England’s cultural scene is glowing with optimism

Despite the austerity, or because of it, the nation’s artists and audiences are full of life.

There were queues outside the Royal Academy when I went to see the Hockney exhibition last week, and queues for returns again that evening, when I went to see the play One Man, Two Guvnors, starring James Corden, on the penultimate night of its run. Twice in one day, in other words, I encountered mobs of people, pushing and shoving one another, desperate to get into a London cultural event. Those who had booked well in advance clutched their ticket as if it contained a winning lottery number. Continue reading “England’s cultural scene is glowing with optimism”

US Presidential campaign: Never has the good news sounded so bad

The sudden growth of the US economy spells trouble for Democrats as well as Republicans.

Now we have reached a truly critical moment in the American presidential elections – and I don’t mean the moment when the Republican candidate soars away from his party rivals (I’d give it a few more weeks yet, if I were Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, about which more in a moment). No, I mean the moment when the paradigm shifts and the election scenario everybody has anticipated abruptly changes – because real life has changed. Continue reading “US Presidential campaign: Never has the good news sounded so bad”

Corrupt elites are being named and shamed – by the people

Around the world, tyrants and thieving officials are running out of places to hide.

It will be a year ago next Wednesday that a Tunisian fruit vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi died, 18 days after dousing himself with paint thinner, setting himself alight, and inspiring a series of protests which we now remember as the Arab Spring. At the time, these protests were widely described as political. But in a recent, brilliant article for Foreign Policy magazine, the economist Hernando de Soto pointed out that these movements also had a very specific set of economic inspirations. In fact, Bouazizi was a frustrated entrepreneur, a would-be businessman who was unable to get ahead because of weak property rights, bad laws and rigged markets.

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Can a nation survive without its backbone?

My friend J grew up in Chicago, but spent his summers in a small town on a Michigan lake. His family, because they came from the city and because they were “summer” visitors, were slightly more privileged than those who lived in the town. Nevertheless, the town considered itself “middle class” and the children observed no social distinctions playing together. J told me recently that he had been back to that town and found it utterly changed: shops were boarded up, houses were being repossessed, cars were old. He no longer had much in common with people he had known as children, some of whom were now unemployed, all of whom had far lower incomes than he. Continue reading “Can a nation survive without its backbone?”

Is Nato finished?

The Libyan adventure shows a dwindling capacity for intervention.

After Muammar Gaddafi and his ghastly children fled Tripoli, Libyans desecrated his statues and stamped on his posters. As it turned out, the Libyans really did hate Gaddafi enough to rise up, arm themselves and overthrow him. Gaddafi’s own elite units mostly melted away when the rebels advanced into Tripoli, and even the dictator’s tatty palaces (where did all that oil money go, one wonders) were abandoned by his personal guard. Backed by western airpower and special forces, the rebels entered many of these ramshackle structures unopposed. Continue reading “Is Nato finished?”

Thus do empires end

  • Moscow: 25 December 1991
    By Conor O'Clery
    Transworld, 423pp, £25

‘This book is a chronicle of one day in the history of one city.’ As first sentences go, that one is hard to beat — particularly given that the ‘one day’ is the last day of the Soviet Union, the city is Moscow and the author, an Irish journalist, was there and knew most of the principal actors. After reading the preface, I expected alatter-day Rashomon, the end of the USSR told from a dozen different angles: the ‘one day’ as experienced by the lady selling vegetables in the market, the foreign diplomat sending telegrams in the embassy, the KGB man looking for a job.   Continue reading “Thus do empires end”

High noon

The American left is revelling in Rupert Murdoch’s British troubles – and it’s America that has the power to really hurt him.

Let’s start, first, with the bare facts: a British newspaper has been found to have broken British law. The proprietor has closed the paper and apologised profusely. Some British policemen have resigned. Some British journalists have been arrested.

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It is in America that Rupert Murdoch faces ruin

We’ve been waiting a long time, but now the moment of reckoning is here: American journalists, long maligned by their British colleagues as boring and earnest, can finally take their revenge.

American newspapers have featured the News International meltdown on front pages since the story broke. American websites have posted every new development, as it breaks. Continue reading “It is in America that Rupert Murdoch faces ruin”