No leader is indispensable, but it does feel like the future of Europe stands or falls with Angela Merkel. She’s been the godmother of the European Union for almost 15 years, and other leaders have learnt to accept one unspoken rule: Merkel is the adjudicator. Her aura of supreme power infuriated Nicolas Sarkozy, who wanted it for himself. Greece’s leftist leader, Alexis Tsipras, fumed that Merkel wanted to make his country a vassal state, ruled by Berlin and the gnomes of Frankfurt.
Was it really just a few months ago that Angela Merkel was being hailed as the leader of the western world? A few months since she was lauded as the only politician who could stand up to Trump? How quickly her power has ebbed away. Today she looks defeated, as if she knows her days are numbered. Whenever she goes, however she goes, this is surely the beginning of the end. One German commentator has likened it to Götterdämmerung — the twilight of the gods.
Last week the Daily Telegraph’s front page showed the 15 Tory MPs who had voted against the government under the headline ‘The Brexit Mutineers’. One of the first things pointed out was that two thirds of the group were lawyers. (In fact, only nine of the 15 are barristers or solicitors; a tenth is the son of a High Court judge, but in the hereditary meritocracy in which we live, that counts as the same thing.
When Angela Merkel invited refugees to Germany in 2015, tearing up the rules obliging migrants to seek asylum in the first country they arrive in, the consequences were pretty immediate. Over 160,000 went to Sweden, leading to well-publicised disruption. Next door, things were different. Norway took in just 30,000; this year it has accepted just 2,000 so far. To Sylvi Listhaug, the country’s young immigration minister, this might still be a bit too much.
What could be more terrifying than a return to the 15 per cent interest rates with which homebuyers had to contend in the early 1990s? Possibly the vision presented last week in UBS’s Global Economic Outlook: interest rates at minus 5 per cent. It would take us to an unknown world where savers who deposited £100 in a bank would return a year later to find only £95 left.
This month’s small rise in interest rates has rekindled fears that the era of ultra-low rates could be at an end and that millions of borrowers, enticed into loans thinking rates of virtual zero are normal, could be left with debts they could not repay.
There are nights when, crossing the dark parkland by my house, I see a man beneath a remote streetlamp. He is usually alone, and smokes as he circles the low walls of a squat little building. Most nights, after innumerable cigarettes and several laps of the place, he will slip from the light for good. Sometimes another figure will appear, warily loping in and out of the lamplight. A brief exchange follows before cigarettes are extinguished and both slink off into the building.
Los Angeles stinks. Not just of the usual things: sex, money, suntan oil, hipster food, surfer wax — odours that I like. There’s a new whiff in town, and it’s a bad one. Weed.
The smell of marijuana hangs over LA like an invisible menace. It’s an omnipresent fug. To walk from one end of a street to the other, whether it’s along the chaotic Hollywood Boulevard or the half-gentrified, half-terrifying Broadway in downtown LA, is to risk developing a skunk habit.
No seat belts. No airbags. Just air, and coming at you as fast as you like. Motorcycling shouldn’t be allowed, really, but thank God it is. Hanging on to an engine braced between two wheels as you travel through the countryside is worth any dose of mindfulness. The NHS should prescribe it. Even with the cost of broken bones and, alas, the occasional overheads of the mortuary, it would save money on mental health treatments.