WILLIAM HAGUE'S LEADERSHIP
Views about William Hague's sacking of Lord Cranborne, Tory leader in the House of Lords, over his deal with the Government
RARELY HAS the country been more desperately in need of a tough, effective and coherent Opposition. The latest disaster to engulf the accident-prone Tories is a tragedy, not just for the party, but for Britain itself. After nearly 18 months in the saddle, Mr Hague no longer has the luxury of time. Unless he begins to make some impact in the polls, the leadership issue may well return to haunt the Tories. As he knows, many people in his party bitterly regret that they didn't seize the chance to mitigate their last election disaster by dumping John Major in 1995, when he stood for re-election.
THE CONSERVATIVES are today a Right-wing rump, nursing bitterness and resentment towards all those who fail to see the world as they do. Their determination to march towards oblivion is a tragedy, not only for a great political party, but for Britain as a whole, which has never more needed a powerful voice of Opposition, as its Government fumbles and falters over change to the very nature of the constitution itself.
WILL THE split lead to Hague's downfall? Probably not yet. He has the backing of his MPs, and there is no obvious alternative Tory leader in the Commons. But in leading the charge without checking that the Tory lords would back him rather than Lord Cranborne, he was taking a huge risk. It would be ironic if the hereditary peers finally disproved Mr Blair's allegation that they are the Conservative Party's poodle, by voting for their own abolition in defiance of their own party leader.
THE REAL story is not Mr Hague's difficulties. What the Government is planning to do is what matters, and its plans for reforming the Lords are still shrouded in mystery. The latest proposal, a two-stage process, which brought about the present Tory chaos is all very well. But to embark on Stage One, the abolition of all but a hundred or so hereditary peers, when we do not know what Stage Two will entail, let alone whether there will be a Stage Four, Five and Six, is just not good enough. The Express is firmly in favour of Lords reform, but we need to know what comes next. And we need to know that now.
NO ONE disputes that the Conservative leader is a very clever, basically decent, man. But his grounding in the bloodless certainties of management consultancy still makes him a man for the McKinsey omnibus, not Clapham's. He has time to do better. But this week, he clumsily split his own party and made the hereditary peers look flexibly Mandelsonian deal-cutters. Next time, the knives may be sharpened.
The Daily Telegraph
THE CONSERVATIVE peers should surely acknowledge that Mr Hague has not acted out of malice towards them. Of course, he should have squared things better with Lord Cranborne, but what is a man supposed to do when his colleague is trying, by his own admission, to bounce him? Lord Cranborne would seem to know more about the Salisbury Convention than the Queensberry rules. Mr Hague is now entitled to a bit of fair play. If he does not receive it, the hereditary peers will not do well out of Mr Blair, who bears them just as much ill will as any old-fashioned class warrior. They will end their on-the-whole honourable history in tragic-comic recrimination between Tory Lords and Tory Commoners. The last Duke will be strangled with the guts of the last garagiste. (Charles Moore)
MR HAGUE has made much, and successfully, of Mr Blair's control-freak tendencies. In so doing, he has hit upon a weakness at the heart of Blairism. But his criticisms hit home with less weight when he himself manages his own party in such a manner as to precipitate this week's resignations.
THIS INCIDENT will put a question mark over Mr Hague's position. For all his undoubted skills at the despatch box, the Conservative leader has yet to show any serious strategic vision. His party is as unpopular now as it was at the time of the election, and there is scarcely disguised unrest among his MPs. Yet Mr Hague seems preoccupied with issues that have little or no resonance among the wider electorate. Mr Blair will face further troubles in coming weeks and months. But the country will not turn instead to an Opposition that defines itself as the guardian of inherited privilege. Mr Hague has put himself on trial.
THE EXXON-MOBIL MERGER
Opinions on whether the merger of the oil companies Exxon and Mobil should be allowed to take place
The New York Times
THE EXXON-MOBIL merger will doubtless lead to more industry marriages. It is difficult to see how companies like Chevron and Atlantic Richfield would be able to remain independent and competitive in the wake of the economies of scale achieved by Exxon Mobil, which would be the world's largest company, and by the recent merger of British Petroleum and Amoco. Consider comparisons with other industries. Microsoft totally dominates the American software market, but no one is seriously talking about breaking up the company, which has the highest market capitalisation of any company on earth. Coca-Cola and Pepsi control about 65 per cent of the soft-drink market, and no one has batted an eye at $1-a-can sodas at your local deli, when the cost of manufacture is a fraction of that. So don't be surprised if the regulatory hurdles fall away, one by one. John D Rockefeller Sr will have the last laugh.
SIMPLY IN terms of its oil production, the new Exxon Mobil most closely resembles, not its US corporate competitors - Chevron and Texaco - or even its multinational rivals - Royal Dutch/Shell Group and BP Amoco - but countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, where oil production is nationalised, and therefore cheaper. Exxon Mobil estimates it can cut $2.5bn [pounds 1.54bn] or more from its cost base to make it more competitive with those oil- rich countries. And, unlike the more troubling mergers of the pieces of the old Ma Bell - such as SBC Corp's purchase of Pacific Telesis and then Ameritech, and Bell Atlantic's buying of Nynex - where the immediate result for the average consumer is continuation of a monopoly, energy consumers should still have plenty of choices.
THE INDUSTRY faces serious problems. Consumers are enjoying a period of low prices for gasoline - at less than $1 a gallon in some spots; gasoline today costs less in real terms than it did before the notorious run-up related to the 1973 Arab oil embargo. For oil companies, though, this places heavy emphasis on cutting operating costs, the objective at the heart of the Exxon-Mobil move. But mergers in an era of globalisation are no longer just national phenomena. Competition has to be seen in a global sense, and the new Standard Oil redux will have plenty of mega- rivals, including Shell, British Petroleum, and the French company, Total.
THE PROPOSED merger of Exxon and Mobil is part of a larger consolidation in the energy industry. British Petroleum is merging with Amoco; Shell and Texaco have a joint marketing agreement; France's Total is merging with Belgium's Petrofina. Is now the time for US regulators to say hold, enough? Or is the global consolidation of the industry unstoppable, and the merger of US energy companies essential to assure their competitive strength? Neither the regulators nor the executives of the regulated companies can be certain. At this earliest of stages, the uncertainties surrounding the proposed merger may be at their highest, as investors assess the merger's chances, and each Exxon and Mobil employee ponders the safety of his or her job. Uncertainty, however, is the likely future of the oil industry. As one oil man observed during the recent congress of the World Energy Council, uncertainty in global energy markets is ending misconceptions based upon false certainties, and will ensure against a dull life.
EXXON MOBIL will be the leaders in a new era for the energy business. Low prices are shaking the world oil industry from top to bottom. The pain is widespread. And old titans may disappear. But as Exxon's deal for Mobil shows, for some players, crisis equals opportunity.
TURNER PRIZE WINNER
Verdicts on the decision to award Britain's most controversial prize for the visual arts to the figurative painter Chris Ofili
THERE IS, to paraphrase Louisa Buck, another "time-honoured tradition" of ordure in art. Generations of writers have used it as a metaphor for the capacity of money to corrupt and demean higher values. From Alexander Pope in The Dunciad to Charles Dickens in Our Mutual Friend, the pursuit of brass has led men to muck. The commercialisation of creativity, celebrated by the Culture Secretary Chris Smith in his defence of the export-earning potential of contemporary art, and embodied by the celebrity showmanship of the Turner Prize, has taken us all on a wrong turning. We are trapped in a cupboard of stools.
I WAS so glad the Turner Prize was won by Chris Ofili, who used elephant dung in his paintings, because I was in total agreement with his honest message. That modern art is just a pile of crap.
THE pounds 20,000 Turner Prize went to Chris Ofili last night, the artist who uses elephant dung, and is said to have been inspired by William Blake, hip-hop music and Renaissance painters to depict the world of modern black sexuality.
He was the bookies' hot favourite, at 5-4. After a string of victories for video artists and sculptors, he is the first painter to win the prize for contemporary British art since Howard Hodgkin in 1985, the second year of the prize. But his win will be hailed by some as a triumph for gimmickry and shock tactics.
IF ANYTHING is to be said for Ofili's pictures it is only that all the damned dots and spots are mind-numbing triumphs of the idiot industry, and their concentrated tedium is in no way relieved by the random application of pachydermal turds. How can even the Serota Tendency, notorious for its driving fascism in current art politics, compel its members to laud such shit? I am sick of shit in art: has no one in authority the courage to resist it and the infantilism that promotes it? (Brian Sewell)
TAX HARMONISATION IN THE EU
The British press reacts to proposals to harmonise taxes among European countries using the euro
WHATEVER ONE thinks about British entry into EMU, the Lafontaine tax straitjacket spells disaster for the euro and for Europe. A crusade against it could succeed. Are Messrs Blair and Brown prepared to lead it? They tell the British public, "Don't panic!" It is no use boasting about playing hardball in Brussels though, when Mr Lafontaine is about to change the rules of the game. More likely are further British concessions. But this week's climbdown on duty-free shopping had no effect. This is no time to appease the Tsar of the Saar.
GORDON BROWN has felt compelled to boast, in his less than convincing impersonation of the Lady with the Handbag, that he would veto any attempt by Brussels to impose a heavier tax burden on Britain. Would he? Indeed, could he? Enough of the disingenuous spin and political fairy tales for children. Given the Potsdam Declaration and the menacing musings of Herr Lafontaine, only a gaggle of head-burying ostriches could fail to discern what the new Europe is really about. Let us confront the truth on tax, and debate it as an adult democracy.
WE SHOULD be in no doubt. This crisis over Europe and tax is serious, the worst since Tony Blair settled into Downing Street. It would drain our wealth and secure the Franco-German domination of this part of the world. British common sense and democratic vigour would be lost to the Continent. That is what the Prime Minister thinks - and so does Chancellor Gordon Brown, too. But thinking it is no longer enough. It is time for honest argument.
OSCAR WILDE MONUMENT
Judgements on the unveiling of a memorial to Oscar Wilde, almost a century after his death
WILDE AS saint? Wilde as deserving a solemn monument in the heart of London? Please. Do us a favour. There was nothing saintly about Oscar Wilde. He himself would surely have laughed the idea to scorn. And to pretend that he deserves a statue is an extraordinary act of doublethink.It is we who are the hypocrites, not our Victorian forebears. On the one hand, we wring our hands over the exploitation and abuse of children and young people, and on the other, we idolise and sanitise a man who himself was a regular purchaser of the favours of vulnerable young people. Putting up a statue to him in its present location must be some kind of joke. But not a very funny one.(Christopher Hart)
OSCAR WILDE'S writing genius lives on 98 years after his death. He has finally got a memorial in this country. The Sun says: About time too. He may have been one of them but we reckon he was also one of us. He would have loved The Sun. For as he said: "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about. And that is not being talked about."
NO ONE has the courage to mention Wilde's homosexuality. The closest Chris Smith comes to the subject is "diversity". I can't help feeling that this whole affair is a missed opportunity. It could have been a chance to begin a process of healing, of reparation for the 100-year holocaust of British homosexuals, which began with the trials of Oscar Wilde and involved at least a quarter of a million homosexuals in prosecutions, imprisonment, chemical castration and aversion therapy. Diversity is too small a word. (Neil McKenna)
Stories from around the world
HAS THE world gone nuts? We don't hate animals but after watching the human misery index rise over the past months, the maudlin concern over beasts has been downright insulting. We can't tell Miss Bardot what to do with her money, but the Woofie incident hardens our feeling that we'd pick people over dumb beasts. When times are tough, we'll stick to our own species.
Times of India
SOON WINDSHIELD-WIPERS are going to look pretty silly. Why should rain have to be mechanically forced off the windscreen to see better? How long must we be stuck with an irritating contraption modelled on eyelids? Why not build a better mousetrap?
Daily Mail & Guardian
A JEWISH extremist group has threatened a Johannesburg Muslim family because of what a 14-year-old wrote in a history assignment. The threat came after Layla, who attends the mostly Jewish college in Johannesburg, was asked by her history teacher to respond to a pro-Israeli article about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.Reuse content