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18 March 2015updated 07 Jun 2021 5:20pm

First Thoughts: The Trump of the tropics, cricket’s everyman and the sweet return of English cherries

By Peter Wilby

Brazil elects Jair Bolsonaro, the “Trump of the tropics”, as president and the Amazon rainforest goes up in flames. If Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva or somebody similar from the left were still in power, we think, all would be well. Alas, the world isn’t so simple.

First, Brazil had fires that released many more megatonnes of carbon dioxide in the mid-2000s when Lula was in office. Second, in Bolivia, where the president Evo Morales claims to be a socialist and environmentalist, fires are up 114 per cent this year against 85 per cent in Brazil. Several hundred thousand hectares of the Chiquitano forest have just burnt down in a week, threatening thousands of rare species. Morales introduced a “Law of the Rights of Mother Earth” in 2010, supposedly protecting natural life systems. Yet he approved deforestation for farming and gas exploration in national parks and recently issued a “supreme decree” to increase beef exports by 20 per cent.

Politicians who profess commitment to the environment are no less likely than others to row back on their promises under pressure from commercial lobbying and the need to deliver sufficient prosperity to get re-elected.

Inhuman news

A bidder has emerged for the i and Scotsman newspapers, both for sale: it is none other than David Montgomery, former editor of the now defunct News of the World.  As chief executive of the Mirror Group, then owner of the Daily Mirror, and later founder of companies called Mecom and Local World, Montgomery, now 70, has controlled hundreds of newspapers during his career, including the Independent and the Berliner Zeitung. There is no record of him improving any of them.

In 2013, he told investors in Local World, which bought dozens of regional papers across Britain, that journalists should “harvest content and publish it without human interface” – which, I think, means without going out and meeting anybody. Crime reporters, for example, should offer their paper as “the main conduit for police information of every type”, whether about murders or “humdrum” crime prevention. “In return the journalist will offer an attractive platform… and a large measure of control… by the police information office.”  Each journalist would produce 20 times as much “content” as previously, a productivity improvement to make investors salivate.

Come to think of it, once you strip out the management-speak that isn’t a bad description of how many newspapers now function. No wonder so few people read them.

The left behind

As we face a no-deal Brexit, I recommend reading the Financial Times to cheer yourself up. Though its writers predict another recession, they believe this one, unlike the last, will not turn out well for the rich. The other day, its commentator Janan Ganesh, based in Washington, asked which political force will be in the ascendant once the recession ends. Not the populist right, he argued. Donald Trump cannot escape a measure of culpability for the downturn. Nor, argued Ganesh, can the centre triumph. A restoration of “the Bilderberg classes”, so soon after their fall, is “fanciful”. That leaves the populist left as the ultimate winner. The left was expected to benefit from the 2008 crash but, despite Barack Obama’s victory, the spoils went to the Tea Party and Trump. “Precisely because the left failed to win the last crisis,” according to Ganesh, “it is unlikely to miss out again.”

I dislike the social democracy espoused by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren being rebranded as “left populism”. Nevertheless, I shall allow his column to put me in an optimistic frame of mind, which, according to reports just in, will give me a longer and healthier life.

A sport for all

Without detracting from the heroism of Ben Stokes, who carried England’s cricketers to victory in the third Test against Australia at Headingley, I also want to celebrate Jack Leach, picked not for his batting but for his spin bowling. Though he recently scored 92 against Ireland, he usually bats at number 11 and has a first-class career average of 11.9. While Stokes hit fours and sixes, Leach batted for 17 balls at the other end, scoring just one run in their last-wicket partnership of 76. That is one of the joys of cricket: in no other professional sport do you get this juxtaposition of a world-class player at the top of his game and a team-mate struggling to do something he’s not terribly good at.

Moreover, Leach has an astigmatism for which, because normal contact lenses don’t work with the condition, he wears spectacles. They kept steaming up and, between deliveries, some propelled towards him at 90mph, he wiped them. Bespectacled cricketers aren’t unusual: Geoffrey Boycott, for example, wore them before contact lenses became widely available. But when did you last see a professional footballer or rugby player wearing glasses on the pitch? Another joy of cricket is that it’s for people of all shapes, sizes and physical shortcomings.

Fruit of the land

One of the delights of summer is English cherries, which were almost extinct ten years ago. Now they become more plentiful each year. True, like much fruit today, the cherries in most supermarkets have apparently been grown for yield and sweetness rather than flavour. But at friends for lunch, I ate excellent cherries from Waitrose. I bought even better ones from Neal’s Yard Dairy in Covent Garden, which, like the greengrocers of my childhood, gave me a brown paper bag to take them home. As I carried the bag, a dark purple stain developed, just as I recall from the 1950s.

Enjoy them while you can. Since their revival is largely attributable to the post-2004 influx of east Europeans to pick them, I fear English cherries will be in shorter supply next year.

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This article appears in the 28 Aug 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The long shadow of Hitler