For the first time in my life, I find myself envying Angela Merkel’s husband. That is because the spouses meetings at G8 and G20 summits are about to get a lot more interesting. The arrival of Carla Bruni has already perked things up considerably. Michelle Obama seems to be a little livelier than Laura Bush. But the new star of the show seems certain to be Miyuki Hatoyama, the wife of Yukio Hatoyama, Japan’s new PM.
To quote an intriuging profile by Peter Popham in The Independent, Japan’s new first lady is: “a lifestyle guru, a macrobiotics enthusiast, an author of cookery books, a retired actress, a divorcee, and a fearless clothes horse for garments of her own creation, including a skirt made from Hawaiian coffee sacks. But there is more, much more. She has travelled to the planet Venus. And she was once abducted by aliens.
It is a rule here at the FT that op-eds submitted by prime ministers and leading politicians are usually pretty boring. The usual offer is something like – “Here is a speech I gave three days ago on the need for a better world, would you care to re-print it.”
However, I will make an exception to this rule for Yukio Hatoyama’s piece on “A New Path for Japan”, which was published in the New York Times at the end of last month, just before he was elected prime minister.
Hatoyama’s piece includes an unusual repudiation of globalisation from the prime minister of a leading industrial nation. He argues that – “The recent economic crisis resulted from a way of thinking based on the idea that American-style free-market economics represents a universal and ideal economic order” and that “globalism has progressed without any regard for non-economic values.”
Hatoyama also disses America in other ways, arguing that “as a result of the failure of the Iraq war and the financial crisis, the era of US-led globalism is coming to an end.” He implicitly casts doubt on the reliability of the US security guarantee, saying that Japan’s dilemma is to be “caught between the United States, which is fighting to retain its position as the world’s dominant power, and China which is seeking ways to become dominant”. And, in perhaps the worst heresy of all, he cites the European Union as an inspiring example – and says that Asia should work towards establishing a common currency and a system of collective security. Read more
Over the past few months there has been lots of speculation about whether Tony Blair wants to be “President of Europe” – or, more accurately, president of the European Council. But I think it is increasingly clear what job he would most enjoy – Pope.
Now that he is both retired from politics, a Catholic and head of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, the former PM is giving full expression to his spiritual side. I was struck by this recent article in The Guardian, headlined – “‘Materialism a threat to planet and human identity’, says Tony Blair“. To be fair Blair’s speech to a Catholic conference in Italy (full text, here), covered a lot of ground – from Chinese attitudes to climate change, to globalisation. But there was also a fair chunk about the evils of materialism. Blair insisted: “We only need to contemplate the financial crisis to understand that the pursuit of maximum short-term profit, without proper regard to the communal good, is a mistake and leads to neither profit nor good. Yet, at a deeper level, the case against a purely individualistic or materialistic philosophy has to be made.” Read more
When the great recession began last year, the fate of Japan was often held up as an awful warning to the west. If the US and the European Union failed to adopt the right policies, it was said, they too might suffer a Japanese-style “lost decade”, followed by years of feeble growth. Read more