrival at The Wall Street Journal is being greeted by American journalists with roughly the level of enthusiasm with which the Romans greeted Alaric the Visigoth. The Atlantic Monthly proclaims that the day the elderly tycoon took over the Journal was “a date that will live in infamy for a certain generation of American newsmen”. Read more

So – as predicted – the International Criminal Court has charged Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, with genocide.

But is this a good idea, or a bad idea? There is a very good debate taking place on the Making Sense of Darfur blog. I would particularly recommend reading the first three entries by Phil Clark, Andrew Natsios and Alex de Waal. Read more

I always assumed that only a small group of weirdos followed the European Union. However, I have noticed that most-read posts on my blog recently have been the ones about the Lisbon treaty. (Actually, those two statements may not be mutually exclusive).

So, I am encouraged to return to the subject.  I have recieved a response from Wolfgang Munchau, to my question about what exactly it is in Lisbon that he finds so attractive and indispensable.

Let’s start with Wolfgang. He denies my accusation that he is willing to destroy the European Union in order to save it, and writes: Read more

Some readers may wonder why I chose to write my column this week about the International Criminal Court, rather than the obvious subject – the G8 meeting in Japan.

The reason is that I had a thoroughly discouraging lunch with my colleague, Alan Beattie. When I mentioned that I might write about the G8, he said – “Let me guess, you will say…” and proceeded to reel off a string of cliches, which had indeed been the basis of my putative column.

Alan then forwarded me a generic column on international institutions that he has written. It really says it all – and I think I may simply reproduce it, every year, round about G8 time.

It goes as follows:

By reporters everywhere

An ineffectual international organisation yesterday issued a stark warning about a situation it has absolutely no power to change, the latest in a series of self-serving interventions by toothless intergovernmental bodies.

“We are seriously concerned about this most serious outbreak of seriousness,” said the head of the institution, either a former minister from a developing country or a mid-level European or American bureaucrat. “This is a wake-up call to the world. They must take on board the vital message that my organisation exists.”

 Read more

Last Friday was a big day at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Jean-Pierre Bemba, former vice-president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was charged with multiple counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Resplendent in a grey suit and red tie, Mr Bemba looked like a respectable statesman. But he is charged with grave crimes, including the use of mass rape as an instrument of war. Read more

So much for a “fresh start” between Britain and Russia, in the Medvedev era. It sounds like Gordon Brown and President Medvedev had a pretty disastrous meeting yesterday.

There is a striking contrast between the way the Russians are willing to deal with the British and their treatment of the Americans. Put bluntly, the Russians seem happy to beat up on the British and are much more careful to maintain a reasonably friendly relationship with the Bush administration.

It is true that there are some very tricky issues between Russia and Britain – the BP row, the legacy of the Litvinenko murder and so on. But the Russians also have serious disputes with America – over missile defence, Nato expansion etc. I’m afraid it may simply be that it is easier to bully Gordon Brown’s Britain than George Bush’s America. In fact, I wonder whether Britain might not be becoming a surrogate for Russian anti-American feeling? Read more

There is a fascinating page in this morning’s FT on the latest “will they, won’t they” speculation on an Israeli attack on Iran.

The big third player in this drama is the US. As ever the questions are – will the Israelis be able to persuade the Americans to attack? If not, will they get the green light from the Americans to stage an attack themselves?

Like everything else in the US at the moment, the Iran question is being seen through the prism of the presidential election. Read more

It is rarely a good sign when you begin to re-live your childhood. Of late, I have found myself drifting back to the 1970s with disturbing frequency. Once again, the British newspapers are full of headlines about Saudi oil sheikhs, inflation and trade-union militancy. A terrorist threat hangs over London. The England team has failed to qualify for a major football tournament. All it needs is some power cuts and the return of glam rock – and I will be right back into my second childhood.But my most insistent flashbacks are to the US, not Britain. I spent the summer of 1976 in California, where I made the discovery that American politics is much more exciting than the British variety. Read more