A strange new institution is rising from the dust in the mountains west of Kabul. The foreigners here call it the Sandhurst in the Sand. Those who work at the new British-led military school, which welcomed its first cadets last week, prefer the more cumbersome ‘ANA-OA’, short for Afghan National Army Officers Academy (though the Australians who guard the place call it ‘Duntroon in the Desert’ after their own Sandhurst equivalent).
The best time to buy an asset is when no one else can stomach it. Great fortunes are made in uncertainty. The self-made rich aren’t the ones who hung around on the edge of an iffy situation thinking about the possible disasters. They’re the ones who calculated the odds and bought before anyone else was sure of the answers.
So where is there uncertainty in the UK today? Most English people are utterly uninterested in the prospect of Scottish independence — or in Scotland generally.
I remember, during one of my last classes at UCL, the topic of conversation turned from the cultural implications of Algerian independence to the subject of life after university. Our lecturer, a grumpy ‘progressive Hoxhaist’, told us that things had never been worse, and out of the 20 or so students in the room, only one or two would have found any kind of full-time employment by the time the year was out.
Why can’t British men flirt? This was one of my first thoughts when I arrived in England some years ago. I adore flirting. Like so many Italians, I consider flirting a way of life, an added joy to the day, as harmless, normal and pleasurable to a woman as a glass of chilled champagne at an unexpected hour.
When living in Rome, I had become accustomed to that stereotypical Italian man. I’m sure you are all aware of who I am referring to: L’uomo forte.
Beneath your noses, a great change in this country is being planned. Secret polls have been taken, and a private member’s bill has been tabled. The euthanasia lobby is limbering up for the fight of its life: to change the law for once and for all.
The Assisted Dying Bill, introduced by former Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, is the fourth such to come before the House of Lords in the last decade. Since it is almost identical to the last bill, which sought to let doctors supply lethal drugs to terminally ill patients and which Parliament rejected in 2006, why is this one being introduced?
The answer has largely to do with the changed composition of the Lords.
Most Belgians of my acquaintance tend to be rather disparaging about Bruges. It’s a theme park, they say, a Flemish Disneyland. Antwerp is livelier, Ghent is more authentic. A lot of its historic buildings are actually clever fakes. All of this is true, but that doesn’t stop it being one of Europe’s most beautiful cities — and an ideal destination for Christmas shopping. Given the choice between Bruges and Westfield, I know which shopping centre I’d choose.
When hunt supporters visit the office of a Tory cabinet minister these days, they like to turn up armed and dangerous. And so it was when a delegation from the Countryside Alliance arrived for a private meeting with the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson a few weeks ago, wielding an alarming new poll of their membership. Setting the dossier down in front of Mr Paterson (one of their few allies in government), they spelt out the bottom line: 13 per cent of Countryside Alliance members now intend to vote Ukip in the next general election.
The idea of writing Finding the Plot: 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die first came to Ann Treneman when she was chatting with Tony Wright, formerly Labour MP for Cannock Chase. They started talking about Birmingham and she happened to remark: ‘Did you know the man who invented Cluedo came from Bromsgrove?’ His name, rather marvellously, was Anthony E. Pratt, and she’d previously written about him for the Independent.
In 1925 Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, famously declared that he wished to see ‘finance less proud and industry more content’. In the light of the financial crisis, much the same refrain has been heard from policymakers and politicians over the past five years. How are we to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? And how might the financial sector reinvent itself for the future?
I wish to argue there are grounds for optimism.
There are few things most of us enjoy more than watching the value of our houses rocket. Every homeowner will have felt the pulse of excitement that comes from a mental calculation of how much has been added to their net worth by the latest bulletin from Rightmove or the Halifax. Yet fast forward two or three years and the same news could make our hearts sink — because by then a mansion tax could well have been introduced, and rising prices will take many middle-class owners over the threshold.
Power companies are the new banks as far as the public is concerned — but does that mean they’re not worth putting your money in? In any troubled marketplace there are always stocks to be picked, but current political turbulence makes that an unusually tough challenge in the UK energy sector.
Much anger is currently directed at the ‘big six’ energy groups — Centrica, Scottish & Southern (SSE), Scottish Power, E.
On Monday morning, Jeremy Hunt’s diary secretary rang me to arrange a time for me to speak to the Secretary of State over the telephone. I had already received an email from his special adviser the previous week, saying, ‘The two points which the independent research make clear are central to what you’ve been saying for a long time; namely that health tourism is a huge problem with a substantial cost to the NHS and the current system is an unfair burden on frontline staff.