Summits and bad jokes

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I promised a further update on the UK Baltic Nordic summit. But that was yesterday when it felt quite topical. Now, given Andy Coulson, Alan Johnson and Tony Blair, trying to interest news watchers in the summit is a bit like offering someone dining at The Ivy a plate of chips left over from last night take away.     

Anyway, you can read lots about the event at the Foreign Office website. Continuing the policy of self-indulgence I established in the post yesterday (err, ‘yesterday’, don’t you mean ‘at birth’? Ed.) I thought I would share the mini speech I gave to the Prime Ministers’ lunch. I’m afraid it’s a bit dull so my pledge is that if you get to the end there are two rather good food jokes – one I made up yesterday (there you go again. Ed) and one I heard today.

What I said to the Prime Ministers of the UK, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia – not that I’m boasting (this is pathetic. Ed.) – was…

‘ I have facilitated discussions today about three difficult challenges; closing the digital divide, tackling youth unemployment and promoting sustainable business and lifestyles. What is striking is that in each area what is needed is a combination of drivers including commercial opportunity, technological innovation, state action, charitable initiative (by companies, communities and individuals) and public/consumer pressure.   

But not only is the mix of drivers different in the face of different challenges but in a fast changing world the mix itself changes. For example, regulation might be needed to force companies to behave differently but consumer pressure and corporate responsibility might then take over (at which point regulation should be permissive not restrictive).

So we need governments that are pragmatic in the methods they use and which move quickly as circumstances change. But there are two other messages.

The first – appropriately for a summit like this – is that international understanding is very useful; It helps us to hear about new ideas, to seek to emulate those who have achieved more than we have (92% of Estonians do their tax returns on line, the overwhelming majority of Danish 16-18 vocational students have relevant work placements), and to see past the various institutional and ideological hang-ups that narrow our thinking.

Second, in relation to these kinds of challenges we need a strong public conversation and leadership across the social partners. This is probably easier to have in small countries but it may also be another good reason to devolve power in larger ones. ‘

Now, if you got through that you certainly deserve the jokes:

What is sweet and sticky and protects you from gunfire?

 A flap jacket

What did the blind cheese say when its sight was restored and it looked in a mirror for the first time?

Haloumi  

More – original food jokes please. A free lunch in the vaults for the best one (I’m paying)  

Have a good weekend

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