Spring was a long time coming in the dictatorships of the Middle East and North Africa. But when it arrived it was unhesitatingly welcomed by western leaders. William Hague declared the Arab Spring more important than 9/11 and the financial crisis. Barack Obama delivered one of his most mellifluous speeches on the subject. Everyone hoped for the best. But hope, we were reminded, is not quite enough.
Revolution is back on the streets of Cairo. Veterans of the last uprising (which unseated Hosni Mubarak) say that the police brutality is more intense than ever before, but the protestors are determined not to back down. ‘It’s like January but on crack,’ says Mohamed El Dahshan, an economist and blogger who spends his days in Tahrir Square. ‘The police are shooting rubber bullets directly in people’s faces.
‘Technocrats?’ said my husband, turning his face from the television and the latest news from Italy, looking at me for a change, and putting his whisky glass down in puzzlement. ‘Aren’t those the chaps who helped Franco out?’‘I don’t think they can be exactly the same people still, darling,’ I replied soothingly. But he had a point. It seems strange that we should think politicians more capable simply because they rejoice in the name technocrats, as the men put in to run Greece, Italy and are called.
During the 2008 US presidential election cycle, the respected journal Foreign Affairs invited the leading presidential candidates from both parties to outline their views of world politics. All of them responded with essays that, one presumes, they at least read if did not write. This year, ahead of next year’s elections, Foreign Affairs has proffered the same invitation to the leading Republican aspirants.
‘It must be so awfully boring being a fish,’ says Brian Sewell, as he looks out the window at his pond. ‘You can only have sex once a year on a prescribed day. The frogs are just the same.’
We are in his study. It is a large room full of books, mostly big art books. An old German Shepherd lies passed out on the floor. ‘Poor Winckelmann,’ says Sewell, peering down at the dog. ‘She is the love of my life.
When I arrive to interview Stella Creasy in one of the cafés in parliament, she’s sitting in a meeting with two earnest, wonkish types, the coffee mugs having been cleared from the table. As time ticks by, her body language becomes urgent, but she’s too polite to wrap it up. I begin to see why her rather protective assistant insisted that this interview should be no more than 30 minutes. Creasy, though, has a lot to say and we speak for an hour before she goes off to write a speech on this summer’s riots.
What makes you happy? If you did not think anybody cared, you could not be more wrong. Your happiness has become a major issue. It is being investigated by professors with regression analyses. It is being fussed over by politicians who want to show their human side. The British government has decided to measure your happiness. Over in Paris, the OECD has recently come out with a major report on well-being.