Ah Italia! Such a great place to get your head round great art and great women but what a crappy little country. How else can you describe a place that condemns a 76-year-old man to seven years in jail and bans him for life from public office for a crime that both he and his victim deny — a crime to which there were no witnesses and for which there is no evidence?
That is what has just happened in Milan in the infamous Bunga Bunga trial at which three women judges (and no jury) found the media tycoon and three times prime minister guilty on Monday of ‘prostituzione minorile’ (Berlusconi of course is appealing).
There have already been one or two accuracy-related gripes about the BBC’s summer extravaganza The White Queen, but one anachronism was especially interesting: it was a touching scene of a medieval mother waking her medieval children from their medieval slumber. They were all wrapped together in a lovely bed in lovely sheets and the room was a lovely whitewashed, heavily beamed yet airy attic, the windows of which were diaphanous with linen.
The very existence of food banks is taken as proof of something rotten in Britain. If Brits are queuing for charity food parcels, the state has failed. Labour MPs brim with righteous anger: they call the rise of these charitable centres a ‘scandal’. David Cameron, for his part, wishes people would stop talking about them. The political consensus is that having anyone depend on charity handouts is a disgrace.
Predicting the decline of the United States has been in vogue since the birth of American hegemony. Sputnik, Vietnam, stagflation, budget deficits, trade deficits and even the end of the Cold War all triggered predictions of the end of America. With the 2008 financial crisis, however, there seemed to be a sense that this time was different. Tomes with titles like The Post-American World and The End of Influence began to appear on bookshelves.
‘Where do you stand on Syria?’ asked my stepson. Tricky one. Clearly, the Assad regime is loathsome and the West should exert more pressure to end the bloodbath, but on the other hand I’m not convinced we should be doing anything at all to help the divided rebels, not least because the faction that takes over will have lots of scary chemical weapons at its disposal.
My steppy’s eyes glazed over. I didn’t have a view at all.
The Chairman of the Royal College of GPs recently said that ‘general practice has radically altered over the last five years, with ballooning workloads and more and more patient consultations having to be crammed into an ever-expanding working day.’
The blame for this tends to be put on a growing and ageing population or an ever-increasing range of ailments. It might also be put on the last Labour government for changing the way in which GPs work, by rewarding them for preventing, not just treating, illness.
After a long, cold and sometimes lonely winter for shopkeepers, at last there are glimmers of sunshine. Retail sales volume surged in May as shoppers shelled out £6.8 billion a week, the highest figure since records began.
Although the rise was partly a recovery from a miserable March and April, depressed by the coldest spring for 50 years, it was also seen as the result of rising consumer confidence buoyed by better economic news and less fear of unemployment.
The weather might not be what it once was, and the football season might start so quickly it feels like it has hardly been away, but there is one thing everyone can surely agree on about August. Nothing of any importance happens. As we head into the dog days of summer, everyone can sling their feet up on the desk and relax.
All the people who really matter — the ones running the big corporations, the banks or the government — are off sunning themselves by a pool somewhere.
Over the past few years we’ve all been living through a revolution — not one where crowds gather in Trafalgar Square and face water cannon, but a quiet revolution that has changed the way we work and live. When I first came to what was then the Department of Industry as an adviser in 1979, a ‘small firm’ was a company employing fewer than 500 people. Today we consider a small firm to be one that employs fewer than ten.
If free and open markets are the Wild West, inhabited by roving bands of asset managers, hedge funds, investment bankers and random traders, then the sheriffs are the central bankers. A change of sheriff makes a real difference to trading conditions. The focus of London traders and analysts has already shifted to a new sheriff with the arrival of Mark Carney at the Bank of England next week, and much anticipation of his new tool of ‘forward guidance’, which he is expected to unveil in August.