Revolution in Worcestershire
Tory-controlled Wychavon council might have started something big. It will soon be opening its new hospital, which it will rent back to the primary care trust. Profits go into the public purse, rates go down and the council moves on to build a leisure centre: a win-win. The council took legal advice before it was agreed that the “wellbeing” powers of the 2000 Local Government Act could cover building a community hospital. Senior politicians have shown curiously little interest. Perhaps the government doesn’t like the idea of a Tory council beating Labour at its own PFI game. And the Tories may feel embarrassed by what is, in effect, municipal socialism. The people of Pershore have a 26-bed cottage hospital as well as a nice little earner for their council. Wychavon is ready to act as consultant to other local authorities in need of new ideas. Any takers?
A prize to save Africa?
Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese entrepreneur, has come up with another crackpot idea. His first was to sell mobile phones to Africans, when in 1998 he founded what turned into Celtel International. No one was interested—what could Africans want with mobiles? But between 1999 and 2004, African mobile users leapt from 7.5m to 77m, and Celtel was sold last year for $3.4bn. Mo, who studied telecoms at Bradford then Birmingham, is now a very rich man. His second crazy idea is to give prizes to African presidents. Every year an award will be offered to any president who stands down after making his—or her (there is one)—country better. The prize is a staggering $500,000 a year for ten years, followed by a lifetime pension of $200,000 a year. That’s over four times what a Nobel peace prize is worth.
Do we really have to bribe African rulers to rule well? Could the money not go to build schools and clinics? Most people now agree that “governance” is at the heart of Africa’s problems, and bad rulers tend to stay a long time. Out of Africa’s 53 executive heads of state, 20 have been in power for more than ten years and 15 more than 15 years. Only a few—Nelson Mandela, Abdou Diouf, Ian Smith among others—live in quiet secure retirement. It will be hard to identify worthy recipients for the prize, but perhaps Mo’s business instincts are right: if the price is right, African politicians can get better.
A new age at Granta Since Britain’s most important literary magazine, Granta, was bought by Swedish philanthropist Sigrid Rausing last year, gossip has circulated about the future of Ian Jack’s editorship. Rumours of change warmed up in September when Rausing headhunted Granta’s new managing director, David Graham, from one of Britain’s most energetic independent publishers, Canongate Books—setting off a literary shuffle. Canongate’s boss Jamie Byng decided to take on Graham’s role himself, and has found a dynamic new editorial director in the shape of Anya Serota—former fiction editor at John Murray and daughter of Tate boss Nicholas. The result of such ripples may yet amount to a wave of change in British literary style. With its list of Britain’s best young novelists and its development of new writing, Granta has been a key arbiter in the fiction we come to think of as important. Jack has no plans to move while he is still working on Granta’s “other” list—the best of young American novelists, due out in spring next year—having reduced the age limit from 40 to 35. All he will say is that he will certainly not be there when the next, more youthful, British list appears in 2013.
Prospect’s sixth think tank of the year award went this year to Policy Exchange, the Cameron-leaning outfit—full of “zip” and “high impact,” according to the chair of the judging panel, David Walker of the Guardian. Runner-up was Geoff Mulgan’s Young Foundation. Publication of the year went to the King’s Fund for “Securing good care for older people,” with the Fabians and the Hansard Society joint runners-up in that category. Demos won the prize for think tank website of the year.
Frank Beyer, the director of one of the greatest films of modern times—at least according to the editor of Prospect—has died aged 74. Beyer was an East German who in 1966 accomplished an extraordinary feat of socialist realism—he made a gripping film about the decision of a factory committee to introduce a third shift. The film, Spur der Steine (Traces of Stone), was so good that it was banned and Beyer thrown out of the party. After the Berlin wall came down, it became a cult classic.
New speechwriter for Brown
Apart from Matthew Taylor, who is leaving to shake things up at the RSA, most of those in the Blair bunker seem to be hanging on to the bitter end. There is even talk that one Blair insider might find employment under Gordon Brown. It is clear that GB needs a good speechwriter; he doesn’t really have one at present. What better way to expand his circle and show generosity to the other side than by employing Blair speechwriter (and Prospect regular) Philip Collins?