The European Union might have many flaws, but one of its great strengths is its ability to sense weakness. It is telling, then, that Michel Barnier didn’t mince his words on his trip to the Irish border this week as he made the case for a goods border in the Irish sea. This is something that Theresa May has said no British prime minister could ever accept, and it’s anathema to most of her cabinet colleagues, not to mention the Democratic Unionist party’s MPs on whom she relies for support.
The idea that left vs right has been replaced by open vs closed is one of the most self-serving conceits of contemporary politics. I have never met anyone who wants to live in a closed society, but I have met plenty of people who think that the forms of openness of the past couple of decades have not served their interests.
Factories and offices have moved abroad. EU free movement has brought a new workforce to compete with the one already here, and an extra four million people overall have arrived in the past 15 years, while wages have barely grown.
If you’ve walked by the red telephone boxes on Parliament Square, chances are you have seen an Asian couple in full wedding dress posing for a photographer. A strange place to go after a wedding, you might think, but the odds are that they’re not (yet) married — and won’t be for some time. This is, instead, a new Chinese phenomenon: the pre-wedding photo shoot.
Pre-weddings are now as essential to young Chinese couples as honeymoons are to the British.
Just over a year ago, my best friend dropped dead. He was in his early sixties and many of us expected him to die, because he was hugely overweight and desperately unhappy — and the ciggies can’t have helped. ‘If you don’t look after yourself, we’re going to lose you,’ was the polite refrain from those who knew him well.
Chris had no money, no real job, precious little hope. We first met as new boys aged eight at our boarding school, where he went on to become one of the best sportsmen the school had ever had and sat a scholarship for Harrow.
In May 1968, civil unrest, bordering on revolution, exploded on to the streets of Paris. Student protesters and striking workers brought France’s economy to a standstill. President Charles de Gaulle warned of civil war. The Spectator’s then editor, Nigel Lawson, asked Nancy Mitford for a diary on the unfolding drama, which she followed from her house, about a mile from Versailles.
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The Irish referendum on abortion takes place in just under three weeks’ time, and while the polls suggest a hefty majority in favour, the narrative of inexorable change towards a more liberal Ireland sometimes goes off script. At a feminist forum last month, the anarchic grande dame of Irish republican feminism, Nell McCafferty, 74, brooded out loud: ‘I’ve been trying to make up my mind on abortion.
Revisiting cherished childhood memories can be dispiriting; everything appears diminished and one leaves questioning the nature of perception. Were we more open as children or less discerning? Happily, the village of Matlock Bath in Derbyshire, where I wasted so much of my youth and pocket money, is as delightfully dotty as when I last visited 30 years ago.
Situated on the edge of the Peak District at the bottom of a limestone gorge, this enchanting mix of faded Victorian grandeur, tatty 1970s tourism and dreamy, Tolkien-esque landscape was once a fashionable spa resort where ladies in crinolines came to ‘take the waters’.