January 24th, 2013
05:57 PM GMT
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London (CNN) – “Let’s stop all this talk of two-speed Europe, of fast lanes and slow lanes, of countries missing trains and buses, and consign the whole weary caravan of transport metaphors to a permanent siding.”

The irony is unmistakeable, but this was a serious call to plain speaking. David Cameron’s words, delivered early on in his seminal speech on Britain’s in the European Union, came as a cruel blow to those of us spending our days attempting to illustrate each tiny increment of this crisis with a language that often falls short.

Read more: Cameron promises referendum on Britain's place in Europe

The consequences are difficult to contemplate. We must wave goodbye to the train of European federalism, end all talk of capital flight, and as for the good ship QE…well, she will be consigned to the scrapyard of mere acronyms. And once you do that, there’s no going back. It’s a one-way ticket.

Much like the prospect of Britain leaving the EU, the potential mortality of our metaphors leaves us with a nagging doubt. Can we survive without this linguistic safety net? No sooner had Cameron finished speaking, the cries of protest against a “Europe a la carte” started up, and the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius hit back with a sporting salvo: “Imagine Europe is a football club and you join, but once you're in it you can't say, 'Let's play rugby.'” Had he simply said, “you can’t pick and choose your European experience,” we probably wouldn’t have remembered.

November 12th, 2010
02:30 PM GMT
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It didn't look much like sleeping rough. But it certainly felt like it.

More than 400 people slept out in a covered market in the heart of London's financial district to raise money for one of the city's main homeless charities, Centrepoint. There was food, drink, live music, even the odd famous face. There were cardboard boxes, and sacks to sleep on, and everyone brought a sleeping bag. But it's November, Britain is in the grip of some quite violent winds. And the one thing there wasn't was heating.

At around 2 a.m. I encountered a dilemma. My nose was in danger of going numb, but I couldn't find a way of covering it without cutting off my oxygen supply. I pulled my highly inadequate, fluorescent pink sleeping bag over my head, and hoped for the best.

A little while later, the dilemma spread to my feet. I had smuggled in a hot water bottle (hoping to avoid the ritual cries of "cheat" from the other participants) but it was now stone cold. Adding more socks would involve several moments of facing the elements minus sleeping bag. Again I found myself unprepared to make this decision, and opted for doing nothing.

The night ended, much as it had started. With a decision. To go to work, or not to go to work. I knew the whole point was to go. To see what it was like to live on little or no sleep and to take on the same challenges – just with a lot less strength. This was the one decision I made, and made right.

Sub-zero temperatures aside, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this experience. It was highly organized, safe, and luckily it was a novelty. I'd also be lying if I said I experienced an epiphany about the life of a homeless person. I still wouldn't presume to understand what it's really like. But when I next see someone sleeping rough I might stop and wonder how many night-time dilemmas they encountered, and if they found a way out.

The Centrepoint Sleepout 2010 raised over $200,000 dollars to help young homeless people.

September 30th, 2010
04:39 PM GMT
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London, England – It’s like food. Some of us have too much. Some of us have too little. Now the housing market is showing the same gaping imbalances.

Take Ireland. At the root of the current banking crisis was a massive property bubble. Irish house price inflation and homebuilding trumped most of Europe in the decade to 2005. Incomes and population were going up, household size was going down. Demand for new homes was rampant. But not permanent.

We might, with some degree of irony, call this the financial version of the Greek tragedy. Inevitably (at least with hindsight) the bubble burst. Now Ireland has more than 100,000 more homes than it needs. Next stop, demolition.

But the problem is equally tragic in reverse. Cross the Irish Sea, or journey to Europe’s easternmost point and you’ll see why. Homebuilding in Britain fell to its lowest level in 87 years last year. The government admits there’s a huge gap between supply and demand, leading to overcrowding.

Over in Russia, Prime Minister Putin said this month that in order to make enough housing for everyone, the country needs to build "100,000 square meters a year."  The budget for this is nearly $14 billion.

It’s a bleak comparison. For those counting the square meters in Moscow’s Khrushchev-era apartment blocks, life in Ireland’s ghost estates might look like heaven. But many of us who are a little luckier would struggle to decide which is worse.

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Filed under: BusinessQuest Means Business

September 7th, 2010
04:19 PM GMT
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Flagship British company. American CEO. Where have we heard that before?

New Barclays CEO Bob Diamond (left) and BP counterpart Bob Dudley.
New Barclays CEO Bob Diamond (left) and BP counterpart Bob Dudley.

Bob Diamond’s appointment as CEO of Barclays comes barely a month after Bob Dudley was named as the new CEO of the embattled oil giant, BP.

The circumstances are obviously very different. One company is paying for the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The other is – as far as any bank can be in the current climate – a bailout-free success story.

But what can we learn from the rise of the two Bobs?

Perhaps that the concept of a British or an American company, or any other nationality for that matter, is now void.

In this time of mergers and takeovers the so-called “nationality” of corporations is being diluted.

BP has not been British Petroleum for nine years. A large proportion of its shareholders and employees are American.

And Barclays has swallowed up much of what was the American investment bank Lehman Brothers. If you need any more proof this is the state of things to come, just look at the airline industry.

There’s no getting around it. The corporate world is getting smaller, and Messrs Diamond and Dudley are reaping the rewards.

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