Why stockbrokers love a crisis, Murdoch’s spies and a Mail apology
One of the puzzles of the latest financial crisis is that share prices haven't tanked, as they did in 2008. They are still off the peak they reached before that crisis, but not by very much. We keep being warned of another and even deeper world recession if Europe's leaders fail to resolve the eurozone's problems. Some economists are reported to be stocking up on tinned food and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, fears war. Yes, a real shooting war that the historian Dominic Sandbrook, writing in the Daily Mail, speculates could lead to British troops crossing the Channel to protect Belgium and getting wiped out by the French. That's sure to be bad for business, isn't it?
But though shares do fall when the markets hear palpably bad tidings, they rise again at the merest glimmer of good news. Any new "rescue" package for Greece, which everyone with the smallest understanding of the crisis expects to unravel within days, causes a buying frenzy. How so? Because as Greece, Italy and other countries get into deeper trouble, the prospect of IMF intervention, in effect suspending democracy and taking over economic governance, comes closer. The results will include cuts in welfare benefits, wages, pensions and public services, sales of publicly owned assets and the repeal of legislation that protects workers from long hours and arbitrary sackings. Where most of us foresee declining living standards and less job security, capitalists look forward to bigger and better profits. They do not intend to let a good crisis go to waste.
Come what May
Without doubt, Tory home secretary is the worst job in politics, the second worst being Labour home secretary. The Home Office deals with immigration, crime, policing and security - all subjects that arouse dangerous passions, particularly among Tories. Imagine: a million things can go wrong and they are all your responsibility. Will you be hit, as Theresa May is now, by a row over terrorists and bogus asylum-seekers being waved through border control; or by one over business people, on arrival to agree a million-pound export deal, being treated impertinently by overzealous officials? Will you have to deal with innocent people beaten up by the police, or criminals allowed to escape scot-free? No Tory home secretary since Peel has become prime minister (Churchill was a Liberal home secretary), though R A Butler, Willie Whitelaw and Douglas Hurd were among those expected to do so. Disraeli was lucky: he would have been home secretary in 1851 but for a Peelite rebellion. There is occasional speculation about May's leadership chances, but the poor woman will not break the mould.
The phone-hacking scandal has become old news, but the latest revelations, from the Guardian's Nick Davies and BBC Newsnight, take us into new territory. Rupert Murdoch's News of the World allegedly used a private investigator to put more than 100 people, mostly celebrities and their relatives, under surveillance, mainly to unearth details of their private lives. They included lawyers representing the hacking victims. Imagine the outcry if MI5 had been spying on lawyers who mounted challenges to government decisions. Against such corporate intimidation, it is unsurprising that politicians and police were so reluctant to cross Murdoch.
Kick it out
Nearly 30 years ago, racism caused me to lose all interest in football, a game that never enthused me as much as rugby or cricket. In those days, I took my young sons, fanatical West Ham supporters, to watch their club's home matches, sitting in the "family enclosure" where we were supposedly protected from bad language as well as violence. But week after week, we were surrounded by men directing obscene abuse at black players.
Since then, the football authorities have largely eradicated racism among spectators. But it is never far below the game's surface, as shown by the England captain, John Terry, who allegedly aimed racial abuse at an opposing black defender during a Premier League match. In a game of close physical contact, all manner of "banter", as footballers like to call it, is deployed to unsettle opponents, including speculation about paternity, suspicions about sexual preference and claims of unspeakable acts involving wives, mothers and sisters. The more wounding the language - and racial abuse, echoing centuries of white domination, humiliation and exploitation of black people, is uniquely wounding - the more effective it is. Until football treats racist behaviour as it would lethal tackles or violence against referees, meriting a long suspension, little will change.
As shops start putting up Christmas trees, newspapers usually run tales about local councils "banning" Christmas and, in the interests of "multiculturalism", renaming it Winterval. Such stories - the truth of which tabloid journalists accept rather as Christian priests accept the doctrine of the Trinity - will be familiar to connoisseurs of downmarket papers, particularly the Daily Mail under Ayatollah Paul Dacre. Now, however, the Mail announces in its new Corrections and Clarifications column that Winterval, originating in Birmingham in the late 1990s, was "the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular". The Mail is "happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas". Whatever next? Will the Pope declare that he no longer believes in the virgin birth?
Peter Wilby was editor of the NS (1998-2005)