We had a lovely summer in the UK and it is now turning to a beautiful autumn. I have recently been in Myanmar for an EITI meeting and am today travelling to Addis Ababa for a Cities Alliance meeting. So I am still travelling too much, though the work continues to be interesting. But both my commitments that entail a lot of travel will come to an end in a year or so and then I will have a lot a time at home and have started to think about the commitments I might take on.
Wigtown Book Festival
At the end of September I travelled up to Wigtown, which is just beyond the Scottish border near Dumfries. They have an annual Book Festival, as do so many places nowadays. It is well attended and many authors come to give talks. I was on a panel with Ming Campbell discussing the state of the world and UK foreign policy. The meeting was packed out with some hundreds of people and others had to be turned away. There is an important point here, it is the same at all the festivals I have attended. Political meetings are dying and yet people are flooding to book festivals, reading books and attending discussions of all sorts of issues including political issues. It is clear that people are still very interested in politics, it is the political system and styles of politics that turn them away. My own view is the excessive polling, focus groups and media management mean that no one discusses serious ideas or develops long-term thinking and thus the public see a lack of honesty and are bored and disinterested.
This intriguing country has been living with conflicts with its various minority populations and has been closed off for most of the time since independence in 1948. Now it is changing and opening up. There have been elections and there are ceasefires in all the conflicts. Aung San Suu Kyi is free and is a member of Parliament.
New elections are due in 2015 and the transitional government of reforming generals will be replaced. It was hoped that there would be a new constitution before the elections that would decentralise power as part of the peace agreements to end the conflicts. But it now looks as though these things will not be reached in time and it will be for the next Parliament to draw up the new constitution. This means Aung San Suu Kyi will not be able to run for the presidency because she was married to a foreigner and has foreign children. For her to run would require a constitutional amendment which will now not happen before the election. There is talk of her becoming the speaker of the next Parliament.
There is a brilliant book that is well worth reading for anyone who wants to understand the country and the problems it has been through. It is Where China meets India by Thant Myint-U, who is the grandson of U Thant, one of the early, and much admired, Secretary Generals of the UN.
The Western boycott has been lifted and new investment in oil, gas and mining is flowing in. Yangon (Rangoon) was a sleepy quiet capital, it is now booming. There is much that could go wrong but I came away feeling optimistic about the future of the country.
The sex abuse scandals
There have been shocking recent reports on prosecutions about gangs of predominantly Pakistani origin men abusing young women for sex and prostitution. This behaviour is disgraceful and it is more disgraceful that the authorities did nothing to act against it. There may well be some special pattern of abuse involving groups of Pakistani origin men but the point I want to make is that for decades and decades young women, particularly those in children’s homes, have been picked up and groomed for prostitution and nothing has been done about it. This isn’t just a problem of Pakistani men, it is a problem of abuse of vulnerable young women for prostitution which has been ignored across the country, and in most other countries. The oldest profession is what they call it. Let us hope that these recent scandals lead to action to protect all the vulnerable young women who have been so misused for so long.
The next election
Unusually we know that the election will be in May 2015 because the coalition legislated to entrench this. It looks as though the outcome will be very messy. The Tory party is behind in the polls and is very scared of the rise of UKIP which is threatening their vote. Labour has seen a big erosion, according to recent polls, of its support in Scotland and is to a lesser extent threatened by UKIP. If the Scottish position is maintained it will significantly reduce the number of Labour MPs and the chances of Labour forming a government. The Lib Dems have still not been forgiven for their outrageously broken promise on student fees and their vote is set to decline significantly. It looks very likely that it will be no party with a majority or even an easily assembled coalition. I understand the Conservatives are talking to the Democratic Unionists from Northern Ireland.
It might be much like 1974 where there were two elections in one year as the Wilson government tried to assemble a majority. My own view on the rise of UKIP is that it is like the previous surges we’ve seen for the National Front in the 80s, and then the SDP and later the BNP. I’m not of course saying that all these organisations stood for the same thing but these parties surged when people use them to protest. People who are drawn to vote for UKIP are often older and feel left behind by developments in society, but would not benefit in any way if UKIP were able to implement their two policies that are clear, which are to leave the European Union and get rid of renewable energy. In fact as the support for UKIP has risen in the polls, the proportion of people who say they want to remain in the European Union has also increased!
The Middle East
I am afraid the situation is very messy and causing enormous suffering. Much of it is the coming home to roost of Western policy of unconditional support to Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. There are no quick solutions and I’m afraid the turmoil and suffering will continue for some time. There is a very good article here by a US former ambassador to Saudi Arabia which spells out just how bad it is.
Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)
I have been chairing the International board of this organisation for almost 2 years and will hand over as chair when the next conference is arranged which will probably be at the end of 2015. The aim is to use transparency to make sure that the new mining and oil and gas developments that have taken place in the developing world as part of the commodities boom bring benefits to the people instead of corruption and conflict. Attached is a lecture I recently gave at the Camborne School of Mines which sets out my views on the achievements and challenges facing the EITI.
- Today one in six of all adults, in the US, UK and continental Europe, suffer from depression or a crippling anxiety disorder. Mental illness accounts for 40% of all illness (FT 13/14 September – Stephen Cave reviewing Thrive by Richard Layard and David Clark).
- Tourism – in 1980 277 million arrivals, in 2012 1.03 5 billion. Tourism is one of the top three exports for the majority of developing countries and the lead export for at least three least developed countries (OECD Aid for Trade at a Glance 2013).
- In 2011 remittances of $27 billion were the largest source of external development finance for least developed countries, followed by foreign direct investment of $15 billion (OECD).
- 40,000 UK people per year die of causes linked to being obese. One in four of the adult UK population is obese, two in three are overweight. One in three children aged 11 are overweight or obese and one in 4 14-year-olds (FT 8/10/14).
- In 1870 Britain produced nearly one third of all manufactured goods in the world. The population in England and Wales was 8 million in 1801 and 26 million in 1881. In 1851 for the first time, more people lived in towns in the country (V&A silver display 1/10/14).
- The seven largest emerging markets Brazil, Russia, India, China, Mexico, Indonesia and Turkey are now bigger in GDP terms than the long established G-7 group when measured at purchasing power parity (FT 9/10/14).
- In 1980 33% of voters in the US swung between presidential candidates. In 2012 the figure was 12% (FT 9/10/14).
- In the 14th century, plague killed 400 million people, 60% of the population of Europe (Thought for the Day, Radio 4 10/10/14).
- China’s trade with Africa has grown from less than $10 billion in 2000 to more than 200 billion last year (FT 9/10/14).
- John Plender, reviewing Trust – a History, says Angus Maddison the quantitative economic historian estimated the average compound rates of growth from 1913 to 1950 in the Soviet Union as 1.8% i.e. faster than the 1.6% in the US in the same period.
- More than 37% of Indonesians under five are stunted as a result of poor diet and insufficient health care. Little can be done after the first 1,000 days including the time spent in the womb. This means that more than one third of Indonesia’s children will suffer irreversible brain damage (FT 13/10/14).
- By 2050 the number of people aged over 65 will outnumber those aged five and under for the first time in human history (FT 20/10 /2014).
- Since 1980 the share of total income received by the top 1% in Britain has nearly doubled to an estimated 13% in 2011 (FT 18/19 October).
- According to Income Data Services FTSE 100 directors pay increased 21% in the past year while average wages in the UK failed even to keep up with inflation (FT 13/10/14 ).
- A fifth of Hong Kong’s 7 million people live in poverty according to the charity Freedom Hong Kong, while the income gap is the widest in the developed world (FT).
- There have been 128 beheadings in Saudi Arabia since January 2014 (FT quoting Human Rights Watch 23/10/14).
- Chinese proverb: “Going to bed early to save candles is not economical if the result is twins” (FT 25/26 October 2014)