I am much divided in my mind as to whether I should devote this piece to the British elections campaign or to the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull, Iceland’s second-least pronounceable volcano. The fact that my word has come to pass-that the inclusion of the Liberal Democrats Leader, Nick Clegg in Britain’s first political leadership debate could change the political map of the country forever is strong for the first alternative: on the other hand when Britain was cut off from the rest of the world for six days (British airspace closed to air traffic) it is right that I should say a few words about the volcanic ash cloud that has cost airlines $1.7 billion.
Since my marriage some eight years ago, I have always brought flowers for my wife, at least once every two weeks. But last week, I could not get any fresh flowers from my local florist. Why? Well the pickers in Kenya were not picking any flowers and the washers too were not washing any flowers. There were no flights from Kenya.
If farmers in Kenya ever doubted that they were intricately tied into the global economy, the volcanic ash eruption has given them notice of their connection to the global economy. In six days, the Kenyan horticulture industry, which is a crucial piece of the national economy and the African continent as a whole lost over $25 million in business. On top of that, five thousand Kenyan field workers have been laid off in the past few days and it is likely that other jobs will go in the coming weeks.
Last night on the phone to South Africa, I spoke to a member of the International Chamber of Commerce, who told me that African businesses have lost over $50 million for the six days the European airspace was closed to all air-traffic.
This past Tuesday, shortly before 10pm London time, the first British Airways flights landed at Heathrow Airport. The opening of all six British airports came after aircraft and engine manufacturers changed their advice on commercial jets ability to withstand contamination from volcanic ash clouds that have grounded carriers across Europe for six days. However, government officials and transport experts have warned that the travel chaos is set to continue for several days.
As a regular flier, this whole incident has been a wake up call for those of us who now consider the world as a global village where you can just simply go from one village to another in a few hours. And it is not just fruit and vegetables or the tourist industry that has suffered. Courier companies such as DHL, Parcel Post, FedEx were all shut-down. As anyone who has ordered an electronic gadget will tell you, it is possible to track in real time the flow of high-value electronics gadgets flown across the world by these companies.
This is the second time Iceland has turned the screws on the world economy. In the autumn of 2008, it suffered an economic implosion so spectacular that the noise somehow rose above the worldwide din of financial calamity, leaving Icelanders with a $5.4 billion in i.o.u’s to British and other European depositors. At the beginning of spring 2010, for six days, the European continent to the east once again suffered from this under populated island’s outsize effect in the form of the enormous volcanic ash cloud that grounded air traffic throughout Europe and beyond.
Some will argue that the volcanic ash cloud has given us a glimpse of a world without planes. We are used to images of stranded passengers- marooned by terrorism, industrial action or perhaps just our overcrowded and under-invested aviation industry. But it is very rare for the skies to have been scoured so comprehensively as this. With the planes back up in the skies, one can also say that the sight of clear blue skies without a contrail to be seen was strangely uplifting.
Now let’s talk about the extensive cloud of political ash belching from the British Liberal Democrats party election camp since last Thursday night. Last night, the second of three 90 minutes debate took place and the public support for the Liberal Democrats continues unabated with the party leadership unfazed.
Regardless of which newspaper you read in the UK today, the message from all of the newspapers is quite clear: the bright-eyed and youthful Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, has shaken the British political kaleidoscope with such force that the country is heading for a hung parliament after so many years of a two party domination in British politics.
The Mail on Sunday’s front page headline says; “Clegg nicks the top spot,” the Financial Times decided on this;”Clegg snatches Cameron’s winning card,” and the Times of London put a touch of class on the story by describing it as the moment when “presidential politics arrived in Britain,” and ran a grainy front page photograph from 1960 of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in Chicago in the first televised American presidential election debate.
This time last year, the Conservatives were confident of wining the British general election. To them and their supporters across the country, it was a foregone conclusion that the Labour party under Prime Minister Gordon Brown is heading for a decisive defeat in the polls whenever the election is called. Indeed, I understand that the Conservative leader was already thinking about the choreography of his first 100 days in office as British Prime Minister. Fast forward the tape, that plan has been buried with David Cameron’s naked ambition and arrogance.
Today, with two of three televised debate completed, Nick Clegg is still making waves across the country and poll experts are all now predicting a hung parliament with the Liberal Democrats as the power brokers in the next British parliament. In the coming days, all gloves will be off, and one should not be too surprised if Nick Clegg suffers a Mike Tyson bite from the Conservatives as polling day approaches.
Indeed, the London Mayor Boris Johnson, a future Conservative Party leader, writing in the Daily Telegraph this week exposed the arrogance of the Conservatives and how they have taken the British voting public for granted. Mr Johnson confessed that a couple of years ago whilst having dinner with another prominent Conservative supporter, Mr Max Hastings, former editor of the Daily Telegraph, they bet a thousand pounds that the Conservatives will win the election whenever it is called by Gordon Brown.
Now with the bet drifting away, the London Mayor, whom David Cameron recently said could be a future leader of the Conservatives, cannot understand what is going on with the electoral. Mr Boris Johnson wrote that he thought his leader David Cameron won the debates but was amazed “when polls started to come in, and the news that punters overwhelmingly scored it for Cleggie.”
The Conservatives Mayor of London Boris Johnson, wrote that; “it was one of those times when there seems to be only one solution to the problems of British politics, and that is to dissolve the electorate and summon a new one.” Well now, you remember Edmund Burke’s saying that: “Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though for but one year, can never willingly abandon it.”
Mr Johnson, who was journalist before jumping into politics a few years back, cannot hide his frustration about the growing public support for the Liberal Democrats and their leader Nick Clegg. “What has happened to us all, when serious papers can start raving about ‘Prime Minster’ Clegg”? Has someone put something in the water supply?” He asked in his article in the Daily Telegraph.
With no answer forthcoming for another week, Mr Johnson went further to asked if whether “some sulphur yellow cloud descended imperceptibly from Iceland and addled our brains? Well, we will know the answers on May 6th, but now you understand why I was much divided in my mind as to whether I should devote this to the elections or to the volcanic eruption from Iceland. By Winston Ojukutu Macaulay Jnr