Today nearly all real public discussion has become impossible. Which is why nearly all public thinking has become impossible. Which is why the thinking has gone bad on nearly every major issue now facing us.
It isn’t just politics that is finding it hard to operate. It is also the media and every other piece of sense-making apparatus we used to possess. The negatives accrued to any individual or institution for thinking or saying anything remotely controversial now means that they don’t bother any more.
Who wants to be a billionaire? Not, apparently, Alexander Lebedev, the self-described ‘Russian ex-oligarch’ who has tried billionaredom and found it not to his liking. Lebedev opens his new book, Hunt the Banker, with a nostalgic riff on his happy youth in a tiny Moscow apartment and the observation that ‘the ideal menu consists of buckwheat (60 cents a kilo), extra virgin flaxseed oil, vegetables and a little fish’.
When I was an English literature undergraduate, we were all very careful to avoid what used to be called the ‘intentional fallacy’. This is the idea that you can use a text to get at what the author ‘really meant’. The so-called New Critics said, quite reasonably, that the text is all you’ve got to go on and, what’s more, it’s impertinent and irrelevant for a critic to start trying to figure out, say, whether Shakespeare is a racist from the evidence in ‘My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun’.
Church attendances may be falling, but there’s a new religion in town: recycling. Its followers are devout and full of missionary zeal. They follow the collection day rubrics to the letter and if you ask them what evidence they have that sorting their polyethylenes from their PVCs is any more effective than lighting a penny candle, they say: ‘But I believe.’
The road to a greener future seems paved with rinsed yoghurt pots that no one knows what to do with and I grow weary of being guilted, particularly by people who only recently learned to tie their own shoelaces.
Charlotte Edwardes reports that Boris put his hand on her leg during lunch 20 years ago. Full disclosure, I put my hand on Boris’s leg 20 years ago during lunch. It wasn’t that I was making a pass at him. I just wanted to hold his attention while I was telling him something I wanted him to listen to. Now I am worrying. What if Boris and/or a cohort of other males come forward? ‘Mary assaulted me in a historic sex abuse incident.
Over the past three years, as we have torturously debated our departure from the European Union, we have heard a lot from the Brexiteers about the industries that might benefit from leaving the EU. Some of these predictions may materialise, others may not. There is one industry, however, that is already doing very well as a result of the referendum. Lots of consultants are making a shedload of money.
The UK has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. But to achieve our ambitious climate targets, we need to change our energy system radically. We need a smarter and more flexible system to supply more renewable, efficient and low-carbon energy to households, and help us all to manage our valuable natural resources more efficiently. It’s called a smart energy system — and the 14.9 million smart meters we are having installed in our homes are playing an integral role in making it a reality.
So what to make of the extreme language, veering from the histrionic to the hysterical, dominating political discourse? The words ‘surrender’, ‘treachery’ and ‘sabotage’ ricochet around Westminster. According to Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Supreme Court’s verdict is a ‘constitutional coup’. For the Sun it’s ‘an incendiary coup by political judges’. David Cameron describes Michael Gove as a ‘foam-flecked Faragist’.
‘The smallest public railway in the world.’ So proclaims a faded poster at New Romney Station, the midpoint of the 15in gauge Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway which runs almost 14 miles along the south-western Kent coast from Hythe to Dungeness.
Well, almost. The railway was indeed the world’s smallest public railway by gauge from 1927 until 1978, the year it lost the honour to the 12¼in gauge Réseau Guerlédan in France.