Cameron driving forward

The Conservatives’ latest ad strikes the right note; as long as they can keep their nerve and not rise to the provocations, they’ll be comfortably back in power by 2010. The ad appeals to the masses on taxes and the NHS, without alienating the wealthy. And admitting that little issue with the ERM? A masterstroke.

Yesterday, Cameron showed his tactical focus: painting Gordon Brown as an old fart (since it’s Brown he’ll be facing at the next election) while letting it be known he thinks Tony Blair is an OK bloke. If he can avoid peaking too early, he’s on course to beat PM Brown in a couple of years, and kick New Labour back into the wilderness. The plan has got off to a good start.

Happy to see you, 2006

On New Year’s Eve, I took a long walk along the Thames from Greenwich as the London sky exploded. And I felt happy.

Happy at the possibilities I’m looking at in 2006: plenty of jobs and projects coming up. At just how utterly amazing this town is; a place where you just can’t get bored, a place I’m happy to make my home. Even happy at the things I’m not happy about. Like not travelling enough. Not being fast enough in Triathlon. Not having a car, not having enough sex, having too big a balance on my Visa card. But all these things can be fixed. I’m happy because it’s important to have things to look forward to.

So welcome, 2006. It’s going to be a great year.

Stop whining, Ukraine

What a gas. I’m in two minds about Putin’s latest strongarm tactics – cutting off Ukraine’s gas supplies after they refused a price hike.

Ukraine’s been paying $50 a K for Russia’s gas – presumably mostly Siberian, with its price a hangover from Soviet times. Like many other recently independent republics, the Ukrainians are learning that you can’t keep the benefits of being a subject state when you go it alone. On the face of it, Russia’s ‘request’ (bear in mind a Russian request rarely has a No option) that they stump up $200+, in line with European customers, seems reasonable.

But like most of politics, it ultimately depends on where you draw the line in history. When countries split themselves in two (or twelve) they tend to leave disputed assets in place; the Black Sea Fleet, a web of oil pipelines, land-use rights…. with legal agreements and financial structures no less immutable for being intangible.

This stuff is the real hard work of independence – usually ignored by protesters camped out with their candles outside authoritarian architecture. Doing the numbers and the paperwork isn’t a mopping-up operation; it’s the whole show.

I wonder if the nationalists in Scotland (valid claim) and Wales (less valid) would be so enthusiastic after a proper economic impact study? Scotland’s economic viability depends entirely on where you draw the line in the oilfields; Wales isn’t a viable economic unit at all. Come to that, there are vast tracts of the North and Southwest of England that are hopelessly addicted to aid from Whitehall – and London feels more like a nation than a city, the neat line of the M25 as much a line of control as the DMZ between the Koreas.

Maybe I should declare independence for a certain 20 sq m footprint of southeast London. After all, my little mews house is a viable nation-state with legal title to its territory, high population density (equivalent to 50,000 people per sq km), a sound if slightly risky economic policy, a high PSBR but good overseas earnings to cover it, and interest rates and currency tied to its neighbouring countries. And if I ever have expansionary ambitions, the house next door is coming up for sale soon, which would double Chrisland’s surface area at a stroke.