President

Ilir Meta, elected President in April. While elected by a majority, the Presidential election was marred by a continued effort on the part of the Opposition to disrupt the parliamentary process. That said, Meta was as much connected to the Democratic party as he was to the Socialists, and arguably, now he is out of the running for parliamentary jobs, he is no longer a serious opponent for Edi Rama.

Ilir meta by TIM.jpg

 

Here is a view of the Ottoman bridge in Tirana:

ottoman bridge by TIM

 

What Syriza wanted

What Syriza wanted back in 2015 was debt relief and that is what it has got, with reservations, this week in a guarded 8.5 Billion deal from the EU with the IMF making debt relief, “a debt haircut” part of the overall deal and Germany claiming that nothing hd really changed at all. Tsipras has wanted debt-relief for some time: “ the debt has to be rescheduled so the economy can breathe and markets can restore their confidence”. The deal comes, though, on the back of a raft of tax, labour and pension reforms long demanded by Germany, and unlikely on their own to make the country more competitive while the doom of financial constraint continues to bind Greece and more importantly while the powerful in the EU block continue to treat Greece, a soverign state as the southern European poodle or as Papadimitriou termed “a sacrificial lamb”, obliged to obey whenever the more-powerful Northern block commands.

What is interesting, however, is that the deal, as it now stands, goes some way to vindicating the position adopted by Yianis Varoufakis during the initial negotiations. The EU hated Varoufakis and I gather insisted on his dismissal as a price for their agreeing anything at all with Syriza, but it is a story that we in the UK would do well to heed: The EU hates to be backed into a corner and whether the recipe is right or wrong, the EU is likely to delay rather than surrender to threats and bombast. “No deal is better than a bad deal” is the sort of threat the EU will take seriously.

As far as the Greeks are concerned, the EU has never played fair. Only a few days’ ago, the German finance Minister, Wolfgang Scheauble, was castigated in the press for repeatedly moving the goalposts: Dimitris Papadimitriou simply called him “dishonest”. Scheauble claimed rather bizarrely that the EU policies had “had a positive impact on Greece in the end, because it is now on a better path and, if it continues, we can all be satisfied.” I think he has never spoken to Greek pensioners who have seen their take-home pension dwindle over the last 8 years and a further cut is now promised well after the current government is over.

As far as Tsipras is concerned, however, it has all been a game of political posturing – he may have won some of the headlines, and he may have spun some of the deals to square with his socialist agenda, but he is pretty well no more than back where he started. For all his commitment to social reform Tsipras has presided over massive unemployment, over-taxed his people and driven up the cost of living.

wolfgang scheauble by TIM.jpg

 

 

Everything in our power

Mrs May says all the right things: She acknowledges the terror, the fact that people lost everything in the Grenfell fire, that £5 million will be made available to help with immediate needs, that it will get to the people who really need it, and regarding other 1970’s tower blocks – “We will do everything in our power to make sure these buildings are safe”. That said, the overwhelming message from the media is of the authorities failing to take notice, of both Sadiq Khan and the Prime minister being heckled in public. In the middle of this, Mr Corbyn is seen hugging people, giving the human touch that is so badly needed.

The BBC talks about misreading the “national mood”. Certainly, a mood has developed as surely as it did in the days after Diana’s death but we must be careful that this is not something exploited by the press.

It is relatively easy to say the right thing. In a media age, it is important to be seen doing the right thing. It is no good being told by others that the PM is “distraught” about the fire. The election is over and this is not a time to be playing for votes- what we need in times of crisis is the political machine to move seamlessly to support the individuals hurt and to be shown to do so. People need to feel reassured, not simply told that they are reassured. Mr Portillo did a brief interview criticising the PM because “she didn’t use her humanity. She met the emergency service, a good thing to do no doubt…” As Michael Portillo knows, there is more fluidity between people of differing parties in Westminster that we can possibly guess. He has famously got a good relationship with Diane Abbott, going back years before they share a tv sofa. What he and others should be calling for, at this time, is a more co-ordinated approach across the political divisions. There is a need for displays of humanity as well as the raw stuff of making money and services available to victims and getting answers. All of this is needed but mostly, we need a display of unity. We need an uplifting massage of calm, not a continued and subversive election campaign and certainly not an underhand leadership campaign.

As in Machester, it falls to the Queen once again, who does the job of leading the Nation impeccably.

Grenfell aftermathTIM

 

 

Arlene Foster

Many things worry me about the prospect of an alliance with the DUP, -or with ulster unionists at all but then, if the Ulster Unionist party was good enough for Enoch Powell, and for many years took the Conservative whip in the Commons- well…

Of course by the 1980s, Powell was fighting the newly formed DUP as well as other parties in Northern Ireland. Ian Paisey was particularly scathing, I think, about his “anglo-Catholicism”. And indeed what remains of the UPP would see itself as quite distinct from the DUP. The UPP has recently refused to get involved with power-sharing in Stormont anyway and in this last election lost its last two seats. It could be argued then that the public voted for people who might come together and negotiate, rather than grandstand and abstain.

Enoch Powell is greatly eclipsed by his own rivers of blood speech, and his departure from the Conservatives in 1974, when he endorsed the labour party over his own. But I recall him as a genial and highly articulate man.

I think his speech was provocative rather than as the Times called it, “evil” and while he sued the Sunday Times for calling him “racialist”, I think, on reflection, he had certainly lapsed into the language of racism. But his speech is a benchmark against which today we can judge what is and what is not acceptable. I think also (a) his speech spurred our country towards greater integration and (b) he was not himself racist or prejudiced. As for his views on Europe, well, the country seems to have caught up with him. His campaign against the EEC in the fisrt Referendum would endear him to many today.

But I would hold him to be one of the great orators of teh 20th Century and a great thinker. It does not mean I agree with what he said, but it does mean that I am less inclined today to dismiss the DUP deal than I might have been …

But their views worry me,

And I wonder quite how a British Government can remain impartial as the peace deal in Northern Ireland plays out if it is so tied to one of the main parties.

Arlene Foster by TIM

Lulzim Basha

An election takes place on Sunday 25th: The Democratic Party in opposition to Edi Rama is now led by Basha, the person who succeeded Rama as mayor of Tirana. Since my last visit there has been a good deal of change around Skanderbeg square- some of the central grass area expanded and an argument over how much or whether there should be traffic allowed. Anyway, the election rages and Rama is guided by Tony Blair’s team headed by Alastair Campbell. Cherie Blair is also involved in a court case with the US company Rapiscan about border controls.

Lulzim Basha by TIM

 

Here is my picture of an Ottoman bridge in Tirana:

ottoman bridge by TIM.jpeg

 

 

EDI RAMA

When I was last in Tirana, I tried to make a record of the buildings coloured in what appears to be Dazzle Camouflage by their Mayor, Edi Rama, elected at 36 in 2000. Since 2013, he has been the Socialist Prime Minister and now I believe is taking advice from Alistair Campbell as he seeks re-election and entry to Europe.

EDI Rama by TIM.jpg

The picture below showing the Mayor’s offices was finished a few weeks’ later as I was recovering from a botched Appendectomy in Oxford. I stepped off the plane from Tirana complaining of food-poisoning by BA. Instead, my appendix burst and I had to deal with peritonitis. I went back a couple of times after this I think and there should soon be enough sketches to complete our EDWARD LEAR film about a journey from Istanbul to Albania in 1848. The film will copmpare the views Lear drew with the smae views drawn over the last 15 years. The views of the various sketches will be interrupted by musical numbers based on Lear’s poems and set by David Watson in a style that should recapture the spirit of the 19th Century music hall. Throughout the film, an animated Edward Lear will deliver some sort of commentary… I hope this will end up as the very first fully-animated documentary.

One of the first things Edi Rama did as mayor was to restore the Ethem Bey Mosque which can be glimpsed here. Lear drew at least two views of the Mosque, then surrounded by trees.

Tirana-Skanderbeg square and etham Bey by TIM

woodrow wilson and edi rama by TIM.jpg

 

President Aleksandar Vučić

Here is a quick picture of the absurdly tall Aleksandar Vučić, long-time PM in Serbia and just recently elected President to succeed his mentor Tomislav Nikolić, with a huge majority that would have made our own PM proud! He was sworn in about 10 days’ ago in a ceremony attended by the Serbian Patriarch in Belgrade’s Andrica Venac so this picture is a bit late. That his friends and enimies both make reference to him as assuming the mantle of Tito should worry the West, but it does not seem to have done so far. And anyway, he has impeccable english! I hesitate to mention a number of scandals, from a misplaced loyalty to Ratko Mladic and a savage attack on the journalist Slavko Ćuruvija who was then murdered in what his wife alleged was some sort of state-sponsored assassination. He even managed to divorce his first wife (mother of Danilo and Milica) and marry his second just in time for her to give birth to his son. Well, this is the man who had famously implemented State censorship for Slobodan Milošević. But he assures the West that his views have changed.

While he has a good relationship with Angela Merkel, playing a very positive role in Kosovo, he seems to be alone in the EU area resisting sanctions on Russia, and in return he has options to invest in new Russian missiles. Missiles aside, what he says he wants is EU accession and greater regional stability.

serbian PM by TIM

Leo Varadkar, the Taoiseach

Here is a picture of Leo Varadkar who is set to succeed Enda Kenny and become Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister. In 2015, he came out as gay, boosting the yes campaign for same sex marriage. His father is Indian and his mother Irish and the whole family, including his rather dashing partner Dr Matt Barrett, all seems to be involved in Medicine. Indeed, Leo was a GP before he went on to become a councillor and stand for election to the parliament. Assuming the opposition does not block Leo’s accession to the Taoiseach, he will be the second openly gay Prime minister in Europe. His party’s power is fairly fragile but we need friends in Ireland if we are to make the Northern Ireland border work following Brexit.

leo VARADKAR by TIm.jpg

 

Alex Cruz BA

On his 50th birthday, Alex Cruz had an Airbus named after him. He had already founded an airline (Clickair in 2006) He was being thanked for his approachability and his public relations’ brilliance. But last week, 75,000 passengers were stuck in Heathrow and Gatwick and across the globe while he fiddled like Nero. First he hid from interviews for two days and then, having got a spokesman to confirm that “he’s very tech-savvy” and very self confident, he was wheeled out to deny that there had been a cyber attack (the easy option) and to deny that recent cuts and outsourcing were to blame for the lack of any usable back-up systems. That rather leaves himself exposed.

It may be a while before BA name a plane after their current boss.

I wonder how much it costs to fly back to Bilbao in a hurry?

alex Cruz BA by TIM.jpg