The first sign that Matteo Salvini was destined to do battle with Emmanuel Macron came in June, a few days after he was named Italy’s interior minister. Salvini, whose party, the League, wants to cut immigration drastically, announced that a German-registered rescue ship carrying 629 aspiring migrants from Africa would not be allowed to dock in Sicily.
Macron reacted with disgust. ‘The policy of the Italian government,’ a spokesman for his political movement announced, ‘is nauseating.
The Catholic Church is confronting a series of interconnected scandals so shameful that its very survival is threatened. Pope Francis himself is accused of covering up the activities of one of the nastiest sexual predators ever to wear a cardinal’s hat: his close ally Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington, DC.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI are also implicated; they did nothing, or almost nothing, while Mc-Carrick was seducing every seminarian he could get his hands on.
Every so often sport bursts its banks, spills from its usual courses and goes flooding incontinently onto the news pages. This year we’ve already had Australian cricketers doing unspeakable things with sand-paper, Gareth Southgate’s World Cup waistcoat and the return of Serena Williams to Wimbledon a few months after an emergency caesarean.
And now we have Colin Kaepernick. He is currently an unemployed quarterback of America’s National Football League.
We often hear it said that the financial crash created populism. It is now a familiar story: that the Lehman Brothers collapse and the Great Recession exposed a shocking and colossal failure of economic stewardship in general. Ordinary families suffered, while bankers were bailed out. This led to people losing confidence in mainstream parties and established institutions. And this, in turn, fuelled the populist upsurge that upended American and British politics — with Donald Trump and Brexit being two of the results.
With September marking a decade since the Lehman Brothers implosion, stand by for a slew of economic retrospectives. Any meaningful analysis, though, needs to get beyond historic balance sheets and plunging share price graphs — however dramatic the data.
For the most significant impact of the biggest financial and economic upheaval since the Great Depression has been the growing loss of faith in western liberal capitalism.
There was once a belief that for TV and radio commercials, a Scottish voice was more ‘trustworthy’. This was particularly the case for financial services ads. It was, however, a belief entirely without foundation. ‘We made it up,’ a banking executive once told me. ‘We’d moved our call centres up to Scotland, so we decided to use Scottish voices on our adverts.’
The ‘trustworthy Scot’ myth quickly gained currency.
It takes seven years to know your way around Parliament. That’s what I was told when I arrived in the Commons press gallery seven years ago, but I am still none the wiser about how to get from the Snake Pit to the North Curtain Corridor, and have only recently discovered the location of the Yellow Submarine. As a building, the Palace of Westminster is a confusing, contradictory rabbit warren of underground corridors, secret briefing rooms at the top of towers and rooms with strange names.
Cannock Chase is the long, low range of hills that’s visible to your right as you drive north up the M6 beyond Birmingham. If you’ve travelled by train between Euston and Crewe, you’ve practically brushed its cloak. Soon after Rugeley the landscape closes in, and a palisade of dark pines presses down the slope before your Pendolino ducks into the tunnel that Lord Lichfield made Robert Stephenson dig in 1846 so as not to spoil the landscape of his Shugborough estate.