Friday, March 28, 2008


The State visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his new wife, the model turned singer Carla Bruni, was the only show in town this week.
At a personal level it was a triumph for the couple, boosting Sarkozy’s battered bling bling image while his stylish, elegant bride, on her first outing abroad as France’s First Lady, looked as if she had been doing the job for years and enchanted every man who looked into her eyes.
Politically it was spun as formidable and it certainly put an end to years of froideur in Anglo-French relations.
What was certainly formidable was Sarkozy’s address to both Houses of Parliament on the opening day of pomp and ceremony.
But I felt I had heard and seen it before. Not the words, but the delivery had the same passion and sincerity he brought to his campaign to be President of France, promising so much from the depths of his heart. Since then he has done nothing to fulfil the promises of change he made to the French people.
It’s true he has only been in office for ten months and since his election has been through the emotional mill with his divorce and the whirlwind romance leading to his third marriage last month.
One French commentator has described Sarkozy is ‘shallow.’ Does this imply the man is more style than substance and while he means well with all his heart he does not follow through?
Perhaps Sarkozy’s the most revealing words in his speech at the dinner in Windsor Castle were that he could say ‘I have been here.’
As the Queen raised her glass to him amid the splendour of William the Conqueror’s 1000-year old fort with The Marseillaise playing for the umpteenth time that day, you could almost feel the huge effort he was making not to reveal the happiness in his heart with a slip of tears from his eyes.
He was living the grandest dream and its fulfilment in reality went far beyond the wildest of his dreams.
Though the French beheaded and banished royalty, a longing for monarchy still beats in heart of every French man and woman and may explain the monarchical style of their Presidency.
At the height of its imperial power, France was so much grander than Britain - we have nothing on the scale of Versailles - and is far more haunted by the splendour and grandeur of its past than we are. It found it far more difficult than Britain did to give up imperial power.
But Sarkozy spoke almost with longing when he praised the changes with have taken place in an entrepreneurial Britain which has put even the recent past behind it.
Perhaps with his private life settled, he may now set about fulfilling his promise of change to the French people. But both he and they probably first need political psychotherapy to rid themselves of the haunting, crippling, unconscious longing for the grandeur of the past so they can at last grasp change and move on.
‘We always knew the first day would represent a unique challenge,’ said Gareth Kirkwood, British Airways Director of Operations, at the end of the chaotic day Heathrow’s Terminal 5 opened for business.
Hyped as a state of the art building which would put an end to airport aggro for BA passengers, it was blighted by cancelled flights, long delays and queues, missing luggage, lifts stopping and travellers being advised to rebook, take the bus to Gatwick to get another flight or find a hotel. There wasn’t even a free cup of tea or coffee or the offer of a refund on offer.
Day One at Terminal 5 was not unique - just business as usual at Heathrow.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2008. All Rights Reserved

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Friday, March 21, 2008


It was exactly the kind of rotten trick you would expect from City high fliers that they would try to make money by spreading rumours HBOS shares were heading south so that they could sell them at a high price and buy them back for next to nothing later in the day.
The truth is that beneath its veneer of respectability the City has always harboured elements of the casino and dishonesty. It’s just become more obvious since the bowler hat brigade from the Surrey stockbroker belt with their staid offices were replaced by the red braces boys from Essex with computers and mobiles.
For over twenty years now, ever since the Big Bang, they’ve been piling it high, sending London property prices soaring and scarring the countryside with their garish nouveau mansions - the equivalent American word, shoddy, sums them up so much better. Despite the banking crisis they will still get their lavish bonuses at the end of the month and celebrate by running up £50,000 lunch bills in the West End.
‘But we can’t trust each other any more,’ wail the banks as they head to the Bank of England with their begging bowls for money to stave off disappearing from High Street. ‘We don’t know what bad debts other banks may have.’
And it’s not just the investment banks which are in deep trouble. Yesterday the bosses of the big British retail banks joined them in trooping through the doors of Threadneedle Street in a desperate plea for more cash to be pumped into the system and a Northern Rock style safety net if the worst happens to them.
Can anyone really be surprised?
What happened was that the reckless, gambling streak in the City infected bank retail branches. Cautious, frugal bank managers who wanted to know a customer’s budget down to the last penny spent on food before agreeing to a loan were replaced by salesmen flogging a bank’s ‘products,’ which encouraged people who could not afford it to ‘live the dream.’
Just ask anyone on a £25,000 year salary who has been encouraged to sign an application claiming an income of at least £40,000 to get a 125% mortgage they have little hope of repaying on a property that’s way beyond their means.
The bankers must have known they were playing monopoly. But, hell, the volume of new business they were bringing in would look good on their CVs and on the bank’s books. Times and the world had changed and the consumer boom would last forever.
Except it wouldn’t and couldn’t and they must have known that too.
Credit cards will be the next to fall in the global banking house of cards. Like mortgages, credit cards have been handed out like sweeties or chocolate biscuits at a children’s party. People who can’t afford them have been inundated with junk mail inviting them to sign up for cards which would only tempt them to get into debt.
The entire crisis has been brought about by the irresponsibility, bad management and sheer avarice of the banks and the failure of the authorities who are supposed to regulate them to do so.
The most appalling aspect of the whole debacle is that the people at the top, who oversaw what was going on and actively encouraged it, will not be fired and rightly stripped of their fat cat pensions.
Their worst fate will be that after a few months they will be allowed to retire quietly with big pay offs to their mansions in the country or abroad with their inflation proof pensions intact while the little people they conned into ‘living the dream’ will most likely live the nightmare of being homeless, jobless and up to their eyes in debt as they face a very bleak future.
Though he may have said sorry for breaking at least four road laws when he thought the media cameras were not watching, Conservative leader David Cameron’s conduct on the streets of London is not just typical of the hypocrisy you expect from a politician but typical of the holier-than-thou cyclist road yobs who are a far bigger threat to pedestrian safety than four wheel drives.
When green lights signal it’s supposed to be safe to cross the street, no one can risk doing so without looking out for yobs like Cameron charging through the lights.
Cyclists should be required by law to have number plates and pass a road safety test. And, if he can’t respect the laws, Cameron should cut out the hypocrisy and be confined to the four wheel which follows him with his papers. Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2008. All Rights Reserved

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008


That giggling gowk known as the Dalai Lama says the riots and protests in Tibet are not down to him. He claims it is a new generation who are rising in revolt against Chinese rule.
Though it’s hard to believe that he and his clique didn’t have a hand in encouraging it somewhere or at least knew about it in advance - riots and demonstrations on the Lhasa scale are invariably planned and never spontaneous - what he seems desperate to deny is that the protest is as much about how he has let the Tibetans down as it is about the rule of the Chinese government.
While they have wanted independence, he’s been piddling around trying to negotiate an autonomous region which is anathema to them.
The truth is the Dalai Lama knows very little about tough life is on the ground in Tibet today. Since he fled Lhasa nearly fifty years ago in 1959 he has led a privileged life in neighbouring India and giggled his way around the world - looking more like a failed, exiled politician than the spiritual leader of the people he abandoned to their grisly fate.
He has revelled in being feted in Western capitals with his endless self promotion on their celebrity circuits.
Now as he calls for an ‘international investigation’ in Tibet, he knows full well there is no chance this will happen.
Like Zimbabwe, there is no oil in Tibet to inspire an American invasion. Besides the US can’t afford another war and is up to its eyes in hoc to China which, as a permanent member of the Security Council, can veto any proposed UN action.
The Chinese government also pays bonuses to people to go to work in Tibet and has built a new high speed railway from Beijing to Lhasa to foster the ‘Chinatisation’ of the region.
No other country is going to intervene and as the Shadow Conservative Foreign Secretary, William Hague, recognised this week, different countries do things differently and while other nations may disapprove they have to respect these different ways.
But the Dalai Lama has seen the chance to raise his profile once again by getting in on the publicity for Beijing’s Olympic year and his face in front of the TV cameras of the international media.
If he has any remnant of caring left for the people he abandoned nearly half a century ago, he should butt out from the cameras and shut up.
If he has to show his face again it should be to apologise for the way he has let down the people who have looked to him in vain for leadership for so long. Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2008. All Rights Reserved

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Saturday, March 15, 2008


Chancellor Alistair Darling’s debut Budget apart, the dreariest news this week was the Government’s White Paper entitled Innovation Nation, supporting The Race to the Top.
Reading it is like wading through treacle, but the message is clear enough: using quangos old and new (sorry, innovative), it’s a grand plan to support vested interests like universities, who are always lobbying for more money for ‘research,’ and make sure really good ideas get wasted and lost in a bureaucratic quagmire.
For a start the language of this dreary tome is enough to put off the text generation who use their own brand of vowel-less shorthand.
‘Immediate steps include a commitment for each Government department to publish an Innovation Procurement Plan as part of its commercial strategy. This will set out how departments will embed innovation at the heart of procurement practices encouraging them to engage with businesses at an early stage. (DIUS), the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) and the Business Council for Britain.’
These words mean zilch except a red light to any of those bright kids who are using social networking sites to create their own businesses where they find demand and gaps in the market.
They should steer well clear of the White Paper, which gets even worse, promising the ‘doubling the number of knowledge Transfer Partnerships between businesses, universities and colleges to boost competitiveness and productivity alongside a greater exchange of innovation expertise between the private sector and the Government led by the DIUS and the TSB.’ (That’s the Transfer Strategy Board!)
They will be old men and women on poverty pensions and their ideas will have been lost or destroyed before they get support from any of the White Paper’s ‘five platforms’ or any of the ‘innovation vouchers’ supposed to help small and medium sized businesses provided - and here’s the catch - they work with a university, further education college or research organisation of their choice to develop a new product or service.
Many of the richest, most successful innovators never went near a campus. They were too busy growing their businesses to waste time letting academics interfere with them.
Microsoft’s Bill Gates and his friends fled Harvard fast to get their business started before any academic could meddle with their ideas.
The way it was before the credit crunch, bright youngsters could go to a bank for money when their businesses were really starting to grow. But the banks don’t lend any more and at least half of them don’t know where the money they have lent is. Soon there may be very few, if any, left.
The best thing anyone with a really good idea can do is to ignore the Government and its jobsworth self-serving quangos and go straight to industries desperate for new ideas.
They could also seek financial backing from The Prince’s Trust. For all his whining Prince Charles has an excellent record of supporting young people who need money to develop their business ideas. Setting it up was the best thing he’s ever done.
If you want your ideas to get anywhere, Royal patronage is far safer bet than risking them in a scheme promoted by a Government headed by Gordon Brown, who as Chancellor lost Britain billions by selling off a vast chunk of our gold reserves when the price was rock bottom. His bright idea was that no one would want gold ever again and Britain had too much of it.
Now the whole world can’t get enough gold and the price is sky high. Some bright idea. Some Government to trust with yours.
Copyright © Rebecca Hamilton 2008. All Rights Reserved.

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