mardi 19 octobre 2010

Burn baby burn

It's a busy and challenging week for governments in Europe as unpopular reforms are pushed through and cutting deficit becomes the new European Mantra. In France, what started as anger towards a disruptive, but arguably necessary pensions reform has quickly moved into a multi layered crisis. The reform will be voted through the Senate on thursday, however, around 3 million are expected to demonstrate their anger against a reform that promises to raise retirement age up to 62 years, via mass strikes and rallies around the country. An unofficial front has now opened up with blockages, motorway go-slows (operation escargot) and oil refineries being picketed, resulting in panic buying and petrol stations running out of fuel. Lycéens (high school, sixth formers) have also come out in protest as well as more worringly, mobile, racially mixed, disaffected youths, 'les casseurs' or hooded vandals, responsible for burnt cars and dustbins, smashed bus shelters and other forms of anarchic style violence. French governments have a history of caving in to street pressure; Jacques Chirac in 1995, Dominique de Villepin in 2006, however the Sarkozy government is digging in its heels as it realises that the rest of Europe is watching. Economists are divided over the benefits of such austerity cuts vis a vis an economic recovery. There may not be much sympathy in the rest of Europe, given that the average european age for retirement is 62, but this is seen as a defining moment which could set the rest of Europe alight, encouraging others to protest against their own national reforms. Interesting post from Gavin Hewitt, BBC's Europe editor, whilst Le Monde gives a run down on the practical aspects of today, be you striker or worker. Meanwhile across the Channel, the conservative government is to announce a wide spending government review. An euphemism for deep cuts into public spending that will touch all sectors from health and welfare to justice, local government and the armed forces. Chancellor George Osborne is expected to announce the decommissioning of HMS Ark Royal as well as manpower cuts across all sectors of the armed forces. Should we get out of bed today is probably the real question?

mercredi 19 mai 2010

Pomp and Circumstance

Monday saw the return of British parliament to the House of Commons for the first time since the General election. It's a ceremonial affair, steeped in tradition and theatre. Black Rod summons politicians to follow him from the chamber to the House of Lords in order to hear the Royal Commission open parliament and demand the election of a new Speaker for the House of Commons. Tradition demands that the newly elected Speaker, in this case the re-elected incumbent, John Bercow, is "dragged" to his seat. Watching the coverage, it became evident that this session, the coalition government will be a colourful one, with neck ties now a serious political communications tool. Note the blue (conservative) and yellow (Liberal Democrat) plus a particularly natty canary coloured waistcoat that resonates allegiance. It's the prelude to what promises to be a difficult period. Created by a breakaway from the Labour Party, the LibDems do not lean naturally to the right and many see this 'marriage' as somewhat Las Vegas. Surfing blogs later on, the pithy sixtysecondview shows a scene from Blackadder that, following the recent expenses claims scandal, see earlier post, will be seen by many as one that neatly sums up the timeless preoccupations and prerequisites of a politician. Lets hope the new government goes some way to dispelling this image. See below and enjoy

mardi 11 mai 2010

Hung, Drawn or Quartered ?

Just when you thought it was safe to come out of the polling booth. The UK is facing a hung parliament, not for the first time in its political history but surely the most intriguing. The conservative party with 306 seats are 20 seats short of a majority, the Labour party with 258 seats, much further behind but as former labour politician and prime minister Sir Harold Wilson once said, 'A week is a long time in politics' and noone is giving up yet. All eyes are now on Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg and his 57 seats, who's being courted by both parties to see who can carry a majority and therefore form a government. He started official talks with the Labour Party yesterday after Gordon Brown's commitment to quit as Labour Party leader by September, removed one of the major obstacles to a Lib-Lab pact. Live ongoing coverage from the BBC including talking heads interviews. Discussions must surely focus on electoral reform, which the Lib Dems see as unfair for smaller parties as well as budget deficit.

samedi 17 avril 2010

Ashes to Ashes

Poor old Major Tom...... He's got a lot of free time on his hands at the moment and ground control is keeping him on terra firma for the foreseeable future. As a trail of volcanic cloud continues to drift across nothern europe, the skies are closed to air traffic. The ash - a mixture of glass, sand and rock particles, drifting from 5,000ft (1,500 metres) - could be catastrophic to aircraft, hence the suspension of all flights. Airlines are reportedly loosing around $200 million a day. Businesses are suffering and it is feared many politicians and dignitaries will be unable to attend this weekend's funeral for the Polish President. Iceland is now calving a reputation for creating seismic tremors across the business world. The first was aimed at the financial world when its banking system imploded. This time round it's the explosion of Eyjafjallajoekull that has brought air travel to a studdering and sudden halt. The UK Met Office provides regular updates on the path of the cloud, whilst telecommunications Mila's webcam brings the latest images of the volcano.

jeudi 1 avril 2010

Rocket Man

April 1st in many cultures is the day where pranks are played joyfully across the media. The UK is no exception and somewhere, someone in a public relations department has had a lot of fun. UK car breakdown service, the AA has announced the launch of a 'rapid response' service aimed at reaching stranded motorists no matter how bad the traffic. Rescue service members are being fitted with lightweight jetpacks in order to rocket to their rescue high above the traffic jams. The AA has been secretly trialling these packs at a private aerodrome in order to launch them on April 1st, the first day of the annual Easter weekend getaway. Early tests have given some promising results thus giving them the confidence to do a full test on the M25 today between the magic hours of dawn to noon. For as we all know, any prank after noon backfires. Lets hope this doesn't happen to George the mechanic. If you wish to see footage of early trials, click on the following link. You might have to wait a few seconds for the pop up video but it's worth it. Enjoy.