David Miliband, he of the ‘sad eyes’ after ‘betrayal’, has departed the front bench. He remains in the Commons, but on inactive service and as what? Brooding presence, focus of retribution to the betraying brother? Unencumbered by duty, he can now expect devotion from the Conservative press and offers of lavish employment. Compare him with Denis Healey, who spent six years as defence secretary and five as chancellor before being passed over for Michael Foot – nice man, wrong choice – in 1980.
Edward Pearce · Exit David
Ross McKibbin · Ed Miliband
The election of Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party is surely not as surprising as much of the media suggests it was. He may have started at the back of the pack five months ago but any half-serious candidate to the left of David Miliband had a good chance. Diane Abbott, who is definitely to the left of David, was not a serious candidate, and Ed Balls, who is probably to his left, could not escape from his relationship with Gordon Brown. What’s really surprising is that David should be thought to have been an inevitable successor to Brown.
The return of the bedbug shows no sign of letting up. Unwitting fifth columnists of globalisation, earlier this month they shut down the Nike shop in Manhattan. A friend in Brooklyn says her house was infested. The vector? Probably a son’s wayward friend. Cost in the region of $6000. Orwell used to drive them off with black pepper, which is cheaper. I was last bitten by bedbugs in Fez about 35 years ago and ended up in outpatients. Last, that is, until the bedbug renaissance. Two years ago on a night train from Paris to Florence I was bitten many times. I threw away my clothes, took my travel bag apart and lay down for a week. Six months later in New York, it happened again in a well known hotel on the Lower West Side. It was beginning to seem like a manhunt. I found one of the offenders, put it in a glass and delivered it to reception. In exchange I got a new room. No one offers you a new train.
Peter Mair · Dutch Coalitions
It is more than 100 days since the Dutch general election, and the party leaders are only now coming to a final decision as to who will form the new government. But the interregnum has stretched even longer than that. The last government collapsed on 20 February, following a conflict between the two leading parties, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and Labour, over the issue of continued Dutch troop involvement in Afghanistan, and the election was called for 9 June, almost four months down the line. Since then, the Netherlands has been governed by a so-called ‘demissionary’ (demissionair) or caretaker government, with CDA ministers taking over the functions of their former Labour colleagues. This holding operation has been running for more than seven months.
Craig Jeffrey · The Commonwealth Games
India’s preparations for the Commonwealth Games have become an international embarrassment. Earlier this month the Central Vigilance Commission examined several construction projects relating to the games and found them wanting, a judgment confirmed by the recent collapse of a bridge that injured 27 people. It even looked for a while as if the games could be cancelled. There are also many stories of corruption. The National Campaign on Dalit (ex-untouchable) Human Rights alleges that $150 million was siphoned away from schemes for assisting low castes in Delhi to be spent on the games. According to the People’s Union for Democratic Rights, construction workers have not been provided with safety equipment and are being paid less than the minimum wage. Some reports say that as many as 49 people have died building stadiums and facilities for the games.
There is at least one reason to welcome Ed Miliband's victory: his brother didn't win. David may be both intelligent and rather nice – I remember having fish and chips with him during a Brighton conference pre-97 – but he is by training a follower. He has been cherished, favoured, advanced and made grateful. He is a professional protégé, the candidate of a leader and of the leader's faction. Gratitude would have paralysed him in the future as it did when he voted for the Iraq war, recited its sad rationalisations and, at the FO, followed the Bush line as Blair followed it. He is a man in a conga, a good trooper, not the man to challenge the unrelenting coalition mantra that Labour and Brown are the chief begetters of the deficit, as they are not. Blair deferred to City assumptions.
Jeremy Harding remembers Murray Sayle
Murray Sayle, who died on 18 September, began writing for the LRB in his seventies. He’d already been a star turn as a journalist during the great days of the Sunday Times, known for his report that Che Guevara had left Cuba to wage war in South America, his dispatches from Vietnam and his dashing accounts of sailing solo across the Atlantic and tackling Everest. His work for the LRB was an energetic, thoughtful review of the log, with plenty of new material added: on the handover of Hong Kong; on the economic crisis in Japan, where he was living at the time; on climate change and the shortcomings of Kyoto.
John Perry hopes for a power cut
Jenny Diski has written recently about being treated like an old bag for complaining about her young neighbour’s music. I sympathise, but wonder how much worse she would feel if she lived in Latin America. When I came to Nicaragua seven years ago, I briefly lived next door to a man who had to get up very early to go to work. His house was made of plastic and tin, but equipped with a powerful radio which he put on at full blast at 3.00 a.m. every day except Sundays.
Joshua Kurlantzick · China's Foreign Policy
Over the past two weeks, a dispute between Japan and China over a series of islands claimed by both countries has spiralled into a major diplomatic incident. In response to the Japanese coastguard’s seizure of a Chinese fishing boat following a collision near the islands, Beijing has cut off high-level diplomatic talks with Japan. In both countries, nationalist protestors have taken to the streets. The dispute is part of an ominous trend.
Jenny Diski despairs of politics
One of the perks of being a writer these days is that from time to time you get to sit next to politicians at BBC-hosted dinner parties and on publicity-seeking panels of writers feeding the face-time craving of readers. Just before the 1997 election there was Paul (now Baron) Boateng on my left (at the table, not politically) responding to my ill-mannered complaint about the destruction of the point of the Labour Party by the invention of New Labour and its Tory policies on poverty. Don't worry, he said conspiratorially, you'll see. We have to get into power. Then we'll legislate to improve the condition of the poor. We're still the old Labour Party, but we have to get elected. New Labour is the only way to do it. Wait and see, we're playing the long game. But once you're in power, you'll have another election to fight. Just wait and see, he said. I waited and I saw.
Bernard Porter · The Swedish Election
Yesterday I voted in my first Swedish election – not for the parliament, as I’m only a resident, not a citizen, but for my Kommun, and for the local health authority. It was held in our neighbourhood school. There was a stall outside selling coffee, sandwiches and buns, staffed by the schoolchildren and their parents. You get the same sort of thing if you deliver your tax return in person to Skattehuset on the deadline; almost a carnival atmosphere, with hot dog stalls and the like. People were sitting around in the autumn sun discussing how they had voted; I don’t ever remember seeing that in England. This was social citizenship on display. Maybe it’s why Sweden regularly gets turnouts of over 80 per cent (around 83 per cent this time).
Glen Newey · Papal Transports
Apparently the last pope, John Paul II, didn’t much care for the term ‘Popemobile’, which lacks the gravitas of the sedia gestatoria, the flunkey-borne sedan chair, flanked by white ostrich plumes, used for bearing popes on public show until the start of Karol Wojtyła’s pontificate in 1978. Presumably the term was formed by analogy with the Batmobile, used by the Caped Crusader for his forays into Gotham City’s dark underbelly, there to do battle with the Penguin, the Joker and other badhats.
The recent brouhaha over Naomi Campbell's blood diamonds cast a somewhat lurid light over the comings and goings at the Mandela Foundation and the Mandela Children's Fund. For many years there has been a stream of celebrities eager to shake hands with Mandela, share a photo opportunity with him and of course contribute to the fund. But looking at the famous photo of Mandela, Campbell, Charles Taylor et al., you have to wonder what such an unsavoury character as Taylor was doing there. And now there’s Thaksin Shinawatra, who got his photo op with Nelson Mandela last month, as well as a separate one with Winnie.
Jon Day · Boris Bikes
The invasion of the Boris bikes is complete. They stand on street corners, corralled like docile, futuristic horses in their blue harnesses. They’re good bikes – sturdy and solid – with a rather pleasing sit-up-and-beg riding position the better to survey the road around you. Undocking them is also quite fun, like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The name has become universal, which is only to be expected, launched as they were with all the pomp the bicycling mayor could muster. It’s not that we’ve forgotten that the bikes were originally Ken’s idea, but that Boris is a far more visible cyclist. The official name, ‘Barclays Cycle Hire’, was never going to take off, despite the lurid corporate livery.
Stephanie Burt · Two Anthologies
Earlier this year the TLS took a couple of digs at Infinite Difference, an anthology of 'Other' (i.e. experimental, overtly difficult) poetry by women, edited by Carrie Etter. J.C. made fun of the poems' apparent incoherence: 'If you come across one that is prepared to meet shared experience even halfway, you catch yourself thinking you've got it.' Marianne Morris, one of the writers the TLS mocked, retorted on her blog that of course her poems did not make prose sense, since 'critical language and poetic language are different orders of discourse.' But she welcomed the harsh spotlight: 'That my work is quoted in the TLS at all is merely evidence of the ambitious and peculiar task' of trying 'to bring poetry that is written against mainstream regulations into the mainstream'. If you take these sorts of argument on their own terms you may end up either implying that all poems should make prose sense, or else defending all poems that do not (because they oppose a mainstream, break down barriers, and so on). Better, far better, just to read through the anthology,
Google is celebrating Agatha Christie's 120th birthday. It adds a whole new angle to those 'I'm feeling lucky' and 'Advanced Search' buttons.
Jeremy Harding · Sarkozy's Expulsions
A grim truce prevails in my commune, in South-West France, between the travellers who live here – ‘gens du voyage’, ‘Tziganes’, ‘Gitans’ – and the indigenous French. The expulsions (none in these parts) have changed little. Like most truces that work, it’s founded on lack of trust and there are any number of assertions doing the rounds. A favourite is that out of fear for their own families, police don’t intervene when crimes are committed by travellers. Last year I was tending the bar at a fundraiser when a fight erupted at the door. A friend was badly injured. As it happened, and it often does, the incident involved travellers. The gendarmes were slow to fetch up but quick, in the weeks that followed, to pursue their suspects.
Alex Abramovich at Ground Zero
I was watching The Colbert Report the other night when a picture of my local mosque flashed across the screen. Colbert was covering a story that the Murdoch-owned New York Post had broken a few days earlier: a man had barged into the mosque during a service, cursed at the congregants, pissed on their prayer rugs. 'No one can pray now,' someone had told the paper. 'The rugs are completely soiled. It was disgusting.' So far, so bad. But Colbert (who isn't a journalist) didn't know that the Post journalists (it had taken three of them to file the 168-word story) had got it almost entirely wrong.
The date of Burma’s forthcoming elections (7 November) was officially announced on 13 August. But the news trickled out slowly here: internet access has been even more unreliable than usual. It often gets bad around the time of public events or incidents, though there’s no way of knowing whether that’s because of deliberate government intervention or simply weight of traffic. Maybe it’s paranoid to suspect the former, but there’s a lot of that going around. The same day, the government imposed new restrictions on the movements of international staff working for NGOs.
Bernard Porter · Can the Swedish Model survive?
If you’ve had nothing but the British (or, I imagine, American) press to go by these last few weeks, you can be forgiven for being hardly aware that a general election is brewing in Sweden. Perhaps the newspapers don’t think it’s important; or that an election there can make much difference to the social democratic consensus that has dominated the country, virtuously but boringly, for years. Visiting the various party booths on Sergelstorg in the centre of Stockholm – almost identical little kiosks (can you get them from IKEA?) staffed by clean young political clones – it is difficult to think of it in terms of a contest at all. Posters carry portraits of smiling party leaders with anodyne slogans against pastel backgrounds. The television coverage is ubiquitous, but polite and low-key.
Khadija Sharife · Hollywood Untaxed
Hollywood loves a movie about a maverick individual taking on the might of a giant corporation – think of films like Erin Brockovich, Public Enemy or The Insider – but one breed of behemoth is unsurprisingly immune from scrutiny. Hollywood's ‘big six’ studios – Paramount (a subsidiary of Viacom), Twentieth Century Fox (News Corporation), Columbia (Sony), Warner Brothers (Time Warner), Universal (General Electric) and Disney – may have their principal place of business in California, but they’re all incorporated in Delaware.
Ross McKibbin · Australia's Elections
After two weeks of negotiation Australia finally has a government: a Labor government with a majority of one as long as the Green MP and three of the independents continue to support it. All this contrasts strikingly with British experience where the present coalition was negotiated in a couple of days. One reason for this is that Labour was never a serious negotiator in Britain whereas in Australia both Labor and non-Labor were. Another is that three of the independents are former members of the rural wing of the conservative coalition who represent constituencies that would normally return MPs from that wing. (The two who declared for Labor earlier hold seats that would usually be Labor.) They all, however, are maverick figures who seriously quarrelled with the conservatives and have sympathies with some of Labor’s traditions. And they don’t simply want barrels of pork for their constituents. They could not, therefore, be expected to make up their minds quickly. How long such an arrangement can last and how stable it will be is almost impossible to say – though it would be surprising if the independents had not secured a guarantee that the prime minister, Julia Gillard, will not attempt an opportunist premature election.
Jenny Diski · What to do with Blair's memoirs
I've always had trouble with cataloguing books. In Ireland I came across a bookshop that had a wall of fiction divided into two. They were labelled: Novels by Men and Novels by Women. I left weeping. I'm in two minds about Daunt Books' method of geographic cataloguing. Graham Greene and Joseph Conrad all over the shop, though Dostoevsky safely under Russia.
The Society of Authors has a petition to ask the Department for Culture, Media and Sport not to cut the Public Lending Right (which gives writers sixpence every time one of their books is taken out of a library) in next month's Spending Review. 'Any and all writers who feel strongly about this subject' should sign it, they say. Is it too much to hope that a few readers might care about PLR too? Anyway, the 'Statement by Authors' is as follows and writers can sign it here:
August Kleinzahler in Melbourne
The Australian Labor Party, and Australia itself, scored an own goal recently with an inconclusive general election and the imminent threat of a hung Parliament. Or so one might reasonably surmise, but the locals don't seem too terribly agitated about it, at least the Aussies I run across. The country is prospering, in a way that Britain and the US clearly are not: building cranes sweep across the skylines, shops and restaurants are jumping. The most recent economic forecast is bright. This could all change in a hurry should Chinese real estate go bust and/or there's a double-dip recession in the West, but at the moment the situation is looking ripper.
Provenance and authenticity are always problems for art investors. How do you know it's the real thing? So much more of a problem when the work of art or otherwise is a stencil on a wall that appears overnight. Banksy has posed a difficulty to collectors – even if it's real, who owns that wall, and can I please take a chunk of it away? It has happened. These days you look for a Perspex covering to tell you if it's just some schmuck graffiti-ing the wall or a Banksy worth it's weight in gold bricks. Excitement followed by despair modulated by an upbeat local story then for North-West Londoners who found in Primrose Hill, Belsize Park and Kentish Town a series of grannies clasping kettles to their comfy bosoms next to the words: 'Make tea not war'. A most suitable image for the leafier parts of Camden.
Tariq Ali · The Pakistan Cricket Scandal
The mood in Pakistan is bitter, angry and vengeful. Effigies of Salman Butt have been burned, his name has been painted on donkeys and the no-ball bowlers are being violently abused all over the country. Demands that the corrupt cricketers be hanged in public are gaining ground. Among younger members of the elite there is shock that Butt (educated at a posh school) has let the side down. Mohammad Amir they could understand since he’s from a poor family. The blindness of this cocooned layer of young Pakistanis is hardly a surprise, but popular anger should not be underestimated. The no-ballers and their captain will need round-the-clock security when they return. Much better to take a long holiday abroad (surely they can afford it) and let tempers cool. There is enough evidence already for them to be suspended, if not by the neck.