When Tony Blair and Madonna hit Montreal together this week, they only added to the surrealism surrounding this once in a century credit tsunami.

Tony Blair and the now oh-so-appropriately-named Material Girl breezed in to Montreal for the same days this week, each charging bucket loads for the privilege of their presence right in the middle of the economic tsunami. One was clad in fishnets, thigh-high boots, top hat and little else. The other was not. Madonna’s motorcade stopped all traffic on the main highway in from the airport causing commuter outrage. Blair’s arrival was not even mentioned – presumably he was not left sitting twiddling his thumbs in the back of an idling limo while his English compatriot sped past.

There’s very little visually these two share in common, but they are indeed survivors and they know how to draw crowds. They are of course baby-boomer contemporaries, and those who turn up in their pinstripes to a Blair lunch, are just as likely to make embarrassing spectacles of themselves at a Madonna event later that night. Most have lost count of how many times Madonna has reinvented herself, and given the matrimonial upheaval the chameleon is likely to strike again – soon. Blair, who came to power as one of Britain’s youngest Prime Ministers, served the longest in office for a Labour MP. The Third-Way guru has also reinvented himself, and while his last personification as George W Bush’s buddy did him much political harm, it definitely secured him his latest job as special envoy on the Middle East. No high-powered job is to be sneezed at these days.

The convergence of these two in Montreal added a certain surrealism to the financial background because of what they both represent – Madonna pure escapism; Blair expensive realism. Add to that they were both on show in a country which is predicting that it will, unlike the rest of the world, avoid a recession.

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney has gone as far as saying that the country will experience at worst a “sluggish growth”, and the Finance Minister believes the maple-leafed one will still present a small surplus this financial year. Carney reckons that at next month’s international financial summit in Washington DC, those attending will be thinking a little Canada would not go astray in their own banking systems.

The reason is that Canada is trés boring when it comes to banking, and boring has proven to be extremely positive. Carney is not staking his relatively new job and reputation on punting that Canada will ski on unaffected by the turmoil in the rest of the world. It won’t. The job market will succumb and the gross domestic income will fall by an estimated 1.9% next year. But the point he’s making is that when the wheels started to fall off the wagon south of the border, Canada’s fundamentals were strong. That means mortgages and the like will still be a reality for Canadians.

As Carney was preparing his statement, and no doubt the list of questions he and apparently Prime Minister Stephen Harper want answered by those widely being held responsible, the Ayn Rand devotee Alan Greenspan was testifying to the U.S. Congressional Committee investigating Wall St regulators. His mistake he conceded was having too much faith in the banks to protect their own – their very institutions and of course their shareholders. The pay-off for Greenspan's trust was precious little regulation. Greenspan it seems is shocked and can’t really understand why the meltdown happened. Shock is surely a luxury many have little time for as they come to grips with the reality... and here Blair re-enters the picture.

For a mere $450-a-plate you could have lunched with Tony Blair. Along with 999 of my closest friends I did just that – although I was merely a fill-in for someone who was invited and couldn’t make it. So even if I had been captured by aliens and convinced to pay such a sum, I didn’t have to. I could however, without sounding unthankful, suggest that if the chicken that was served had been sponsored for every kilometre it had run before it collapsed onto the plate, serious costs could have been allayed.

Blair’s message amidst the chicken that should have been stock, and the actual stock-market, was to warn against over excitement about regulation. Too much heavy-handed regulation, he advised, would stifle the entrepreneurship at the heart of the world’s successful economies. People are more crucial than governments to those economies, and Blair holds that it's people who drive globalization and we are all part of that. Globalisation is a club we all signed up to when it seemed a really good idea and, once in, it is harder to leave than to continue on and pay the fees. Even the big guys in the club were not necessarily universal names. Take Lehman Brothers. Blair told those who had long given up on their chicken that when he was getting into his car to drive to London’s airport for this trip, some guy asked him “who are these brothers anyway?” Even if it’s a convenient story, it symbolized how far removed everyday geezers are from the instigators of the havoc.

For Blair however there’s the very real issue of his new job. While having the US, the UK, the UN and Russia as bosses means his personal weekly cheque is likely to keep appearing, the area in which he’s working requires much attention and money. Diplomacy demands a lot of both. For Blair, the Middle East depends on the resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict. At the same time he made much of the rise of the East, having obviously had some very sobering sessions with the Chinese during the Beijing Games. The sheer growth potential represents a “gigantic power shift” that the West will have to work with in an “interdependent world”.

This will all be on the table at next month’s Washington summit, which Bush is already copping some flak for touting as the chance to recommit to free enterprise. The timing will see Bush take a backseat to the President-elect, and the message from Beijing this week was that what is required is a tough reform or the entire financial system.

In the meantime, to add to the surrealism of this time of economic woes are the new figures for election spending – from the Democrats. The Obama campaign is spending a cool $293,000 an hour! That’s about $7,000,000 a day, perhaps $91 million a week. That is obscene no matter which way you tip it up or shake it out. No party piggy bank should be allowed to squeal to such a degree; except there’s no squealing. This money is from the grass roots, averaging $68 per person. With it comes a definite feeling that for the sake of the world the Obama HQ should be permitted to hurl every last dime at securing the keys to the White House. Deal with the almost guaranteed accusations of “buying” the election later once it is secured.

While secretly wishing they were the sorts of superstar that Obama is ridiculed as being, Tony Blair and the Material Girl must be at least a little relieved they had secured their audiences well before the impact of what Greenspan told the inquiry was a “once in a century credit tsunami”.





Comments (3)

by Graeme Edgeler on October 27, 2008
Graeme Edgeler

the impact of what Greenspan told the inquiry was a “once in a century credit tsunami”

When we're all going to be awash with credit?

Isn't the problem a lack of liquidity? Isn't the problem with a tsunami a surfeit of liquidity?

by Tim Watkin on October 27, 2008
Tim Watkin

More a once in a century drought then?

Greenspan seems to have got his metaphors as muddled as economic philosophy.

by Ewen on October 28, 2008

"his English compatriot"... um.... Mr Blair is Scottish ;)

Post new comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.