Irish voters look sure to punish their political masters in this week’s election. Polls suggest that the ruling Fianna Fáil government, widely blamed for the economic trauma of the past three years, will gain barely 15 percent of the vote, down more than 20 points from the last election in 2007.
For decades, a Swiss bank account was the favored hideaway for assets snaffled by the world’s most kleptocratic leaders. The roll of dishonor includes presidents Marcos of the Philippines, Mobutu of Zaire, Abacha of Nigeria, and “Baby Doc” Duvalier of Haiti. But these days Switzerland seems eager to clean up its reputation: last month authorities rushed to freeze the assets of ousted Tunisian leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Ivory Coast embattled president Laurent Gbagbo. And just last week a new Swiss law took effect that will make it easier to reclaim cash plundered by Third World tyrants.
British trade unions have a sure touch when it comes to antagonizing the public. Drivers on London’s Underground are considering strikes to coincide with the royal wedding—blighting the occasion for tens of thousands of well-wishers. Overseas visitors hoping to join Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29 may also face disappointment: British Airways cabin crews have proposed strike action around the same time.
By rights, the careless consumers of the developed world should be in a chastened mood. After all, it was their binge spending on houses and consumer goods—fueled by credit and mortgages from recklessly indulgent banks—that helped bring the world to the brink of financial disaster back in 2008. Americans and the British, in particular, were done in by their free-spending ways. For years, Americans had been saving only 2 or 3 percent of their income, compared with 10 percent or more in European and Asian countries. The British, in turn, amassed even larger amounts of personal debt. By 2008, average household debt had reached 183 percent of annual disposable income, the highest level of any major economy.
The demonstration was called to protest government plans to hike university tuition fees, approved yesterday by Parliament after weeks of fierce public debate. But the language and the violence suggest a wider challenge to authority from anarchists and far-left groups looking to hijack the student cause.
For the normally passive British public, the specter of political violence is back. In early November, students clashed with police and smashed their way into Conservative Party offices to express their opposition to proposed hikes in tuition fees.
At university, Kate Middleton shared digs with her future husband, and since then has enjoyed a relationship as close to normal as any prospective royal can expect. For the House of Windsor, that’s one huge and overdue step into the modern world.
Good news for true believers in the European Union: this week President Obama will make an appearance at an EU-U.S. meeting in Lisbon. Europhiles haven’t forgotten Obama’s previous blow to the bloc’s prestige when Washington canceled a meeting in May: a no-show widely interpreted as a snub at a moment when Europe hoped to reinvent its global standing.
Union leaders are ramping up the rhetoric, saying such things as "action is inevitable" because of the deep cuts being proposed. A campaign of protest is being coordinated by the Trades Union Congress. But the unions' concern also may take another form. How much public support do they really enjoy?
Media baron Rupert Murdoch is once again setting his sights on London. His $54 billion News Corp., which already owns The Times of London and tabloid The Sun, now plans to shell out $12 billion for a full takeover of broadcaster Sky TV. If the deal happens, media analyst Claire Enders has predicted that Murdoch will control half the U.K.’s newspaper and TV markets within a decade.
From the headlines in London, you might think Prime Minister David Cameron is in trouble. When his government announced plans for a modest first cut in welfare payments last week—higher-earning taxpayers will forfeit their “child benefit” entitlements—the right-wing Daily Mail warned that the possible loss of some $30 per child per week would unleash THE FURY OF STAY-AT-HOME MUMS. It seemed that for the sake of saving £1 billion ($1.59 billion) a year, the Tory leader had risked alienating a powerful segment of his party’s natural supporters.