The meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and the leaders of the United Kingdom’s devolved administrations was a significant moment in setting the tone for the Brexit negotiations ahead. May has pledged to advance a single UK position when negotiations with the EU begin next year. This pledge could be interpreted in either of two ways. She could be attempting to compel the nations of the UK to conform to the Westminster government’s Brexit position, or she could be opening the door to other positions in the hope of destabilising the moves towards leaving the EU. The former is the most likely, however May cannot be seen to be overtly imposing the will of the Brexiteers on the devolved institutions without risking political consequences.
In a year that has seen the rise of a xenophobic demagogue, and an escalation in the number of police shootings of unarmed black men, Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is a film that has arrived right on time. DuVernay, who made her name with the critically-acclaimed Selma, has produced a documentary not just revelatory but necessary. It has every right to be a film angrier than it is, but instead we have been provided with a feature with an intellectual rigour that will draw you in and leave you feeling like you’re seeing the world with new eyes. 13TH is an investigation deep into the psyche of the United States of America: it stretches from the plantations of the Confederacy right through to the streets of modern day Ferguson.
Since the Great Financial Crisis, most central banks have drastically cut interest rates and in some cases introduced the world to Quantitative Easing (QE): ultra-low (and in some cases negative) interest rates have become part of everyday life. And with only a handful of major central banks - including the US Fed - likely to even contemplate raising interest rates near-term, this is unlikely to change any time soon. Central banks argue they had no choice but to cut rates - to all-time lows in many countries - and introduce QE to help stabilise economic growth, inflation and employment by lowering borrowing costs and indirectly boosting confidence and the price of assets, including housing and shares. There is evidence that this approach has worked to some extent.
It’s the morning of Tuesday 28th June 2016. I’m sitting in a café in London with a director from Germany, a director and dramaturg team from Greece, and a playwright from Leeds by way of Zimbabwe. We’re about to start a week of writing and development on an international theatre project. But all we can talk about is the result of the Brexit referendum and what it means for the future. The British team, myself and playwright Zodwa Nyoni, are still in the state of shock that characterised the 48% immediately after the referendum result was announced.
The public discourse in America has changed and not for the better. Last Friday the 2005 archived tape of the Donald speaking in “extraordinarily vulgar terms about women,” as the New York Times described it, hit the airwaves. Are we surprised by what Trump said? Surprised by how he normalizes “locker room banter”? Although the polls are now indicating that Hillary Clinton will win the presidential race, Trump battles on, secure in his belief that his supporters will continue to vote for him, and that he will emerge victorious, because in Trump’s universe only losers apologize or back down. As of last week, we now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Trump is exactly who we suspected he was. Even those who are his ardent supporters, are assured that he is their guy
It’s never easy being the bearer of bad news. I was reminded of this following last weekend’s report in The Sunday Times about the non-appearance of Louise Casey’s report on extremism, and the inference that it’s too embarrassing for Government in its current form. I hope these reports aren’t true but they do have a depressing familiarity about them. Independent scrutiny of the work of government and its agents remains one of the cornerstones of accountability in our democracy and a way to get things changed. All too often though, it encounters and sometimes fails to survive a hostile reception. I led a recent independent government review which delivered some very unpalatable messages for government and in particular for the Ministry of Justice which is responsible for prisons and probation.
We seem to have become desensitised by the one-man spectacle of Donald Trump, who provides endless fodder for the mass media with his outrageously offensive comments and policy ideas. But the behaviour and agenda of Rodrigo Duterte, the recently-elected President of the Philippines, makes Trump almost look tame in comparison. In hardly the best example of diplomacy, Duterte recently made headlines by referring to Barack Obama as a “son of a whore” for expressing concerns about ongoing events in the Philippines, a longstanding ally of the United States. There is more to Duterte than his bluster, however: his political career has been defined by a cold-blooded ruthlessness which more than justifies his nickname of “The Punisher”.
The Conservative Party Conference has pushed British politics through the looking glass. We can now see just how far-reaching and damaging the Brexit vote has the potential to be. The referendum opened a Pandora’s Box in which no policy direction goes too far, however backward and contradictory it may. Britain seems to be stumbling back over itself, cementing its place in the world as a lonely, contradictory but above all xenophobic nation. Plans to force businesses to reveal how many foreign workers they employ, and shame those that employ too many seems little more than a xenophobic, reactionary and ill-thought-out policy, drawn up in the back of a ministerial car to appeal to those the government considers the voters of Brexit.
Or, more precisely, I made a deal with a company based there. A journalist, I was approached via LinkedIn (other social media websites are available), by a Chinese firm. It wanted to branch out into the English-speaking world. It wanted a website more attuned to Western sensibilities. And, gratifyingly, it thought that, when it came to making it, I was their man. So we made a deal. Now, money will flow out of China to me, in Singapore. Here it will be turned into Singapore dollars and taxed. Some of it will then flow back to the UK, where it will be turned into sterling taxed again. Everybody wins. Now it probably hasn’t escaped your notice that no government action was required here. No ministers had to meet, no summit had to take place. No international trade deal was signed before my new Chinese partner and I could shake virtual hands on our nice little earner.