Thursday, June 28, 2007

Goodbye Blair hello Camer...oops, I mean, Brown!

AOG, Madrid

Yesterday, Tony Blair resigned from his post as Prime Minister of the UK. Here in Madrid, and in most of the European press, the headline is "Where next for Mr. Blair?". Hardly anyone is interested in the who, what, when, where and whys of Gordon Brown.

Although no one is saying it very loudly yet, there is a growing feeling that Mr. Brown's time in Downing Street will be brief. It might be bright, it might be great, but it will probably be short-lived too. It isn't so much that he lacks charisma, which he does, it is just that David Cameron, the Torie leader, exudes it from every pore.

He looks like a Prime Minister, he sounds like a Prime Minister, and, most of all, in a country obsessed with class, Mr. Cameron looks very upper class, or at least, upper class enough to be a sort of British Kennedy, something the Blairs never quite got around doing. He is referred to as belonging to the Notting Hill set. And we all know Notting Hill is very chic and well to do.

They were Cool Britannia, Cameron is more Eaton Britannia. Mr. Brown, in spite of an amorous tryst with a Romanian princess at University, is more Lady and the Tramp than Roman Holiday. He's more....I don't know...Coal Miner Britannia? Cameron is the Kennedy's Camelot, and Brown...well...the West End's Spamalot.

Will this make him a bad Prime Minister? Probably not, but it would appear that the British electorate, in line with most Western democracies, vote 40% on policy, 60% on looks and appearance. Even if they would never admit to it.

Nonetheless, there seems to be a, slightly incestuous Cabinet in the making. These are some of the highlights:

David Miliband, the young 41-year-old Environment Secretary who decided not to challenge Mr Brown for the Labour leadership, is tipped for a big promotion to Foreign Secretary, taking over from Margaret Beckett, who was reluctant to leave the Foreign Office. He even has a blog.

His even younger brother, Ed, 37, will head the Cabinet Office, which will have an enhanced role. They will be the first brothers to sit in the same Cabinet since 1929, when half-brothers Austen and Neville Chamberlain served in a Tory government.

Ed Balls, the Treasury minister and Mr Brown's closest political ally, will become the cabinet minister responsible for schools and children in a split Department for Education and Science. A separate cabinet minister will take charge of higher education and science. A husband-and-wife team will sit round the cabinet table for the first time. Mr Balls will be joined by Yvette Cooper, the Housing minister. Is this good for democracy?

It will not matter much. I doubt Mr. Brown will win the next election. After all, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he has made Britain’s economy stronger. Alas, the poor are poorer and the rich richer. But I will say something in his favor. It appears he is about to pull a Sarkozy and give Jack Straw a Cabinet post.Well done Mr. Brown. This is a type of progress.

Will Cameron change this? He looks like he might. And in this media age, looks are everything. Right?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Rainy evening thoughts 2007

AOG, Madrid

I haven't blogged in a while. I'm blogging today because it is raining in Madrid. And we are in June. Last year, it rained very little here, and I missed the rain a lot. This year, it has rained much more.

I live on the fourth floor of a narrow street in central Madrid. Because my window (my only window) faces the street, I can hear the sound cars make as they drive over the wet streets. I love that sound. Almost poetic. Perhaps a little trance-like too. I know it from childhood. I find it comforting. It always means cool air. I even find it romantic. I don't know what it is about rain that I find romantic. But I do.

Tonight's rain has ensured that the sounds of people having a good time on the street are not as prominent as they normally are; one of the (small) drawbacks of living in a trendy neighborhood. Sometimes, at 3 and 4 am, I can hear drunken (and not so drunken) people walking and talking down my street. They laugh, make noise. In short, in Spain, other people's right to sleep comes below your right to make a ruckuss on the street at any time of the day or night. Something of a birthright I guess.

My flat in London was in a very quiet street, and it faced on all sides unto a courtyard. If something bothered me there, it was the sound of helicopters flying overhead, or ambulances and police sirens. Same as here. But there, people are more respectful of other people's right to live in quiet.

Still, today, I welcome the rain. It helps to cool down some of my anger and anxiety. I have been told that this year, my chances of going away on holiday are nil. Zip, zilch, zero. It is not so much that mind working, I don't at all, but I do feel, for the first time, that I'm being robbed of the opportunity to go, see and experience something new. This is what really hurts. Being robbed of this chance. I love traveling. But not this year.

A week or two ago, a friend from High School back in San Antonio, wrote asking if I was going to fly over for the 20 year reunion. How many years since 1988? Yes, twenty. I told her I probably would not go, though last time it was ok. Her and I rekindled our friendship and have remained internet friends since, though I had not heard from her in about 5 or 6 years.

Her life, on paper, looks good. Though she has had her ups and downs. With some luck, we might meet up here in Madrid next year. I am in no mood to go to Texas just yet.

I do miss those texan sunsets though...