The MT Diary

Dodging Zimmer frames in Las Vegas; Charles Clarke's after-Blair speech; Amato regrets.

by Howard Davies
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I suppose the excuse might be that it was off season. Nonetheless, Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas seemed an odd place for America's business schools to hold their annual Deanfeast.

It must be 30 years since I last visited the strip. Everything has changed. The hotels are humungous. The taxi video on the way in from the airport claimed that five of the world's six largest hotels are in Vegas. That seems plausible. There is a pyramid, a sphinx and the Eiffel Tower. There are cobbled streets from Paris, and a Roman forum.

Yet, at night, nothing has changed. The two big shows on offer - both sold out - were Elton John and the Moody Blues, who were well past their peak when I last called in. The never-ending Celine Dion shriek-show hit town the day after I left. I couldn't get to the airport fast enough.

No doubt, when the megacasino is finished in a decade or so, the Moodys will play Manchester. There is already, oddly, a direct Manchester-Las Vegas flight, with ample room for guitars and Zimmer frames.

Back home, I made a rare visit to the cinema. I went only because I had a personal interest in the show. It was a tour of the inside of my knee, which looked like a scene from an underwater Jacques Cousteau video. Wispy bits of detached ligament swayed in the tide as strange creatures glided by.

The wreck on the ocean floor was my cartilage, which came off second best in a collision with a squash court. It looks as though that chapter of my sporting life may have drawn peacefully to a close. But, though I have missed the cut again for the cricket world cup, pre-season nets start in a week or two. For my re-constructed knee, it's a race against time.

For the prime minister, too, perhaps.He continues to pop out new policies - the ones Gordon Brown doesn't like - every week or two. The latest was a scheme to help universities raise money by offering £200 million from the Government to match cash given by private donors. With a cap of £2 million per institution, the scheme will not change our way of life, but it ought to help. Donors like a 'two for one' deal. I only hope this wheeze survives the change of prime minister.

But, more generally, what will life after Blair be like? We have been trying to find some answers. Former home secretary Charles Clarke came to the LSE to talk about his ideas for taxation and spending, topics that are usually ruled out of bounds by the Treasury. Clarke is boldly trying to ensure that there is at least some debate about the policies of a future Brown government. It seems a worthwhile endeavour while almost everyone else is concentrating on what they'll be wearing at the coronation.

Although there may be a touch of the lame ducks about Blair, at least he has not been voted out of office yet, unlike Italy's Romano Prodi, whose relationship with our prime minister is on the cooler side of frosty.

Prodi's minister of the interior, Giuliano Amato, popped in the other day in a brave attempt to revive the EU constitution. He was deputy chairman of the convention that drafted it under former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Amato, one of Europe's most sophisticated politicians, charmingly acknowledged the mistake they had made in calling their draft a constitution, which frightened the horses in France and the Netherlands (and would certainly have done so here). Clearly, it was what economists call a category error. We should now, he thinks, be talking instead about a reform treaty. In other words, something that simply amends the existing treaties - nothing to worry about at all, really. But he was uncompromising on the need to reform EU governance.

What were Blair's views now on the constitution, he was asked? Not of great consequence, was the rough response. After all, Blair will personally be out of office before the issue is resolved.

Amato then hopped on a plane back to Rome, to find that he himself was voted out of office the next day. The Prodi government came back again a few days later - the 61st Italian government formed since 1945 - but there is another foreign-policy vote in prospect, on Italian troops in Afghanistan, which could bring the 62nd administration quite soon. They do things differently in Rome.

And in Paris, too, it seems. The presidential election debates on the economy are increasingly surreal to our ears. While they do not agree on a great deal, Sarko and Sego both think that much of the blame for French unemployment can be laid at the door of the European Central Bank. When it is argued that interest rates are still very low in the eurozone, it turns out that the ECB should also be engineering a fall in the euro against the dollar to help French industry. Just how to pull off this interesting trick is not explained.

Only UDF leader Francois Bayrou says things that would be recognisable to a British audience, on either side of the political spectrum, and he seems to have little chance of progressing beyond the first round.

France is still the only northern-hemisphere rugby team with any chance of winning the world cup, however. How irritating. Howard Davies is the director of the London School of Economics.

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