Sunday, 29 June 2008
The number of people advocating some kind of military intervention in Zimbabwe is growing all the time. Sir Malcolm Rifkind is arguing the case in the Sunday Telegraph. So is Martin Ivens in the Sunday Times. The points are all perfectly sensible ones. It still seems to me, however, that the greatest threat comes from a band of mercenaries - the plot I decided on for Fireforce - rather than an Western or African army.
Saturday, 28 June 2008
One of the consequences of the credit crunch is going to be a big change in the way the investment banks work. The swaggering, deal-making culture is going to have to change. The banks will probably have to start going back to their roots - working for clients, operating like partnerships, thinking long-term. The interesting question is how they get there. One way, would be to merge with some of the private equity houses, who have plenty of money, and also the kind of long-term, partnership culture the banks need to re-create. So it is fascinating to see two senior executive from Carlyle Group, Olivier Sarkozy and Randal Quarles, arguing in the Wall Street Journal that the rules should loosened to allow private equity firms to own banks. I think they've had the same thought -- and as soon as they are allowed to, the private equity moguls will start buying banks. In the UK, we've already seen the start of it with TPG taking a stake in Bradford & Bingley. But we will see a lot more before the credit crunch is over.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
On his first anniversary, there seems to be an idea out there that things can't get much worse for Gordon Brown. But surely that is to complacent. In truth, measured by any objective standards, he's had a pretty easy year - it's just his absymal, cack-handed response to problems that makes it look bad. There is still a serious recession to come, a potential foreig policy disaster, and a high-profile ministerial crisis. It will get much, much worse.
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
In The Times, David Aaronvitch has joined the chorus calling for Western military intervention to topple Mugabe. How many men would it take, he wonders, although he doesn't get around to answering the question. In the book I'm witing - Fireforce, the sequal to Death Force - the answer is ten. I think I'll send him a copy when it's out.
Monday, 23 June 2008
The Washington Post has a fascinating piece by Paul Collier, professor of economics at Oxford, arguing in favor of a coup in Zimbabwe. The argument is simple enough: there is no stomach for military intervention, so why not get the Army to do the work. Of course, it rather ignores the point that there has already been a coup: the Army is effectively running the place. Anyway, it interested me because my next novel - Fireforce - is based on exactly that premise: A coup in Zimbabwe - or rather an assassination by a small band of mercenaries financed from abroad.
Saturday, 21 June 2008
There's a lovely piece in The Times today by Ben Macintyre about how Simon Mann fits perfectly into the fictional tradition of mercenaries. I think he's right about that. Mann gets a lot of coverage because he is a mercenary novel made flesh: a swashbuckling adventurer creating havoc in small African states. He refers at lenght, however, to Frederick Forsyth's The Dogs of War as a classic of the genre. I'd have to disagree with him there. I rate Forsyth as the BMW of thriller writers: not much character, but the most brilliant engineering you have ever seen. I re-read The Dogs of War recently, however, having first read it when it came out, and I was about 12. It's a fantastically boring book, by far the worst he ever wrote. It goes on for about 500 pages, and the actual fighting doesn't start until page 480. Most of the time, the hero is setting up bank accounts in Bruges, then getting the ferry back to Britain. As a foot passanger! Exciting stuff.
Friday, 13 June 2008
Most of the media appear to be portraying David Davis's decision to resign as a problem for the Conservatives -- and as good news for Gordon Brown. I'm not so sure. Take this morning's news that the former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie will be backed by The Sun and Rupert Murdoch as his main opponent. It is pretty dismal for Brown when his flagship policy can only find Murdoch to support it. In reality, Brown is in such a deep hole now he needs a core vote strategy. He needs to stabalise his position before he can claw back support - there is no point chasing after Daily Mail readers because they aren't even listening to him. The Davis vs MacKenzie by-election will demoralise and depress Labour supporters. Why, they will ask themselves, should they support a reactionary loser. It will just prompt more defections to the Lib Dems, perhaps putting them ahead of Labour in the polls. Once that happens, Brown is in freefall.
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
The Times reports this morning that Gordon Brown is hitting yet more all-time lows in the polls: 25% for Labour, 20 points behind the Conservatives, which is as bad as it has ever been for Labour on ICM figures. But you just don't have to look far to see why it is so bad. A day earlier, the 100th British soldiers died in Afghanistan (where, incidentally, my upcoming book Death Force is set). You might expect the PM to come up with a clear statement of what the mission was and what they died for. After all, there was plenty of time to prepared for that milestone. All Brown could manage was a bland statement about their 'sacrifice' that has been delivered a hundred times already. That isn't even beginning to show leadership. It gets more dismal by the day, and Labour can go a lot lower still. The next interesting point, I suspect, is when the Lib Dems overtake Labour in the polls.
Friday, 6 June 2008
In the Spectator this week, I've been writing about Warren Buffett's decision to start buying companies in Europe. I hadn't really spent much time studying Buffett before starting the piece, just general knowledge. He really is a fascinating character, and the more you read about him the smarter he seems. USA Today also has a really nice piece about him that is worth reading. Anyway, it's a bit like Wagner - daunting at first, but once you get into it, impossible not to become a fan.
Thursday, 5 June 2008
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Tuesday, 3 June 2008
The maverick economist William Buiter has started a debate on whether Britain should join the euro, which has been picked up by Felix Salmon over on his blog. I predicted a few weeks ago in my Bloomberg column that the debate on the euro was about to re-start, so I'm pleased to see it happening. It's easy to dismiss the euro when 1) your currency is strong and 2) your economy is doing well. When those go into reverse, as they about to, then suddenly the euro will look a lot more attractive. I'm not convinced it is going to happen - not yet anyway - but the conversation is getting going again.
London has taken a lot of blows as a financial centre in the past few months. It has been hit by the credit crunch, by the non-dom rules changing, and by the collapse of Northern Rock. But now there is a stroke of luck. The Americans are angry at hight oil prices, and blaming specuators. Seneator Lieberman is planning a tax on investments in commodities, according to a story in the New York Times. In Europe, the French and the Austrians are preparing bans on futures trading. Nothing could be more certain to drive business to London. You can't stop speculation by banning it or taxing it - you just send it somewhere else.