As soon as votes were counted in the race to be Tory candidate for London mayor, Zac Goldsmith’s problem became clear. He had won comfortably, but just 9,200 party members bothered to vote — compared with the 80,000 who took part in Labour’s contest. Goldsmith praised his party for a ‘civilised and constructive’ debate, unlike the ‘divisive and vicious’ battle won by Sadiq Khan. But if Labour can call on a machine whose activists outnumber the Tories by nine to one, the Conservative candidate faces a real disadvantage.
‘Think dogs in wetsuits,’ said our guide of the cluster of sea lions at our feet on San Cristobal, one of the remote collection of 19 volcanic Pacific islands slap bang on the Equator that make up the Galapagos. Struggling awkwardly up black lava rocks or even there along the sands of Cerro Brujo, the most beautiful beach I have ever seen, the 31-stone beachmaster and his harem looked ungainly, even ridiculous.
After a healthy Irish lunch I drove blithely off through the streets of Roscrea, I think it was, to find that everywhere I went the populace was cheerfully waving at me, smiling, gesticulating or blowing horns. When I stopped to ask them why, I found that I had left on the roof of my car a wallet containing my entire worldly wealth, cash, credit cards and all. So paradoxically enjoyable was all this, so irresistibly amused and sympathetic were the bystanders, that I came to think of the event as a sort of leitmotif of my visit to Ireland.
Even the name is pretentious. And something of a misnomer, too. After all, a canapé comes from the French word for ‘couch’ — the idea presumably being that a garnish of some kind or other sits on top of tiny slices of bread or small crackers in the same way that tasty people plonk themselves down on a sofa.
Except that the whole business of dainty finger food — as liberated Victorians used to call it — has got so out of hand that wherever you fetch up, chefs are going to extremes to outdo each other.
How do we judge a charity? Very badly, it turns out. Until The Spectator revealed the full horror of Kids Company in July, not even the press had asked hard questions of the charity or its founder, Camila Batmanghelidjh. The subsequent political scrutiny showed our democratic process at its best.
When Paul Flynn, a veteran Labour MP, told Batmanghelidjh at an electrifying House of Commons hearing to stop talking ‘psychobabble’ he stripped away in an instant the glitz that had allowed one small charity whose sole qualification was the charisma of its leader to fritter away £48 million of taxpayers’ money.
Sadiq Khan has long been known as one of Labour’s most pugnacious politicians: someone who likes to fight, and likes to win. The son of a bus driver, he became a human rights lawyer, entered parliament in 2005 and that same year was named newcomer of the year at The Spectator’s parliamentary awards.
He ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign in 2010 and led Labour’s fierce — and surprisingly effective —campaign in London last year.
The race to be London Mayor is the biggest personality contest in politics. And one personality looms largest: George Galloway, back from Bradford and seeking his fortune on the capital’s streets.
In his public appearances, the Respect party leader has been on his usual bombastic form. But dig a little deeper, and it becomes apparent that his campaign — and his career — is on the shakiest ground.
In 2012, Galloway won the Bradford West by-election by 10,000 votes: a staggering coup.
‘Have a good holiday, Camilla. Don’t kill any whales.’ That’s not the normal goodbye I get when leaving the office, but then I’m not normally off to the Faroe Islands. The country isn’t that far from the UK — in fact, we’re the nearest neighbour, with Scotland 200 miles to the south. But it’s not somewhere people know much about. If they have heard of the Faroe Islands, the one thing they know about is the ‘grindadráp’, or pilot whale-hunt, which supplies newspapers with gory photographs every year.
My new friends and I are sitting outside what’s fast becoming my favourite bar in the world: the Under the Hill Saloon in Natchez, Mississippi. Already one man has held forth on the presidential campaign to anyone who’d listen — which, given how entertainingly he did it (‘Donald Trump? Pure white trash’) was most of us. Another has asked me if I’ve ever fired a gun and, if not, whether I’d like to see how much fun it is.
If Italy is the elegant, over-the-knee boot plunged into the Mediterranean, then Puglia is the narrow peninsula that forms its spiky stiletto heel. The word that springs to mind regarding Puglia is trullo — miniature stone structures that look like igloos, and in my experience are the ideal devices to convince your kids to holiday with you. Why would they choose an eight-day party in Croatia when they can stay in cute white circular mini-houses, with an infinity pool in front? Even better, you could go for a trulli hotel, complete with that Puglian speciality, the beach pool.
It’s not so much the volume of deals done in the agents’ enclosure, the number of exhibitors or the size of the conference hall it takes place in. It’s not even — though this can be a key indicator — that the local sex workers take the week off. Nope: you know your book fair is the real thing once the Scientologists come.
At the Frankfurt Book Fair their stand is enormous. So wandering round the cavernous halls of the Sharjah International Book Fair, to come upon a display devoted to the works of L.
My word, I do like the French! That’s up there with things I thought I’d never say, like ‘Just the one, please.’ But after spending three days in Paris two weeks after the Islamist massacre, I have become their biggest fan. Yes, I’m fully aware that the Parisiennes aren’t the French --— but the pedants among you will please overlook the sweeping generalisation.
I thought it was important, having read that France had already lost €2 million worth of business due to a wave of cancellations, to show support.
Have you seen Spectre, the latest Bond film? If not, the opening sequence is terrific. Lots of action and excitement. The whole film is full of stunts and thrills. But after watching it, I realised there was something missing: joy, or joie de vivre. Daniel Craig plays Bond like an android who has spent too much time muscle-building instead of having a good time.
Contrast Spectre with From Russia With Love, one of the early Bond films.
In their interview in the Christmas edition of The Spectator, Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth asked the Prime Minister whether he now considered that his intervention in Libya had been a mistake. David Cameron accepted that matters could have gone better since the fall of Gaddafi, but insisted that ‘what we were doing was preventing a mass genocide’. Like Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, Gaddafi’s genocide seems to have been a fiction.
Seferis’s line about his native Greece, ‘Our country is a closed in place, all mountains’, haunted my mind as I traversed Albania. I had gone in the hope that Albania now would be like the southern Europe of my student days. The news in brief is: it is, and it isn’t. First impressions of Tirana, the capital, were that it was a city in a hurry to expand. Despite being badly damaged in 1944, it retains an unexpected charm, perhaps because of Mussolini’s pine-lined boulevards and green spaces.