Brownies from the Saltford pack become the first ever people to spend the night at the Roman Baths in Bath, as part of the “Museums at Night 2010” event
Dave and Nick’s coalition conundrums
Forget the economy. Some of the knottier challenges ahead for coalition Britain involve simple logistics. The BBC, for instance, must appear absolutely impartial. But with only one party of opposition and two of government, troubling issues of how airtime is to be divided between the Tories and Lib Dems are inevitable—not to mention who gets to go on Question Time.
The quagmire of cabinet reshuffles has been negotiated, in principle, with a strict “one in, one out” policy—blue always replaces blue, yellow replaces yellow. But whether the prime minister really will take final decisions on cabinet posts “in consultation” with his deputy is less clear. Similar problems will apply to coveted No 10 adviser jobs, where jealous Tories fear losing out. Clegg and co may find their party out of pocket too: although they argue they’re still entitled to some of the money allocated to opposition parties, their income is unlikely to remain at pre-election levels.
Worst of all, the nation’s great and good may suffer. The Tories are six to one up in Commons and cabinet—but will this extend to guest lists at No 10 parties? Half a dozen Tory-friendly celebs to every Liberal will surely make for some sedate celebrations.
Joining the government: easier said than done
The Conservatives make much of their “big society” agenda, but their manifesto’s “invitation to join the government of Britain” may prove tricky. New research from pollsters Mori revealed that while roughly half of the population wanted to “get more involved” locally, just 5 per cent wanted “active involvement.” But even that looks promising compared to those already taking part in community activities—a mere 2 per cent. Moreover, over half of those involved in local decision-making felt they had little influence, and expressed dissatisfaction with their council. A bigger society, it seems, is still quite some way off.
Time to conduct the electoral post mortems
Behind the coalition, a battle rages: why didn’t the Tories win outright? Within hours of the election result, Conservative Tim Montgomery launched a 7,000-word report slamming Cameron’s unwillingness to talk tough on crime and immigration, implicitly fingering his svengali Steve Hilton in the process. Quietly, however, friends of team Cameron are pushing back. Must-win seats like Westminster North and Tooting in London stayed red—most likely, they say, because their urban, educated liberal voters remained unconvinced. So did university constituencies like Bath and Edgbaston, probably because the students weren’t persuaded either. Post-election analysis from American pollster Stan Greenberg also found half of voters still didn’t think the Tories had changed. As one friendly Cameroon told Prospect, “perhaps we didn’t do better because we weren’t Steve Hilton enough?”
Is the Tories’ Euro coalition close to collapse?
David Cameron enjoys coalitions at home, but are his efforts to repeat the trick in Europe falling flat? Tory MEPs long belonged to the various incarnations of the European People’s party (EPP), a mainstream centre-right coalition—until Cameron pulled them out in 2009, signing up instead to a new gang of Eurosceptic right wingers, the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). The move attracted flack, browning off longtime allies like Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and attracting criticism at home for some ECR members’ views on issues like gay rights.
Now, though, Cameron’s band faces a different problem: size. The rules say any group in the European parliament must include members from seven countries. The ECR manages just eight—and five of these provide only one MEP. Europe-watchers whisper that the loyalties of the lone Hungarian, Belgian and Dutch members may prove unreliable, while several of Poland’s 15 members may be tempted by more mainstream, Europhile groups. With just two defections needed to sink the ECR, the leading MEP from the Czech party that co-founded it bluntly called it an “unimportant faction” in a recent interview. But its collapse would be doubly bad news for Dave: friendless in Europe, with both Labour and the Liberals remaining continental forces.
Why 2018 may still be an English world cup
Might Lord Triesman’s own goal actually improve England’s chances of hosting the 2018 World Cup? The FA boss cried entrapment and resigned, writes Patrick Nally, after a Sunday newspaper sting caught him gossiping that rival bidders Russia and Spain were colluding, and might even bribe referees this summer in South Africa. Entrapment or not, Triesman’s inferences of corruption are a common theme in England’s football establishment. The FA has been sniffy ever since João Havelange succeeded Englishman Stanley Rous as Fifa president in 1974, seemingly unwilling to acknowledge the success Fifa has made of the World Cup, and world football in general. Other nations were smarter, appointing senior figures to represent their interests at Fifa, and eventually seeing big names—like Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer and France’s Michel Platini—in the the governing body’s hierarchy. England has no such figures on board—surely part of the reason the 2006 bid failed.
Now, there is little room for error in the race for 2018. England has a technically strong bid, is represented by ambassador David Beckham, and impressed Fifa’s current head by arranging a phone call with new prime minister, David Cameron. But Russia also performed well, while an entertaining ploy from Belgium and Holland saw Ruud Gullit and Johan Cruyff arrive on bicycles, promising a “green” World Cup. Ultimately, 24 Fifa bigwigs will decide—a close knit group, and one the FA must embrace, not look down on. We cannot allow ego to get in the way. Patrick Nally has worked with Fifa and been involved in the World Cup since the mid-1970s
A new dawn for Ghana
Ghanaians are a happy bunch: over 23m citizens, but only five psychiatrists—and not one clinical psychologist in public health. But, the British Psychological Society reports in May, the country now boasts an institution many African countries lack: its first mental health journal. The Ghana International Journal of Mental Health will be published twice a year—news that Akwasi Osei, the country’s chief psychiatrist, says “gladdens our hearts and adds to the indicators of a new day in the life of mental health.” The other four psychiatrists are also said to be delighted.
To pay or not to pay?
This June, the paywalls slam down around the Times and Sunday Times websites. Can Rupert Murdoch succeed where others have failed? US daily Newsday recently set an uninspiring precedent: in its first three months, a $5-per-week paywall around its website produced a princely 35 online subscribers—despite a print circulation of over 350,000. Yet in eastern Europe a more basic model may be working. The Czech Republic’s Nase Adresa papers and websites run a scheme involving coffee shops that double-up as newsrooms: reporters working in each café exchange information with customers, with everyone plugged into the same social networking sites. As professor of journalism and former Times senior editor George Brock notes, it’s a “hyperlocal” experiment that has serious financial backing—from Amsterdam-based insurance group PPF—and popular support during its pilot. Time for Murdoch to break out the espressos?
In defence of Mr Amis
Michiko Kakutani, chief reviewer at the New York Times, recently delivered a verdict on The Pregnant Widow—“this remarkably tedious new novel by Martin Amis”—that was sufficiently aggressive to make headlines over here, writes Sam Leith. Yet her review stood out less for its ferocity than the clumsiness of its language. For the world’s most influential book reviewer, she’s really not a very good writer. First up, Kakutani’s register is all over the place, salting her prose with hipster informalities: “a bunch of… twits”; “pretentious jerk”; “blathering on”; “lame.” For balance we then get “mise-en-scène,” “vacation idyll,” “rococo meditations”; and “sexual mores” (twice). Then come the second-order clichés: “powerful and deeply affecting,” “sorely lacks its predecessor’s snap, crackle and fizz.” “Fizz” rather than “pop” there—the reader infers that Ms Kakutani dislikes Rice Krispies.
Finally, there’s this zinger: “If these musings were entertaining… that would be one thing, but Mr Amis, one of the great stylists of the English novel, has oddly traded his mastery of language in these pages for a mannered, self-indulgent style—much the way he did in his abysmal 2003 novel, Yellow Dog, the only one of this accomplished author’s books to stand as more of an annoying puzzlement than this one.” Amis has charges to answer. But he has never written as ugly and flaccid a sentence as that.