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The Economist Corner – essential readings VI

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The British election

In his reach

An extraordinary election seems set to make David Cameron Britain’s next prime minister. May 7th 2010  – From The Economist print edition.

DAVID CAMERON is on course to replace Gordon Brown as Britain’s prime minister. For all the ambiguities of the general-election result, which began to unfold on May 6th, that much seems apparent. But exactly what type of government the Conservative leader will front, and how long it will last, is still unclear.

By the morning of May 7th the Tories looked set to end up with something over 300 MPs—more than any other party, but not enough for an overall majority in the House of Commons. Mr Brown’s Labour Party was poised to fall by 90 or so seats to less than 260, a result that will almost certainly bring to an end his premiership and extraordinary political career. It is conceivable that Labour could strike some kind of deal with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats (who look likely to lose a few of the 62 seats they held before) to remain in office. By constitutional principle Mr Brown has the first shot at forming a government; yet the national mood is palpably set against him. And even added together, Labour and the Lib Dems would probably fall as far short of the 326 seats needed for a majority as the Tories themselves will do.

Indeed, the biggest shock of the night was the Lib Dems’ disappointing performance. The third party had surged in the polls after the first televised debate among the prime ministerial candidates three weeks ago, when Mr Clegg shone. Their new-found popularity turned out to be chimerical. The party did well where it always does, in its south-western heartland, but made little progress elsewhere.

Worst of all, in the chaotic hours during which politicians and commentators alike were struggling to discern any real pattern in the results, were troubling stories of electoral irregularities across the country. Some voters, it seems, were turned away by polling stations ill prepared to cope with a turnout that was higher than usual. The Electoral Commission, an independent body, expressed grave concerns, as did all the party leaders. There have been suggestions that voters denied a voice might launch legal challenges.

In other ways too it was a topsy-turvily eventful night. Peter Robinson, the scandal-hit first minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionists, lost his East Belfast seat to the nonsectarian Alliance Party. Some high-profile culprits of last year’s parliamentary-expenses scandal were evicted from their constituencies, such as Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary. But fringe parties such as the right-wing British National Party and the anti-Europe UK Independence Party did not make much headway against the mainstream forces (though the Greens made history in getting their first MP elected). Esther Rantzen, a celebrity candidate running in a seat whose previous incumbent had been among the most egregious expense-fiddlers, won a humiliatingly small number of votes. Read more in The Economist.


Redrawing the map

The European map is outdated and illogical. Here’s how it should look. Apr 29th 2010 – From The Economist online.

PEOPLE who find their neighbours tiresome can move to another neighbourhood, whereas countries can’t. But suppose they could. Rejigging the map of Europe would make life more logical and friendlier.

Britain, which after its general election will have to confront its dire public finances, should move closer to the southern-European countries that find themselves in a similar position. It could be towed to a new position near the Azores. (If the journey proves a bumpy one, it might be a good opportunity to make Wales and Scotland into separate islands).

In Britain’s place should come Poland, which has suffered quite enough in its location between Russia and Germany and deserves a chance to enjoy the bracing winds of the North Atlantic and the security of sea water between it and any potential invaders.

Belgium’s incomprehensible Flemish-French language squabbles (which have just brought down a government) are redolent of central Europe at its worst, especially the nonsenses Slovakia thinks up for its Hungarian-speaking ethnic minority. So Belgium should swap places with the Czech Republic. The stolid, well-organised Czechs would get on splendidly with their new Dutch neighbours, and vice versa.

Belarus, currently landlocked and trying to wriggle out from under Russia’s thumb, would benefit greatly from exposure to the Nordic region, whose influence played a big role in helping the Baltics shed their Soviet legacy. So it should move northwards to the Baltic, taking the place of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These three countries should move to a new location somewhere near Ireland. Like the Emerald Isle, they have bitten the bullet of “internal devaluation”, regaining competitiveness by cutting wages and prices, rather than taking the easy option of depreciating the currency, or borrowing recklessly as Greece has. The Baltics would also be glad to be farther away from Russia and closer to America. Amid the other moves, Kaliningrad could shift up the coast towards Russia, ending its anomalous status as a legacy exclave of the second world war and removing any possibility of future Russian mischief-making about rail transit. Read more in The Economist.


The politics of disaster

Barack Obama has had a good spill so far. But his energy policy is now a mess. May 6th 2010 – From The Economist print edition.

WHEN the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989 and dumped its oily cargo into Alaskan waters, it killed hordes of beautiful creatures and cost billions to clean up. The current spill in the Gulf of Mexico could prove even worse. A tanker can leak its load, but no more. A broken pipe connected to an oilfield may continue leaking until it is fixed. And since fixing it involves sending remote-controlled submarines a mile below the surface to tinker with mangled machinery in the dark, that could take a while. Small wonder that Barack Obama sounds so grave.

On April 20th an explosion crippled the Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil rig. Eleven people are presumed dead. As The Economist went to press, a vast oil slick was drifting towards American beaches and oyster beds. Flying down to Louisiana on May 2nd, Mr Obama described the spill as “a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”. He warned that it “could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our Gulf states and…jeopardise the livelihoods of thousands of Americans.” And he told television viewers that the federal government had “launched and co-ordinated an all-hands-on-deck, relentless response to this crisis from day one”.

He was mindful, no doubt, that his predecessor’s political fortunes took a plunge after another environmental disaster in the same region in 2005. The federal response to Hurricane Katrina was slow and ineffectual, and George Bush dithered before visiting the wrecked city of New Orleans. He was widely decried as incompetent, insensitive, or both. Some people see parallels: Mr Obama also took his time to head for the Gulf coast, and was conspicuously larking around the previous night, telling jokes at the annual White House correspondents’ dinner. (My approval ratings may be sinking, he said, but they “are still very high in the country of my birth”.) Hostile pundits mutter that the spill is “Obama’s Katrina”.

The label has yet to catch on, however. For one thing, Mr Obama is plainly juggling multiple crises, from floods in Tennessee to a bomb in Times Square. The oil spill has not produced wrenching televised images of human suffering, as Katrina did. And Mr Obama has not yet made any obvious foul-ups. Addressing Gulf coast residents, he sounded calm but firm. “Let me be clear,” he said, “BP [the oil firm] is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill.”

So far, the spill has probably not altered many people’s minds about Mr Obama. That could change: no one knows how long the crisis will linger, or how bad the damage will be. But for now, the spill’s main political effect has been to pollute the debate about energy. Before the rig exploded, America was inching fitfully towards a coherent energy policy. Not a perfect one, and certainly not a moment too soon, but a better one than before, and better late than never. Before the spill, Mr Obama’s approach was to offer something for everyone. To please greens, he proposed subsidies for renewable energy and curbs on greenhouse gases. To stop consumers from revolting, he was prepared to phase in those curbs slowly. To placate conservatives, he promoted nuclear power and recently came out for more offshore oil-drilling. That last idea is now on hold. Read more in The Economist.


Written by Theophyle

May 7, 2010 at 12:27 pm

4 Responses

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  1. […] home secretary. But fringe parties such as the right-wing British National Party and the …Continued Comments […]

  2. […] Some high-profile culprits of last year’s parliamentary-expenses scandal were evicted from their constituencies, such as Jacqui Smith , the former home secretary. But fringe parties such as the right-wing British National Party and the …Continue Reading… […]

  3. […] The Economist Corner – essential readings VI « Politeía Digest […]

  4. […] Some high-profile culprits of last year’s parliamentary-expenses scandal were evicted from their constituencies, such as Jacqui Smith , the former home secretary. But fringe parties such as the right-wing British National Party and the …Read More… […]

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