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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)
The constitutional reforms pushed through by President Sarkozy yesterday are impressive for two reasons.
First, he got it done.
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.
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.