Drag queens on Sydney’s Royal Randwick Racecourse on 26th February. Pink Stiletto Race Day is a fundraiser for the city’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade
Watch out for a feminised BNP
This May, the BNP looks set for the best ever performance by a far-right party in a British general election. Despite standing candidates in only about one quarter of seats, it is expected to poll at least 300,000 votes (50 per cent up on 2005), with especially strong showings in Stoke Central and Barking. A recent book—The New Extremism in 21st Century Britain (Routledge)—suggests that one fifth of voters support key BNP policies. Thank goodness, then, that so many BNP leaders, including Nick Griffin, are tainted with fascistic and violent pasts.
Griffin, however, seems aware of what an impediment to electoral breakthrough the old guard fascists such as himself are. Talking to Matt Goodwin of Manchester University, for a forthcoming book on the BNP, Griffin explained that without the old National Front baggage a “modernised” BNP could become a serious force. To this end, Griffin’s party now has one of the best websites in British party politics—and one of its senior officials recently mused that this would be a good time to appoint a female leader, free of fascist baggage. No other significant party (apart from the Green party) is led by a woman. As Goodwin notes: “Griffin is keenly aware that he can only take the BNP so far, and a change of leader seems likely before his term in the European parliament is up.” Ukip is surely a better bet as the basis for a serious electoral force to the right of the Tories. But be warned—a cleaned-up and feminised BNP can’t be ruled out either.
Gordon’s secret constitutional advantage
Can Gordon hang on as PM after all? If he does, he’ll have an obscure wheeze slipped into one of his duller speeches to thank. Back in February, Brown backed a written constitution but put off the decision for four years—until the “800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta,” in 1215. But he also quietly launched a new “cabinet manual,” putting down on paper for the first time the unwritten constitutional conventions previously locked inside Sir Humphrey’s head. The manual’s chapter on sharing power has already been released—and makes it clear that, in the event of a hung parliament, Brown gets the first shot at forming a government.
An unlikely endorsement for the Tories
David Cameron, talking earlier this year about the principles of Tory thinking, promised to make policy that went “with the grain” of human nature rather than against it. Now Britain’s sex workers, fed up with the “all sex is bad sex” policies of Harman-style feminists, are considering organising colleagues to vote Tory. There has been no official endorsement as yet, but Prospect’s sources say that it remains under discussion among sex workers’ groups. If nothing else, they reason, Tory politicians have a history of supporting the industry.
Welcome to the age of rolling polling
The Italians ban opinion polls two weeks before election days. But in our coming contest it will be impossible to avoid them. In fact, they will be coming at us several times a day. Brown, Cameron and Clegg will duke it out in morning press conferences. Within minutes—reports Peter Kellner of internet pollsters YouGov—an online panel of 250,000 will be quizzed on who emerged victorious. The results will then be rushed out in time for the evening news, creating Britain’s first “same-day” surveys and crunching our news cycle down into still smaller fragments. Even speedier will be the verdicts that emerge on the much-anticipated trio of television debates between the party leaders—where YouGov’s data engines promise results barely 30 minutes after the politicians sit down.
Bullingdon alumni take over Europe
By the end of the year, the Bullingdon Club—the notorious Oxford student body—might claim not one but two alumni among EU leaders. David Cameron’s membership is already part of British political folklore. But if, as many expect, Poland elects Radek Sikorski president in October, Britain’s putative prime minister may find himself sitting next to the man whose student bedroom his friends helped trash in 1987.
Sikorski, currently Poland’s foreign minister, has been hailed by the Wall Street Journal as the “Polish Obama.” But his time in Britain is coming back to haunt him. Facing a tough race, Sikorski is running up against charges that his foreign connections—he spent years in Britain and America, and is married to the American journalist Anne Applebaum—make him too much of an outsider. He has even felt obliged to post documents on his website showing that in 2006 he renounced the dual British citizenship he had taken up in exile during the communist era. Applebaum, meanwhile, is courting voters on her hubby’s behalf by writing a Polish cookbook.
Still, if Sikorski does win, we Brits can claim some credit for preparing him for all eventualities. As Sikorski himself recalled: “I was awoken from a deep sleep by a dozen men in tailcoats, who smashed up my furniture, books, hi-fi, everything… Then Boris [Johnson] shook my hand and said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been elected!’”
Germany’s armed recovery
Remember when Britain and France used to vie for which was the bigger arms exporter after the US and Russia? The Germans have taken over. According to the 2009 report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Germany’s weapons exports have more than doubled in the last five years, reaching 11 per cent of the global total. The goods mainly consist of submarines and tanks—those old Wehrmacht favourites. It seems that there’s more than one way to beat a recession.
Haiti, the NGO republic
The Haiti earthquake was a disaster of appalling proportions. But, while the international relief effort has had its critics, the sheer scale of the response has been formidable. Nowhere is this more in evidence than the plethora of foreign international disaster response NGOs—about 1,000, according to the UN’s latest count. Alongside the usual suspects—Médecins Sans Frontières, the WHO and the World Food Programme—are such groups as reporters without frontiers, engineers without frontiers, agronomists and veterinarians without frontiers and, best of all, the yogic nuns of the Ananda Marga Universal Relief Team, who dress from top to toe in bright orange habits and help teach children. There’s even a group called Stove Aid, which does exactly what it says on the tin.
The ironies of Arab books
This March saw the 2010 International Prize for Arabic Fiction—the “Arab Booker”—awarded at a glamorous ceremony in Abu Dhabi. The winner was Saudi writer Abdo Khal for his graphic account of life in Jeddah, Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles. The book has been banned in Khal’s native country, so the victory—and $60,000 prize—was an important symbol of the global cultural relevance of the Gulf region. What a shame, then, that Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles is also banned in that jewel in the Arab cultural crown: Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE.