16 december 2019, from empire to england

As the dust settles on friday the 13th, a ruthlessly-executed strategy gives boris a strong working majority to 2024. Most likely 2029: he is already showing savvy ability (nhs, education, transport...) to lock in enough of "the north" for another term. Whoever takes over labour, if it gets through transition without too much of a civil war, has a long hard march back, though all things equal there ought to be a strong enough not-boris platform to compete on. The big first of a majority of mps being women is a good foundation. More than likely though, once media interest in the divisions of the leadership contest are done, they will be just noises off. The next years will be the boris show. Policy on the european union will be de-escalation: with brexit "done" at the end of january, it will be in no-one's political interest to get stuck in too much to the details of trade talks, hugely important though they actually are. Pushing back the ludicrous end-of-year deadline won't be much of a big deal. In its place though comes the british union as the big issue of the coming years. It is telling that the government grid led on its very first day with trying to put power-sharing together again in northern ireland. Also little-noticed, is that for the first time ever, the 2019 election returned more nationalists (their goal, a united ireland) than unionists, at exactly the same time as the boris version of brexit draws a stark dividing line across the irish sea. Whilst that avoided destroying the good friday agreement, that dividing line comes at exactly the same time as the demographic alarm clock set in the agreement to allow a referendum once nationalists are a majority starts ticking. The safety valve of the uk and ireland being jointly mediated as fellow eu members has also been removed. The pressure will start now to translate "the consent of a majority of the people of northern ireland" into the poll allowed for. Some years beyond that of course is scotland. The snp will likely use their strengthened mandate to hammer away at the legitimacy of another vote, making the 2021 holyrood elections a straight conservative unionist against snp battle for independence. After that, we may begin to see parliamentary obstructionism and civil disobedience. Both these movements seem on an irrepressible path to secession. Wales may at some point create its own echo. The biggest legacy of brexit is likely to be the transformation of great britain to little england.

7 november 2019, yes wa kan

This longest space ever between blogs is in part due to rather too much activity both at work and, with family now here, at home, but also perhaps because rather too many topics are too hot to write about, several I care about I am rather too remote from, and in the organised chaos of our big move, I may have put my creative mojo somewhat into abeyance. To get going again then, I give you wakan: not the fictional country in black panther, but the very real village in oman, which we visited last weekend. At the cost of sounding like a tourism advert (which is, after all, part of my job), it was delightful. The drive was a fitting hors d'oevres, with shades of brown multiplying as you leave behind muscat, entering clouds with the foothills of the mountains as you start winding your way up through barren but somehow picturesque landscape, which might be described as chocolate box if it wouldn't all melt. Approaching the village, you realise why you were told you need a 4-wheel drive; by the end you think rally-driving may well be a vocation you didn't give enough consideration to. After a not-too-long, not-too-short walk up the 700 steps, you look down on the meandering path you've taken past houses, mosques, pomegranates, vineyards and the famous falaj irrigation system and gaze on a breathtaking valley set against the soaring peaks in the distance and majestic palm trees in the foreground. Wakan is just the right mix of subtle tourist infrastructure and unspoilt environment. Tuck into whatever food and drink you've brought and languish. Beats brexit.

5 may 2019, glocal

Like the wonderful 7up, distance gives insight, so even if I don't have geography (being these days as connected in muscat as if still in manchester), the last time I looked at the city's politics was 2011 (3 entries no less, before 11 may, the luck of the draw). Back then, greater manchester was colourful, with 4 labour councils, 2 conservative, 2 libdems and 2 of those local election-night favourites, no overall control (see also 10 june 2012, manchester as europe). With central government blue since, manchester moved steadily red, last night taking the final fortress of tory trafford, with altrincham adding a splash of green, as they won all 3 seats there and notched up several other wins, including in tameside. Remarkably, labour lost bolton, to noc. Independents gained everywhere, no stranger to stockport, where our very own heald green independent ratepayers maintained it's 100% record of decades and holds the balance of power. In the citadel of manchester itself, the libdems scored a significant win and several near misses. Overall, greater manchester seems to have swung more to its own regional rhythm, blunting the national tides more than some other areas. Beneath the surface though, the big battle is for the heart and soul of the dominant labour party, most intensely in its manchester heartland, where throughout the last years it has similarly kept its own counsel amidst the radical sweeps of history transforming the party. How that national battle plays locally in the wake of these elections will now be interesting to see.

26 april 2019, chaos, calamity, catastrophe: things can only get…

It's one of those periods where anyone who thinks they understand what's going on doesn't understand what's going on. Like an itch that must be scratched, brexit is the boil that can't be lanced and british politics remains entrancing as it gets even worse. May's local then european elections are likely to shake foundations further, with the new brexit party of jack-in-the-box nigel farage ("the most successful politician of our era", see 22 december 2017, ever-shrinking england goes back to black) set to win an online election (it's worth watching carole cadwalladr's ted talk), precipitating more splintering of the main parties, probably a new prime minister and probably the general election no-one wants. At some point, the emergency trap door of revoking article 50 will look a tempting option. I fear. Britain's collapse into self-induced self-obsession comes at a terrible time, as a tide of populism swells across europe, egged on by a manical american leadership that normalises aggressive ignorance (see 23 august 2018, little amber man) and the supposed stability of the strongman model, in russia, turkey and china, just to mention a fifth of the world's population, exerts an ever stronger pull in the world's consciousness. Defenders of the post-war international architecture built on a common vision have deserted their posts and nativism is sweeping the world, even as mass media technology opens ever more of it up to ever greater numbers of poor but increasingly ambitious and discontented people. The world is in a funk, entirely complacent about economic progress and global peace. All momentum is with the forces of regression and sentiment; imprudence and exaggeration pay, consensus and reason do not. Global conflict is no longer unthinkable, the hopefulness of the baby boomers weaned on prosperity rapidly becoming history. The future looks an increasingly dark place and incredibly, tragically, rather than playing its part in renewing the global bonds of international consensus, the uk looks to be amongst the first heading into the pit.

15 march 2019, “order, order…”

Excuse starting with football. Order, order, apparently, is what they were chanting from the bayern munich terraces as liverpool beat them to join 3 other english (not uk) teams in the quarter finals of the champion's league, global football's top competition, the first time this has happened in a decade, when my own manchester united went on to win it spectacularly against the very same bayern, the winning goal coming from today's manager, ole gunnar solskjaer. It was a truism for years in british politics that nobody outside obsessive westminster-watchers really cared about europe, which all changed in 2016, since when it has become the issue that ever more blots out absolutely everything else, no more so than this week, with every day bringing a new vote with blanket coverage. Funnily enough, this has brought more understanding of europe to many brits, and more understanding of many things britain to many europeans, hence the odd celebrity of the cerebral speaker in germany. At this point, of course, I do have to have a stab at what it all means, notwithstanding it will be out of date in 24 hours. The main impact of the week seems to be after taking a look at the road ahead, parliament decided it needed more road. Despite the vote to the contrary, no-deal is not impossible, but less likely. Until it changes, the choice is still may's deal or no deal or something else and there's still no solidifying around what something else may be or how it will coalesce. The other big point is that party discipline, the rock of the british political system, is in tatters. Though there are 101 examples, surely a cabinet minister, the brexit secretary no less, moving a motion on behalf of the government and then himself voting against it shows up where we are. Jargon-alert, kyle-wilson is not yet, cliché-alert, off the table. Dr sarah wollaston, the now-independent mp asked the right question: can parliament think of any other circumstance in which a consent form would be valid if it were signed 1,000 days before without the signatories knowing the exact procedure they were giving their consent to ? At some point very soon there needs to a renewal, and we can only hope it is of parliament and of the government and not outside it.

20 february 2019, the magnificent 7, 8, 11…

Their approach seems rather light the blue touch paper and see what happens, but the fireworks are quite exciting. It remains to be seen whether the independent group so masterfully gaining the uk media spotlight is white knight or damp squib. They tick boxes like young, female, non-tribal, caring, centrist and, of course, anti-brexit. The steady drip of defections in these first days provides that greatest of political potion, momentum. It already has more mps than the dup, more twitter followers that the actual momentum and some 14% in the polls. Add in the libdem's 7% and they are nipping labour's heels. There is every chance of more leaving, although the "30 or 40" the charismatic heidi allen mooted is ambitious, though possible. The conservatives, well up in the polls, are the stronger of the two holed main party ships, with a rapid leadership change popularity boost up their sleeve, if only they can keep the band together through brexit. Despite the break-the-political-mould, hopey-changey exhilaration, the looming 29 march 2019 day of doom is still the most important thing by a million miles in british politics and everyone is waiting with bated breath (not) for the results of theresa may's latest foray to europe, also brexitcrashing a get-together in egypt to 'ave a word. The latest spat on gibraltar, as other countries have internal politics too, is just one straw in the wind, as if more were needed, that there's nowhere serious to go on this and the running down the clock until parliament is forced to choose between may's deal or no deal, is going to come down to may's deal. What the indy grouping changes, a fraction, is the lesser likelihood of corbyn somehow cobbling together a teflon way to allow the deal through, as there is now that much stronger an alternative pole around which his opponents can gather. However you cut it, bringing more diversity and competition into a dreadfully old-fashioned and patently failing polity is a very good thing. Whilst it's too much to expect old-friends but now-opponents to actively support an alternative political force, it may just be that exclusivity itself comes rather quickly to be seen as rather dated, and it may just be that different politics is the best platform the newbies have to stand on. It's certainly needed.

4 january 2019, get away from it all…

I've been in oman some months now, so having tried it out on the family, here's my make-the-most-of-it, 7-day, modest traveller itinerary. You can of course embellish, depending on budget & time available. My oman air tip is sign up to the emails & book immediately when they announce a sale (other airlines are available). Best time to come is november to april. Start with a highlight: get yourself down to ras al jinz to see the turtles. Don't book a "nearby" hotel, take the eco-tent on the beach. This is a genuinely magical experience, late at night then 5am in the morning. You'll see massive green turtles, who have swum 3000km to india then come back to lay eggs (which you watch a metre away) on the same beach they were born. If you're lucky (we were) you see tiny ones pop out the sand and scurry down to the sea, avoiding the crabs, birds & foxes that get 97% of them. On the way there or back, stop off at qantab beach, the bimmah sinkhole & wadi dayqah dam, walk wadi shabs and take a gazebo & barbecue to the gorgeous, pristine and empty white sands you'll pass for about 50 miles. Once that's organized, book yourself a boat to the dimanyat islands. Splash out & go for the all-day option: fish, barbecue and of course scuba-dive, or (like us) snorkel. Amazing. For another day, many exciting watersports are available, such as jet skis, or we went flyboarding. Just as exciting, turn right out the wave roundabout (you'll know it when you're here), follow the road right at the next roundabout and there's hundreds of quad bikes of all shapes and sizes waiting for you to rip across the sand dunes. If you've time for a second trip out of muscat, head off thursday night to nizwa. The thing to do is the 6am friday morning genuinely-authentic animal market; its worth it. After thousands of years, it probably won't be the same in a few more, so go. As you're in the city, there's a great market, fab fort (you can't come to oman without doing one) and then drive 30 mins to the al hoota cave for the country's only train and a pretty good cavern too. Book in advance, the 2pm tour being best, and eat in nizwa before you leave. Once out the cave, drive another 30 mins to the gorgeous and again-authentic village of misfah al abryeen. Wear respectful clothes and just wander around to your heart's content; it's beautiful. Take the mountain road to muscat (spectacular view) and you'll be back by evening. You don't need a 4x4 for any of this apart from the white sand beach, but roads (or more precisely, drivers) can be dicey, so its probably worth trading up. For traditional food in muscat, go to kargeen or bin atiq. If you want posh hotels, best are kempinski (in the wave) and the al bustan palace, right at the other end of town. Probably the most spectacular lobby in the world and gorgeous pools and palms at the back, which you'll pass if you eat at the beach bar (book ahead, take a cabana if you're feeling generous). You must go to the port and souq (market). If you're a cultural soul and there's something good on, get to the royal opera house. For retail therapy, best mall is city centre. Whatever else, visit the amazing mosque. Drink & carry lots of water. Too much for a week ? Probably, but then you'll just have to go back...

4 december 2018, the news we’ve been waiting for

Like everyone else, I've had no idea which way britain's brexit-induced political nervous breakdown was going to lurch next. While staying in the eu seems to have become just-about the least-worst outcome for just-about a majority, it's been difficult to see how this would happen. My dictum was always don't watch the politics, watch the process, though even on what may have been the most momentous day in parliament in living memory, the bbc were still talking about how it will "determine theresa may's future". The root cause of the chaos was parliament's abdication of its responsibility in a parliamentary democracy of making decisions, the consequence of asking the people being the need to carry out their expressed will. It has always seemed the case that what the people do, only the people can undo, hence this growing exit-from-chaos move towards just staying in warts-and-all has found expression in the "people's vote" campaign. Today, the commentariat will seize on the consequences of parliament asserting its authority over government though the "humble address" and then successfully doubling down and inserting itself more forcefully into the government's action should its seemingly-doomed deal fail to muster a majority. It could lead us more softly towards norway: the second defeat gives the government a route to losing the vote on its deal but still avoiding no deal. Something equally momentous though happened over in the court brexiteers love to hate. Today we found out rather clearly that should britain want to ditch brexit altogether, it can easily do so, and all on its own. OK, it's just an advocate-general's opinion not the Court, but it is highly unlikely the Court will not follow this when it rules in the next weeks. This is hugely significant as it removes the 27's potential leverage should britain decide to u-turn, meaning it can keep its current deal, rebate and all, and simply snap back to "normal" as if nothing ever happened. All britain needs to do now for that is to take back control and assert the sovereignty the ecj has confirmed it has always had. When we look back at when the supertanker started turning around, today may just be the day.

3 october 2018, stubb thumping

Given that the european people's party has won every european election since 1994, it's highly likely that whoever emerges as candidate from their congress in helsinki on 8 november will go on to become the next commission president, which, whatever anyone says, is still europe's top job. Home advantage goes to alex stubb. He gets my vote, or would if I had one (I'm not a voting member of the epp or even perhaps by then an eu citizen). I met the marvellous mr stubb (see 10 november 2011, the europeans are coming) back when I was organising seminar sessions at the european central bank and he was a mere mep. Together with then-president jean claude trichet we had a rather marvellous lunch beforehand. He went on to become finland's foreign and then prime minister. He was speaking about enlargement, then a hot topic and was eloquent, confident, sensible and very open to discussion. Beforehand he was probing and challenging but polite and indeed charming. He was the very definition of charismatic and would, I think, be a fantastic president. Not just in temperament, but also a great fit politically, coming from the left of europe's centre-right party in what is still, thankfully, an inherently consensus-driven polity. More than being competent and clever, he has the potential to be inspiring and is capable of giving europe verve and drive - which we can only hope is not something europe's leaders will hold against him. Aside manfred webber (the other leading epp candidate, who has being a german against him), stubb's main obstacle may be the unwillingness of the presidents and prime-ministers to allow the parliament to remove their right to select the president, as happened last time round with their so-called spitzenkandidat, whereby they all agreed that they would all veto anyone but the candidate of the party that won the election - the first solid move towards a european polity. It's hard to reverse progress though, so the smart money will stay on whoever emerges victorious in helsinki. Like America needed Obama in 2008, europe needs stubb !

21 september, weekend in salalah

You won't know where it is, and nor did I until a month ago, but spent last weekend in oman's second city, salalalalalah as my younger calls it. It was pleasant. Known and quite popular across the gulf region (generally known as the gcc, but rather in abeyance since qatar was isolated), it has made inroads into europe too, with charters filling the rapidly-growing resort about 10 miles outside town. Said younger son mentioned oman to a random taxi driver in manchester who it turned out had been there. Spent most time in older town, which was already empty with schools back and the 3-month "khareef" season over, and so not only all local tourists but half the inhabitants have all left. I ate well, managed some good quality time with omanis, an hour's wander around the local market and a ride into the mountains, which as promised were rolling and green, though we never made it to the waterfalls that have maybe another fortnight before drying up. Spent the last night over at the resort, which was splendid and as good as anything in greece, italy or turkey, if not better. Lovely spa, service, pool, beach, jetty, food, cocktails and mood, lighting and subject for taking some great photos. Working very hard so best part of a week to write this up, but that day by the sea was a total break and time-off.

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