The Great Debate UK
Where is the Arab Spring leading the Middle East? What will be the longer-term outcome of the popular protests that have shaken the region since the beginning of this year? Of course, it’s still too early to say with any certainty, even in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt that succeeded in toppling their authoritarian regimes. Some trends have emerged, however, and they’re on the agenda at a conference in Venice I’m attending entitled “Medio Oriente verso dove?” (Where is the Middle East heading?). The host is the Oasis Foundation, a group chaired by Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Roman Catholic patriarch of this historic city, and guests include Christian and Muslim religious leaders and academics from the Middle East and Europe.
In one of the most interesting -- and hotly debated -- presentations, the French Islam specialist Olivier Roy described the Arab Spring as “a break with the culture and ideologies that dominated the Arab world from the 1950s until recently.” It marks a clear change in the demographic, political and religious paradigms operating there, he said. The old dichotomy of the authoritarian regime or the Islamist state has broken down, he argued, and Islam is taking on a new role in the political process. In the end, the region -- or at least the states where the Arab Spring brings real change -- could see democratic politics marked not by major efforts to establish an Islamic state but by Muslim “culture war” controversies not unlike the way hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage emerge in U.S. political debates.
Regulators are rarely accused of being too candid. But Adair Turner's observation that the financial sector is too large has seen the chairman of Britain's Financial Services Authority swamped by a wave of protest.
Executives, lobby groups and even Boris Johnson, London's Mayor, have responded with dire warnings about the risks of undermining the financial sector. This knee-jerk response shows the industry still fails to understand the consequences of the crisis it helped to cause. It is high time bankers engaged in a proper debate about their future.
So the watchdog can bark after all. Adair Turner, chairman of Britain's Financial Services Authority, says the financial sector has "swollen beyond its socially useful size". That is a striking statement for any financial regulator, particularly one that counts promoting London's financial centre as one of its goals. Identifying the problem, however, is the easy bit. Reversing decades of financial expansion will require global agreement on tough new rules, and the determination to make sure they are consistently enforced.
Turner's comments, in a debate hosted by Prospect magazine, underscore the extent to which the crisis has upended the received wisdom among policymakers. For years they assumed markets were self-correcting, that financial innovation brought lasting economic benefits, and that regulators should think twice before getting in the way.
Almost alone on the democratic world, we British have no written constitution protecting our basic civil and political rights. We have no constitutional charter defining the scope of the powers of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government or the relationship of these branches with the European Union (EU). Parliament struggles to assert its power while the government uses its ancient monarchical authority — that is the prerogative power vested in the Queen — to exercise its executive powers.