Labour's leadership, Sarko the piglet, and the world's most incompetent terrorists
June 22, 2010
June 2010: Tintoretto’s Apollo and the Muses is unveiled to the public for the first time ever at the National Trust’s Kingston Lacy estate in Dorset, having undergone extensive restoration


Labour’s leadership battle of the brothers

As the long summer of Labour’s leadership campaign begins, all candidates must answer one question: how do you beat a Miliband? David started well, especially given his donation of at least a dozen supportive MPs to help Diane Abbott qualify, likely a clever ploy to split his rivals on the left. The only blot on Ed’s campaign is his manager, Peter Hain—who had to resign from the cabinet for failing to declare donations last time he managed a campaign (his own) for Labour’s deputy leadership. The brothers remain overwhelming favourites—and if any of the other three are to stand a chance they first must decide which Miliband they plan to dislodge. Here, the logic becomes convoluted. Ed Balls wants to be the left’s standard-bearer against the Blairite David. But to get there he must gather enough second preference votes to see his former colleague Ed Miliband defeated in previous rounds of voting.

The only bright spot for whoever wins could be financial. The party is in effect bankrupt, but with the Lib Dems in bed with the Tories, Labour pockets virtually the entire pot of “Short money” for cash-strapped opposition parties. Not enough to fuel a Milibandwagon, but it is a start.

A wonky game of post-election musical chairs

Which think tank rules the roost in the Lib-Con era? Things looked promising for liberal-friendly Demos—named “one to watch” in last year’s Prospect think tank of the year awards—until its director Richard Reeves jumped ship post-election to work for Nick Clegg. He will be joined in government by one-time Centre for Social Justice boss Philippa Stroud, who left her post to advise Iain Duncan Smith. Cameroon admiration for the Sainsbury-funded Institute for Government will likely continue, despite news that its head, ex-mandarin Michael Bichard, is also to leave. Meanwhile the sole Lib-Dem tank, CentreForum, seems to be cashing in on the “liberal moment”—with a new chief executive, and promises of more boffins to be hired soon. Finally, there are changes on the Labour side, as ex-minister Kitty Ussher joins Demos, while both directors at the Institute for Public Policy Research have announced their departure. One of the duo, Carey Oppenheim, is to put her stint shepherding argumentative wonks to good use—she is retraining as a teacher.

Philosophy gets extremely personal at Hay

Prospect proudly supported Hay’s philosophy festival, HowTheLightGetsIn, this year. Sell-out crowds enjoyed debates between Britain’s biggest brains, and even a special appearance from Martin Amis. But even the driest of philosophical minds can experience deep emotions, as proven by a debate between Red Tory author Phillip Blond and Times leader writer Oliver Kamm. Blond, whose arguments Kamm branded “deeply damaging to society,” pulled no punches in replying: “Oliver very kindly has exemplified what a statist, centralised, illiberal thinker he is.”

The exchange grew still franker as Kamm referenced an unkind review of Blond’s book in the London Review of Books that “called you a crank, Phillip, and pointed out that you draw intellectual sustenance from two English thinkers, Hilaire Belloc and GK Chesterton, both of whom admired Italian fascism.” Blond, however, had the last word: “It was an illiterate review, which is why it resonates with you.”


The Dominique and Sarko show—again?

Who’d be Nicolas Sarkozy? Languishing in the polls, lambasted at home and increasingly mistrusted abroad by his one-time ally Angela Merkel, you’d think things could scarcely get worse. Step forward Dominique de Villepin, who has formed a new party to take on Sarko for the presidency. The silver-maned former foreign minister made his name in 2003 with an impassioned anti-Iraq war UN speech and, with several books of poetry and a multi-volume biography of Napoleon to his name, he is every inch the European intellectual. When Sarko leapfrogged De Villepin to become president in 2007 it looked like the end of the road. Now, Dominique is back. Few rate his chances of victory in 2012, but he could siphon off enough votes from his rival (a man he likens variously to a dwarf, a piglet or a midget) to let the likely Socialist candidate, IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, sneak through. Revenge, they say, is a dish best served froid.

Bye-bye Belgium?

The break-up of the state of Belgium seems ever more likely following the victory in June’s elections of the moderate separatist New Flemish Alliance (NFA). (See “Brussels diary,” p25.) The election campaign featured an increasingly comic series of disputes between the poorer francophone south and the wealthier Dutch north. Political debates ignored Belgium’s record levels of debt, but saw plenty of angry words about the relative number of speed cameras in each region. (The responsible Walloons have hundreds, the Flemish hardly any.) Matters reached a low ebb in January when the NFA’s leader Bart De Wever took part in a racy photoshoot with Miss Belgium. De Wever held a pair of scissors to the word “Belgium” on the beauty queen’s sash, while both stood on a Belgian flag. Calls for both to resign quickly followed.

While the division of the country into two nations remains the most likely breakup scenario, a carve-up among its neighbours is also possible. Polls suggest that the French would back adopting their fellow francophones, while Belgian’s southeast province—called, confusingly enough, Luxembourg—could join with its next-door namesake to form a newly expanded “Grand-Duchy.” With Holland adopting the north and an independent Brussels, Belgium would simply drop off the map.


Whose head should really have rolled at BP?

As Prospect went to press, writes Derek Brower, one question was being asked noisily on both sides of the Atlantic: why hasn’t BP boss Tony Hayward lost his job? His company is implicated in a disaster that killed 11 men and has caused an ecological crisis. BP’s containment efforts have been largely unsuccessful, while analysts say its financial liabilities—which could run beyond $50bn—may see the company bankrupt. So, ultimately, Hayward has to go, along with a host of top managers. But—and here is the rub—for the shareholders’ sakes they must hang on for as long as possible.

Going early would leave new management facing a Washington backlash that is still yet to reach its full force, while any promises of a clean sweep would be lost in the maelstrom. For BP, the smart scenario was Hayward staying in place for the congressional lynchings, which started in mid June. Is this fair? Not really: Hayward is hardly the reason BP has run into the mire. So expect the spotlight to fall increasingly on his predecessor Lord Browne, who faces accusations in the US that his cost-cutting and preference for management consultants over engineers helped lead BP into a number of precursor disasters, including a 2006 spill in Alaska. Hayward has been trying to deal with that legacy. And until the Macondo well blew in the Gulf in April, he’d been doing a fair job, too.


World’s worst terrorists

Afghan terrorists are rubbish. That, at least, is the conclusion of an article by Daniel Byman and Christine Fair in the summer issue of the Atlantic, studying half a decade of attempted mayhem by the Taliban. The conclusion? They may just be “the world’s worst suicide bombers.” Half of all bombers kill only themselves, a success rate that “hasn’t improved at all in the five years they’ve been using suicide bombers, despite the experience of hundreds of attacks.” All of which is heartening news. But perhaps one shouldn’t judge the jihadis too harshly: the notion of a learning curve for suicide bombings is counter-intuitive, after all.


Forget football. Can we win the merchandise cup?

The 2010 World Cup will be remembered not just for its football, but for its atmosphere, writes Peter Watts—and more precisely for the vuvuzela, the noisy South African horn capable of creating a 120-decibel drone reminiscent of wasps trapped in a washing machine.

It’s a marketing success that will not have gone unnoticed at the UK’s Olympic Delivery Authority, tasked with identifying signature merchandise for the 2012 Games. Its inspiration to date has been limited to Canadian mittens: a cool 3m pairs of red gloves, branded with a maple leaf, were sold during the 2010 Winter Olympics, becoming something of a sensation following an appearance on Oprah. And while any profits from vuvuzelas go to the horn’s manufacturers, the glove money was pocketed by the Canadian Olympic Committee. That’s what the ODA is after: the right merchandise could help pay for a chunk of the £7bn athletic spectacle. So what can we expect? Olympic Uggs? A branded kazoo? Boris Johnson wigs? The products might be frivolous, but the search is earnest.

What’s coming up

1st July Belgium assumes the EU presidency 3rd July Tour de France begins 11th July Fifa World Cup final, and Japanese legislative elections 16th July First night of the proms 23rd July Burundi legislative elections