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12 december 2015, trumped

Cycling home listening to the ever-excellent pm programme (on i-player of course), I found myself, possibly for the first time ever, agreeing with the visceral mep dan hannan, who brought a semblance of sense to a hysterical debate on donald trump's latest outburst by pointing out that banning him from entering the uk for his calls to ban muslims from entering america was a somewhat ridiculous bending to the inevitable "something must be done" feeling. Alas, everyone is talking about trump (and into that trap I fall), which proves yet again that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and few are better at it than "the don". Happily, he has no chance of actually becoming president: the excellent nate silver, who correctly predicted the result last time around in all 50 states, points out he has about 25% support amongst republicans who themselves make up around 25% of the electorate, so a net 6-8%, which is about the same as believe the apollo moon landings were faked (and probably the same people). He has though, as so many spiky populists have before him (hello nigel), shone a spotlight on an uncomfortable issue and succesfully shifted the political centre. Trump is redirecting obama's isolationism to move american identity more towards its nasty, nativism persona and ever further from the "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses" mantra on which it was originally built. Maybe its europe's era to inherit that spirit on which wealth and prosperity was built over generations. Last word though to the real genius behind donald trump, it was finally revealed yesterday: sacha baron cohen (in full).

Attached File: trump.pdf

3 december 2016, the other hilary

From the leadership vacuum that is today's british labour party, step forward hilary benn, after a stonking speech in yesterday's totemic debate about whether or not to extend british bombing of islamic state into syria. Joining 60-odd other labour members to support the government, against his leader and the rest of the party, benn established himself overnight as the principled, strong orator, independent-minded bulwark from within against jeremy corbyn, should the party ever want such a thing. With a combination of this year's general election and the subsequent party leadership contest taking out a whole generation of post-corbyn potentials, it was inevitable that one of the next crop would establish themselves alongside the refuseniks of chuka umunna and tristram hunt as the weathervane leader-in-waiting on whose shoulders the future of the party may yet rest if they ever get to the point of taking the fight for centre-left social justice outside labour altogether. The princely former cabinet minister and shadow foreign-secretary is of course the son of one of the left's greatest modern orators (best interview ever) and joins a worryingly-long list of party dynasties, including will straw, tamsin dunwoody, stephen kinnock, the millibands (if brothers count) and (oh yes) emily benn. Meanwhile, talking of heavyweights in the making, tonight is the oldham west and royton byelection, contested by the ex-council leader jim mcmahon with whom I had the pleasure of working alongside on a number of occasions...

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.

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