The French presidential favourite’s pandering to the far right is indulged because of his pro-US stance and neo-liberalism
It is a disturbing mark of our times that Ségolène Royal enjoys such little support from the media and politicians on this side of the Channel, notwithstanding her highly credible performance in Wednesday’s TV debate. Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be their overwhelmingly preferred choice. Downing Street, unsurprisingly, is backing him: Tony Blair prefers the right as always – Silvio Berlusconi, José María Aznar, Angela Merkel, George Bush. David Cameron is supporting Sarkozy. So is the Economist. Matthew Parris, the Times columnist, is backing Royal, but only for the perverse reason that France is not yet ready for Sarkozy, but a Royal presidency will prepare the ground for his subsequent triumph.
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Anti-terror stunts and a barrage of propaganda are demonising Muslims and making Islamophobia the acceptable face of racism
Predictably enough, the action of the police in last year’s Forest Gate raid has been excused with the mildest of rebukes. Out of more than 150 complaints, only a tiny number were upheld. The whole operation, you will recall, was a figment of the security services’ imagination. A fortnight ago, there was another spectacular anti-terrorist operation, this time in Birmingham, concerning an alleged plot to kidnap a Muslim member of the armed forces. The pattern of these operations is now well established. The police swoop on an area, make dozens of arrests, accompanied by lurid media reports about the would-be plotters’ intentions. There have now been charges, although an innocent party who was arrested and then released has given a disturbing account of his experience in custody. The most alarming example was last summer, when it was alleged there was a plot hatched in Pakistan to blow up as many as 10 aircraft, which resulted in a huge security clampdown at Heathrow and new hand-luggage rules. But, despite a number of charges, a degree of scepticism would be wise, given the experience of cases such as the ricin plot that never was.
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Whatever the outcome of the police investigation, Blair’s legacy will be deeply tainted – and the party may yet implode
The smell from No 10 increasingly resembles a stench. No one knows whether the cash-for-honours affair will end up with charges, and of what kind, or a decision by the police not to proceed. But even if it is the latter, the stain will remain; the overriding feeling that Tony Blair’s premiership was tainted with wrongdoing will persist. It will be like Harold Wilson’s lavender list, but far, far worse: the whiff of corruption will be manifest, even if the police can’t make charges stick. The chances of any Brown administration lasting very long now surely look even slimmer. The legacy of New Labour, already damaged beyond redemption by the debacle in Iraq, threatens to be defined by malpractice and malfeasance.
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The foul-mouthed abuse on Big Brother shows how little we understand about prejudice, and the world judges us for it
So, thank God, Jade has been evicted. Imagine if she hadn’t, that Shilpa had walked the plank? It would have represented a popular endorsement of flagrant racism. The extraordinary fact, of course, is that no one, or virtually no one, ever owns up to racism.
Ron Atkinson described Marcel Desailly as a “fucking lazy, thick nigger” on air and then had the temerity to claim that he was not a racist. Jade Goody called Shilpa Shetty “Shilpa Fuckawallah” and “Shilpa Poppadom”, and then similarly claimed that she is not a racist. Andy Duncan, Channel 4’s chief executive, in a performance which should see him sacked forthwith, claimed on Thursday that “we cannot with certainty say that the comments directed at Shilpa have been racially motivated”. Ron Atkinson, Jade Goody and Andy Duncan are in denial – like, it must be said, millions of other whites.
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We like to boast about how global Britain is, but when it comes to learning a second language we are near the bottom of the league
The ability to speak a second language is in steep decline. But does it matter? After all, English is now the lingua franca, spoken widely from Berlin to Beijing, Paris to Tokyo, not to mention New York and Sydney. That seems to be what the British now think: they are voting with their tongues, no longer embarrassed by being monolingual. It has always been the same, but now it is even more the case.
We ought to feel extremely uncomfortable about this. We are happy to boast about being a country with a strong sense of the global, about London being one of the world’s great global cities. Our leaders increasingly see fit to lecture the ethnic minorities on the need to integrate, including of course the need to speak English. What about the need, though, for Britain to integrate with the rest of the world? It is not good enough to expect everyone else to speak English: at root it remains a deeply arrogant attitude. Far from demonstrating our worldliness it is testimony to our parochialism. Earlier this week, the IPPR published a very interesting report about the growing numbers of British now living abroad. The most popular destinations by far remain the English-speaking countries, but even when they go to Spain, for example, the failure of the vast majority to integrate – especially their failure to learn Spanish – remains striking.
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Vietnam traumatised the US but left its power intact; Iraq, however, will be far more serious for the superpower
Just a month after the American electorate delivered a resounding rebuff to the Bush Iraq policy, the great and the good – in the guise of the Iraq Study Group (ISG) – have subjected that policy to a withering critique. The administration has had the political equivalent of a car crash. George Bush is being routinely condemned as one of the worst presidents ever, and his Iraq policy no longer enjoys the support of a large swath of the American establishment. The neoconservatives suddenly find themselves isolated and embattled: Rumsfeld has been sacked, Cheney has gone quiet, the likes of Richard Perle are confined to the sidelines. The president is on his own and it is difficult to see how Bush can avoid moving towards the ISG position. The political map is being redrawn with extraordinary alacrity.
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New Labour was born of defeat and has displayed a profound lack of ambition in power. But the party can still recover its purpose
One of the extraordinary features of the Blair government has been its slavish support for the central tenets of Bush’s foreign policy, above all the war in Iraq. During the cold war, the Wilson government resisted the suggestion that it should send troops to Vietnam. Globally, such supine support for the Americans has been pretty rare: the Australian prime minister John Howard, the Japanese, arguably some central European regimes. Blair has been in remarkably select company. And now that the American voters have hobbled Bush, Blair’s position looks even more isolated. So why has he been prepared to be such a puppet of such a rightwing American administration?
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This latest government initiative, inspired by a popular TV show, will have little effect on parenting since it ignores the underlying problem
There is something entirely fitting about the latest government initiative to recruit a bunch of “supernannies”. It borrows from a popular TV series, it is pitched at what is increasingly identified as a miscreant section of society, and it successfully avoids the fundamental problem: the way in which childhood is changing rapidly and how to confront that fact. There is nothing wrong, of course, with borrowing from a TV series, providing, that is, there is some serious substance in the idea. To judge from the performance of Louise Casey, the government’s respect coordinator, on the Today programme this morning, there is neither substance nor coherence: rarely has a government initiative been articulated with such a gaseous cloud of waffle and with so little argument.
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Bush’s failure to grasp the limits of US global power has led to an adventurism for which his successors will pay a heavy price
Just a few years ago, the world was in thrall to the idea of American power. The neoconservative agenda not only infused the outlook of the White House, it also dominated the global debate about the future of international relations. Following 9/11, we had, in quick succession, the “war on terror”, the “axis of evil”, the idea of a new American empire, the overarching importance of military power, the notion and desirability of regime change, the invasion of Iraq, and the proposition that western-style democracy was relevant and applicable to every land in the world, starting with the Middle East. Much of that has unwound with a speed that barely anyone anticipated. With the abject failure of the American occupation of Iraq – to the point where even the American electorate now recognises the fact – the neoconservative era would appear to be in its death throes.
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The new prime minister’s unrepentant attitude to war crimes could threaten the world’s most important economic zone
The election of Shinzo Abe as the leader of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic party and now prime minister will have profound repercussions for Japan and east Asia. Most western commentary during the premiership of Junichiro Koizumi has been concerned with the extent to which Japan has allowed a freer rein to market forces. While that is important, the question that should really detain us is Japan’s growing nationalism. Although Koizumi was not a rightwing nationalist, he was, in a pragmatic way, acutely sensitive to the public mood and, in this context, mindful of a growing nationalist sentiment: his annual visits to the Yasukuni war shrine were one consequence.
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