What’s Been On My Mind This Week

Question Mark

1. If Queen Elizabeth II is still on the throne on 9th September this year, she will overtake Queen Victoria’s record of 63 years and 216 days as the longest-serving British monarch. When King Abdullah of Saudia Arabia died last month, the Queen (at 89) became the world’s oldest reigning monarch; most people alive today cannot remember a time when she wasn’t on the throne. She has conferred with thirteen prime ministers, and may well be meeting with a fourteenth after the general election on May 7th. Yet her reign is undoubtedly entering its twilight years, as the headlines this week made clear following the serialisation of journalist Catherine Mayer’s biography of Prince Charles in The Times. Mayer has described Charles’ household as as treacherous as the court depicted in the novel Wolf Hall, and Clarence House has been quick to denounce Mayer’s biography as ‘unauthorised’ and ‘overstated’. Mayer also claims that the Queen is nervous about Charles’ accession and what he will be like as king. Charles has often been accused of putting his own personal agenda and interests (particularly the environment) above the role of head of state, and many have wondered what kind of king (apart from being the oldest heir to accede the throne in British history) he will become. If the past is anything to go by, he certainly won’t practise his mother’s discretion, and will perhaps try to exert greater influence on politicians by speaking out on those issues that are most important to him. However, there is no doubt that Charles, after a lifetime of public service, understands the role of a constitutional monarch and the limits it will place on him, and it seems incredibly unlikely he would speak out against a course of action to such an extent that it would precipitate a constitutional crisis.

2. Across the pond, headlines have been focussing on Hillary Clinton and her seemingly inevitable presidential run in 2016. Yet Clinton has still not announced her intention to run for the Democratic nomination. Many expected this to take place in April, though apparently any announcement has now been pushed back to July. As in 2008, when Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama, there is a sense that she is taking the nomination for granted. It’s difficult for her not to: Elizabeth Warren has now said she will not run, and Vice-President Joe Biden is hardly seen as a real contender. Clinton is in that interesting position of running as something of a Democratic incumbent (not only as heir to Obama, but also because she is a Clinton) while also needing to set her own agenda and get out from that dynastic burden. Waiting to declare her candidacy grants her a few more months before starting out on the exhausting campaign trail, and time to assemble a formidable team around her, but it also means she isn’t using these months to set forth her position about why she – and the Democratic Party – deserves a third consecutive term in the White House.

While Clinton is busy assembling a top-flight campaign and advisory team, Jeb Bush is also piling on the pressure, and this week gave an important speech in Detroit. Detroit was an important, and interesting, choice for many reasons: it represents the American economic decline, and its long been a Democratic stronghold. In his speech, Bush said that the American Dream has become a ‘mirage’ and that the economic recovery has been far too slow for too many. Speaking in Detroit, Bush makes clear that he is looking for support beyond the traditional Republican base, and that American recovery will be one of the key components of any presidential campaign.

3. Pegida, the European far-right movement, is holding its first UK rally later this month. In the Facebook post advertising the event, the organisers said, ‘Let’s show the Islamists we show no fear.’ Pegida believes that ‘Muslims need to adapt to our way of live in the West rather than us adapting to them’. This is yet another worrying development which, in conjunction with the rise of UKIP makes it clear that, for a long time, there have been people living in this country who do not feel represented by the major political parties, and place the blame squarely upon Muslims and immigrants. Polls are currently predicting that UKIP could win as many as four seats in the May elections, and are expected to receive 5 million votes. Whoever wins and forms a government later this year needs to make a concerted, considered attempt to deal with this trend.

4. In addition to UKIP’s rise, polls are also predicting that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, could lose his Sheffield Hallam seat in May, with some results showing him as many as three points behind Labour. Furthermore, even if Clegg manages to hold onto his seat, many expect him to resign as party leader. UKIP, the Green Party and, north of the border, the Scottish National Party (SNP), have been making headlines more often than the Liberal Democrats, who, despite forming part of the governing coalition, appear increasingly irrelevant and are being cast in the role of minor political party, a position which is only reinforced by the proposed 7-7-2 makeup of the forthcoming television debates, in which the Liberal Democrats will only take part in debates alongside the so-called minor parties: the SNP, Greens, UKIP and Plaid Cymru.

5. As the Lib Dems are in free fall, so the SNP are enjoying a meteoric rise, at the Labour Party’s expense. Polls predict that the SNP will enjoy a huge boost from 6 to as many as 50 seats in May, and many important Labour politicians such as Douglas Alexander (the shadow Foreign Secretary) look certain to lose their seats. In the 2010 election, Labour won 40% of the Scottish vote, and the SNP half of that. This year, it looks as though the tables will be completely turned, as Labour are currently polling 23% and the SNP almost 50%. This means, interestingly, the SNP will most likely be the third largest political party in Westminster following the election, and many are talking of a Labour-SNP coalition. There’s always the chance that the Labour Party could alter what increasingly seems inevitable, but last year’s referendum has had the effect of galvanising the Scottish nationalists, and enabling the SNP to present a coherent message in Scotland and a vision for a Scotland of the future, something which Labour continues to fail to do.

6. This week Britain took the first step to the creation of so-called ‘three-parent babies’ when MPs voted to allow ‘mitochondrial donation’. Around 100 children a year are born in this country with damaged mitochondria, and suffer terribly as a result, for there is no known cure for the conditions they cause. Any child born as a result of mitochondrial donation will have DNA from three parents – one man and two women – and any children born from female babies who received donated DNA will also inherit that donated genetic information. Understandably, many religious and ethical objections to the procedure have been expressed, along with the claim that this represents yet a further step towards the creation of ‘designer babies’. But mitochondrial donation isn’t about choosing the sex of one’s child, or selecting an embryo on the basis of intelligence, or sporting prowess, or some other particular characteristic. It’s about eliminating the need for persistent, incurable suffering, as are so many other medical treatments and interventions carried out worldwide every day, without question. The designer baby issue isn’t going to go away, and doubtless there will be other difficult questions to answer as science continues to advance, which I’m sure will make mitochondrial donation soon seem far from controversial.

7. A number of atrocities have been committed and broadcast by ISIS this week, including the murder of an alleged gay man in the city of Tal Abyad in Syria. The man was thrown off the roof of a seven-storey building, only to survive and be stoned to death by the watching crowd. ISIS began murdering alleged homosexuals last year, and regularly encourage young men and boys as young as three to watch these public executions. Life for gay people was already dangerous and difficult in Muslim countries before the emergence of ISIS, given that homosexuality is illegal, but ISIS is taking persecution to the next level by deliberately targeting people because of their sexuality.

8. As the French drama Spiral all-too-soon approaches the end of its fifth season on BBC4, over on Channel 4, hit American drama The Good Wife has recently started its sixth. I don’t think there will ever, to my mind, be another American drama series to rival The West Wing, but of all the programmes coming out of America right now, The Good Wife is right up there in terms of the quality of the writing and the acting, and the creation of brilliant roles for women.

9. This week I’ve been reading, sadly, some rather average examples of what I would call the domestic psychological thriller. Both The Book of You by Claire Kendal and Precious Thing by Colette McBeth make for perfectly adequate reading. The former is about a woman who is the victim of a stalker (and, to Kendal’s credit, she does make the descriptions of what it’s like to be persistently hounded and harassed appropriately terrifying), while Precious Thing is the story of a woman who’s life is turned upside down after her best friend goes missing. There has been much press coverage lately of the rise of the ‘domestic noir’, particularly where novels feature the word ‘girl’ in the title, and many novels in this genre are published each month. However, for the very best in domestic psychological suspense, I would have to recommend the novels of Sophie Hannah and Erin Kelly, as well as one of the hit books of 2014, Apple Tree Yard.

10. I’ve been listening to All We Are‘s self-titled debut album this week. A trio from Norway, Ireland and Brazil who met in Liverpool, they’ve been much-hyped by the likes of the Guardian, though I can’t really see why; listening left me rather unmoved. All We Are feels stylised and lacking in depth, with passable lyrics and falsetto-style vocals, but nothing that makes you want to particularly listen again. There are no high points, no moments where you feel the band lets go, and in its persistent smoothness it just becomes dull.

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