8 november 2014, and so it came to pass

To uncharacteristically stay with the same topic, some reflections a week after the government's number two signed a pretty substantial devolution deal with greater manchester's ten number ones. Aficionados may recognise that many details are, to a degree, more of the same: GM already had earnback and transport powers, housing and planning has long been under discussion. However, this is a stake in the ground that pulls those things significantly forward, idenifying budgets and pushing forward mechanisms that enable local control and making a good first fist of, probably more importantly, reducing central government "oversight" and conditions. It is recognition of the seriousness of that which forced hands all round on the solution everyone knew would be needed at some time, of an elected mayor for the whole manchester city/region (the 3 million people of greater manchester). As the eleventh member of the combined authority, a goverance scheme designed in wigan not whitehall, this institutional innovation is emphatically not an imposition but a sensible evolution of the local system, with the new powers neatly split between the mayor and the ca, and with the optionality of more movement, in areas such as health, benefits and planning, from both local and central to regional-level, as and when the time is appropriate. There has been some gnashing of teeth, not least that this seems to be championed by the governing conservative and liberal democratic parties rather than labour, the party of eight of the ten signing local leaders (and almost certainly the new mayor) which does seem to represent a certain flat-footedness evidenced also in the broader "northern powerhouse" narrative that this is a part of. Economically, devolution is a good thing, and the advantages of manchester going first (after london of course) are significant, in terms of international championing and investment, the bully pulpit bearing down on "one size fits all" national schemes and london-bias and the leverage of locally co-ordinated powers and budgets. Its not yet the £22 billion spent here of course, but we're on our way.

1 november 2014, in scotland’s wake

I have to admit to being rather surpised, as well as delighted, that somehow over the last months devolution seems to have taken some very serious steps from the technocratic and academic sphere towards the front line of politics. This week local power was on front pages from the guardian to the financial times, becoming a topic that politicians seem to think might win or lose them votes. The arguments many of us have been sharpening for years about converting the house of lords to a regional chamber in manchester's town hall, of the city getting a proper boris-style mayor, of major infrastructure investments like hs3 and the local tax raising powers to sustain them are suddenly falling from the mouths of party leaders; the grand plan of the parties outbidding each other in the run up to the election seems to be actually unfolding before our eyes. Excellent initiatives like the city growth commission have helped give shape to the impetus, but the game-changer was undoubdedly the scottish referendum, which has left politicians seraching for a way to channel the "and me..?" reaction building up steam in the country. It is certainly good news and brings a fighting chance of sucess better than anytime since the mid-90s when a similar thrust ushered in regional agencies and assemblies and the scottish (and welsh) parliament itself. We need to keep up indeed increase the pressure !

20 october 2014, we made it !

An intense blush of the life personal and familial, as we really got away from it all and my other half and I tied the knot a little stronger. That was just the prologue to the wonderful story of my eldest son's coming of age, and all at what was once, and still is for so many, the centre of the world. Jerusalem was quiet, without a normal hair out of place for the sukkot holidays and the several dozen of our crowd wandered amongst the magnificent and the maligned, seeing all and imbuing the whole occasion with meaning and wonder, even awe. He was, as expected, unbelievably perfect, and the event itself on the lawn overlooking the old city was touchingly informal and magical. We even had an excellent party, with good food and whisky, as well as circus, speeches and a roomful of friends and family; we somehow succeeded. Off then to portugal for a week's r&r that was exactly that, with a healthy mix of relaxing by the pool, museums and monasteries, tripping along the coast and seeing, tasting and smelling the best of a rather downbeat lisbon. It all culminated with a frenetic tuctuc ride through the beautiful old streets up to the castle where we looked down through a spectacular sunset to the city's twinkling lights. The next day the gorgeous october sun bade us a fond farewell as we headed back to reality, all of us a little changed.

6 october 2014, on the verge

After the most intensive months of preparation, which have speeded up manically over the last weeks and days, we are finally off tomorrow on our big adventure. We first fly to budapest to pick up some of my other half's family and after a night's stopover on to tel aviv for the big event. The warm up is on friday, the main act saturday, followed of course by dinner and a party. I can't quite believe I have a thirteen year old son; these years have really just bunched up we've flitted over them so quickly. I'm very happy to be getting away from it all, and very happy too so many friends and family are joining us for a far bigger gathering than we first imagined. It will though be informal and fun, I hope, and probably a tad emotional, as these things are. Tonight is all packing and last minute preparations, but I think we're set. Life itself (hans christian andersen) is the most wonderful fairy tale. Time doesn't pass (marty rubin), it continues. "What day is it?", asked pooh, "it's today" squeaked piglet, "my favourite day" said pooh.

20 september 2014, aye, but

The incredible 85% turnout for the scottish referendum shows vividly that even in our increasingly cynical, mass media celebrity, short-termist, brittle culture, if voting matters, people will do it. Perhaps democracy is not petering out after all. That 45% of the scottish people voted to become an independent country is remarkable; that it wasn't the talk of the day after was more remarkable still. Much of the momentem the "ayes" had in scotland was built on decades of neglect and patronising from the london-based system, whose media in the last weeks has virtually migrated to scotland, saturating and showcasing the country to britain and the world. Yet, within hours of the vote being called, all the talk was of england, a rocket launched on the steps of downing street by david cameron, who said now was the time "millions of voices of england must be heard". Devolution for scotland was suddenly yoked "in tandem with, and at the same pace as a settlement for scotland". The airwaves duly hummed with welsh nationalists, the thinly disguised english nationalists of ukip and our very own jim o'neill and his cities commission, singing my own song of city devolution, led of course by manchester - devo manc. Just about everything was on the media menu, apart from scotland. And europe, as scotland staying in this little union does at least help a smidgeon with our chances of staying in the bigger one. Aye; it was fun while it lasted.

6 september 2014, on foreign shores

A good measure of how far from european shores I have become is closeness to the new european commission appointments and the president of the european council. Humpty rumpty (see 21 november 2009) does not seem five years ago. Juncker (see 26 may 2014, eurosclerosis and 18 june 2011 in celebration of...) is probably my last link. I have at least heard of tusk, which puts me ahead of most brits, a very concept meanwhile under threat as the chances of scotland seceeding becomes not impossible. I feel closer to that now than rather slower-moving european questions. The interviews meanwhile are underway, and while italy's federica mogherini will be foreign minister - sorry, the high representative for foreign and security policy - the rest is in juncker's gift, albeit subject to european parliament confirmation. The whole process seems remote to me, though I remind myself of its centrality to the european project which continues to evolve. For all the doomsayers' certainty, the euro is still thriving and its central apparatus is growing and even becoming more activist, a good thing in these sparse circumstances, despite the limits of its democratic foundation (see 2 june 2011, trichet awaaaay). Though it was always an economically-anchored project, tusk and juncker's term may well be salient for foreign policy. Far away, the middle east may push europe-within-nato to take on substance, but there is nowhere nearer to home than russia and tusk's appointment probably owes more to how the eu deals with russia-in-ukraine than anything else; there will be some tough times ahead on that. Even closer to home, britain (or the "rest-of-the-uk", as commentators are coming to call the island should scotland go independent) may yet serve up the greatest challenge, as the bit that is out of the eu will want in, and the bit that is in to be out, certainly the least productive headache of them all.

25 august 2014, lengthening shadow

With october getting closer, and the situation in israel refusing to stabilise - let alone start much more importantly on the path towards an actual resolution - the shadow that has been cast over these last months has only darkened. Like a rabbit in the headlights we have let a lot of things slip, so we now need to firm ourselves and push on, even as we feel that is really not how it should be. Deaths in the syrian conflict are now approaching 200, 000 and so while the 2, 000 of gaza may seem small in relation to so many conflicts of both the past and present, they are so much closer to home and it is so hard for us to travel there in this renewed light, also taking stock of the country israel risks becoming, which is not a good thing to contemplate right now. My work is also approaching a crunchpoint at exactly the same time, there are some issues of old age unfolding before me, and generally things that need to be dealt with, of both the minor and major sort, all seeming to be coming to a head in unison, so it is a very busy moment in life. My desk is crowded, with many incomplete matters, but today we have dedicated to an exclusive focus on october...

10 august 2014, to return

My world of hungary this year was rather overwhelmed by my world of israel. We generally go to the balaton in the summer, and this year was no exception, although it was shorter than usual, due to our longer trip to israel in october. Most unusually the rain fell and the sun refused to shine, which is very disruptive to an outdoor holiday, but the longer shadow was cast by the missiles that continued to rain down on gaza throughout our stay, although a 72-hour ceasefire did puncture the week with hope, as has today's, as things finally seem to be "winding down". On my return, I rapidly tried to get back up to speed, reading the economist and listening to the (16 july) moral maze I am myself rather lost in, though in my wandering I found roger cohen and yachad, where at least there are some fellow travellers. Back in manchester, the weather is even worse and I'm back at work tomorrow, and home alone a week as my other half and the boys stayed on. Today I tidied, house and mind, and a late afternoon coffee should keep me at it for a few hours yet, if the endless repeats of friends don't draw me in too much...

12 july 2014, so many wrongs

I mentally moved away from the conflict many years ago in utter despair at how, from a moment in time where there were leaders and a process (rabin, araft and oslo, see and that's how it ended) which might, just might, deliver a settlement that a generation later would be peace, there has been a steady and remorseless moving of the fundamentals away from that hope towards a place where no-one can even envisage a solution let alone take responsibility for moving towards it. This makes the last and next years an exercise of management. That has dire consequences every minute of every day, mainly for the palestinians, but occasionally that management breaks down altogether and as my old friend dan levy relates, things are more at sea without a paddle now than ever. Whether or not there is a land incursion into gaza (and we can only hope that, like last time, the build-up is just pressure to ensure a robust ceasfire), there will of course, like last time, be a stop, a ceasefire (that will closely resemble the november 2012 agreement) and silence will reign for some months or years more. The only question is how many palestinians and israelis will be killed before that happens. That this is the very best we can hope for flags, indeed screams, how rotten the status quo is and how, when the heat of battle is reduced, much, much more effort is needed to craft a change. The responsibility for this lies squarely on israel's shoulders. As the sovereign state, as the goliath to the palestinians' david, as the holder of virtually all the cards, the onus is on israel to change the fundamentals. The first step is acceptance that hamas, for all its loathing and violence, is a representative of the palestinians, and the recent attempt (which israel has now probably destroyed) to bring the palestinian factions together under a moderate unity government so they can talk to israel is a good thing to be supported, if the end sought is actually talks. Yes, their charter does not recognise israel, but then netanhayu's ruling likud party charter doesn't recognise palestine either. Yes, this means fatah talking to hamas terrorists, but so did israel when arranging the last ceasefire etc etc. Peace comes from talking not to friends but enemies, even violent enemies seeking to destroy you. They will only be doing the same in 30 years time unless we change something instead of heaping tragedy on tragedy after short pauses. The responsibility for that, the only ones with the ability to do it, is israel.

28 june 1014, 100 years on: where there’s life, there’s hope

It was 100 years ago today that a radical serb nationalist shot the austro-hungarian emperor, setting off events that led inexorably to the first greatest carnage of the last century. It was a different britain then, in which london rather brutally ruled a quarter of the world, women had no vote and the age children worked in mills and mines had just been raised to 12. The 4 years of war, and the 15+ million killed, meant britain, and the world, were never the same. Although it took a second world war to usher in the new, it was ww1 that ushered out the old. In many ways - and juncker's appointment as commission president yesterday when europe's leaders assembled after a commemoration at ypres illustrates it graphically - britain has still not adapted to its lesser role and the need for new continental and global alliances to exert influence. Sarajevo (see 6 april 2012, still crazy after all these years) itself is gory testament to the fact that "the war to end all wars" did no such thing, and nationalism, insularity and law of the jungle mentality and aggression (hello vladimir vladimirovich, see 23 march 2014, the bearly new world order) are even now not confined to the 19th century past they belong to. For all its many, many flaws, one of the best bulwarks built against humanity's past resort to power politics and law is the united nations and the global framework of international law it sits at the heart of. Inconsistent, unenforceable, picked and chosen from by different countries at different times and blocked at most turns by the veto-wielding power reality dictates the "permanent 5" have in new york and geneva, it nonetheless has hundreds of uncelebrated successes over the decades and thousands of good people working for it, trying at every turn to avert a third world war. In this supposedly new world, britain and france sit rather oddly as 2 of the 5, and act in fact as (albeit one of several) a block towards the reform needed to make this vital system stronger: better jaw, jaw than war, war. There are no signs that this entrenched position may change (indeed eu events make it less likely) but at some point some sense on our part might just be the move that breaks the logjam to the refom needed to strengthen the international system enough to make it a better actor. It will sorely needed sometime in the next 100 years, and perhaps sooner than we might expect.

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