READ THE EDITOR’S HIGHLIGHTS FREE INSIDE THIS ISSUE
This week’s highlights, accessible by non-subscribers:
p1 Cover: Revolution in the air Anne Applebaum, Paul Kennedy, Rod Liddle and Charles Moore on the West’s uncertain Libyan mission p3 Leader: Osborne can go further p4-5 Contents p7 Portrait of the week p9 Diary: Gideon Rachman p20-21 The Gorbachev files: Peter Stroilov p32 Any other business: Martin Vander Weyer p33 Books & Arts: opening page p36 A grief ago: Anne Chisholm p37 Glutton for punishment: Michael Jacobs p44 Olden but golden: Charles Spencer p45 Opera: Michael Tanner p65 Low life: Taki
Swipe horizontally to move from story to story, or tap the screen to bring up the navigation controls. Swiping the page previews will take you to the next available page.
LET US KNOW WHAT YOU THINK OF OUR APP, OUR WEBSITE, THE MAGAZINE, AND ANYTHING ELSE YOU LIKE. EMAIL: email@example.com
26 March 2011 ❘ £3.20
www.spectator.co.uk ❘ est. 1828
ZonE € 5
. E uro
. uaE aED32
. Export pr
Revolution in the air
Anne Applebaum, Paul Kennedy, Rod Liddle and Charles Moore on the West’s uncertain Libyan mission
Ed Smith: Hurrah for amateurs
Gorbachev’s dark secrets
The world’s best pianist
COVER_26 March 2011_The Spectator_ 1
SUBSCRIBE AND RECEIVE FREE iPAD ACCESS to the full edition every week
FREE DELIVERY of the printed magazine every week
FREE MEMBERSHIP OF SPECTATORPLUS, giving you access to exclusive events and discounted offers
JUST £12 FOR YOUR FIRST 12 ISSUES SUBSCRIBE AT: www.spectator.co.uk/subscribe established 1828
Osborne can go further
Every time George Osborne has been in serious trouble, he has produced a tax cut — and it has worked perfectly. He did it again in his budget, and the reception was rapturous. Herein lies a clue. It is not just that Britain is horribly overtaxed. The battle the Chancellor is now fighting is very different to the one he prepared for. Inflation stands at its most destructively high levels for 20 years, decimating the value of savings and depressing living standards. Anxiety about cuts has been supplanted by fear about the cost of living. More than anything else, the Chancellor needs to be able to say, ‘I am on your side’. Nothing does this more eloquently than a tax cut.
This also applies to companies. His welcome 2p reduction in corporation tax — twice what he had planned — sends a clear statement that Britain knows it must compete for people in a globalised marketplace. Many of the other schemes he announced — entrepreneurs’ relief, tax simplification, a planning overhaul — are welcome. But they sit ill beside a 50p top rate of tax, the fourthhighest on the planet. The Chancellor again said this tax is temporary — but his decision to increase it to an effective 52p (by raising National Insurance) sends its own message.
Last autumn, the Chancellor laid out what purported to be a five-year plan. But as he said in his budget speech, a ‘responsible government is able to listen and respond’. And what it needs to respond to now is high inflation, which, as he admitted, will be with us for at least two years. Letting inflation run suits unscrupulous governments, because it reduces the real value of debt. It also helps sharpen the cuts. Or in Osborne’s case, lets him spend a little more. Before the budget, he was due to cut total spending by 5 per cent over four years. Now he will do so by 3.1 per cent. Osborne has scope to go far further, since the cuts now average just 0.8 per cent a year. Few companies or households have managed to get away with cutting their budgets by a smaller amount.
As Osborne will know, any political benefit from Britain’s inflation — now the worst in western Europe — will be outweighed by the misery and resentment it brings. When living standards fall, governments tend to follow. Granting tax cuts to cope with the cost of living is an expensive business, and for every £1 of tax relief granted in this week’s budget, £1 of taxes were raised elsewhere. It is often forgotten that companies cannot pay tax, only people can — whether through higher prices, or directly. Even North Sea taxes have a habit of filtering down to the high street. A budget which does not reduce the tax burden overall can only shift misery, not reduce it.
It is difficult to produce tax cuts when there is a massive deficit. It’s easier to cut state spending, which over the last decade expanded faster than in any other country. It says something that, after all the political pain of the spending cuts, public spending will be brought back to where it was in 2008. The Chancellor has the language and direction precisely right. But he can go far further, and faster, along the road he has chosen.
After the revolution
As the war for Libya’s future is underway, the battle for a free Egypt is steadily being lost. The struggle is between liberal Facebookers and Islamic Holy Bookers — and the latter seem to be winning.The results of last weekend’s referendum point to a simple truth: the internet was fine as a tool for gathering a few hundred thousand youths in Tahrir Square and dazzling the western media. But it is largely useless as a means of winning elections across large swathes of Egypt, where three quarters of the population have no internet connection at all.
The conditions have proved perfect for the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood ran an aggressive and disciplined campaign, declaring it a religious duty for all Muslims to vote ‘yes’ to a quick and dirty patch-up of the constitution — paving the way for parliamentary and presidential elections in the next few months.The referendum turnout was a dismal 40 per cent. For all their online presence, the Egyptian twitterati have yet to organise themselves into coherent political entitles. The liberal parties now taking shape are chronically fragmented, badly organised, overwhelmingly urban and lacking in leadership.
Egypt now seems set to fall to a party whose slogan is ‘Islam is the solution’ and whose blueprint for government is terrifythe spectator | 26 March 2011 | www.spectator.co.uk ingly similar to Iran’s. Those who cheered the Egyptian revolution did so in the naive hope that the end of history is still nigh — that western-style democracy is on the brink of an irrevocable triumph. But liberal democracy will not replace despotism as readily as many politicians in Washington and London might hope. Power, once devolved, is often seized by the best-organised groups, not necessarily the most popular — we have seen this from St Petersburg to Basra. David Cameron is right to have forestalled Gaddafi’s planned massacre of the Libyan rebels. But as he knows, it would be foolish to make any wider claims about bringing liberty to the region.