There is something about impending doom which focuses the mind. That is why the Tory conference in Blackpool was perhaps the most effective brainstorming session in the party’s history — albeit inadvertently. David Cameron arrived facing an election. He left the northern seaside resort having scared Gordon Brown away from going to the polls — and, in the process, launched a policy strategy more radical than he had ever dreamt he would be pursuing.
The state visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to Britain came at a time of growing internal and external crisis for the desert kingdom, and was surely intended to bolster international confidence in the Riyadh regime. All the indications are that King Abdullah really does want to extricate his country from its benighted state. Yet political modernisation has been so slow as to be almost invisible.
Peter Vaughan has been delivering fine performances for decades — Grouty in Porridge and Robert Lindsay’s prospective father-in-law in Citizen Smith, among many others — but it is only lately, since he became a pensioner, that a large swath of the population has finally put his name to his face.His performance as the Alzheimer’s sufferer Felix Hutchinson in Our Friends in the North and his wonderful turn as Anthony Hopkins’s father in The Remains of the Day were the parts that finally did it for him.
It’s astonishing the people you find yourself agreeing withHelp! I think I might be turning into a Marxist and I know exactly when it started. It was in January last year when I was watching Question Time, despising most of the panellists for their cant-riddled idiocy as per usual, when I suddenly heard one of them, a slightly scary woman called Claire Fox, say: ‘Why can’t all our schools be like Eton?’And she wasn’t asking it as a glib, meaningless flourish, in the way a Tory MP trying to impress might ask, ‘Why we can’t make our NHS system be the envy of the world?’ Claire Fox genuinely believes that a traditional, liberal arts education of the sort offered by Eton — Latin, Greek, rigour, dates — is best.
‘It’s about my cappuccino.’ No one expected the great environmental debate — Capitalism can save the Planet — to be reduced to mere refreshments, but Tim Harford, leading for the motion, used the coffee he buys outside his FT office as a symbol of the global challenge. Our survival depends on consumer decisions at every level of industrial production. Let capital decide, he said. Keep government out of it.
A tour of Beirut with the militia’s PR divisionBeirutA year after Israel’s failed attempt to bomb Hezbollah into the Middle Ages, the ‘war’ of 2006 is now known as the ‘Divine Victory’ in these parts. With November’s general election on hold, politics in Lebanon is as complicated as it ever has been. Druze, Christian groups, Muslim parties and a smattering of Marxists are all vying for a say in a government led by a hugely unpopular prime minister.
I suppose there must be someone left in Britain who is surprised or shocked that a minor member of the royal family has alleged homosexual tendencies and is partial to the odd snort of cocaine. Lord Charteris of Amisfield, for example — formerly the Queen’s private secretary — would at least have pretended to be appalled, but he’s been dead for seven long years. Frankly, I suspect most British people would shrug their shoulders with resignation and boredom even if it were reported that a fairly important royal had been photographed mainlining anthrax spores while fellating a pine marten.
Those who express concern about the onset of a dystopian surveillance society in Britain, in which the boundary between public and private is being erased, and in which the state malignly uses new methods of monitoring, usually invoke the spectre of Nineteen Eighty-Four. ‘Orwellian’ is the customary adjective denoting the kind of cruel, maladjusted authoritarian state that spies on us, that knows everything about us — one, it is feared, that will soon be upon us.
It’s four months since the smoking ban was imposed in England, and most smokers I’ve met in that time seem to be quietly adapting. A friend wants to buy Suck UK’s unisex Smoking Mittens. If you have not come across them before, they are gloves that have a metal hole in them for your cigarette so you can keep warm when smoking outside in the winter. They cost £15 and, as my friend says cheerfully, ‘You never know, if it gets really cold, Silk Cut may sponsor white and purple balaclavas with silver puff holes.