30 October, 2012

Loss of an old friend

Those of us who have grown up on Penguin books will feel some disquiet at the news that the publisher is to lose its independence, and that the German publishing giant Bertelsmann will merge it with Random House.

Penguin House is a nice name.

But I prefer Random Penguin.

Job vacancy: new leader

Beppe Grillo
The election results in Sicily will, I think, mark some sort of turning point. The Left coalition have won the presidency but the largest party is Beppe Grillo's 5 Star Movement.

Grillo means cricket - the insect - in Italian, but can also mean caprice: avere grilli per la testa means to have a head full of crazy ideas. It is bizarrely appropriate. Grillo says correctly that the party leadership is useless and that it is corrupt (also correct.) But he is not suggesting new policies, he is against everything.

A good example is the story going round that the elections have been put back a week so that new MPs if voted out can get their pensions (they need to serve exactly 5 years). Whether true or not, everyone believes this of the political caste.

Grillo is doing well in the polls because that is how the Italians are feeling: they are fed up with the venality of public life, which they could tolerate when times were good but now they see they are paying for it.

It does not seem likely to me that this discontent is going to change under the present lot, left or right. Italy has six months to find a credible, strong leader who can explain to the people what is going on and help them through it. It isn't Grillo: he is the catalyst.

The markets are watching.

29 October, 2012

Aiding and abetting

The interesting case of the Greek memory stick is raising its head again.

Several years ago, probably three, an employee of HSBC, the banking giant formerly known as Honkers and Shankers, put the names and account details of a large number of Greek residents on a memory stick and sent it to the IMF. The assumption is that the account holders were salting away money illegally.

Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, came across the stick and gave it to the Greek finance minister Papakonstantinou, who put it in the drawer of his desk. His successor, Venizelos, reportedly found the stick and was told what it was. He did nothing about it, and nor did his successor, nor his successor, nor the present one Stourmaras (as you can imagine job security in this post is pretty minimal).

So a journalist got hold of the memory stick and published the details in a magazine called Hot Doc, and the Greek authorities immediately arrested....the journalist.

His name is Kostas Vaxevanis and he is still being held. None of the names on the list have been investigated, despite, or perhaps because, of the fact that among them are senior politicians and businessmen.

Things are getting worse and worse for the ordinary people of Greece (and by the way the same goes for Portugal) but the government never tries to pursue the evaded taxes of the rich and influential, such is the endemic level of corruption.

It must be obvious, even to the most Euro-mad German, that there is no point putting the money of their own, honest, taxpayers to shore up this corrupt system. After a while it becomes aiding and abetting the crime.

28 October, 2012

Not gone yet

In my last post I said that the post Berlusconi era begins in 2013. It does not, as some newspapers seemed to think, begin immediately.

To remind us, the great man announced that he felt obbligato to remain in politics (for the sake of his country, natch) and that in the coming weeks he and his colleagues would be discussing whether to let the Monti government remain in power or whether to call early elections.

I don't think they will call early elections but Berlusconi, as ever, is following the public mood which does not regard Monti in a good light: they are saying 'we've had the pain, where's the gain?' The latest public protest specifically refers to itself as an anti-Monti march.

Berlusconi's still there, and he's still leader of the largest party and he wants people to remember that.

27 October, 2012

The clown goes down

JAILED! screamed the Daily Mail, a headline it has since amended. For Silvio Berlusconi is not in prison, and is not likely to be.

The former Prime Minister was sentenced in a tax evasion case, involving over-declaration of the price of film rights purchased for his Italian TV stations. The sentence was four years but it was immediately reduced to one. The Italian system is that you have two appeals and you have to lose the final one within six years before the sentence is enforceable. That six years expires next year. Perhaps he should, but he won't go to jail.

The verdict is significant, though. It is said that Silvio expected it to go against him and this is one of the reasons he declined to put himself forward as leader of his PdL party at the next election (that, and the fact he is growing less popular as people notice that Monti is achieving reforms which Silvio didn't even try to get through). It leaves Alfano as the front runner to lead the party, but he hasn't achieved much in the way of popularity.

Nor, though, has the left achieved popularity. Bersani is seen as part of the old crowd but rather than bowing out gracefully he is fighting tooth and nail against his challenger for the leadership, Matteo Renzi, the 37 year old Mayor of Florence.

The lack of charisma (something Berlusconi had in spades) and petty squabbling have left the field wide open for the two jokers in the pack. One of these is Monti himself. If the parties cannot form a government he may be appointed, with their approval, for a further short term in office. Otherwise, the Constitution says, for him to be  Prime Minister after next spring he would have to present himself for election. Like all eurocrats he is uncomfortable with democracy and everything it implies (losing your job if you are no good) and says he won't.

The other joker is Beppe Grillo, of the 5-star movement (it started life under the name Vaffanculo, which means fuck off). He is attracting increasing support all over the country, the archetypal 'none of the above' candidate.

The post-Berlusconi era begins in April next year. At present the likely scenario is an uneasy coalition of some of the three parties plus or minus Monti. And the markets won't like that. There is a risk - not a certainty but a palpable risk - that Silvio might have brought the whole house down with him. 

23 October, 2012

The madness of the unelected

It is not often that this blog comes out in defence of David Cameron and his government but he is quite right in opposing vigorously the proposed long term budget settlement wanted by the eurocrats (these, remember, are people who don't have to go to an electorate to explain themselves).

The EU's demands are that the budget should increase by €7bn in each of the next two years, increasing Britain's bill by €1.7bn. By the end of the decade Britain's bill would, under the proposals of the unelected, be €11.5bn.

These people are divorced from reality. It is not just Britain, but Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain: all will have to pay more. The difference is that they can reasonably expect the Germans to lend it to them.

As countries are having to make cutbacks - Greece is currently cutting disabled allowances - only someone living in a bubble of secure job, high pay and high pension could propose more spent on the bureaucracy. It is quite, quite mad and Cameron is right to oppose it.

Lock'em up

The Deputy Head of Italy's Civil Protection Agency and six other scientists have been found guilty of manslaughter. It seems they were sent to l'Aquila to investigate residents' worries after a series of tremors in the area. Their report, while leaving open the possibility that these tremors were the prelude to an earthquake, apparently said it was unlikely.

300 people died when the quake finally struck around a week later.

Scientists all over the world have expressed their horror at the convictions.

However, I am rather in favour of locking these people up. Other suggestions are the cabal of busybodies who invented passive smoking without the least scientific analysis, driving a further nail into the coffin of the British Pub; and the global warming loonies, who have made us cover our countryside with unsightly windmills and photovoltaic cells and caused families to pay large extra sums on their energy bills to subsidise the freeloaders who make them. All this despite the fact that there has been no global warming since 1998.

'This is the death of service provided by professors and professionals to the State', said the current head of Italy's Committee on Major Risks, and I sometimes think that would be a good idea, too.

PS Luciano Maiani, whom I quoted above, has resigned in protest at the convictions. Italy needs more men of principle, rather than the venal time-servers who characterise public life here, and this blog salutes him.

21 October, 2012

The Glorious 21st

Whenever there has been discussion of another Bank Holiday in the UK (scarcely appropriate right now, I fear, on economic grounds) I have always favoured 21st October.

I believe Britain should celebrate its national heroes and the interesting thing is, apart from being Geoffrey Boycott's birthday, it is also the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.

19 October, 2012

The name of Erasmus

Daniel Cohn Bendit has proposed an Erasmus system for politicians.

Erasmus, named after the 16th century renaissance teacher, is a system by which European students can do a part of their studies in another European country. It is quite a good thing.

What Cohn-Bendit wants is that elected politicians in Europe should go to an equivalent level in another country, so our parliament would have a few Hungarian fascists, our local councils some Italian communists with big expense accounts.

But who will take Danny? An ageing soixante-huitard, known as Danny the Red, after the unrest in France in 1968 he set up a revolutionary communist group in Frankfurt and then made his way, inevitably, to the European Parliament, scum rising, as it does, to the top. He is a Green, of course.

In 2003 prosecutors in Frankfurt asked the European Parliament to lift Cohn Bendit's immunity so he could be investigated for terrorism offences, but they refused, such a treasure is he.

He has confessed to paedophile acts, from his days as a teacher. But they didn't lift his immunity for that, either.

I'm not completely sure the great catholic humanist would have wanted his name associated with the idea.

No, I think it would be better if Danny the Red stayed in Brussels, as a testament to the madness of Europe.

18 October, 2012

Just get away

The concert pianist Fazil Say has been indicted by a court in Istanbul for insulting the values of Muslims.

Mr. Say had reportedly put on his twitter account: 'I am not sure if you have also realised it, but if there's a louse, a non-entity, a lowlife, a thief or a fool, it's always an Islamist.'

It was foolish. Turkey is struggling with its identity, as it was in 1923 when Ataturk took over, as between an Islamic state and a modern western power. Prime Minister Erdogan appears to be struggling to establish a position and must occasionally turn a blind eye to the sort of religious intolerance we in Britain saw in the 17th century.

There has been a small demonstration in Istanbul with one banner saying 'leave the artists alone'. I don't agree: artists, and Roman Polanski, the paedophile rapist, springs to mind, must undergo the same strictures of the law as anyone else.

The answer for Mr. Say is to come to Western Europe, where his talents will be recognised and where he can say more or less what he likes. Actually, not Britain, where several people have been arrested for putting on Facebook things which others found insulting. Britain is no longer a country of free speech.

Italy, perhaps, or Denmark. A pianist of his quality would be welcome.

Saviour of our lungs

Mr. Dalli, the Maltese European Commissioner who has resigned, seems to have lost his job due to snus (I think I've spelt that right).

Snus is a tobacco product very popular in Scandinavia. It is sometimes referred to as wet snuff, and the idea is that you put a wodge of it under your upper lip and leave it there for a long time (I don't suppose there's much else to do in the Scndinavian winter). It is the reason so few people smoke cigarettes in these northern regions, although I must say I can't see much benefit in giving up one tobacco product to get hooked on another. An increasing number of people in America are buying snus, because it doesn't require a lot of spitting in the way chewing tobacco does, which is inconvenient if you have a public role like, say, Mitt Romney.

Anyhow, snus is banned in the European Union, because they know what's best for you, even though cigarettes aren't, and Sweden made it a condition of its entry into the EU that snus would remain legal there. In fact snus doesn't give you lung cancer because none of it goes into your lungs. Sweden has one of the lowest incidences of lung cancer in the world.

Naturally snus manufacturers want to expand their market and there is some suggestion that Mr Dalli might have encouraged a businessman to approach manufacturers with the offer of supporting a liberalisation.

Given the fact that such a move might lower lung cancer rates one wonders what is wrong, but unfortunately it looks as if Dalli, who might otherwise have been the saviour of Europe's lungs, may have had other motives.

17 October, 2012

It's all OK!

YES! It's summit time for Europe! Hungry Responsible leaders will gather together on Thursday 18th  for another decisive....er....lunch. This time it's in Luxembourg.

To summarise what's going on:

François Hollande of France is impatient: he wants a quick implementation of the decisions of the last summit (he's new to this game) which broadly means telling the Germans to hurry up and guarantee everybody's debt. You never know when a country, say, to the West of Germany, might need it.

The Germans, meanwhile, want some controls over how their money would be spent, but François reckons that can wait for a couple of years.

Oh and François is fed up with Britain. In fact it's probably all our fault.

President Rumpy produced a plan which involved structural financial development and, c'mon guess, the Germans guaranteeing everyone's debts. I think it took 20 minutes for the German Government to dismiss it as nonsense, but it might have been less.

Mariano Rajoy of Spain has come up with an ingenious idea: that the ECB should give it a massive overdraft which, of course, it wouldn't use, no, in return for no conditions. No brainer.

Greece has not stopped being Greece: it has made almost no effort to collect the taxes of the rich and well connected, deciding to raise taxes and cut entitlements for poor people. The economy is in free fall, they need 2 years to implement the last conditions (not the present set) and will run out of money to pay staff and keep the lights on in about a month.

The European Commissioner for consumer policy, a Maltese called Dalli, has resigned, having been found out by the anti-fraud agency. He will have to be replaced by another Maltese, until we run out of them.

So, it's all going to be OK.

15 October, 2012

Free fall

The case of Felix Baumgartner, who has successfully jumped from a balloon 128,000 feet up (38km) has made me think. I say successfully but there was no other way down, he couldn't decide after the ascent not to go through with it, no one was going to go up and help him; and of course once he had jumped he was going to reach the earth in one condition or another.

I used to have arguments with a friend, the late broadcaster and journalist Michael Vestey, about whether motor racing drivers were brave. My point was that they were risking their lives, perhaps, doing something they wanted to do: I didn't think Michael was brave for smoking cigarettes.

But Baumgartner's feat seems different. No one knew what might happen - in the event he started spinning out of control but got a grip on it; his visor demister didn't work so he couldn't see his instruments. If his suit had torn, his blood would have boiled. This was serious risk taking, to get that much higher, further, faster, to see what man was capable of.

Good stuff.

Brave, yes.

13 October, 2012


On the subject of the Scottish Independence referendum (see below) a rather strange thing has happened.

Apart from the fact that the 51 million English, Welsh and Northern Irish are not being invited to vote on the break up of the United Kingdom, Cameron seems now to have conceded to the head of the Scottish National Party, Alex Salmond, that 16 year olds will be able to vote in the referendum. The minimum voting age in the UK is 18, and if there were, for example, a referendum on our membership of the European Union (which Mr Cameron promised and reneged on) only those over 18 would be able to vote. It seems that a 16 year old Scottish child could vote on independence but when the general election came the following year would be unable to vote.

Why is this going on?

Mr Salmond wants 16 year olds to be able to vote because they are more likely to vote against the status quo. Mr Cameron has accepted this in return for there being only one question on the ballot paper (ie not a sort of independence light being offered as an alternative).

Shoddy, Mr Cameron. Shoddy disdain for our traditions, for our constitution and for parliament.

We saw it with House of Lords Reform, where Cameron was prepared for his own political purposes to condone a monstrously undemocratic voting system and constitutional organisation; we have seen it with his promise of a referendum on Europe which he has chosen to forget, we have seen it with his permitting a vote on the AV system which is foreign for us, and we have seen it with the new celebrations of the start of WW1: Cameron is prepared to ride roughshod over our traditions and even over our constitution to get his political way.

In my view he is not the standard of person who can be Prime Minister.

Politics in the mourning

After a modestly successful speech to his party conference, what do you think was the first thing Mr Cameron did? Planned the celebration in July 2014 of the beginning of the First World War, announcing the happy jamboree in a speech at the Imperial War Museum.

Now every November 11th, British, Americans, French, Belgians, Italians and lots of others celebrate, at 11am, the end of the First World War: the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. I shall be giving my few euros and observing the minute's silence as I have done all my life. In 2014 am I supposed to stop this because I have celebrated the start of the war a couple of months before?

What is this business of celebrating the start of a war? Do we celebrate the start of the Second World War, the Boer war or the Vietnam War? No. So what is going on here?

Mr. Cameron is hijacking it for his own purposes, that is what is going on. He knows it is unlikely that he will be in power in 2018, the centenary of the end of WW1, which might be worth celebrating, so he is starting some tawdry political démarche of his own. He wants all schoolchildren to visit the battlefields in France and Belgium. Why? Has he ever been there? Mile after mile of flat countryside, interspersed in the grey weather with grey monuments of 'Enfants morts pour la Patrie': in what way is it beneficial for them to experience that? And it won't take place without a certain amount of jingoism, you can be sure, whereas in my own mind there is grave doubt as to whether we should have entered WW1 at all (WW2 is an entirely different matter).

So what has possessed Cameron to do this? He has been advised by his focus groups that these national gatherings are beneficial for the incumbent government (although if that is true you'd have thought that the Royal Wedding, the Jubilee and the Olympics would have been enough even for the most unpopular administration).

And it's not just that: 2014 will be the year of the Scottish Referendum on independence, and Mr Cameron wants the Scots to remain in the UK (he never seems to have explained why he takes this view). This, he hopes, will bind us together and keep the Scots in the fold accepting the annual bribe from England.

Cameron is trying to manipulate the national consciousness for his own purposes. He must be denounced for it.

12 October, 2012

Playing the Joker

In recent years the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Barack Obama (just prior to sending more troops to Afghanistan), the disgraced Al Gore, the ineffectual United Nations and the absurd, mendacious International Panel on Climate Change.

We are all left wondering how can the Nobel Committee keep up this level of nonsense, what more can it do to make itself a laughing stock?

No, the 2012 Prize is not going to the late Jimmy Savile.

It's going to the European Union.

Just as the Greeks are starving from its insane policies, as poverty and depression spread like cholera across a continent, as the gap widens inexorably between haves and have nots. The Peace Prize. On the day British and French fishermen are indulging in violent encounters in international waters.

The Prize will be awarded in Norway, which has steadfastly refused to join the EU despite several referendum campaigns, the good Norwegian folk being convinced it would herald the end of their democracy (correct).

Perhaps Jimmy Savile will be next year.

11 October, 2012


Much wailing and gnashing of teeth following the collapse of the proposed merger between British Defence contractor BAE (British Aerospace as it used to be known) and EADS, the people who make Airbus. Particularly among the banks who would have made millions. The rationale was straightforward: BAE was finding things hard going - not enough wars - and EADS very much wanted to get into the defence market as its rival Boeing has done.

I am not surprised the alliance didn't come off, and I think it would have been a great mistake if it had done. EADS is largely owned, and certainly controlled, by the French and German governments. In their European statist speak EADS is not just a nationalised industry, in the way that, say, Nat West Bank is in England, but a European champion. If there had been a new major contract, where do you think the new factory would be? Not the UK, I think.

And the Americans, whom BAE have cultivated for years to get a bit of the Pentagon's huge business, were never going to like the proposed new partners. Uncle Sam is suspicious of almost all foreign governments except Britain, and has a quite different philosophy to the European one. It started to ask for a reduction in state ownership of the European arm and the deal was off. Merkel took the blame, but Hollande would have vetoed it just the same.

The two companies may look the same, but they're fundamentally different.

'A greater power than we can contradict
Hath thwarted our intents'

         Romeo & Juliet

10 October, 2012


In possibly the most extraordinary volte-face ever seen in the world of economics, the IMF has admitted that it massively understated the negative effect of fresh austerity measures on struggling economies. This means that they now know that the budget reducing measures they and the EU have pushed on Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland have been detrimental, not steps on the road to salvation. People, in Greece in particular, have suffered and starved for nothing, companies have gone bust, large areas of economic activity squeezed perhaps beyond hope of recovery.

All we can do now is guess how many people will resign in the IMF and in Brussels from this criminal balls-up. My guess....?


Cameron: E or S?

Often at university the notices for a particular lecture would be marked in pencil by students who had gone through it the previous year as 'S' for soporific or, far worse, 'E' for emetic. I try to listen to the party leaders' speeches at their annual conferences (Warning: this cannot be done without alcohol) and I am afraid that David Cameron's speech to the faithful scored, for the first twenty minutes at least, a giant E.

There was the usual tripe about our boys in Afghanistan, an appalling bit on his feelings when he pinned a medal on a disabled athlete, and tales of his own disabled father and his late disabled son. Ghastly.

After a while, though, some scintilla of coherence managed to make its way through. He recognised the threat to our economic future posed by newly developed countries, the threat to the European continent of a massive self-congratulatory welfare state. Britain is to be a country where children receive a good educational start in life and where enterprise and work are rewarded. He did not explain why the Job Seekers' Allowance (unemployment benefit to you and me) has risen faster than average earnings while he has been Prime Minister.

But there were fleeting impressions that Cameron had some idea of where he wanted to go.

Let's hope so.

09 October, 2012

A sorry result

When details of Hugo Chavez' election victory flicked across my computer screen, there were two Italian electricians working here. 'Chavez has won!', one of them said, and I forebore from making a comment when I saw they were both clearly delighted. There is a strong tradition of communism in this part of Italy.

The significance of Chavez is not just his socialism, though. He is, above all other things, a nationalist, with all the good and the bad that that term implies. He has made the people feel individual, proud, involved. At the same time it is thought that half the Jewish population of the country has moved to Colombia.

As a leader of his people, Chavez bears comparison with Margaret Thatcher (although I am sure he would not relish the thought). In some respects national pride is a very good thing.

But I am convinced, pace my electrician friends, that he is the wrong choice for Venezuela. His crude economic interventions seem likely to increase the country's reliance on oil, which will not last forever and which forces more economic power on to the State, which is where the revenues arrive, and heralds a decline in the industrial sector. This is called the Dutch Disease (see here).

Another six years of Chavez will, in my view, bring Venezuela to its knees.

The great game

Every four years in America a competition is held to see which of the candidates has the best British ancestry (this includes Irish since almost by definition the lucky forefathers predate the Republic).

One of the most surprising was Barack Obama, whom many people didn't even think was American, but who duly produced a family in Cambridgeshire which, confusingly, went on to found the then colony of Plymouth, Massachusetts.

I think the last not to have participated in this humiliating ritual was Eisenhower, who was of German ancestry, although there might have been a tiny enclave of militaristic Eisenhowers in North Wales.

Of course Willard 'Mitt' Romney has unearthed several families in the North of England who are fourth cousins. Inexplicably he did not visit them when he came to England. Several are unemployed and its always nice to unearth a relative with a couple of hundred million dollars.

Despite holding a lead in the polls, Romney is fast disappearing from the blog radar, due to having said he would arm the Syrian rebels, proof that, as I suspected, he is quite, quite mad.

America, America, where are your Swedes, your Red Indians, your Hispanics, your Poles, your Italians? Why despite the country being stuffed with people of Italian ancestry, does none of them ever become President? I am beginning to think it might do the Land of the Free a little buono.

PS Less than four weeks to go and the campaign is still like watching paint dry. Are we going to get to 6th November and they'll say 'Damn! We thought it was next year!'?

06 October, 2012

The wrong topic

Maria Millar, the women's minister, and Theresa May, the Home Secretary, say that the latest date for an abortion should be reduced to 20 weeks. Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, says it should be 12 weeks.

Now, it may be that the Tory Party is in such a mess that they need some topic of national conversation, anything as long as it's not to do with economics, to get people agitated and looking the other way.

Under any other circumstances opening this can of worms can only be a mistake.

Abortion has never been a political issue in Britain in the way it has in America, and we should be grateful for that. Firstly it is not something which divides opinion neatly along party lines and secondly it works people up into violence.

Still, now they've started, quite a difference between the time limits, no? May and Millar say that at 20 weeks a foetus can survive outside the womb, due to advances in medical care. Whilst not agreeing with their premise (the only sense I can make of all this is that life starts at conception), it does have some coherence. Some hospitals have adjacent wards where pregnancies are terminated and where there is advanced post natal care, both dealing with the same age group.

Hunt got into a bit of a mess saying 12 weeks was when the foetus resembled a human which would seem to invite him into all kinds of strange arguments. In fact 12 weeks is the law in France, Germany and Italy but even he, as disaster prone a person as to have ever sat in a ministerial car, cannot say to fellow Tory MPs that he wants to be in line with Europe.

Unless you are going to campaign vigorously in the subject, and none of these people have the guts to do so, this is a topic best left well alone.

A breach of trust

The strange case of Jimmy Savile continues to rumble on in Britain. I say strange, because for many people the former disc jockey was a minor saint, having raised millions of pounds for charity and, in particular, sick children. The strange thing about it is this: if you heard that Mother Theresa was a mass murderer or that Princess Diana had quietly participated in some ghastly slaughter in Bosnia, you would be shocked. There would be public outrage, a brutal, mass mea culpa and reanalysis of the nation's previous feelings. But the tales emerging of Savile being a paedophile don't seem to have surprised anyone.

Quite a lot of women now claim to have been brutalised by Savile, and there are stories of a fifteen year old fatally overdosing. We cannot blame them for being scared to come forward against such a public figure, or not wanting to relive their experiences. Yet colleagues of Savile suggest it was common knowledge that this National Treasure was up to this sort of thing.

Everyone has both a legal and a moral duty to report a crime. Child molestation, rape, paedophilia, call it what you will, represents a particularly evil crime on the moral scale because it is a breach of trust. A child is entitled to trust an adult to know what is best for it and what is right and wrong, and the avuncular Savile, star of Jim'll fix it, which made children's dreams come true, was in a particular position of trust, making it all the worse.

Yet Paul Gambaccini, another ageing sixties DJ, even explains how Savile dissuaded the press from covering the rumours. It seems he knew all about it; in the circles in which he moved it was dinner party gossip. Liz Kershaw, another DJ, says Savile's activities were 'an open secret'.

Some are saying that this is parallel to the cases of paedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church: strong positions of trust and the matter swept under the carpet because of its importance. I would also cite the case of Roman Polanski, who admitted anally raping an underage girl but was protected by the French government and now is back travelling the world and receiving adulation as a film director. He was too important, you see, to be convicted of something so grubby.

I very much hope the police investigation into this will cover not just Savile's vile activities, but the protection afforded to him by his colleagues at the BBC and elsewhere.

05 October, 2012

More irrelevance

Further to my occasional series on how we take seriously the views of celebrities even though they are not qualified to pronounce on them:

Roger Moore, the star of many James Bond movies, has asked people to boycott Fortnum & Mason, the famous grocer in Piccadilly, London, because it sells foie gras.

Stick to the day job, Bond (which was, until he got too old, retailing sex and violence to the underaged).

04 October, 2012


The civil war rumbles on, the rebels seemingly making slow ground but ground nonetheless. There seems no end date to the Assad regime.

Now there is a new and highly unwelcome development. It would appear that Assad's forces have fired mortars into Turkey, killing five people. I know this is difficult, but it would have been best if the Turks had accepted a public apology and buried their dead.

Instead they retaliated. Turkey is the dominant power in the region and vying for some leadership role in the Muslim world. It has vast manpower resources and considerable technical military strength. On top of that it is a member of NATO, and according to its charter an attack on one member of NATO is deemed to be an attack on them all.

Let us just try to leave it there, regretting the perhaps mistaken attack. I am not sure whether this is Turkey's fight, but it is certainly not ours.

Italy: where now

'Monti bis' - the idea of a second term for the unelected Mario Monti - has been the main discussion point for some months in the Italian press.

Monti's satisfaction rates are high. Some think he has gone too far, some think he has not gone far enough, but few Italians dispute that he has, on balance, been a good thing, relative to what they had before. And I don't just mean Silvio: Prodi, d'Alema, Amato, none of them have gone remotely towards addressing Italy's problems. Indeed none of them went remotely towards allowing the populace to discuss what those problems were.

Now there have been some cuts, not too much, and the markets are quiet. And with the arrival of the raucous Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement, people and the press are talking about corruption. The regional governments in Emilia Romagna (Milan) and Lazio (Rome) have been found out, and everyone believes there will be more to come. The papers are littered with petty corruption stories, the courts stuffed with the alleged perpetrators. This never happened before.

So feelings, if not high, are towards glimpsing some modest flicker at the end of a long tunnel. The people would prefer another dose of Monti to some of the old guys leading the major parties: the 61 year old former communist Bersani, who was President of Emilia Romagna 20 years ago in the bad old days; 76 year old Silvio, whose baggage I don't need to list here; Fini, Casini, Di Pietro, none of them inspire.

But the problem with Monti, at least as far as the electorate is concerned, is, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, the fact that he is unelected. However comfortable things may be, in the final analysis the Italian voter knows that Italy is, and must be, a democracy. To have Monti bis, he will have to submit himself to the electorate. Monti himself has publicly shown a distaste for party politics, and whilst temptingly letting it be known that he might be prepared to serve again, has said it would only be under particular (unfortunate) circumstances. By this he means if no party can form a government next spring. But this is unlikely and far from desirable.

Will Monti give in, create his own party list and submit to the voters? Some believe so, many hope so. My own guess is that he will encourage some moderate realists who will then adopt him as leader, President or mascot. There is a candidate I mentioned as long ago as April last year, here: Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. The cartoon above, from the brilliant Gianelli in the Corriere della Sera, cribs Michelangelo to show Monti giving the Ferrari chairman life.

PS Thanks to my art adviser I have properly attributed the Creation of Adam to Michelangelo rather than Leonardo. I know, I know.

03 October, 2012

No bread but circuses

It is hard to know what to say about Greece's decision to spend €100m on a motor racing circuit which would be suitable for Formula 1, particularly in the light of Singapore complaining that it was costing too much to run their own Grand Prix.

I suppose the disconnect between the politicians and reality has just reached massive proportions. When they are finally told they cannot be part of the F1 circus because they are too poor, there will remain this huge white elephant, a memorial to vanity and, no doubt, to corruption.

01 October, 2012


Further to my reflections on famous people being consulted on subjects they are not qualified to talk about, we have the strange case of former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown (pictured with his wife, each, inexplicably, wearing someone else's clothes).

It seems that Brown has graduated to being some sort of UN children's ambassador (the equivalent of celebrity golf) and he summoned the eager hacks to a press conference at UN Headquarters. Only one turned up: strangely, from the Daily Telegraph, and Brown cancelled the gig.

Brown has never done anything for children (he claimed to have lifted many out of poverty but he had fiddled the figures) and no one is interested in his views. On this occasion, rightly, the press reflected that lack of interest.

Let's start giving the same treatment to Bono.