Outside Hanna Zavorotnya’s cottage in Chernobyl’s dead zone, a hulking, severed sow’s head bleeds into the snow, its gargantuan snout pointing to the sky in strange, smug defeat.
The frigid December air feels charged with excitement as Hanna, (above) 78, zips between the outlying sheds wielding the seven-inch silver blade that she used to bring the pig to its end.
‘Today I command the parade,’ she says, grinning as she passes a vat of steaming entrails to her sister-in-law at the smokehouse, then moves off again. In one hand she holds a fresh, fist-sized hunk of raw pig fat – there is no greater delicacy in Ukraine – and she pauses now and then to dole out thin slices to her neighbours.
‘I fly like a falcon!’ says Hanna, shuttling at high speed back towards the carcass. Indeed, falcons – as well as wolves, wild boar, moose and some species not seen in these environs for decades – are thriving in the forests and villages around Chernobyl. One particular falcon, however, has not fared so well. A large grey and white specimen, it is strung up, dead, chest puffed and wings outspread against the slate sky, above Hanna’s chicken coop as a warning to its brethren. ‘He came and ate my chicken, so I beat him with a stick,’ she says.
MORNING BRIEFING – By Benedict Brogan (Daily Telegraph)
The morning’s papers are in the grip of Obama fever. The Telegraph‘s Peter Foster reports that the President has ushered in a “once-in-a-generation shift in the political landscape”, winning with “a coalition of women, minorities and the young”. This coalition could spell the end for the traditional Right, Anne Applebaum writes, claiming that the Republicans do not “deserve” to win until they produce a similar coalition. Frank Luntz, meanwhile, writes that the world’s politicians are now on alert – policy is no good without empathy. The dissenting voices can be found in the Mail, where Richard Littlejohn argues that Mr Obama’s triumph was one for “entitlement culture…fear and loathing”. Peter Oborne, writing in the Telegraph, argues that this is a good result for Mr Cameron, but a bad one for the Tory grass-roots:
“Mr Cameron’s sympathy with Barack Obama, unlike Tony Blair’s understanding with George Bush, has never been based on cynical power worship, or even pragmatism. It stems from a genuine ideological sympathy, despite the fact that many of President Obama’s ideas, for instance on human rights, are far more Right-wing than anything the Conservatives would countenance.”
Westminster wonks will take pleasure in the adulation afforded to blogger Nate Silver by the Times (£) for the accuracy of his pre-poll predictions. In the Guardian , Douglas Alexander argues that Labour could learn from the Democrat’s campaign model and emphasise the lack of credibility the Prime Minister has when empathising with the straightened times facing the nation. Nicholas Watt, meanwhile, reports that Dave will use Mitt Romney’s campaign to quash the resurgent Right in his own party. As I wrote in my blog:
“Social liberalism wins votes. No10 looks at the overnight trends in the US and finds vindication for Mr Cameron’s championing of gay marriage and message of tolerance on difficult issues. They look at the decapitation of the Tea Party and the demographic shift towards the Democrats and they see justification for the kind of compassionate conservatism Mr Cameron has adopted…”
Perhaps of more significance than any of this is the reaction of the markets – they tanked. With the edge of the fiscal cliff approaching, the economy election will need to provide economic solutions before too long.
EU NEED US
Last night’s talks between Angela Merkel and David Cameron at Downing Street to not appear to have been particularly productive. The Prime Minister is hemmed in by the recent Commons vote and personal pledges on the EU budget, the Germans do not consider the issue a major priority. If there is a deal there to be done, it will take some spotting. That said the Sun believes it has detected some desperation on the German side, headlining its report “Merk begs UK to stay in EU”. Mrs Merkel had said that “I cannot imagine that the UK would not be part of Europe.” The Mail, meanwhile, focuses on Mrs Merkel’s claim that Britain would not be happy on its own in the world. Helpfully, the paper includes the latest news from Athens (riots, as you ask), to show how happy people can be inside the EU.
TA TO TAKE 40 DAYS OFF WORK A YEAR
Philip Hammond will set out the future of the Territorial Army in a speech this morning which has been heavily trailed in the FT (£) and the Times. Mr Hammond will propose to double reserve numbers to 30,000, to compensate for cutting one fifth of the regular army over the next eight years. In a decade’s time, it is anticipated that fully one third of front-line forces will be reservists. Mr Hammond will also announce plans to increase the number of days spent on reservist training from 35 to 40 days a year. As for the makeup of the reserves, it might look quite a lot like the conventional army as the Times (£) indicates that Mr Hammond will try to lure veteran officers into the TA once they retire by offering up to £15,000 as a golden handshake.
CLEGG SQUASHES HARMAN AT PMQS
The quad are in negotiation over how to handle George Osborne’s anticipated announcement on December 5th that the Coalition will fail to meet its debt targets, the FT (£) reports. Nick Clegg will have improved his negotiating somewhat by achieving something Dave seldom manages at PMQs, uniting the Tory benches behind him. Or rather, perhaps it was the fact that his opponent was Harriet Harman that brought them together. As Ann Treneman reports in the Times (£), the Deputy Prime Minister was on vintage form:
“I have never seen the Tories give so much support to Mr Clegg, who kept saying what a good job the coalition was doing on the economy. (A surprised George O patted him on the arm.)”
POT BLASTS KETTLE
One (suspended) Tory who probably wouldn’t have been cheering Mr Clegg, or Mr Obama for that matter, is Nadine Dorries. Fortunately for the DPM, she was in Australia sunning herself. Fortunate too for the red-tops. The Mirror and The Star both run unflattering pictures of a semi-clothed Nadine on their front pages. The Star thoughtfully preserves her modesty by superimposing the faces of Ant and Dec on her as she relaxed poolside. In the Guardian Louise Mensch accuses Mrs Dorries of demeaning the role of an MP:
“In the future, we will see fewer politicians thinking of George Galloway – or Dorries-esque ways to boost their “profile”. Celebrity is fleeting; laws actually matter. I envy and honour my former colleagues, on all sides, who are still making them.”
BISHOP OF DURHAM TO TAKE OVER AT CANTERBURY
Clearly stung by criticism that he is only comfortable when surrounded by former schoolmates and university chums in positions of power and influence, David Cameron will name the, er, Old Etonian, former oil plutocrat Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury. The Telegraph reports that “although Educated at Eton and Cambridge and even a member of a Pall Mall club, [the Bishop of Durham] is seen as far from an establishment figure.” In the Mail, Stephen Glover agrees:
“Here is a man who was for 11 years a high-flying oil executive, during which time he and his wife lost a very young child. He is bound to be more grounded in the real world than his donnish predecessor. Yet his religious convictions led him to swap a well-paid job for the pitiful salary of a young clergyman.”
THRASHER TO FACE THE MUSIC
Sub-heads you thought you’d seen the last of… Andrew Mitchell will be making his most high-profile public appearance since gate-gate this morning when he faces the Commons International Development Committee who want him to explain his last-gasp payments to Rwanda authorised before he left his post as International Development Secretary. The bell sounds for round one at 9:30 in the Thatcher Room of Portcullis House.
STAFF TURNOVER RENDERS WHITEHALL INEFFECTIVE
That’s the view of Sue Cameron, writing in this morning’s Telegraph. High churn rates among civil servants give rise to some staggering statistics: turnover at the Treasury is 50pc, while the department’s average age is now well under 30. As one insider is quoted as saying gloomily, “when the great crash came, only the teenagers were left in the Treasury.”
BORIS CALLS FOR CROSBY
Lynton Crosby should be given a “free hand” by the Conservatives if they want to win the next election, according to Boris Johnson. The Telegraph reports that Bo-Jo, speaking shortly after he addressed a meeting of the 1922 committee, added the party would be “mad” not to go for Mr Crosby who was “the soul of sweetness in person”.
MILIBAND FAMILY HARMONY, REDUX
He may now induce Mili-mania at every turn, but Ed Miliband has lost the support of his mother so far as child benefit goes. The Sun reports that “Marion Kozak backed plans to focus child benefit on the poorest families and single mums when she was head of the Daycare Trust charity in the mid-1990s”. Ed falling out with a family member, scarcely credible, I know…
QUESTION TIME PANEL
Tonight’s Question Time comes from Bexhill. On the panel will be Damian Green, Chuka Umunna, Shirley Williams, the Sun columnist Jane Moore and the economist Danny Blanchflower.
TWEETS AND TWITS
It’s a good job that Chris Heaton-Harris isn’t headed out to Australia:
@chhcalling: “Ate some caterpillars a while ago. For some bizarre reason I’m feeling quite nervous about it now.”
In the Telegraph
Sue Cameron – McDonald’s is beating the McMandarins
Anne Applebaum – It’s time for a big Republican clear-out
Best of the rest
Simon Heffer in the Daily Mail – New dawn? This looks more like a new dusk
David Aaronovitch in The Times (£) – Beware a modern Salem over child abuse
Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian – Two superpower leaders, two very different crises
David Pilling in the FT (£) – Xi must take on vested interests to reform China
Today: Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to set out plans for the future of Army Reserves. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to set out progress in the Government’s work on dementia.
09:30 am: Former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell gives evidence to Commons International Development Committee on UK aid to Rwanda. Thatcher Room, Portcullis House, London.
Yesterday morning, cheers were echoing round Downing Street as David Cameron’s team celebrated the re-election of Barack Obama. For once, Mr Cameron had backed a winner – and would certainly have looked exceptionally stupid had Mitt Romney won.
There are, nevertheless, vital lessons that the Prime Minister and his party urgently need to learn from the Romney defeat. The first of these concerns policy. For the past two years, Conservative Right-wingers have been urging Mr Cameron to fight the next general election from a platform they like to call “true Toryism”. They have advocated a heavily ideological programme involving a tough immigration policy, opposition to the European Union, a robust stance on law and order and a sharp shrinking of the state. Had the Republicans won, these Right-wingers would have claimed vindication. For them, Mr Obama’s victory is a disaster – because if Mr Romney’s ideas are election-losers in the US, they are likely to prove even more unpopular in Britain.