For many months, the government of Thailand has insisted that it wants to restore order to the streets of Bangkok, without resorting to violence. That attempt has now failed. Blood is being shed as the army attempts to isolate and disperse the “red shirt” demonstrators.
The bloodshed in Bangkok is a throwback to the bad old days of Thai politics. Military coups used to be a fairly regular occurrence in the 1970s and 1980s. Quite often they passed off without many casualties. But as Thailand grew richer and more enmeshed in the global economy, the hope was that the country’s politics would mature and modernise. There would be civilian rule with smooth transitions of power. Today’s events show that Thailand has gone backwards.
In theory, I should know Britain’s new chancellor of the exchequer, really quite well. George Osborne grew up in the same street as me in London. We went to the same school. He used to be called Gideon, before changing his name to George. I once interviewed him for a job. But the odd thing is, I hardly know the guy.
The reason for this is rather humiliating. The chancellor, as I will have to learn to call him, is much younger than me. Eight years younger, to be precise; he has only just turned 39. So the first time I really met George Osborne was when I interviewed him for a job at The Economist in 1997.
Europe has bought itself time with its €750bn bail-out for the euro. But the long-term problem remains.
Most of the European Union is living beyond its means. Government deficits are out of control and public-sector debt is rising. If European governments do not use their new breathing space to control spending, financial markets will get dangerously restless again. Unfortunately, European voters and politicians are simply unprepared for the age of austerity that lies ahead.
Gordon Brown has just announced his resignation as the leader of the Labour Party and, therefore, as prime minister. This does not mean he is packing his bags with immediate effect. That still awaits either the successful formation of a Tory government, supported by the Liberal Democrats; or the new option that Brown has put on the table, a Lib-Lab government, led by a new leader of the Labour Party and prime minister. That option would probably not be fully in place until September.
This development means that the Lib Dems are either spoilt for choice, or facing an agonising dilemma – depending on your point of view. The attractions of a deal with the Tories remain powerful. A Tory-Lib arrangement would have a much stronger majority – and would match the public perception that the Conservatives won the election and that Labour lost. Getting rid of the famously Machiavellian Gordon Brown removes one powerful objection for the Lib Dems in dealing with Labour. But other problems remain. Both the Lib Dems and Labour lost seats in the election, so this might look like a “coalition of losers”. And the coalition’s majority would be wafer-thin and reliant on the votes of nationalist parties. It would look much less like the “strong stable” government that Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, insists is his goal.
I have just finished watching David Cameron’s statement on television. I was impressed by how coherent and fresh he seemed. Personally, I feel shattered – and all I did was stay up to watch the election on television. I’ve always thought that one mark of top politicians is freakish stamina; and Cameron, Clegg and Brown clearly all qualify on those grounds. I suppose, for Cameron, the prospect of becoming prime minister over the next 48 hours, must be a fairly major shot of adrenalin.
In their own ways, I think Clegg, Cameron and Brown all made dignified statements. I thought Clegg did well to disguise what must have been fairly crushing disappointment – although he now has the excitement of the coalition negotiations. Brown also did well not to sound too desperate to make a deal. But, one of the strange aspects of this election, is that – in a way – all three leaders have lost.
Why is this day unlike any other? I can think of a few reasons.
1. It is my 47th birthday.
2. It is Tony Blair’s 57th birthday.
3. It is the day on which my brother Tom’s novel got an absolute rave review in the New York Times, rocketing him up to number four on Amazon in the US. You can buy the book here.
4. My colleague, Lucy Kellaway, points out that it is also the day on which her novel is published in Britain. I’m sure it too will get raves. You can buy it here.
5. And last of all, it is election day here in Britain.
When I was in Japan recently, critics of Yukio Hatoyama often said that the prime minister was in the habit of making nice-sounding promises that he later found it impossible to keep. Exhibit one was Hatoyama’s pledge to renegotiate the deal covering the US military bases in Okinawa and to move an important marine base off the island completely. Predictably, Hatoyama has now had to back down. But – what the hell – it helped win the election.
The whole episode got me thinking about the British election. If David Cameron becomes prime minister over the weekend, as seems increasingly likely, what pledges can we expect him to break first? Three candidates that spring to mind:
Barack Obama wants a world without nuclear weapons. America will push the idea of “global zero” at the United Nations conference on nuclear non-proliferation that opened in New York on Monday. The vision was unveiled just over a year ago. In a speech in Prague, the US president painted a glorious picture of a world freed from the nuclear threat, while adding (in words that faintly echoed Martin Luther King) that it might not happen in his lifetime.
Continue reading “A nuclear-free world? No thanks”
Washington and New York are perhaps not the obvious places to visit, if you want to gauge the mood in Germany. But, in recent days, I’ve had the chance to talk to a few German politicians and senior civil servants at a dinner and a conference. What they had to say was very striking.
I have never known the German establishment be quite so open about the depth of Euroscepticism in their own nation. Normally, the Germans talk about Euroscepticism as some sort of nasty British disease – while stressing their own country’s level-headedness and “European vocation”. Not any more.
I have never found New York a particularly relaxing place. But the city is especially edgy today, after the apparent attempt to set off a car bomb in Times Square on Saturday night. Just to add the atmosphere of barely suppressed hysteria, President Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran is in town – in fact, he should be addressing the UN on the evils of nuclear weapons, more or less as I type.