Half-Way Through the Year

Monday 30th June

Years ago I used to read the Observer and one of my favourite columnists was Alan Watkins.  One of his regular features was to predict in the style of Old Moores Almanac the coming year, politics, news stories etc:  I wonder what he would have predicted if he were still alive on 31st December 2013.

Stories he would have missed almost certainly would have been the missing Malaysian plane, which even though not a regular news item any more certainly caught all of our imaginations for a month or so, and the Ukraine.  I don’t think anyone could have predicted the mess the Ukraine is in now, six months ago.  Harold MacMillan, and I can still just about remember him, used to say that the worst problem with being Prime Minsiter was “Events, dear boy, events.”  And of all events predictable and otherwise, the amazing speed that the Ukraine has fallen into chaos and almost civil war had been amazing.  We are still not certain if it was very cleverly orchestrated by Russia, or if they too simply reacted to events and took their chances when they could.  The West has looked completely useless, pathetic sanctions and threats and visits by Kerry, and the election of a new President have done nothing to affect the situation on the ground.  It is like watching Yugoslavia all over again.

Then there is the Isis uprising in Iraq, who now hold almost half the country, though much of that is desert.  We all knew Iraq was in trouble, but that had been the situation ever since the disastrous invasion by US/UK in 2003.  None of the commentators foresaw this amazing rebellion.  In December of last year many commentators would have said that Assad’s days in Syria were numbered too, but he is looking stronger than ever, and the very people the West were serruptitously arming have now turned out to be more dangerous than Assad.

At home the success of UKIP in the European elections was much predicted, but nobody really expected them to do so well in the local elections.    And nobody would have predicted that Cameron woul pick a fight he couldn’t win in Europe, though that is looking more and more like an election ploy than a serious challenge to Europe.

Now does anyone want to predict the news of the next six months?

What Now For Europe?

Sunday 29th June

As predicted Mr. Cameron was defeated and humiliated in Europe.  And one would have thought that this might be a terrible thing, but as in the Boer War and Dunkirk the English celebrate brave defeats almost more than victories.  How will Cameron standing alone against 26 other nations and losing play out in the long run.  He may strangely enough get some kudos, especially among UKIP supporters or Eurosceptic Tory MPs, but for quite the wrong reasons.  Those who think he has just edged us a lot closer to Brexit are over the moon.  But those of us (like me ) who think he has damaged us in Europe may be wrong too.

What we shouldn’t forget is that the other countries in Europe do not want us to leave at all.  We may be an occasional nuisance, but we are a great market for all their goods.  It may well be that Cameron will actually get more sympathy, even from Mr. Junckers by throwing his toys out of the pram than by behaving sensibly.

There are now two competing themes in Europe.  One is for closer and closer Union, even in the end being to all intents and purposes a United States of Europe, and there are a few who want a looser, less cohesive Europe where there is less power at the centre.  Funnily enough the two ideas may not be totally incompatible.   The troubles with the Euro came about largely because the states choosing to use it were so different economically.  If they all had the same rates of tax, and the same economic policy it might have  made more sense.   Essentially we may be heading for a two-tier Europe, the Euro-Zone united and basically one country, and Associate members allowed to trade with and having some rules in common, but having greater divergence from the centre.  It may be the only way to hold us all together.

In a strange way Cameron, though playing an extremely dangerous game, where even if he gets some reforms and recommends a yes vote could still lose that referendum, may actually get the other big countries in Europe to now negotiate seriously.  Ironically the man he needs most to make this happen is Jean-Claude Junckers.

Pouring Oil on the Fire

Saturday 28th June

While other events have overtaken the news, not least the rise of Isis in Iraq, the crisis in Crimea rolls on and on.  We haven’t heard that much lately, little snippets, the election of Petroshenko as the new President of Ukraine and a seven day ceasefire.   But the crisis hasn’t gone away, in fact it has got a whole lot worse.  The whole problem really started a few years ago, when the Orange Revolution swept a new European-looking Government into power.  The problem is that, as in a few countries, there is not a consensus of opinion.  Half or slightly more than half of the country want to leave the past of Russian control behind them, and the rest want to stay, if not actually a part of Russia, then very closely allied with it.  And with incredible stupidity each successive leader simply pours oil onto the fire.

The latest attempt at re-inflaming already tormented running sores is the decision of the newly elected Petroshenko to sign a deal with the EU, which should normally lead to their eventual joining.  This was the very issue which caused trouble in the first place, almost a year ago.  Since then, the then Russian leaning President was forced to flee to Russia.  Unconsitutionally he was deposed, and new elections planned.  Then the Crimea was taken by the Russians, or men purporting to be patriots.  In any case although there was universal deploring of Russia’s actions very little could be done about it.  A hastily organized referendum came out strongly in favour of joining Russia.   Then in the far eastern provinces there have been riots, armed men and another referendum again calling for union with Russia.  The latest election obviously did not ballot the Ukraine and many areas in the East also had no opportunity to vote.  When even democracy breaks down where do you go from there?  Russia is threatening extremely serious consequences of the latest EU agreement.

At the end of the day, and after probably a lot more bloodshed, some sort of political resolution will have to be agreed.  At the end of the day you cannot force people to live under a country they don’t consider their own.  Self-determination must be the end-game solution.  Not easy, but I think the only realistic solution.  It is just that at the moment nobody is being reasonable, both sides keep pouring oil onto the fire.

The Worst Week

Friday 27th June

Every Prime Minister has at least one terrible week, where events conspire to collect together a series of mistakes ,and everything looks bleak.  Tony Blair had a couple and so did Gordon Brown.  It is often in these moments of crisis that their reputation is forged.  Tony Blair seemed to brazen things out and at the time he seemed to sail the boat successfully into calmer waters.  No such luck for Gordon, who through no fault of his own had the financial crash to deal with.  As it happens he dealt with it quite well, saving Halifax- Bank of Scotland by persuading Lloyds to buy it, and almost nationalizing Royal Bank of Scotland too.  Of course he got no thanks for this.  Maybe the difference was that Blair had Alistair Cameron by his side, who was so successful at news management that Cameron himself felt it a major priority to have someone like that on his team.  Which brings us to Andy Coulson again.

Coulson was hired while Cameron was still in opposition and trying to get the Tories elected after thirteen years.   His task was to change the perception that the Tories were the “Nasty” party, and before he got elected he was largely though not completely successful.  The Press were totally hostile to Gordon and with them on his side he should have won an outright majority.  But he didn’t.  Then when the phone hacking scandal hit he was a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights, and was outplayed by Ed Milliband and forced into the Leveson enquiry.  Coulson resigned and was eventually tried and this week found guilty on four charges, though the trial was still ongoing.  Cameron thought that by making his c0mplete ‘apology’ his troubles would go away.  He got criticized by the Judge for making it and even in this he insisted that he had been given repeated assurances by Coulson that there was nothing else to come out about phone-hacking.  A strange defence – I was lied to – but there you go.  But it now transpires that Coulson was not subjected to the level of vetting that normally applies when Cameron became P.M.  So as well as simply Cameron’s judgement being questioned there is a further question as to was undue influence put on the Civil Service.

As if by some evil synchronicity Cameron has also backed himself into a reidiculous corner over Europe.  He has personified his opposition to the majority choice for EU president, Mr. Junckers and almost insulted the man.  Not only does this make him look ridiculous, but he has further antagonised any friends he might have had in Europe by forcing a vote he must lose on the heads of Government meeting this weekend.

So, a terrible week all round.  It probably won’t change many people’s voting intentions, but it is fun to watch.

The Rise and Fall of Andy Coulson

Thursday 26th June

I have nothing against the man personally, except that he chose to work firstly for Rupert Murdoch and then for David Cameron.  As Mr. Cameron himself once insisted “A man should have a second chance”, so why knowing what went on at the Sun and the News of the World and that he had been a knowing party to it, (or at least hadn’t been prepared to curtail these activities) did he risk it all on becoming even more in the glare of the media spotlight?  Or did he think he was safe?  Had he had assurances from the police that he wouldn’t be investigated further?  Had Uncle Rupert promised him that he would be looked after whatever?  We will probably never know.   The sad truth is that even though the whole edifice of News Corp. was rotten to the core, and phone hacking and paying Senior Police for information were de rigeur, and character assassination of anyone criticizing them the way of dealing with opponents, and having Prime Ministers at their beck and call – all of this will be ignored.  A victim has been chosen; Andy Coulson has been hung out to dry.  Rebekah is safe, maybe because she knew even more dark and dirty secrets.  The whole thing wll now go away, or rather fade from view.  Rupert and his gang will NOT be brought to book, effective Press regulation will never happen, and the lies of the Sun will carry on being peddled with impunity.

It is a shame for Andy himself, but he appears a broken man now.  If he ever knew anything he wont tell now.  When he is eventually released from prison he will be pensioned off somewhere.  David Cameron and Osborne will shrug off all criticism, and Rebekah will be discreetly removed from Samantha’s Christmas card list.  No more horses will be leant.  Everyone will breathe a sigh of relief, even maybe Andy – relieved that the nightmare is at last (almost) over.   Another chapter in the ever growing book of singularly English crimes.

All The Pretty People

Wednesday 25th June

I suppose that once upon a time I really cared what I looked like.  As a teenager you wanted to be cool, to wear the right clothes, to grow your hair just that bit longer than school or parents thought was respectable.  But I think that this was more to be accepted as part of the crowd than vanity; I never really cared what I looked like.  I used to paint and draw myself quite often, but this was because I had no other faces to draw – in any case I always thought I was ugly, squinty eyes, thin lips and a ridiculous dimple in my chin.  I relied on my witty repartee to get girls interested, I knew I was no match for the handsome cool dudes who stood silently at the back of the village hall.  Mind you I did okay, or so I thought.

Ever since then I have bumbled along, getting haircuts that were acceptable, wearing what I thought were nice clothes, but too often they were rumpled or tired looking.  I was a bloke, and blokes didn’t worry about all that appearance nonsense.  But now it seems that even guys are infected with this modern malaise of caring so much about what they look like.  Apparently men’s cosmetics are selling like, well – women’s cosmetics I suppose.  Lotions and potions are flying off the shelves, everyone, boys and girls eager to look perfect.  And soul-less too in my opinion, like a row of pretty dolls they sit neatly on the tube, without a hair out of place; painted-on nails, painted-on lipstick, painted-on eyeshadow, brushed-on mascara so that their eyelashes are half an inch long, painted-on eyebrows even.  And all of them as boring as fuck.

I really wonder if any of them has a single thought in their heads except “How do I look?”  and at every opportunity they take ‘selfies’ of themselves to post on Facebook.  If someone puts up a photo of me I cringe…do I really look that awful..but then again…who gives a fuck.   I am what I am and who I am.  Take me as I am or lose out by not getting to know me. Hahaha

London is Overflowing

Tuesday 24th June

People, people everywhere, everywhere you look there are hordes of people.  Was it not always so?  To an extent, to a degree.  But this year in particular it seems incredibly crowded.  The tubes, even in the middle of the day, are crammed; finding a seat is a rarity, strap-hanging the norm.  I still call it strap-hanging though those dark green leather loops disappeared years ago.  At first they were replaced by plastic knobs on metal semi-flexible stalks which used to be slippery with hand-sweat and hanging on to those was only really accomplished by grasping the chain-metal shaft and twisting it to counter the effects of inertia.  Now there are shiny chrome rails which women struggle to reach, most preferring to stand in the unseated doorway areas where bodies bump and squeeze into each other, embarrassed faces trying desperately not to look at each other.

But even my regular Pret-a-Manger is packed with not only the usual office-workers grabbing a coffee, or eating a croissant or porridge while reading and answering their e-mails; many already working, but also full of tourists seeking a breakfast, because most of the hotels charge extra now for a very poor breakfast.  These tourists are not all Americans, as used to be the case, but a lot of Chinese or Far Easterners, and not a few Spanish looking ones, who may be from as far away as Brasil or Argentina – there is no way of telling these days.  Everyone wears the standard uniform of T-shirt and trainers and jeans and that still ridiculous look of the back-to-front baseball cap.

There is no escaping the sheer volume of people that the city attracts.  The place is thriving once more, and me – I can’t wait to get away.  One more month to go unfortunately.

Just What Does Cameron Think He Is Doing?

Monday 23rd June

A long time ago,  couple of years before he became Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron declared that he would both engage with Europe and that it would no longer dominate internal Conservative Politics.  He went into Coalition with the most pro-European party, the Lib-Dems and for a while was seen smiling at European Summits as he declared great friendships with Mrs Merkel and M. Sarkozy.  But slowly thing began to sour; the Euro crisis and being forced to use our veto meant that we were heading into our default isolated position.

And then came the referendum promise, with his much vaunted but still no details re-negotiation.  I think his hope would be that he could come back in early 2017 waving a bit of paper and declaring a-la-Chamberlain to have achieved ‘Peace In Our Times’.  Whatever he came back with would be declared a victory and then he would ask a grateful public to endorse him and vote to stay in.  He would have put the whole Europe issue to bed, at least for a few years – and shot Mr. Farage’s fox into the bargain.  But now it is all going horribly wrong.  The real powers in Europe actually want more integration not less and Mr. Cameron is increasingly shouting into the void.  He has chosen to fight against the consensus candidate for President of the EU, Mr. Junkers.  And even though it looks like he will lose he is now forcing a vote.  Does he really want to be public humiliated.  Europe doesn’t work like that.  It is all deals and compromises behind closed doors and smiling faces in public.  If things continue to go against him he will have little hope of any meaningful re-negotiation.  Even if he wins the next election he may end up having to recommend us leaving.  What a disaster that would be.  So what is he up to?   My only conclusion is that this is simply grandstanding to try to win back Tory voters drifting off to Ukip. All I can say is it won’t work, Mr. Cameron.

Another Sunny Saturday – Another Party

Sunday 22nd June

This time it was Michael’s Birthday.   It was, as seems tradition these days, held in our back garden.  The weather was splendid, there was plenty of food and wine and good conversation.  The perfect ingredients for a perfect party.  It did seem a  bit of a marathon as Michael turned up with the food and wine at midday.  Guests arrived shortly after two and a steady stream continued all afternoon.  It was after all the longest day of the year, and we sat out until gone ten.  Then indoors for more coffee and chat.   I must have made twenty or more coffees, and the Nespresso machine certainly proved it’s worth.  I had had a slight headache in the morning so avoided any alcohol, drinking lemonade instead.  Actually I think I enjoyed it as much as I ever do when drinking wine.

This morning we got everything cleared up in a an hour or so, and we are now relaxing and back to normal.  The strange thing about a party too, is that you start off with a large quantity of drink, never sure whether people will go for beer or wine, or something else.  Cans and bottles are opened and yet at the end of it you always have more than you started with.

If only everything could be like that.

They Think It’s All Over – It Will Be Soon

Saturday 21st June

I am writing this on Friday before Italy play Costa Rica, so it may already be all over.  Mathematically it is still possible for England to continue, but all three games have to go England’s way and they have (at the moment) to win by two goals.  We might as well resign ourselves to defeat, although as had been stated by both myself and almost every pundit we were never going to win the World Cup.  At least not this time.  When the group was decided it was a pretty awful group.  Italy were absolute and remain favourites and Uruguay won the South American cup two years ago, so though minnows they managed to beat both Brazil and Argentina.  Costa Rica were our sole consolation, and it was imperative that we should at least get one draw from our two opening games.  We didn’t.  We were undone by the sheer brilliance, of Balotelli and more importantly by Saurez.  Italy were probably a better team than us, but on the day I think we outplayed them and except for the two goals deserved something better.  Uruguay were solid and harried us all the way, we were never allowed to settle and then we were beaten by two moments of World Class football.  And though our team played well, better in fact than they have played for a long time, it wasn’t good enough.  We simply do not have World Class players anymore.  Maybe Beckham was our last great player, but even he disappointed in South Africa.

It may be that among the new crop of players; Sterling, Welbeck. Sturridge, Wilshire or Lallana one will emerge, but though the signs are encouraging they aren’t there yet.  The teams that get to the World Cup final these days are all good, almost all fit and capable of winning games.  The difference between them and the best is down to moments of greatness from individual players.  We can console ourselves that we played well and with heart, and at least we weren’t as hapless as the Spanish.