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.

24 june 2014, hs3

Someone's listening - and just over 6 months after my excellent article on the subject, and the best part of two years' work from lots of people of whom I was just one, the uk's finance minster has mooted the possibility of a proper east-west link to the we-hope-soon-to-be-built high-speed network. There are of course many slips twixt cup and lip on hs2, let alone - and I'm claiming the coining of the term first - hs3, but at least it is on the agenda and in pole position for the eventuality that if hs2 does make it, and the appetite, economic case, and financing are there for more, it becomes the obvious, and the right, next step. Albeit heading towards a general election, there is a serious head of steam building up, in both main political parties, for the beefing up of the north as a bigger centre of economic activity, with transport centre stage. Housing is also important, and not just for regeneration, as in the latest abu dhabi investment (a big deal, with more to come), but also where the market wants it in the outdated but now staus quo green belt (see its our castle not our keep). Moving a bit of government out of the capital, like the department of culture following the bbc (see 23 december 2011), would be a hugely symbolic and important intervention the government could do relatively easily if it meant business. Governance too, dare I say it, is another piece of the jigsaw, and one which manchester could itself seek to improve if it were so minded. The hs3 proposal is a great thing though to have on the horizon, but the trick will be to make it stick, across the political spectrum, and to surround it with the other elements of the global city manchester aspires to be and the country needs.

Attached File: go.pdf

20 june 2014, hungary in manchester

An interesting day yesterday, spent with the new hungarian ambassador, peter szabadhegy. The occasion was my appointment as hungary's newest honorary consul, making me somehow a member of the diplomatic corps and the proud owner of a foreign and commonwealth office card, a large brass plate, an impressive official stamp, a signed letter from the hungarian foreign minister, and two enormous flags, a hungarian and an eu one. I have various duties, but really will be about trade and investment, both ways, and broader connectivity, especially on our planes. My relationship with hungary has in recent years, or always given its past, had both a grey side (see eg 21 september 2013) and a radiant one. It is the latter that always wins out, and we visit and enjoy the country all the time and I am very happy to gather energies both towards its success, and towards its success as the open, modern, european centre I have come to know so well. As well as a tour of the airport, we had the best part of a day's business meetings, thoughts about a real proposition for the splendid victoria baths and a lovely ceremony at the town hall where I was duly invested with wine, speeches, lots of both friends and dignitaries and a 101 warnings along the lines of not knowing what we're letting ourselves in for. Amongst other things, rather more of hungary's very finest export, sweet tokay wine. I hope that is my only just deserts.

Attached File: appointment.pdf

Attached File: hung1.pdf

5 june 2014, more of driving less

Suddenly, driverless cars have crossed from nerdland to the mainstream, as every manufacturer inches their way there, and google, whose cars have nearly clocked up a million miles, have a go at serious disruption. They may well succeed: whereas humans are lousy drivers, machines will soon be perfect ones, and ageing enthusiasts apart (yes, I do have a record player), why would anyone choose to grip a wheel and stressfully stare at road for an hour when you can do whatever you do in any room in your house ? Experts guesses are now clustering around 2020 as the moment a competitive market has critical mass and all our kids want one. An intriguing question, to which the answer is probably yes, is whether this technical innovation may also create a cultural one in owneship, with the long-trailed take-off of the shared ownership (or collaborative consumerism, see 23 december 2010 model becoming the norm for autonomous vehicles (the posh name). They are likely for a good generation to be second cars, and fulfil in part the role of taxi (upending that business model totally, never mind uber, and probably revolutionising public transport too), car firms are anyway struggling to get increasing numbers of us to part with harder-earned cash for a major asset that loses a quarter of its value in a day and 90% in five years, and why buy something you use 3% of the time when you can just pay for the time you use it ? Most of the problems are already not technical but regulatory (normal cars on the road, liability, insurance), and quite soon governments will catch on that there is an easier route to getting ten times more traffic on the roads than building new ones. It all adds up to a societal and business disruptor rather like the mass-produced car was to a world of horses and carriages.

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