Was this the night when the Conservative Party saw the chance of an overall majority slip away, ensuring that Britain is heading for a hung parliament? My impressions of the first ever leaders’ debate seems to be the same as that of the great British public. Nick Clegg won.
Snap polls after the debate showed the Lib Dem leader as the clear victor. More significantly, the first poll of post-debate voting intentions that I’ve seen – just broadcast on Sky News – showed a big jump in those saying that they intend to vote for the Lib Dems. They went up from 19% in the polls to 26%, just behind Labour. Of course, there are still three weeks and two debates to go. But, if that trend holds, we’re definitely going to end up with a hung parliament – with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power.
Until today, I was feeling pretty sympathetic towards plucky little Iceland, with its brave fight against the ruinous claims made against the country by the British and Dutch treasuries. But now it seems Iceland is having its revenge – and I have fallen victim to the cloud of volcanic dust emanating from the country.
My flight back to London this morning was half-way home – just over Bulgaria – when the pilot announced that we were having to return to Israel because Heathrow is closed. Now I am cooling my heels in a hotel in Tel Aviv. My mood has not been improved by the news that flights to Britain look like they will be grounded for all of Friday, as well.
I cannot repress the dark suspicion that the Icelanders have planned this. Their own airport is apparently unaffected. But all air traffic over Britain and the Netherlands is suspended until further notice. Fiendish.
Talking to Nasser Kidweh in Ramallah yesterday was like chatting to somebody who had been asked to act out the phrase “world-weary” in a game of charades: lots of long pauses, shrugs and despairing laughter, from beneath hooded eyelids. Kidweh is Palestinian aristocracy – a former ambassador to the UN, a member of the Fathah central committee who is tipped as a possible future president, partly because he is also a nephew of Yasser Arafat.
I think anybody who has lived through more than 20 years of “peace talks” and observes the steady progress of Israeli settlements on the West Bank – and Hamas’s grip on Gaza – has some reason to be a little world weary. But, actually, beneath the gloomy manner, some of what Kidweh had to say was surprisingly cheery. He was surprisingly open in his enthusiasm for the Obama administration and is delighted by the idea that the US may soon present its own peace plan. (The Israelis hate this idea.) He thinks that the US has finally understood that settlements are the main block to a peace deal.
An impressive array of world leaders has assembled in the US to discuss nuclear security and the threat of nuclear terrorism – but Bibi Netanyahu is not among them. In some ways this is odd, since the Israeli prime minister has made the threat of an Iranian bomb his signature tune for years. Surely, he would have relished the chance to use the Washington summit to make a high-profile speech. Instead, Bibi is cowering here in Jerusalem, apparently for fear that Israel might have been put on the spot about its own nuclear weapons.
Many of the Israelis I have spoken to regard this as further evidence of Netanyahu’s diplomatic ineptitude – following his high-profile rows with the Obama administration. More broadly, there is an uneasy feeling here that Israel is losing control of events in the never-ending “peace process”. Specifically, there is a fear that the US may soon present its own peace plan. Or that next year, the Palestinian Authority will make a unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state.
I was kicking myself earlier today about the fact that I will be abroad for much of the British general election. Later this afternoon, I’m off to the Middle East for a few days; and then I’m away again for the last week of April. British election campaigns don’t happen that often, and they only last a few weeks, so it seems a shame to miss so much of it.
Then again, the campaign so far seems quite exceptionally dull. The economy is in deep doo-doo and we will probably get a change of governing party for the first time since 1997, so it should be exciting – but I can barely stay awake through the evening news. I thought it was just me being jaded, but I was interested to hear Anthony Howard, the veteran political commentator, say on the radio this morning that so far this was the most boring election campaign he can remember of the seventeen that he has covered as a journalist.
The radio headline this morning that the president of Poland had been killed in a plane crash was shocking enough. It was doubly chilling to hear that it had happened over Russia. But almost nobody is suggesting foul play. It simply seems that the pilot of President Kaczynski’s plance tried to land (several times) in desperately dangerous circumstances, with tragic results.
Still, there is a horrible irony in the fact that so many members of the Polish governing elite, in particular, the armed forces, were killed en route to a commemoration service for the Katyn massacre of 1940, in which over 20,000 members of the Polish armed forces, as well as leading intellectuals and civil servants, were killed – probably on the direct orders of Stalin.
As one South African bogeyman is buried, another is born. The funeral of Eugene Terre’Blanche, the white supremacist, took place yesterday against the background of growing controversy about the views and future role of Julius Malema, the leader of the ruling ANC’s Youth Wing.
In some people’s minds, there is a direct connection between the two events, since the rather unyouthful looking Malema has become a rabble-rouser, indulging in open race-baiting of the sort that the ANC leaders have scrupulously avoided since the end of apartheid. Malema has even been indirectly blamed for Terre’Blanche’s death, since he has taken to singing the revolutionary ditty – “Kill the Boer” in public. This has been denounced as grossly irresponsible – although, on the face of it, is not obviously worse than President Jacob Zuma’s fondness for the song, “Bring me my machine gun.”
Terre’Blanche was an appalling man – part buffoon, part racist thug. But his death has crystallised the fears of rural Afrikaners, and focussed attention on the fact that 3,000 white farmers have been killed in a rural crime wave.
If David Cameron is elected prime minister of Britain next month he will be, in some ways, a very familiar sort of Conservative prime minister: sensible, pragmatic, intelligent in an un-flashy sort of way. But the Tory party that he leads will find itself oddly isolated from mainstream conservatism in both the US and Europe.
Continue reading “Cameron’s Tories point to isolation”
I am heading for the frozen north for a week’s holiday – and will probably not blog over the next week. No promises, obviously.
The news that the Chinese may be coming on board for a new package of sanctions on Iran has been greeted as evidence of a thaw in US-Chinese relations. There is an interesting piece to this effect in today’s Guardian – although the article itself is actually rather more cautious than the headline.
I am not at all surprised that the Chinese are making some conciliatory gestures to the US, ahead of the crucial American decision about whether to designate China as a “currency manipulator” on April 15th. Stopping the US from taking that path – which could lead to trade sanctions – is now the major goal of Chinese policy to America.
So, expect plenty of warm words and conciliatory gestures from Beijing in the next couple of weeks. But, beneath the surface, I think there still are structural forces pushing the two nations towards a much more adverserial relationship.