By Simon Kuper in São Paulo
England deserve to go home early. A poor witless team was undone by Luis Suarez, who only a month ago was in hospital having a cartilage operation. After England’s defeat to Italy in Manaus on Saturday, they now have no points from two games. Even a thumping win against little Costa Rica in Belo Horizonte on Tuesday – of which this team do not look capable – would probably not be enough to save them. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
The idea that Jean-Claude Juncker should become the next head of the European Commission evokes a strange, irrational rage in the British. I know because I share that rage. There is something about Mr Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg – his smugness, his federalism, his unfunny jokes – that provokes the British.
Wednesday night’s debate in Britain between the standard-bearers of the pro- and anti-EU camps came out as a victory for the eurosceptic, Nigel Farage, over the pro-European deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg. That is not my judgement, it is the verdict of the polls. A snap poll showed that 57% of viewers had Farage winning, whereas 36% had Clegg ahead. That verdict is extra-depressing for pro-Europeans since the polling company weighted the audience to make sure that it was as neutral as possible. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
When political leaders start rewriting the past, you should fear for the future. In Russia, Hungary, Japan and China, recent politically sponsored efforts to change history textbooks were warning signs of rising nationalism.
Businesses that fear Britain might be on the way out of the EU can breathe a little more easily this morning.
Ed Miliband’s announcement that a Labour government would be unlikely to hold an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership means the issue may well be off the agenda for some years. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Some years ago, I made a futile attempt to persuade a Chinese diplomat that Taiwan should be allowed to declare independence – if that is what its people want. “If Scotland voted to be a separate nation,” I argued, “England would not stop it.” The diplomat smiled sceptically, like a man recognising a particularly crude falsehood. “I know that’s not true,” he said. “England would never accept Scottish independence. It would invade.”
Will Scotland go it alone?
The referendum on Scottish independence takes place in seven months and if the Scots vote to go it alone, they will break up a union which has existed for over 300 years. On Friday, Prime Minister David Cameron made an impassioned plea to Scots: “We want you to stay.” But Mr Cameron’s intervention has been treated by the Scottish Nationalists as a sign of panic from the government in London.
By Gideon Rachman
In theory, David Cameron and Radoslaw Sikorski should get on marvellously. Both the British prime minister and the Polish foreign secretary studied at Oxford and were members of the elite Bullingdon club, which specialises in dressing up, drinking, vomiting and vandalism. Both men have matured into robust conservatives. But last week we witnessed an unedifying dispute between the two politicians, sparked by Mr Cameron’s suggestion that Britain should not be paying child benefit to children living in Poland, even if their parents are working in Britain. In response, Mr Sikorski accused the British of stigmatising Polish immigrants and tweeted (in Polish) a suggestion that Poles in Britain should return home.
“Why do the Brits accept surveillance” asks Jonathan Freedland in the New York Times? Freedland points out that, even after the Edward Snowden revelations, only 19% of British people think that the security services have too much power. By contrast, some 64% think they have the right amount of power or too little. Freedland’s explanation for this striking state of affairs is that the Brits have a more deferential attitude to the state than Americans, reflected in the fact that it is “Her Majesty’s government”. He points out that “Britons remain subjects not citizens.”
This is a clever explanation, but not one that I find particularly convincing. It is true that the British tend to be less hostile to the idea of government than Americans. But that is an attitude that is common in Europe, including in states that are highly suspicious of intelligence agencies, such as Germany.
My alternative theory is that British people basically accept the claim that was made by Britain’s intelligence chiefs when they testified before Parliament last week. The spooks argued that they are working to protect democracy. That claim, which would be met with derision in Germany or by much of liberal America, is broadly accepted in Britain, for reasons that are deeply rooted in British history.
The basic narrative of British history, as taught in schools and broadcast on television, is of a country that has had to ward off a succession of attempted foreign invasions. The role of the intelligence services in protecting the UK is both noted and celebrated. Most obviously, in the second world war, the code-breakers of Bletchley Park – who cracked the German Enigma signals – are regarded as national heroes. But it goes back a lot further than that. Elizabeth I’s spy-master, Francis Walsingham, ran an extensive network of spies that gathered vital intelligence on the Spanish Armada. Read more