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Showing posts from April, 2012

A Spring contrast

In Tallinn Spring is slowly advancing into Summer. The Sun begins to offer some warmth and the days are growing long. In London the weather is less good. The rain and storms, that seem inevitable once a drought is declared, are clearly depressing the national mood. In the year of the Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic games, the national mood still remains rather bleak. Although the local elections will probably be a nasty mid term shock to the coalition government, the elections that really matter to Britain are happening elsewhere. The likely change of government in Paris may see significant changes in French policy- and the demise of the Sarkozy part of the "Merkozy" partnership may simply be the prelude to a change in government in Berlin next year. Europeans have grown weary and disillusioned with the austerity program that has been imposed at the behest of the right wing-led government in Germany. The meltdown in Spain and the continuing crises in Greece and P

Why you should vote Liberal Democrat

The tone of political debate in the UK over the past twenty years or so has grown ever more shrill and rancorous. This bitterness is partly, I believe, the result of the growing recognition that far from being all powerful, our political leaders have in fact ever less control over "events". Political leaders, especially on the left, still put forward the view that they alone can provide detailed policy solutions to the economic and social problems of the day. The Liberal Democrats have been no less guilty of this hubris than any other party. However, there are two critical differences between the Liberal Democrats and the other political parties. The first is that the Liberal Democrats recognized a long time ago that the problem of British politics is not in the party- or parties- of government, but in the system of government. We argue for major reforms of the constitution in order to create a political system that is more accountable to the voters and more

James Murdoch: Suicide Bomber

James Murdoch is already under criminal investigation in the United States. His testimony to the Leveson enquiry yesterday suggests that he should face a series of trails in the UK too. That is not particularly surprising. What is surprising is the manner in which he has decided to face his fate. Essentially he has clearly decided to "take as many of the bastards with him" as he can, starting with Jeremy Hunt- who, Murdoch suggested, had stepped well outside the line of good standards and even the law in his relationship with News International. Perhaps Mr. Murdoch thinks that his display of revenge will cow others, probably equally implicated in the growing outrage against the Murdoch empire. Personally, I think Murdoch fils  should now be prosecuted to the full limits of the law, and if the evidence supports it, so should everyone else in the Murdoch organisations. Murdoch may be trying for some kind of mutual assured destruction: but our Parliament and our laws mu

Euro crisis moves into a new phase

The likely change of President in Paris is now coupled with severe tension in the government in the Netherlands. As in 2005, these two founder members are questioning the long standing consensus in the European Union. Usually, when asked about the future of the Euro, the response from officials and from many national governments is that the solution is "more Europe". This is short hand for creating the common institutions, such as a treasury and a system of fiscal transfers, that were not created when the single currency was first established. The problem about creating such powerful new institutions is that they lack democratic political legitimacy. They may be the most obvious and practical solutions to the crisis, but they are not sufficiently supported in most countries to allow them to happen. The political problems in France and the Netherlands only underlines the difficulties in gaining democratic support for the necessary policies to allow the Euro to survive. T

As French Front National gets a record vote: you heard it here first

The French Presidential election has thrown up something of a conundrum. Nicolas Sarkozy did not lead in the first round, as he was expected to, and that is supposed to send a bad signal to his campaign. On the other hand, as I predicted here in January, The Front National made advances even from the record result they gained under Marine Le Pen's father, Jean Marie. That 19% of the vote is now up for grabs, and the gap between the President and his Socialist challenger is wafer thin. Francois Hollande has to favourite- he has less hair than Sarkozy (which has often been a signifier in the past- the exact opposite of the US elections), and of course he is leading in the first round. On the other hand the markets have taken it badly- and even the French might yet balk at the end of the Franco-German motor, which the early exit of Sarkozy might bring in its wake. 

Press Matters

Spring has come to Estonia, and it is like the lights have been switched on after the long (overlong) winter. As always, your heart leaps as the huge chains of migrating geese take to the skies, and here and there a newly arrived solitary stork wanders along the field gullies looking for frogs. The grass visibly greens from day to day, and the floors of the budding forest are bright with snow drops and the primrose-like blue flowers, known rather prosaically in Estonian as "blue flowers". Soon the swallows too will be here and the white nights of June will echo to the Estonians enjoying the brief pleasures of the glorious northern summer. Yet work must continue, and I head to Parnu, the summer capital of Estonia, amidst April showers, to take part in a conference to discuss the future options in Estonian finance. For me, Estonian finance, as so much of Estonian society, stands at something of a cross roads. In many ways the last twenty years have been a series of exams for

More bullying bluster from Alex Salmond

The Economist is a serious magazine, but it is also known for a sense of humour. The latest edition carries a pretty well balanced article on the costs of a separate Scotland . There are obvious pros and cons about the idea of independence. I myself, on balance, am against a totally separate Scottish state, but I will admit that there are some positive aspects. It is just that on balance I don't think the potential benefits of independence stack up against the potential costs.  Many of my SNP friends obviously think differently- and we have many good natured debates about it. Alex Salmond, on the other hand, thinks that any one who does not support his version of the Scottish separatist agenda is solely motivated by the basest motives and is probably either a traitor (if Scottish) or an Imperialist (if from elsewhere in the UK). His typically bombastic attack on the Economist "they will rue the day they thought they would have a joke at Scotland's  expense"

Time to reset the coalition

My recent trip to the UK reminded me just how difficult the economic situation remains for a large number of people. The simultaneous increase in taxes and cuts in services is coming at a time when it is clear that many, if not most, pension schemes need dramatic increases in savings in order to provide a financially secure retirement. Those on the left argue that this policy of austerity is counter-productive and that- if anything- government expenditure should be increased through the downturn. Yet the reality is that the global investment markets will not provide capital to fund this spending splurge: austerity is not optional, it is compulsory. And the worst is yet to come, the impact of the spending reductions will take time to come through the system, and although emergency action is saving many pension - including public sector pension schemes- from total bankruptcy the huge number of interest-only mortgages that have been created during the crisis provides a long term threa