Nearly five years ago, a friend in the diplomatic service was hovering outside the permanent under-secretary’s room in the Foreign Office. Through the open door, he overheard the senior official telling ‘Jock’ not to worry, the FO would be sending a ‘big hitter’ as ambassador to Kabul. They would make sure that the surge of British military forces into Helmand was matched by a diplomatic surge into Kabul.
It is, as David Cameron says, a time to pause, listen and reflect: reflect that for every granny starving and dehydrating on an NHS ward there is quite possibly a patient in a private hospital being pulled screaming into a cold shower. If it wasn’t already obvious that private provision is no panacea for public services, it should be to anyone who watched last week’s Panorama film about Winterbourne View, a care home for people with learning disabilities run by Teesdale-based Castlebeck Care.
The EU’s president and foreign minister are both duds. Eurosceptics should rejoiceWhat puzzles me is that my Eurosceptic friends are not dancing in the streets outside the Brussels Berlaymont. Those of us who still think that, for all its undoubted irritations, the European Union is fundamentally a good thing have been weeping into our Gueuze. The sceptics have won. Why aren’t they popping the champagne?A couple of years ago sceptics feared (and Europhiles more ardent than I hoped) that the Lisbon Treaty would prove a slipway to federalism.
Our womenfolk are taking to the streets again in an attempt to convince us that they should be allowed to be called sluts without men thinking they might be ‘sluts’.Our womenfolk are taking to the streets again in an attempt to convince us that they should be allowed to be called sluts without men thinking they might be ‘sluts’. There is a ‘slut walk’ about to take place in London and there have been similar events in India, Canada and the USA.
Al-Qa’eda has begun to harness the Arab revoltsSince the movement was launched by the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, I have been a sceptic about this Arab Spring and its promise of delivering economic prosperity for all. When it comes to democratic institutions and the rule of law, the Middle East has been locked in a permafrost of repression since most of its states first proclaimed their independence.
Does it matter who actually wrote a novel – or a political speech?What’s the most distinguished ghost-written book? John F. Kennedy, while still a postgraduate student, put his name to a book that went on to win the Pulitzer. Decades after his assassination it emerged that it was substantially ghosted. Should not the keepers of the records, as with sportsmen caught out doing their great things on steroids, affix an asterisk to his name? After his death in 2002 the Nobel Prize-winning Spaniard Camilo José Cela was accused of using the services of two (also now dead) ghostwriters.
No one will be amazed that George Orwell disliked Roman Catholicism; it is odd, though, that he seemed unable to leave the subject alone. Even his left-wing cronies found this obsession tedious. The Marxist journalist Jon Kimche, who shared a flat with him in the mid-1930s, complained that his conversation amounted to little more than a series of diatribes against Rome. In print, Orwell might show some forbearance towards socially concerned Catholics such as Jacques Maritain and Georges Bernanos, or towards an apologist such as Frank Sheed, whom he considered exceptionally fair-minded.