I don't buy the Economist that often. But today I was interested in what it had to say about the state of world markets and picked up a copy from a newsstand near the hotel where I swim most days. The economics was a sound summary of events with no new insights, but excellent detail. The politics was just laughable.
Take this one from the Leaders -on Serbia's Future. 'Serbia Should Recognise That It Has No Alternative To The European Union'. The article is openly patronising to Serbs, informing them that they have no future 'partnering' with Russia on a most unequal basis, and that Russians only want to secure Serbia's energy assets on the cheap. The author compares Serbia to Slovakia ten years ago, which was at that time, going down a highly corrupt nationalistic pro-Russian course, but finally yielded to EU overtures in 2004.
Slovakia and Serbia could not be more different - even though they both begin with an S, are in Central Europe (as they both call it) and have a Slavic language. Slovaks are Catholic. They are easy-going, hard-working and readily subservient to powerful foreigners. As they have been 'colonised' so many times before, they regard the latest coloniser as only temporary anyway, so why not the EU for now? There'll be another bus to catch later. The Economist author doesn't understand Slovakia. That is plain to see....
...or Serbia. Serbs are not subservient at all, and do not readily give away their sovereignty to anyone. Look at Jokovicz the tennis player, making a Serbian nationalistic speech after winning the Australian Open. And what about his family all dressed uniformly, and making effectively Nazi salutes of defiance when he needed a boost from the crowd. Let me tell the Economist one thing. You are not going to be able to tell people like that how to decide their future by patronising them.
Serbia (unlike Slovakia - a natural underdog) is used to being the dominant nation in the Balkans, and as the dominant nation of Yugoslavia, they maintained a remarkable amount of independence from Russia. I think the Serbs might well find the EU not to their tastes, and for that matter, the EU might feel the same way. Serbs are an especially determined people, who value their independence highly.
And anyway of course there are alternatives for Serbia. Serbia could negotiate its own arrangements with whoever she chooses. It is not good to patronise proud peoples. It only helps the Russians to appear the reasonable more palatable partners, who feel similarly humiliated by the arrogance of the EU encroaching on what was once their patch. If the Economist hopes to persuade Serbia to join the EU, patronising them is not the way to go, or hoping they will be the next Slovakia.
UPDATE - There is a far better article on Central Europe which makes good sense called Pipedreams on p51 in the same issue, covering Serbia's position. The Economist detailed articles are as good as ever they were. It's the Leaders which can be so politically naive and narrow-minded, along with Bagehot and Charlemagne.
BRANSON - Leader
Next up in this issue of the Economist is a big feature on Branson's Virgin Galactic. Branson's making the running at the moment getting so close to Gordon Brown that untold largesse and good fortune are landing in his lap since their little trip to China. If he lands the Northern Rock deal, he will be the beneficiary of the largest single subsidy ever made by a British government in history. Nice for starters. On top of that, he has just seen his arch-opponent for media businesses Rupert Murdoch being forced to sell his ITV shares by Gordon's Minister for Business, opening up the way for Virgin Media to launch into cable TV and other services. And if all that wasn't good enough, Branson now seems to be getting favourable coverage for his new space-travel-for-kicks business.
Branson has partly achieved political success with Gordon Brown and the EU, by being there to hurt Rupert Murdoch when they needed someone. But he also got into pole position by signing up with Al Gore's global warming campaign and offering a $25 million prize to anyone who invents the solution to carbon capture. Now you might have expected dedicated Global Warming campaigners to be concerned at the burning of unnecessary tonnages of fossil fuels projecting rich clients with nothing better to do into space.
But, no. The Economist carried Branson's propaganda department's justification for unnecessary space travel word for word...'when space becomes a democracy...the rich risk-takers who have seen the fragile Earth from above might form an influential cohort of environmental activists'. We all know Branson is a super-salesman, but does the Economist need to reproduce the flannel word for word as editorial with no counterbalancing comment such as 'is this business necessary - and isn't Branson being hypocritical trying to pretend it's somehow an environmentally friendly thing to be doing'?
With Branson being in with the EU/Brown at the moment, I guess he can walk on water in the MSM for now. Let's hope he's not fated to become an Icarus, flying too close to The Sun, which loosens the wax of his wings, sending him crashing to earth.
BRITAIN IN/OUT OF EUROPE (Charlemagne)
Out of the whole issue this section is surely the stupidest. Again the tone is patronising, this time to Britons who think they can do better outside the EU. For example,
One Tory asked if the government thought the British public too thick to understand its (the EU's) benefits..Much of the Brussels establishment would answer 'yes'..They see British voters as exceptionally ignorant; or they see the British debate is poisoned by nationalism
The Economist takes no issue with the Brussels Establishment for holding these views. In fact the article later goes on to explain why it agrees with them, but not before letting loose a little bit more abuse of British euroscepticism, as follows...
At the right Brussels dinners, speakers ..win tub-thumping applause by denouncing perfidious Albion
The article gets to the nub of the matter at the end, explaining why Britain must not leave the EU, and should sign up to Brussels power total.
If Britain left the EU, the 26 other countries would set terms for free access to their market (including a big contribution to their budget). They would have no interest in offering a sweet deal: as any member to a book club can attest, the free dictionary is offered on the way in not on the way out..
So what perks did we get on the way in, one might fairly ask? I don't remember any. Being made to sacrifice our fishing industry is what they are driving at I suppose. To leave we'll have to sacrifice our children too, no doubt. There's more..
As an Ambassador predicts, "Britain would have to pay a very high price."
OK. And here's the wrap-up paragraph...
In short Britain might enjoy less not more trade freedom if it pulled out of the EU, as protectionist governments flexed their muscles and allowed nationalism to tarnish the project What does that mean?. Anyone who dreams otherwise is lying not just to others, but also to themselves - the worst bad faith of all.
I feel apart from recommending that if such notions underpin our relationship with the EU, we should get out as soon as possible before these nutters dream up any more such blood-curdling nonsensical threats. I would ask the writer of Charlemagne who wishes to remain anonymous (are you surprised?) to read one of his own sentences...
such reveries ignore the fact that the EU is, first and foremost, an economic project
and he should recall that whatever Britain sells to the EU, the EU exports double that to Britain. I think it's time for these euro-babies uttering their pathetic threats to get real, and The Economist should be ashamed of itself for carrying yet more blatantly one-sided propaganda.
Then comes Bagehot. I always used to read Bagehot as one of my favourite weekly reads years ago. But now I cringe at what I read more often than not, and rarely find any insights that add anything to anyone's understanding. This week's run-down on Britain's current relationship with Russia is well put together as a description listing out the cultural background well, and giving the feeling of how things are in London at the 'From Russia' exhibition.
The trouble starts as in all the other articles I've mentioned when The Economist tries to do the politics. Again it's gobblydygook. Here it is.
the question is whether and how modern Britain can respond to the menace that also comes 'From Russia', and indeed to other big threats.
So an article that purported to be all about Britain and Russia in the round, ends up wanting to make a quite specific assessment of Britain's approach to all its relationships to any external threats.
And you guessed, it's another rehashed pro-European puff, although made in more coded language than Charlemagne's unguarded anti-British abuse. As follows...
The truth is that..Britain can do little to sway the Kremlin.
Can anybody sway the Kremlin?
Its (It being Britain) European partners have spoken up a bit;but the lesson for Gordon Brown especially must be that if Britain is to punch above its weight- and resist the punches that come back-it needs to show less cold shoulder and more collegial respect to the countries who really are its friends.'
In other words, if Brown cuddles up more to Europe, the EU'll call Putin's dogs off Brown. A likely tale that the EU can control Vladimir Putin so easily. The EU is unable to stand up to him for long as he controls their gas supply. All of Germany's gas comes from Russia.
In any case, Britain wasn't punching anybody as far as I can see, and nor do we wish to punch anyone. The Russian government instructed its agents to carry out the killing of Litvinenko in London using dangerous nuclear material, as he was being foolish enough to reveal that the FSB (KGB) had penetrated the EU hierarchy and that Romano Prodi, ex-commission president was one of its key agents.
The Economist wants Gordon to go to Brussels and be more pally with the EU as their solution. I guess we are meant to be pleased that the EU thinks it has so much clout in Moscow, but using the threat of violence as the way to get Britain to want closer ties with the EU, sorry folks. Not our style.
I wonder what the other threats the Economist mentions consist of. It's nice isn't it. 'You play more with our boys in Brussels, and they'll make sure you don't get beaten up or burned.' That stuff used to be known as a Protection Racket.
The Economist's reporting of American politics doesn't seem to be too bad. They have good writers and some good insights over the pond.