Boris Johnson says it is a mistake to ‘call for a new Cold War on China’. Yet China is, in many ways, a more formidable foe than the Soviet Union ever was. It is more integrated into the world trading system and its economic model is less flawed. This gives it a commercial pull in the West that the USSR never had. Its purchase over businesses and institutions goes some way to explaining why there is such reluctance in the UK, and the West more broadly, to take a tougher line on Beijing.
Could Covid-19 have originated from a Chinese lab accident? When the virus was first identified, many pointed out that it was close to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. It sounded like a conspiracy theory. But it’s all too plausible. And there are questions that the long-awaited report by the World Health Organisation leaves unanswered.
Only after the pandemic started did Professor Shi Zhengli, director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, notice that a close viral relative to Covid-19 had been found in a mineshaft years before.
Everyone has their own Covid-19 story, and here’s mine. I caught it in Marks & Spencer in late March last year, when 200 clearly deranged panic-buyers set about stripping the store of its every last ready meal. Web designers grasping the last known packet of Our Best Ever Prawn Cocktail, estate agents fighting over the gooseberry and elderflower yoghurts: it felt like the end of times, and was actually one of the scariest experiences I have ever had.
I was raised Christian and the more I’ve thought about it, the more curious something about my upbringing seems. My church was constantly denying it was ‘religious’. By any objective social--scientific measures, the community was decidedly religious. Maybe we weren’t that organised (there was no website), but we recited historic creeds, we submitted to the authority of a sacred text and we practised ancient rituals. We identified with the worldwide institutional expression of the body of Christ, yet we still liked to say we weren’t ‘religious’.
When Boris Johnson sought to extend the government’s emergency powers for another six months last week, he faced little opposition in the Commons. Rather than fight for parliament’s right to scrutinise the government, Keir Starmer told Labour MPs to vote with the Tories. There was only one party of opposition: the Liberal Democrats. Ed Davey, the party leader, complained in parliament about the ‘draconian’ powers taken by the government, and whipped his MPs to vote against them.
As Britain celebrates its vaccination success, we’re in danger of missing something important. A great many people have been offered the vaccine, but have turned it down — and we hear very little about them. No. 10 briefings trumpet the numbers vaccinated in the past 24 hours but are silent on the numbers who have refused. This matters, because if vaccine passports are on their way, granting access to pubs and so on, the unvaccinated will be excluded.
The new three-part Netflix series Murder Among the Mormons is attracting big audiences, and deservedly so. Finally someone has made a major documentary about Mark Hofmann, the squeaky-voiced Mormon nerd who was both the most brilliant document-forger in history and a psychopathic murderer.
In the early 1980s, the young Hofmann manufactured a series of documents that portrayed its prophet Joseph Smith — the discoverer of the ‘gold plates’ that supposedly described a great Israelite civilisation in America — as a conman up to his ears in the occult.
As one of the 200,000 British members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my heart doesn’t leap when I hear about a new documentary made about us. Such films tend not to be flattering. But here’s the puzzle: if our faith is really based on nonsense, why is it growing? Why would people like me convert? If you can bear with me, I’d like to say a bit about who we are — and what we are not.
We’re followers of Jesus Christ (i.
No one knows for sure how many cars are on the road without insurance. The Motor Insurers Bureau puts it as high as one million, and a good number of these won’t have a valid MOT either. Come to think of it, many such uninsured cars without MOTs are likely to be in the hands of drivers who don’t even have licences.
And yet it’s never suggested that only those who have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to drive should be allowed to do so, just in case of encounters with revved-up lawbreakers.
On the letters page of the Sunday Times last month, the presidents of the Royal Historical Society and the Historical Association were among the signatories to a letter boldly headlined ‘History must not be politicised’. They were incensed by a rumour that government funding might be cut for the Colonial Countryside project, which looks at possible connections between the British Empire, the slave trade and National Trust properties.
Spring is coming. There was snow in the garden till last week, here in Canada, where I have been spending this strange winter. But today the sky is shining blue and the sunshine is soft and warm. I guess this is what Easter is really about. Rebirth. I have spent months without going farther than the corner food shop. Zoom winter. I have never been in the same few rooms for so long. And yet I have never been so much in touch with colleagues and friends from everywhere.
In early April, when the chiffchaff sings its drab little song in the leafless hawthorns, something is stirring in the dead bracken. Having spent the winter months underground, one of our most fascinating creatures slithers into the weak spring sunshine: the adder.
The emerging adders haven’t eaten for six months, but food is not on their minds; it is the mating season. Rival males indulge in spectacular ritual combat, rearing up side by side and twisting and wrestling at great speed.