Monthly Archives: August 2010

FT column: The hatred of Blair is over the top

My latest column is on Tony Blair’s memoirs.

High-profile book launches are meant to be a bit of a circus. But it is hard to find a parallel for the mixture of hype and hatred that will attend the publication of Tony Blair’s memoirs on Wednesday.

The Tea Party rally  over the weekend attracted hundreds of thousands of people to the mall in Washington – and doubtless caused its fair share of shudders around the world. Glenn Beck, the rally’s central figure, is much less famous outside the United States than other leading figures in the American conservative movement like Sarah Palin, who also spoke - or even Rush Limbaugh, who has been around longer.

But I suspect that Beck will now begin to get much wider international coverage – and that it’s not going to be flattering. I am certainly not going to argue with the widespread perception that Beck is both a fruit-cake and a charlatan. But I do think that the easy assumption that the Tea Party’s foreign policy would simply be George W.Bush on steroids may well be wrong. Read more

The South African strikes are getting really nasty. Just weeks after the end of the World Cup, the country seems to be nearing paralysis, with the miners now threatening to join the public-sector workers in going on strike. The leaders of Cosatu, the main trades union organisation, are now rounding on President Jacob Zuma. Little wonder that Zuma seems to be stepping up his search for a solution, amidst new talks that began today.

I’m not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, it seems to me that Cosatu’s demands are clearly very bad economics. On the other hand, the Zuma government looks increasingly autocratic and tolerant of corruption. Without effective opposition parties and with moves afoot to muzzle the press, the trades unions are about the only effective counter-balance left to the African National Congress. Read more

Here is an interesting piece about a new best-seller in China that claims that Goldman Sachs is secretly working to destroy the Chinese economy. Nationalist books with a conspiratorial twist are now regular best-sellers in China. Read more

I was on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning, discussing a new book that makes parallels between optimism about the Soviet Union in the 1950s, and the euphoria about modern China.

Here’s the link to the programme.

For a supposesly slow news month, August has thrown up quite a few important international stories: the Pakistan floods, the American “withdrawal” from Iraq, the agreement to re-start Middle East talks, the flurry over “China as number two”.

But I’m afraid that the story that has delighted me most this month has been the case of Haider’s missing millions. It may not even be true. But the allegations ventilated earlier this month in Austria’s Profil magazine are both explosive and fascinating in a tawdry sort of way. Basically, the magazine alleges that Jorg Haider, the former leader of the far right in Austria who died in a car crash in 2008, apparently after a drunken tiff with his boyfriend, had salted away forty five million euros in secret banks accounts in Lichtenstein. And that the main source of this money was none other than Colonel Gaddafi of Libya, with Saddam Hussein chipping in a few million. Read more

Are the women of Wales, Britain’s secret weapon in the battle for global influence? Julia Gillard, the Australian prime minister – currently struggling to put together a new government after the latest election – was born in Wales. Of course, she now sounds100% Aussie – as shown by her irritating habit of beginning answers to questions with the phrase, “Ah look, mate”. But her parents still sound pretty Welsh and some political profiles claim that her committment to the union movement reflects her family’s background in south Wales.

Gillard, of course, is a political leader in her own right. Elsewhere, the women of Wales have exercised their influence as the spouses of powerful men. Francois Fillon, the prime minister of France, is married to Penelope Fillon, who was born and brought up in Abergavenny. And Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, is half-Welsh. Read more

FT column: End the hypocrisy and talk Turkey

My latest column is on Turkish-EU conversation

You can gauge the importance of Turkey to the western world by the fact that both Barack Obama and David Cameron gave speeches to the Turkish parliament in Ankara within months of taking office.

The Australian election is certainly excitingly close. Here are three preliminary thoughts:

1. Coalitions seem to be coming back into fashion in the Anglosphere. After the May election, Britain ended up with its first coalition government since the second world war. Now it looks like it will be Australia’s turn – also, after a gap of some seventy years. Read more

There is a good, strong editorial in this morning’s FT condemning a proposed law in South Africa that would go a long way to muzzling the press. The law would allow government ministers incredibly broad powers to classify information as secret and envisages penalties of upto 25 years in prison, for journalists who publish unauthorised secrets. The definition of a “secret” includes sensitive business information.

The proposed law is a major threat to South African democracy. Yet, I have been struck by the almost total silence of the British press on this subject. Papers that devoted acres of space to the success of the World Cup cannot be bothered to follow up with a report of what’s going on in South Africa now. Even the famously liberal Guardian has not uttered a word, although it was assiduous in covering the outrages of apartheid. (To be fair, the Guardian’s sister newspaper, The Observer, carried a short piece over the weekend.) Read more

I was struck to read in today’s paper about the murder of the mayor of Santiago, a small Mexican town near the country’s industrial capital, Monterrey. The killing of Edelmiro Cavazos underlines the direct threat that drugs gangs now pose to the Mexican state.

The death toll in Mexico’s war on drugs is simply astonishing. Something like 28,000 people are thought to have died in the last three years. Some 51 people were killed this weekend in the town of Ciudad Juarez, on the border with the USA, which is the epicentre of the drugs war. Read more

One in four Americans think Obama is a Muslim, according to a new poll for Time magazine. (Read into the story, they’ve buried the most interesting statistic, half way down the second paragraph.) This is the wackiest and most alarming poll result since the one which purported to show that 14% thought that Obama might be the Anti-Christ. Even in New York itself, a famously liberal city, almost two-thirds of respondents are now opposed to the construction of the mosque. Read more

I am not a conspiracy-minded person. But I like a good scandal as much as the next man, so I was faintly thrilled to see that reputable doctors seem to be suggesting that the verdict that David Kelly committed suicide may not be a safe one. And I was further intrigued when Michael Howard, the highly conservative former leader of the Tory Party, joined those calling for a new investigation into Kelly’s death.

To discover that David Kelly, the former Iraq weapons-inspector, had been murdered by the British government would frankly overturn everything I think I know about this country. It would probably mean that those mild-mannered civil servants I know, who work in Downing Street or the Foreign Office (or even the intelligence services), were capable of conspiring to murder British citizens. It would mean that a British prime minister was essentially behaving like a Middle Eastern potentate on a bad day, and ordering the assassination of his political opponents.

Inconceivable, surely? And yet also an interestingly disturbing line of thought. And certainly the questions surrounding Kelly’s death are strange and baffling. Read more

Wending my way back from holiday last week, via Geneva, I was intriuged by a small item in the local newspaper, the Tribune de Geneve, which noted that one of the president of Kazakhstan’s daughters had just bought a house near Lac Leman for 74.7m Swiss francs – that’s about $71m dollars.

As the Tribune reported:  “Au début de 2010, Anières a tiré le gros lot lorsque s’y est installée l’une des filles du président kazakh Nursultan Nazarbayev, Dinara Nazarbayev-Kulibayeva, dont la fortune est estimée à 2,1 milliards de dollars. Elle y a acquis, pour 74,7 millions de francs, la somptueuse résidence du cheikh saoudien Mohammed Al-Khereiji qui est en partance pour cause de divorce.”

It looks like a pleasant little place. Here is another report and photo from an earlier report in the Geneva papers. Read more