Does Eastern Europe still exist?

In February 2009, the Economist ran a cartoon which featured caricature versions of Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, then the leaders of their respective countries. The three were sitting at a luxuriously appointed dining table, their faces frozen in exaggerated horror. All were contemplating a giant bill, at the top of which was written, “for the rescue of Eastern Europe.” The accompanying article, just to drive home the point, was entitled “The bill that could break up Europe.” Continue reading “Does Eastern Europe still exist?”

US election 2012: Why ‘leading from behind’ might not be the best way to take American forward

Let’s be perfectly clear: this year’s American presidential election was not a referendum on American foreign policy. Nor did it involve much discussion of the subject. During most of the campaign, the words “Iraq” and “Afghanistan” were scarcely mentioned. Continue reading “US election 2012: Why ‘leading from behind’ might not be the best way to take American forward”

US election 2012: It’s time for a Republican Party clear-out

The Republican party’s sound economic policies are being drowned out by the strident voices of dubious fringe figures
President Barack Obama’s victory speech. Mitt Romney could not separate himself from a Republican Party whose public faces – in the media as well as in politics – seem to many Americans ever more extreme Continue reading “US election 2012: It’s time for a Republican Party clear-out”

US Election 2012: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama – the upside-down election

The Democrats and Republicans have stolen each other’s clothes as they attempt to win over America’s voters

A quick quiz: which American political party talked about social issues, military families and foreign policy at its convention? Which American political party celebrated the achievements of its most recent president and spoke about his legacy? And which American presidential candidate declared, “I have never been more hopeful about America?” If you guessed “Republicans” to the first two and “Mitt Romney” to the third, you would be quite wrong. And that was the odd thing about this two-week American political convention season: the parties’ core messages are the same as ever, but their roles are now strangely reversed. Continue reading “US Election 2012: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama – the upside-down election”

London Olympics 2012: we’re Olympic whingers – thank goodness

It was rather touching to watch British politicians finally rally round the Olympics on the eve of the opening ceremony last week, to hear Boris Johnson dismissing “a guy called Mitt Romney” who had dared imply that Londoners might not be entirely enthusiastic, and David Cameron cast doubt upon those who stage the Olympics in “the middle of nowhere”, thus prompting the mayor of Salt Lake City to hold a press conference and wave a map. Continue reading “London Olympics 2012: we’re Olympic whingers – thank goodness”

Palin is just what Romney needs – and the very last person he wants

The ebullient Alaskan Sarah Palin has something the Republican campaign clearly lacks.

Maybe you’ve read the book (Going Rogue), or perhaps you’ve seen the film (Game Change). In any case, you must know the story of how John McCain thought he’d picked a winner – a talented, unknown female running mate who would bring a touch of youth and charisma to his stodgy campaign – when he chose Sarah Palin to be his vice-presidential candidate in 2008. Continue reading “Palin is just what Romney needs – and the very last person he wants”

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.

Continue reading “Corrupt elites are being named and shamed – by the people”