Go on, sport, pay up !  In the name of Her Majesty.

Somewhere out there is a vaguely Left-wing Aussie professor who owes me a hundred bucks. The only trouble is that I can’t remember his name, so I am shamelessly using this column to jog his memory.

Come on, cobber. Cough up. You remember the bet. It must have been about 20 years ago that we were all sitting in a bar in Melbourne, drinking prodigious quantities of Victoria Bitter. I was then a visiting professor of European Thought at Monash University. (I know, I know: I want to thank the academic who invited me for his excellent sense of humour, and I continue to regret that he was mysteriously deprived of his post shortly after my last lecture, a frenzied dithyramb of unreconstructed Euro-scepticism).

On that particular evening, I was teasing some of my colleagues about their ever-so-slightly correct way of thinking. There was a scholar of gender studies and a theorist of animal rights, and there was some tut-tutting when I suggested that Aboriginal art could not really be compared in quality with, say, the masterpieces of the Florentine Renaissance. But what really got them going was when we moved on to the constitution. Tell you what, I said: I bet you the Queen is still the Australian head of state in – and I paused, trying to think of a date so far in the future as to make the bet seem fair – the year 2000! A throaty cackle went up from the group. “No way, mate,” they said, republicans to a person.

Continue reading Go on, sport, pay up !  In the name of Her Majesty.

Boris urges Chancellor, “Explain how you will cut taxes ?”

Boris JohnsonIn an interview with The Daily Telegraph to-day, reports political editor Andrew Porter, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, expresses himself shocked by the levels of income tax, saying he never thought he would see the day when other large European countries had lower rates of personal taxation than those in Britain.  He fears this high taxation is harming her competitiveness.

In the face of criticism that high taxation is harmful to Britain’s global competitiveness the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have been vague in assuring critics of their intention to lower it ;  Mr. Osborne has refused to cut the 50-per-cent. rate on highest incomes — instituted by the Labour government — despite being urged that, although it acts as a disincentive to the entrepreneurial creators of jobs and economic activity, it generates little extra revenue for the Treasury.

Continue reading Boris urges Chancellor, “Explain how you will cut taxes ?”

Fuel Duty Stabiliser

Every so often I pick up the Sunday papers at the petrol station and, as usual, I had slammed the nozzle back, and sauntered to the check-out; I was fishing for my wallet and looking down at my purchases when my blood ran cold.

It wasn’t the news about poor old Alan Johnson, though I will greatly miss my cousin Alan, not just because he is a nice guy but also for the satisfaction I used to get when I saw a headline saying “Johnson in new gaffe” and realised it wasn’t me. It wasn’t the stuff about the bugging scandal, though you have to wonder whether the papers that have been so hysterically pursuing Andy Coulson have themselves been entirely guiltless of the practices they denounce.

Democracy in cyberspace … or mob rule ?

Internet debate can be coarse
— says Boris Johnson —

cross hairs

but it really does hold journalists and politicians to account. 


But enough of me.  Let’s talk about you.  Or rather, let’s talk about the small minority of you who not only read but respond to these columns — sitting up late in America, rising early in Hong Kong.  I mean the great caffeine-powered, keyboard-hammering community of online thinkers who contribute with such richness to the cyberspace jabberama. 

Continue reading Democracy in cyberspace … or mob rule ?

Onions in India

According to my MP brother Jo, an India buff and former FT Delhi man, we are continually underselling ourselves out here, mystifyingly failing to capitalise on the advantages of language, history and culture

It may have so far escaped your notice that there is an onion crisis in India, but this thing is serious. Onions are the fundament of every curry ever cooked. Before the meat or the tomatoes or the garam masala, onions sizzle in the pan of 1.2 billion hungry Indians – and when the price of onions goes up too high, governments come crashing down.

Indira Gandhi was swept to power in 1980 on a cheap onion ticket. In the last few weeks the government of Manmohan Singh has been driven to a desperate quantitative easing in the supply of the precious bulbs. They have banned exports of onions to Pakistan. They have been freighting them in – and still the price of this essential nutrient can only be described as eye-watering. You can find lot of information about farming at Best in Nashik.

“It is crazy,” says one Mumbai housewife. “They used to cost 5 rupees a kilo, and now it can be up to 80 rupees a kilo. The government must sort it out,” she warns, “or else there will be trouble.” Already the opposition BJP has been out on the streets, wearing onion hats and fanning the flames of outrage.

I hope my Indian friends and relations will forgive me for lingering, in a slightly gloating way, on the onion crisis. I do so because just about everything else on the Indian economic landscape is so awesome as to make us British positively jealous. It is a mind-blowing experience to come back to Mumbai after a gap of
12 years, and to see the reality of India’s boom. You arrive at a new airport; you are conveyed over new ramparted expressways and long sea bridges past a forest of new skyscrapers, and all around you can see the signs of money cascading, or at least trickling, through society. Yes, you have no choice but to marvel at the rather beautiful new $2 billion house of the Ambani family, a vast vertical hamlet for plutocrats with a design that vaguely recalls a snazzy Bang and Olufsen hi-fi stack.

But the Ambanis are not the only ones to have prospered. I don’t think it’s just the result of some Potemkin-style clean-up that there are fewer beggars knocking on your window at the traffic lights, fewer limbless mendicants scooting on tea-trays, and fewer people sleeping on the streets. Of course there is still poverty and squalor of a kind we find shocking, but everywhere you go in Mumbai you can feel the momentum and excitement that goes with 9.5 per cent growth per annum.

Continue reading Onions in India