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27 november 2015, fiddling while the rome connection burns

One of the uk's easier demands of the eu is for economic governance arrangements that stop the eurozone ganging up on the "outs". In reality this is about stopping london's financial centre being disadvantaged (a longstanding desire of several within the eurosystem). The uk though are not really against (in many respects they are actually for) the eurozone, and indeed other "core" configurations, integrating further and faster. Schengen (see 23 september 2015, will schengen survive ? and the euro are only the most notable of the differentiated integration that already exists. Staying in orbit around the core would not be a bad position for the uk while its decade or two of adjacency funk lasts, although when the referendum comes along such subtleties will be lost in the laconic to hell with the lot of them/good fences make good neighbours simplicities (see 27 february 2014, sleepwalking towards the exit) that are increasingly likely to turn the brits back into little englanders.

17 november 2015, hot on the heels of cornwall...

There was a crucial moment in negotiating manchester's devolution status with the government, when news broke to lighten the mood in the form of liverpool, after some years trying to get their act together, again miserably failing to. The number one item facing that city region's six (all labour-run) local authorities, was the combined authority's new name. In a monty pythonesque twist to the concept of local empowerment, their utter disagreement led to them asking whitehall to decide the name for them, which is how they ended up with the snappily-titled halton, knowsley, liverpool, st helens, sefton and wirral combined authority (or hklsswca for short). A couple of months later they were at it again with four of the authority's members choosing the new leader while the other two were out the room. Finally though, today was a big day for the hklsswca, as they got their handshake with my old mucker, and now the official minister for sorting out liverpool's arguments, jim o'neill (see 14 january 2010, brics and more tar) and agreed to elect a mayor in return for the transport-and-bells-and-whistles powers that regular readers will recall my describing many times. "I'm pleased, not so much that we've managed to negotiate with central government" said joe anderson, liverpool's current mayor, "but that we have finally been able to get an agreement at a local level". No I didn't make that up, and yes, anderson is mayor of the small liverpool city area, not the whole of the hklsswca city region; do keep up. And yes, hklsswca is still its name, which my sources tell me is excellent branding on the streets of shanghai, right up there with manchester united. Seriously though, all power to your elbows. St michael must be proud.

14 november 2015, paris to paris, a heavily-edited story of 2015

13 november, paris, france, 129 killed; 13 november, baghdad, 19 killed; 13 november, beirut, lebanon, 43 killed; 1 november, mogadishu, somalia, 13 killed; 31 october, sharm el sheikh, 224 killed; 23 october, jacobabad, pakistan, 22 killed; 14 october, maidugurie, nigeria, 42 killed; 10 october, n'djamena, chad, 38 killed; 10 october, ankara, turkey, 102 killed; 5 october, baghdad, iraq, 57 killed; By 1 october, usa, 994 killed (mass shootings only); 20 september, maidugurie, nigeria, 145 killed; 16 august, douma, syria, 82 killed; 13 august, baghdad, iraq, 76 killed; 10 august, diyala, iraq, 50 killed; 7 august, kabul, afghanstan, 51 killed; 13 july, monguno, nigeria, 43 killed; 29 june, leego, somalia, 70 killed; 26 june, soussa, tunisia, 38 killed; 26 june, kuwait city, kuwait, 27 killed; 13 june, monguno, nigeria, 63 killed; 8 june, waziristan, pakistan, 26 killed; 1 june, randi, iraq, 41 killed; 22 may, saudia arabia, 21 killed; 13 may, karachi, pakistan, 45 killed; 2 april, garissa, kenya, 147 killed; 28 march, Idlib, syria, 236 killed; 20 march, sanaa, yemen, 137 killed; 4 february, fotokol, cameroon, 91 killed; 24 january, mariupol, ukraine, 30 killed; 7 january, baga, nigeria, over 2, 000 killed; 7 january, paris, france, 7 killed.

4 november 2015, it was 20 years ago today

Rarely in history has a bullet found its target as well as that of yigal amir, yitzchaq rabin's assassin. He was no saint: rabin it was who, as defence minister, tried to snuff out the first intifada (a year I spent in israel) with orders to break palestinian legs. Yet, after usurping his great rival shimon peres to become prime-minister, he came to understand and indeed define the position that only engagement and compromise could end the conflict. So came oslo, the greatest - and probably last - breakthrough in our lifetime. No other leader, right or left, has credibly taken most israelis on that journey. Oslo though was only a first step, postponing the most difficult issues of jerusalem, settlements, the rights of refugees to return and a palestinian state itself. Yet, start the journey they did, each side for the first time recognising the other and their aspirations. Though no less for the palestinians, the scale of compromise represented for israel is like america today sitting down with islamic state. Amir's bullet, in the square I stood that night, directly led to a weak peres picking up the torch and narrowly losing the election a year later to netanyahu: rejectionist procrastinator par excellence, for whom the appearance of the journey was the most he would ever accept (see 18 april 2015, bibin there, done that). From that moment the process was ultimately doomed, and the prospects of peace ever more remote. And here we are, several wars and many dead later, perennially on the cusp of the third intifada and even the most optimistic of souls has no conceivable solution to hand beyond the faint hope of dampening down the violence just below boiling point for a period. How far in the wrong direction we have travelled these last 20 years; a personal tragedy of our age.

23 october 2015, china comes to manchester



Once several years ago, a small cog in the machine started shouting china, china china as the economic powerhouse we need to hook our economy up to (see 27 april 2013, china in my pocket). Today, after a few of the thousand flowers we planted bloomed, we were visited by the greatest of chinese heights, president xi jinping, as he toured around the town and the airport waving investment as he went and beaming brand manchester back home to a billion souls. If you look hard around 2 seconds into the film (sat down, second from left), you can see me straining to get a decent view, although the man on the stage is my boss, introducing el presidente. David cameron was there too, which was nice. The president was most effusive about manchester, capital of the north, dynamic modern metropolis and world centre of media, science and football, all of which I'm sure will be culled for an age to come. He got to see the national graphene institute (and I'm going to say I had a hand in that too) and then to the etihad campus, home of £1billion foreign investment (and manchester city) and now of "that" selfie. Shame the poor guy thought he was being taken to a football club he'd actually heard of (ok, I like city too these days) and then home via my own wee place of work, which made for an interesting break in an otherwise meeting-filled afternoon. Quite an entourage, quite a journey. Here is the slick version of the video.

Attached File: photos from man.pdf

17 october 2015, death, death, death spiral

"We are all human beings" was the protest of a jew stabbed by another jew who thought he was an arab in haifa. Sadly though more than ever in israel today there are no human beings, just jews and arabs. The centre of the violence is jerusalem, where a new physical dividing line looks to be emerging as an end result of this latest wave. Israel has long resisted admitting that jerusalem is not, after all, one indivisible city. However, whilst not, yet, the berlin wall, throwing up checkpoints and controlling movement across a line is simply following the logic of the rest of the west bank barrier, a peace line that literally separates two peoples. Pre-wall, when I travelled around a quarter of a century ago, there was no way of knowing when you crossed the invisible"green line". A generation on, the two populations know each other less and consequently fear each other more. With random knife attacks the terror of choice, with seven jews killed this week, and around 40 palestinians, it is ever easier to see security as only possible through division - yet how does that work when in much of the country the communities live at the top and bottom of a hill. There is no security without a solution, just the prospect of more terror, methodical and horrific, from both sides. "The unalterable truth: the last day of occupation will be the first day of peace". However israel has ever less inclination to think any solution can bring it security. And the world, that's us folks, absenting itself hardly helps.

8 october 2015, the great game returns

Most things happen in degrees, and so it is with russia's reassertion of its former anti-western soviet stance: we are the other, we are a global counterbalance to you, of equal weight. While today that rings totally hollow, driven primarily by a regrettable domestic need to shore up a shoddy regime, its nuisance value is high, as are the risks of more serious outcomes. Huntington's "unipolar moment" of us hegemony (see "how we made the fatal mistake...") has long past and the world can act effectively in concert or not at all. Even without russian bloody-mindedness, syria was an utter failure for the west. Now it is worse, the latest theatre in a new great game, as russia pursues its own ends of keeping assad in place and so securing its own position to maximum effect with minimum effort. This was exactly its strategy in ukraine (see 28 february 2015, murder in moscow), a game it comprehensively won. However, there was always something special about the former-soviet "near abroad" (witness georgia in 2008 ) whereas firing cruise missiles a thousand miles into the middle-eastern desert is the projection of power of quite a different order. Nato before was ineffective. Now, as turkey's borders are buzzed and american and russian warplanes angrily fly sorties just miles away from each other, nato is alert and the number of hairline triggers has shot up. Meanwhile, opposing the iranian-backed assad, saudi arabia is weighing in more heavily on the side of the sunni insurgents. Putin's game has consistently been not about the winning but about the playing. This time the stakes are higher.

23 september 2015, will schengen survive ?

As an eternal optimist, my answer will of course be yes, but it is also reasoned, as it was when the same question was so persistently asked of the euro. With the siren call from germany encouraging the swell and hungary's advertised rush to create a razor-wire curtain across the eu's border together conspiring to accelerate the movement as winter began to loom, germany, austria and then croatia rather retracted their open welcome, throwing up those internal schengen borders which are supposed to have dissapeared. It is not the first time: france and denmark both did it to impede migration from lampadusa in italy in 2011; just two notable examples of dozens of occasional suspensions. Today's crisis is bigger: then it was 50, 000 souls entering the eu, now it is around 500, 000. The principle though remains the same: migrants and anyone else can wander around the visa-free area of the whole united kingdom or the whole of the united states or the whole of schengen. The difference of course is that schengen includes different countries, which makes a fundamental requirement of such an area, securing external borders, rather harder and ultimately a matter of trust. Albeit harshly, hungary - and now croatia and others - argue that this is all they are doing (as in this chilling video) and that otherwise germany and the others need to secure their own external border. Trust is a precious flower easily wilted. Yesterday's decision to finally force through a quota-based allocation system for refugees, over the heads of hungary and its colleagues, was an almost unprecedented use of the force of law over consensus. This at least shows an almost-unity of purpose and an ability to act in the face of a soul-sapping policy vacuum, but will do nothing to protect that precious flower that schengen is built on. Difficult days then, to get worse before they get better, but there is a deep well of trust and aspiration schengen draws on which we must hope has not run dry just yet.

6 september 2015, evian les no-brains

The migration/refugee crisis has hung heavy over the household these last weeks. With its media epicentre (keleti station) not a kilometre from our budapest base, we have followed every step as the border fence went up and succeeded only in drawing in the crowds, which eventually brought them to the station, where they were eventually stopped from getting on trains, through some combination of diligently applying european rules and stopping a muslim invasion at the gates of vienna. The tactic of allowing them on the train only to stop it and then forcing them into a refugee camp also failed, leading the hapless (and rather bruised and bitter) hungarians to give up and just bus them over the border to a rather more receptive welcome in austria and germany. No-one is talking about britain as the promised land any more. The tipping point photo of aylan kurdi, packed trains going to germany being stopped at borders and marches of thousands of migrants and refugeess across europe all prick subconscious nerves in very uncomfortable and confusing ways. The 1938 evian conference was an attempt to settle 200, 000 fleeing persecution at that time not to but from germany, and though that dismally failed, the world has since dealt successfully with millions, of vietnamese, russians, cubans, cypriots, rhodesians and of course hungarians after 1956. The upshot is a race to beat the winter for millions more of destitute and dispossessed, for whom germany is now the preferred destination and budapest the established route. With visegrad, london and others continuing to hold out against evolving the common eu migration policy, it is unlikely the continent's leaders will succeed in anything like leadership before the snow does the work for them, but leaves a mass of confusion and moral questions susceptible to an inevitable backlash, not least in germany, unchecked by any sensible gameplan. Even were we better able to mop up water caused by our leaky radiator, the root cause remains the leaky radiator, and until the world in general, and syria in particular, are fixed, the tide of humanity europe is singularly failing to deal wth will only increase. Media obsession has yet to focus public pressure on bringing britain, europe and the west's might and reason to bear on that problem, but it surely must.

31 august 2015, a balmy bank holiday

Dealings of the day with germany, hungary and america have made me conscious that whilst I'm home today with the family (catching up on "stuff") most of the rest of the world is hard at work. I'm back at it tomorrow, having done a few days already after a week-plus-weekends break in hungary, at balaton of course, but also down in pecs, a first time, and a pleasant one. Leaving the family there for another week I got back last sunday, only to leave monday for chicago, also a first time, and also a good one. I got to see the whitesox which would have been extremely dull and incomprehensible had not the lively company in the box held back the jet lag with excellent food, fine scotch, almost-witty banter and some half-successful explanations of baseball (but never again). Best were the astounding buildings: the cutting edge shimmering of the lakeshore east aqua, the gotham city splendour of the lasalle wicker, the quintessentially american mix of the tribune, the sheer chutzpah of the trump and the won't even mention second-tallest-building-in-the-states of the sears (now willis) tower. Marina city was pretty eye-catching too. All making chicago probably worth a second look...

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