Prospect redecorates the minister’s office
A black-and-white photograph of William Gladstone taken in 1872 now hangs in the office of transport minister Andrew Adonis. Until early July, Gladstone looked over the grand staircase of his old townhouse at 11 Carlton House Terrace, which since 1946 has housed the Foreign Press Association. The FPA recently moved and, after reading Adonis’s article on Gladstone’s virtues in July’s Prospect, its director Christopher Wyld called the minister’s office to offer the picture a new home. Adonis walked across St James’s Park to view the photo, the deal was done, and the People’s William moved to a new home in Horseferry Road. “My hero looms over me,” Adonis told us, “stern, unsmiling but an inspiration nonetheless—not least in getting value for every last taxpayer penny, which is just as well at the moment.”
Who will win the wonk world war?
Who will triumph in Prospect’s coveted 2009 think tank of the year award? This year’s judges include Kishwer Falkner and George Osborne’s adviser Rohan Silva. With Labour in near-constant crisis, this should be a golden age for right-wing wonks. Yet the grandest name on the right, the libertarian Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), finds itself in crisis. This June it gave director John Blundell the heave-ho. Officially, it was time for the long-serving Blundell to move on. Unofficially, his failure to impress team Cameron took its toll.
Our “best newcomer” gong, meanwhile, might come just too soon for red Tory Phillip Blond, whose spectacular rise (including gracing Prospect’s February cover) hit a bump in June when he abruptly parted company from Demos citing “political and philosophical” differences. Some whisper that senior Cameroons were unconvinced by Blond’s philosophical style, but Blond seems unabashed and claims to have raised significant sums from “private backers” to start his own tank, tentatively named Respublica. Meanwhile, Demos is moving into more traditional territory, welcoming recent Brown escapee James Purnell to the fold. His job? To revive the left—a task sufficiently Herculean to warrant some kind of prize, at least for effort.
Prospect’s think tank of the year award is held in October. For details contact email@example.com
Life is tweet if you’re a Swedish diplomat
Sweden took over the rotating EU presidency in July, and has already raised eyebrows by its decision to allow Twittering during meetings of senior eurocrats. Yet few state secrets will be revealed, judging by early posts. One reported that the “meeting went well although I think I was the one who enjoyed the cinnamon rolls the most.” Such behaviour is apparently standard in Sweden—one minister recently updated his Facebook profile during a dull cabinet meeting, only to receive a reply within minutes. “Shouldn’t you be paying more attention to the discussion,” said the message, which turned out to have been sent from the other side of the table, by Sweden’s foreign minister, Carl Bildt.
Sarah Palin: an unlikely Labour inspiration
Labour may be desperate for a saviour, but who would have thought it would turn to Alaska? Yet that’s part of a plan hatched by Will Straw (son of Jack) to pep up the British left. In early July former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin baffled US pundits by resigning as Alaska’s governor. Her reasoning was bizarre: “It would be apathetic to just hunker down and go with the flow. Nah, only dead fish go with the flow,” she explained.
Palin’s antics were closely followed by a blog called Think Progress, run by Straw’s former employers, the Centre for American Progress in Washington. The giant think tank made a name for itself chronicling the mistakes made by the hapless Alaskan during the 2008 presidential campaign, and now Straw plans to set up a British equivalent, called Left Foot Forward, which will keep a similarly close eye on David Cameron. The scheme suggests that Labour is already planning for protracted skirmishes with a new Tory government. Palin would approve. She concluded her resignation statement quoting General MacArthur: “We are not retreating. We are advancing in another direction.”
In memoriam McNamara: a life of brilliant regrets
On 6th July, Robert McNamara—former defence secretary for both JFK and Lyndon B Johnson—died at the age of 93. An architect of the Vietnam war, he was one of very few major players from either administration to admit the that war was wrong. As a Prospect source who spent the day with him at a colloquium in Cambridge in 2002 recalled, the confession of error took its toll. “He was clearly a troubled guy, for obvious reasons. He must have broken down and sobbed at least ten times over the course of eight hours. At the dinner in the evening he made a gracious speech, declaring that if he could live his life again he would have done a PhD and entered academia.”
Just the man to win an Afghan election
Barely has the world recovered from one dubious election in a nation vital to global security than another is on the cards. But while Iran paid for its dodgy poll, Afghanistan’s tab is being picked up by the US and Britain. Afghans vote on 20th August, against a backdrop of bloodshed and worries that rigging will make a mockery of the £16m being offered by DfID for fair elections. And while corruption makes incumbent Hamid Karzai unpopular, the same practices make him favourite to win.
Obama worries that overt US support will harm opposition candidates. But US aid has arrived nonetheless, in the form of James Carville, the fiery political consultant who engineered Bill Clinton’s 1992 election win, and who is now adviser to Afghan presidential candidate (and Prospect contributor) Ashraf Ghani. Carville once described his strategy as “when your opponent is drowning, throw the son of a bitch an anvil.” But Ghani has his own plans. “I aim to persuade more warlords to support Karzai,” he said, “it’s getting expensive for him to keep them all on board.”
A change of culture at the News of the World
An interesting staff change has attracted little comment in the saga of the Guardian’s allegations that the News of the World used private investigators to hack into voicemails. On 8th July, just before the Guardian’s first report came out, Stuart Kuttner stepped down as managing editor of the News of the World, a post he had held for 22 years. News International has stated that his resignation has no link to the controversy, and that Kuttner will now be working on “special projects.” Twenty-two years is a long time for anyone to occupy such a post and there is no reason to think his resignation has anything to do with the affair. But this hasn’t stopped one commentator from wondering if the change marks a cultural shift. Peter Burden, author of News of the world? Fakes Sheikhs & Royal Trappings (Eye Books), told Prospect: “Kuttner’s departure may well mark an end to the News of the World culture of ‘get the scoop at any price.’ Someone has realised they just can’t afford that kind of journalism any more.”
Tóibín’s American tale is a terrorist-free zone
Irish novelist Colm Tóibín was on fine form earlier this year with Brooklyn (Viking), which was reviewed in our May issue. Set largely in 1950s New York, the novel is notable for its understatement and psychological realism. Now, thanks to an interview on Peter Murphy’s Blog of Revelations, we know that its author’s restraint extended to anachronistic symbolism too. Or, as Tóibín rather more bluntly put it, “No 9/11 shite. No scene where she comes to that spot where the Twin Towers were going to be built and sees something for a second. I was acutely conscious of not going near that, not even a hint of it. I was going to tiptoe backwards from it right across the Brooklyn Bridge with my eyes shut.”