The 1st Earl of Iveagh left Kenwood house – on the edge of Hampstead Heath in north London – to the nation
It sounds like a Victorian novel. In fact, it's Kenwood, an Adam house of perfect proportions built in the late 18th century on the edge of Hampstead Heath in north London, together with its contents, which include some of the world's finest paintings, among them probably the greatest of Rembrandt's self-portraits. It was left to the nation by the eponymous 1st Earl of Iveagh, who had snatched the house from under the noses of the developers a few years before his death in 1927. On Thursday it reopens after a major restoration intended to bring it closer to the earl's original stipulation of making the home of an 18th-century artistic gentleman open to everyone. As the backdrop to some of the agonising encounters between Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, it became globally famous. But thousands of Londoners already knew it as the setting for annual outdoor concerts. Iveagh's fortune came from Guinness. Buy that man a pint.
It is time to turn down the volume of simplistic nationalist rhetoric and to pursue pragmatic dialogue
Is it Europe before the first world war or the second? Analysts disagree, but all see the escalation of military threats between the two industrial giants China and Japan over disputed islands in the East China Sea with growing alarm. The latest crisis was caused by China's decision to extend its "air defence identification zone" (ADIZ) over a group of uninhabited islands which Japan calls the Senkakus and China knows as the Diaoyutai. Several overflights later, not least by a pair of US B-52 bombers, and nothing much has changed, except that a hairtrigger that originally was to be measured in hours and governed by the speed of boats, has now become a matter of seconds.
Few can say what prompted the latest Chinese move. This is a time when the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, is attempting to drive major economic reform and the announcement may be a sop to the military, when its voice in the national debate could be weakening. It is hard to avoid the conclusion, though, that the declaration was a way of testing the waters for a reaction – which they duly got. The state-run China Daily accused Japan and the US of overreacting, saying that if the world's sole superpower needed multiple ADIZs to fend off perceived threats, China should be allowed theirs. Besides, they claimed the measure was not targeted at any particular country.
This is not how it is seen in Japan, which has witnessed a growing number of confrontations, or "incidents", over islands in which Beijing showed little interest for much of the last decade. For Japan, the dispute over the islands is part of a major naval push to extend China's maritime influence beyond the first island chain of the Pacific. China claims the status quo was changed by Japan's decision to nationalise the islands. What they don't want to admit is that this was done to stop the islands being used by Japanese nationalists on madcap flag waving stunts.
The land to which the islands are closest is neither Japan nor China, but Taiwan – with which Tokyo has few problems. Last year Taiwan showed the way out of these disputes by signing an agreement with Tokyo which sidestepped the issue of sovereignty and divided the fisheries to mutual benefit. This model, first applied in the North Sea, is the only rational way out of these disputes – although it is not one that Britain is particularly keen on applying to the Falklands. China and Japan agreed in 2008 to co-operate on the joint development of the East China Sea. Further talks have never been pursued and, to date, not even a hotline exists between the two powers to avert another incident in the sea or in the air. It is time for people in China and Japan to turn down the volume of simplistic nationalist rhetoric and to pursue pragmatic dialogue.
Successive governments have manoeuvred themselves into a political dead end
There is a dangerous silence at the heart of the migration debate: the sound of someone making a different case. What emerges is less an exchange of views, more a wall of noise which makes voters more anxious, not less. Politicians feel driven to make ever-bolder promises. The end result is not voter satisfaction but voter scepticism about the limits of political action.
It is easy to see why politicians are so worried. Each new poll shows a growing hostility to more migration. With the rapid approach of the new year, the day that the interim measures restricting Romanian and Bulgarian immigration are lifted, public opinion has been stoked to fever pitch. In the past week, polls in two right-leaning newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times, have reported huge majorities in favour of maintaining the measures. Nearly 50 backbench Tory MPs have signed a motion saying the same thing. Renegotiating EU treaties to return control of national borders to national governments is now top of the wishlist for EU reform. And a poll in the Tory-held constituency of Thanet reveals backbenchers' worst nightmare: a surge in Ukip support that splits the vote and lets Labour in. Meanwhile, the former Labour home secretary Jack Straw has been apologising for his government's decision not to introduce interim measures to restrict the number of Poles who came to work in the UK after accession in 2004 – something no major party advocated – and now the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, matches and sometimes exceeds every Tory commitment to restrict migration.
Successive governments have manoeuvred themselves into a political dead end. The impact of the unanticipated influx of Poles and other nationals from eastern Europe, and the immediate impact on public services, has stifled proper discussion ever since. It is rarely pointed out that in 2004 Britain was the biggest EU country not to introduce interim measures. Poles, unable to go to Germany or France to work, came here instead. The result – as most people recognise – has been good for the economy. But the folk memory is of a crisis that politicians were far too slow to acknowledge. Gordon Brown's notorious "bigoted woman" remark came to symbolise in particular a Labour disregard for the real experience of people who should have been natural supporters. The discourse ever since has been relentlessly negative, leaving opinion out of line with the evidence – most people think migration is bad for the economy and that immigration is rising a lot, neither of which is true, while only a fifth know that the Conservatives have pledged to halve net migration. But surveys also find that the hostility is abstract not personal, and as long as they appear self-sufficient, migrants are welcome. LSE research actually finds that ethnically diverse communities in London are more resilient than others. It seems likely that migration has become the proxy for a deeper anxiety about living standards, jobs and public services.
In this fantasy world, it is quite logical to want to find ways to shut migrants out, and since the EU is perceived to be the main source of migration (rather than the Asian subcontinent, which is in fact where most new migrants are from), then it should be against Europe that action is taken. Hence the latest moves to restrict access to benefits and tighten "habitual residence tests" that Ms Cooper reasonably pointed out should have been taken months ago in order to be in force from next January – if they were to be taken at all.
As before, they are mainly window dressing, more windmills tilted at in order to buy off public concern: some, like the six-month limit on jobless benefits, are already in place, while the evidence suggests that few EU migrants claim benefits anyway. Other measures risk a stand-off in the European courts. But in the current mood of political consensus they go unchallenged. As a nationalist right gains strength across Europe, the old nasty party must not be allowed to capture the country.