x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Leaders' partners all a-twitter while the enemy's at the G8

First we had the Wall Street and City of London bankers, who appalled and amused us in equal measure with their hefty bonuses.

First we had the Wall Street and City of London bankers, who appalled and amused us in equal measure with their hefty bonuses, US$140,000 (Dh514,220) lunches, parchment waste paper baskets and Parisian commodes, all the while driving their firms to the very brink of bankruptcy. Then came the Detroit car chiefs, so out of touch that they flew to Washington in their private jets to demand a hand-out before being forced to return weeks later, caps in hand, in electric cars.

Finally, it was the turn of British politicians in the mother of all parliaments, who displayed venality and stupidity in equal measure and showed they were busier filling in their expense claims for duck ponds and moat cleaning than representing their constituents. Now it is the turn of the world's leaders who pitched up in Italy this week for a Roman holiday; sorry, a high-level summit. Would it be dominated by the economy, climate change, trade talks or how to create more jobs?

No. The key debate was whether the world preferred Michelle Obama or Carla Bruni. Economists, who normally split equally between fearing either inflation or deflation, now have an altogether different dilemma to resolve. I have to confess I was a Carla Bruni fan. I thought she might add a touch of rock-star glamour, but I have been disappointed. She showed up in London last year dressed top-to-toe in Dior, looking rather like an air hostess wearing an expression that said: "Get your own coffee".

Where were the leather trousers and white flowing shirt? Meanwhile her face is starting to morph; she is clearly spending too much time with Michael Jackson's plastic surgeon. On the other hand Mrs Obama is beginning to glow: from the moment she stepped out of the plane in that yellow dress with the world's favourite man, she stole the show. As Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister and clown prince of global politics, assembles his fellow leaders for the photo shoot - minus China's president Hu Jintao who has scarpered home thanks to a little local uprising - there is any number of issues that they might want to discuss.

Mr Berlusconi is grateful for any topic that keeps photos of his young friends out of the papers. Being seen with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, might even kid some of his constituents that he is a man of gravitas. And he has cobbled together an agenda that covers the financial crisis, trade liberalisation, climate change and how to have paparazzi drowned in the Trevi Fountain. OK, I made up that last one. But I wouldn't be surprised to see it passed if it gets on the agenda.

Meanwhile, these great new communications tools such as Twitter and blogs only reveal the sheer banality of what is occurring in Italy. Sarah Brown, the wife of the British prime minister, has decided to adopt the role of Carla Bruni's big sister. If she can't compete on the outfits, she is leaving a running commentary on her blog. But does anyone believe that she writes it, rather than a pimply intern in an office in Reading? "Up at the crack of dawn to set off for the G8 in Italy!" she wrote, seemingly blissfully unaware that she sounds just like The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾.

Then she arrives. What does she do? "His Holiness greeted 50,000 people for his weekly audience before granting me and the other spouses to our own smaller audience. We then were treated to a tour of the beautiful Basilica gardens before heading off for a wonderful lunch hosted by the Mayor of Rome's wife at the Campidoglio: extraordinary antiquities and the Chef's signature ravioli carbonara," she writes. How lovely.

Yesterday it was the turn of the developing world to join the party. How can we trust the G8 with the economy when they think 20 or more countries and hangers-on adds up to eight? They are worse than British politicians adding up their expenses or bankers doling out their own bonuses. The big question is: what can the newcomers add to the party? Can they put up anyone to match Michelle or Carla? It's doubtful. President Lula of Brazil can normally be expected to travel with a few scantily clad samba dancers, but there has been little sight of them. Maybe he is confining them to barracks.

I hate to be a bore, but maybe it's worth reminding these revellers that there is an economic crisis. Unemployment in Europe is pushing 10 per cent and the US is not far behind. When they have finished nibbling their canapés and chatting to the Pope, they might want to tell us how they plan to get us out of this mess. Regulation? Excuse me, I am too busy twittering. Negotiation? Sorry pal, but I am just writing a blog.

It was all too predictable that the most concrete agreement to have come out of this shindig to date would an agreement on climate change. The great thing about that is that any work on that direction can be deferred to the next meeting in a pleasant place, and any certainty of what has been achieved will not be accountable until 2050. By then, we will all either be drowned or nothing will have happened, but at least by then Sarah Brown might have stopped blogging.

Silvio needs to take his pals aside and tell them not to get sidetracked. His mantra should be Bill Clinton's famous line: It's the economy, stupido. rwright@thenational.ae