14 Days

Whelan and dealin' The greatest political upset so far for the government occurred two days before Christmas, when the trade and industry secretary, Peter Mandelson, and the paymaster-general, Geoffrey Robinson, both resigned their positions. They acted after newspapers reported that, while Labour was in opposition, Robinson had loaned £373,000 to Mandelson, who failed to declare the arrangement. Rumours circulated that the whole crisis might have been engineered by Gordon Brown's press secretary, Charlie Whelan. The Conservatives demanded a full inquiry into all Robinson's financial affairs.

Degrading attacks The extraordinarily eventful festive season began with American and British air strikes against Iraq on 16 December, after Unscom inspections were obstructed. While, in three days, more cruise missiles flew unerringly to "degrade" their targets than in the whole of the Gulf war, public opinion did not run precisely to the transatlantic script. The Arab world was convinced the strikes were designed to divert attention from impeachment proceedings. As flights over Iraq by western planes continue, the world still wonders if the bombs are not considerably smarter than the policies directing them.

A stain on his office? In Washington, six days before Christmas, all was far from calm and bright. The President of the United States was impeached by the House of Representatives, only the second time this has ever happened. The two articles passed, alleging perjury and the obstruction of justice, result from the Monica Lewinsky affair. The Senate will almost certainly begin a trial for which the verdict is a foregone conclusion: acquittal. That's justice for you.

Shahak treatment The following Monday, the Middle East peace process seemed frozen after the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, lost a no-confidence vote. A host of candidates have declared they will stand for prime minister - including many Netanyahu thought were allies, like the foreign minister Ariel Sharon. Confirming Israel's appetite for peace-loving ex-soldiers, the most popular choice is the centrist retiring chief of staff, Ammon Lipkin-Shahak.

Unexpected convergence On New Year's Day the euro is launched. Britain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden are not joining in this unprecedented economic experiment - the pro-EMU Swedes for the good reason that they stood little chance of securing a referendum "yes" vote. Only 40 per cent of voters say they are in favour. About the same support as in, er, Germany.

This article first appeared in the 01 January 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An earthquake strikes new Labour