When Theresa May decided to go for an early election, she transformed the nature of her premiership. Up to that point she had been the steady hand on the tiller, righting a ship of state buffeted by the Brexit referendum. By going to the country to win her own mandate, she sought to become more than that. She wanted her own sizeable majority and, in so doing, invited comparison with the two prime ministers who have done the most to shape modern Britain: Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair.
‘The news that Harry Perkins was to become prime minister went down very badly in the Athenaeum.’ Thus begins my novel A Very British Coup, written 35 years ago and, with the narrowing gap in the opinion polls, suddenly topical again. Since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader it has been reprinted twice and, earlier this year, an e-book promotion sold 2,500 copies in a single day.
The hero of my novel, Harry Perkins, is a former Sheffield steel worker who was brought to life in a subsequent TV adaptation by that wonderful actor Ray McAnally.
The dragon hung motionless above the surface of the earth, belly picked out in the colours of fire and a stegosaurus zigzag along his back. A beautiful thing, this dragon, but not easily seen: you must go out at dusk in spring with a torch and a knowledge of the places they lurk. Here was just such a spot. It was his season of grand passion, and yet the expression on the face was remote, almost indifferent.
Does anyone still care about handwriting? Although it was for centuries the medium and motor of daily life, handwriting has become, like public libraries and secondhand bookshops, a rare sight. One in three British adults now uses pens only to sign their names. Starved of opportunity, most people’s writing has regressed into a near-illegible scrawl. When even the leader of the opposition confesses that he can’t read his own writing, something is up.
The Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow (‘sons of Cornwall’) is not contesting any seats in the general election. Its leader of 20 years, Dick Cole, said its members were ‘exhausted’ after their local election campaign — it retained four councillors at ‘County Hall’ (Cornish nationalists always put County Hall in inverted commas, to avoid the inference that the Duchy is a mere county), and were only six votes shy of getting as many seats as Labour.
The panhandlers outside the White House hold signs saying: ‘Trump is President — saving to leave the country.’ Those signs will have to be updated if Trump’s enemies are right and the 45th President is driven from office by a scandal called ‘Putingate’. Inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Trump is said to be in a fury about the allegations that he is Russia’s pawn. Washington is gripped by rumours of a president sitting up in bed at night, a cheeseburger balanced on his stomach, raging at the television news.
‘There’s a chance we’ll meet up with Richie McCaw in Christchurch,’ proffered the PR on our New Zealand press trip. The man from the Sunday Times and I let out a little gasp. We weren’t sports journos but we knew where McCaw stood in the pantheon of all-time greats.
He is the most capped player in rugby union history, a World Cup winner on two occasions and arguably the best open-side flanker there has ever been.