POLITICS DIGEST - 11.03.18
By Alex Beard
I apologise for a slightly later and slightly shorter Politics Digest this week - Andrew Marr's beaten me to it. It goes without saying that there's nothing funny to be said about the horrific poisoning of a respected member of the British public and former Russian spy, who has been the subject of the dominant news story this week.
The tragic case of Sergei Skripal
Although not necessarily a political story on the surface, the poisoning of former Russian agent Aergei Skripal, who later defected to MI6, and his daughter, could have wide-reaching diplomatic implications. Skripal was arrested and imprisoned for treason in Russia but later returned to the UK in a spy swap and has lived in Salisbury, a town in Devon in South-West England since 2010. Considered safe due to his release, he and his daughter were spotted lying unconscious on a bench and taken to hospital, where it was later identified that they had been poisoned by a nerve agent - substances, of which sarin is an example, having been described as the 'agent of states' due to their complexity, meaning they can only be made by highly trained professionals in controlled environments. The case, which mirrors closely that of Alexander Litvinenko - Russian turned British spy whose tea was contaminated with Polonium, leading him to die in hospital - is suspected to be linked to the Kremlin, and a display of what Russia can do to those who disagree with them, with no regard for diplomacy or who is killed (a police officer who arrived at the scene was also in a critical condition in hospital). Boris Johnson suggested that England boycott the World Cup, to be held in Russia later this year, but this was dismissed by many MPs; the Foreign Secretary has taken somewhat of a back seat on this issue, with Home Secretary Amber Rudd having communicated the most - she called a meeting of Emergency Committee COBRA. Alongside investigations into Russian interference in European elections, this could cause the diplomatic rift between Russia and the West to widen.
Two of the biggest egos in world politics, and arguably the biggest threats to world peace, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, are to meet for the first time in what will most probably become one of the defining moments of Trump's presidency. The invitation extended by North Korea's despotic leader was relayed through South Korean officials to Trump, who swiftly accepted and followed the successful Pyongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, in which athletes from both North and South competed under the same flag, signifying a possible thawing in relations. The President reports that the ending of the DPRK's nuclear programme is on the table, the significance of which would be hard to overstate, but which seems unlikely given the history of the rogue nation and Trump's threats to bomb the country into oblivion were they to make any sort of provocation only a few months ago. The world waits...
As the atrocious pun preceding this bit of text would suggest, Theresa May has welcomed Saudi officials to the UK in a state visit, albeit one that has proven deeply controversial. Despite having very close ties to the US, the country has an appalling human rights record - including draconian views on women's and gay rights- and is currently accused of war crimes in its involvement in the civil war in Yemen, where millions of civilians are starving on top of a recent cholera outbreak. Despite this, International Development Secretary Penny Mourdant agreed to co-operate with the country on development aid, and the two countries are, diplomatically speaking, closer than ever.
Berlusconi's back (Sort of)
Before I indulge you with the results, you might want to look back at last week's briefing for more information on the various parties competing in the Italian elections for the lower and upper chambers that took place last Sunday, which left Italy deeply divided, with a hung parliament and a legislature dominated by populist right-wing parties. The largest single party, which amassed 33% of the vote, was the 'Five Star Movement' - anti-establisment and anti-immigration, it ran a campaign rich in sentiment but lacking in policy. The xenophobic 'League' did much the same, and they became the largest party in Berlusconi's right-of-centre coalition, voted for by 37% of the electorate, not giving them the 40% needed to form a government. Falling to a meagre 19%, Italy's centre-left Democratic Party, previously the ruling force, was lead by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who swiftly resigned, leaving it - like the SPD in Germany - significantly weakened.
Das neue Bundeskabinett
The SPD has voted for a new incarnation of the Grand Coalition, despite significant opposition and after having put forward its candidates for ministerial positions, had completed the new government. Look out for my article about it on the Languages page in the next week or so.