Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that BP threw an extravagant party, with oysters and expensive champagne. Let’s imagine that Britain’s most senior politicians were there — including the Prime Minister and his chief spin doctor. And now let’s imagine that BP was the subject of two separate police investigations, that key BP executives had already been arrested, that further such arrests were likely, and that the chief executive was heavily implicated.
Can I be frank? I can’t get enough of the Middletons. I am mad for them. Not just the Duchess of Cambridge, heroically staying awake throughout a cruelly protracted tour of Ottowa (you try it). Not just because of the fact that if you type the words ‘Pippa Middleton’ into Google, it offers you a remarkably narrow range of options from ‘underwear’ to ‘bottom’. Not just because of the Mail Online’s laudable efforts to get Prince Harry and Pippa paired off (before the advent of posh knicker-model ‘Flee’ Brudenell-Bruce).
The most striking thing about David Cameron is how well rested he looks. You wouldn’t guess that he was the father of a ten-month-old baby, let alone Prime Minister. He has no bags under his eyes — unlike his staff. He also seems relaxed. He jovially beckons us in to his Downing Street office and then flops down into one of the two high-backed chairs and urges one of us to take the other: ‘the Chancellor’s chair’, he calls it, with a chuckle.
The speeches given to new graduates at American universities are a distinct literary form – and a measure of national moodTo understand what is going on in America’s head, it is worth tuning in to the early summer hum of commencement addresses. These secular sermons, delivered by politicians, businesspeople, entertainers and other assorted worthies to those graduating from university, are a unique literary form which provides an excellent measure of the national mood.
Tony Little, the headmaster of Eton, recently told me that he thought teacher training colleges tended to make people worse teachers rather than better. As the head of an independent school, Mr Little is allowed to appoint who he wants to his teaching staff, and regularly appoints those who have not been through the vacuous propaganda of the training colleges. The same leeway is not afforded to the heads of state schools; their staff must have been subjected to a statutory period of brainwashing before they are allowed into the classrooms to teach our children all about Mary Seacole, the kindly black lady who helped out during the Crimean War.
Sweden is iconic, like Marilyn Monroe or Karl Marx. It is supposed to stand for something special: a kind of paradise where socialism and a big welfare state go together with being a successful, rich country. The left use it as a triumphant example: ‘See! It works in Sweden! High levels of equality, a big welfare state, socialism — and it works!’ People think that Sweden proves it is possible for a socialist welfare state to be prosperous, happy and civilised.
Whitehall’s four-day week‘What you doing here?’ says a cheerful security guard as I walk through the Houses of Parliament at four o’clock on a Friday afternoon. ‘It’s early closing day.’ He’s right. The corridors are silent; the chambers are bare. There are a few tourists with their guides, some more guards, the odd cleaner … and that’s it.Where is everyone? Well, Friday is constituency day, as people in politics are quick to tell you.
For the past 18 months, it turns out, I have slept in a former royal place of worship. This has been less picturesque than it sounds. The old chapel on my corner of Rye Lane, Peckham, south London — named the Hanover Chapel because two of George III’s sons supported its minister, W.B. Collyer — was demolished to make room for tram tracks early in the last century. I live in the building that replaced it, a three-storey affair containing four flats, a pawnbroker and a branch of a sandwich chain.