This is Putin’s time. Next week, the Fifa World Cup kicks off in Moscow, and the Kremlin has spared no expense to showcase Vladimir Putin’s new Russia as a vibrant, safe and strong nation. Half a million visitors will be welcomed — with the Russian press reporting that the notorious ‘Ultra’ hooligans have been officially warned to behave themselves or face the full wrath of the state. Despite four years of rock-bottom oil prices, Putin has nonetheless found the cash to build or refurbish a dozen new stadiums.
By 25 May the world was learning of the Italian populist parties’ plans to form a coalition government. This would ditch the ideological divide of left vs right while unifying the country’s north and south and its populists and the nationalists against a long history of technocratic governments and European Central Bank demands.
Over the next 48 hours, a combination of foreign politicians, foreign capital and foreign media descended upon Italy to demand the Italian people’s choices in voting for the right-wing League and the left-wing Five Star parties were dismissed.
‘Does the pin make me go 💥?’ Like most 16-year-old British schoolgirls, Safaa Boular was adept at using emojis. She wanted to ask her online mentor if, when she detonated a bomb belt, she could be sure of killing both herself and her target. Safaa was a fast learner and, before too long, was planning to involve her older sister and her mother in an attack on the British Museum, among other targets.
I originally thought of calling this piece: ‘Kindness is the New Rock ’n’ Roll’ — but only as a joke. And then I discovered that the rock band Peace have a new album out called Kindness is the New Rock’n’Roll. And they aren’t joking. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that kindness is the new mindfulness; but there’s already an offspring of the two that has been dubbed kindfulness.
Suddenly, kindness is cool.
How long ago it now seems that the big political worry was apathy. Today, wherever you look — Brexit negotiations, US politics, the latest news from Europe — the talk is only of polarisation, division and a coarsening of political behaviour and language. According to a Ipsos MORI survey, most Europeans believe their countries are more polarised than ten years ago.
But are we really as divided as the new consensus presumes? What if recent political trends represent instead a long overdue rebalancing of interests after nearly 30 years of liberal domination — both economic and social — favouring the affluent and educated, and so a case of democracy not failing but working (albeit not to the taste of most of the political class)?
Despite the success of populist parties across Europe, many of them participating in governments — in Rome, Vienna and elsewhere — there has been no obvious threat to democracy, minority rights or the rule of law (with the arguable exception of a divided Poland and a majoritarian Hungary).
Supporters of the global free-trade regime that has been built up over the past 25 years like to think of themselves as capitalists. Benevolent capitalists, perhaps — ones who have only the interests of the world’s poorest workers and their own nations’ least wealthy consumers at heart — but capitalists nonetheless. So why is the biggest beneficiary of their world order in fact the last of the great, deadly serious Communist states — the People’s Republic of China?
Trump’s tariffs, far from being the end of the liberal economic order, may be the one thing that can save it.
Doubtless Spectator readers based in Caithness will scoff when I say that the old fishing port of Wick (top right corner of the country, close to John O’ Groats) is a bit remote. But for the rest of us, it is. Indeed, its relative isolation is one of the reasons it was chosen to house the archive of the UK nuclear industry, in a brand-new public building called Nucleus. Another is the presence of the Dounreay nuclear plant near Thurso, a big employer in the area, now being slowly dismantled.