There are two ways of seeing the extraordinary rise of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince: the blood-stained debut of a new dictator, or the long-overdue emergence of a reformer with the steel to take on the kingdom’s old guard. The British government is firmly in the second camp.
Mohammad bin Salman is just 32 years old, and his effective seizure of power means he defines the kingdom for a generation. He’s seen in Whitehall as a history maker, whose ruthless impatience might not only liberalise his country but create an alliance with Israel that could change the region.
Until last weekend, the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh’s exclusive Diplomatic Quarter was colloquially known as the Princes’ Hotel. It was a luxurious retreat from the heat, where royals could engage in the kind of wheeling and dealing with the global business elite that had made them millionaires on the back of the 1970s oil boom. No deal could be brokered without paying a bribe to at least one prince. Last Saturday that era of boundless opportunity and total impunity came to a dramatic end.
The European Union has languished and become enfeebled — and we are all to blame. There is a noticeable paucity of ideas and methods. The whole system has capitulated and is at a standstill. Summits bringing together heads of state and of government have become a parody: getting together behind closed doors, repeating lofty principles, changing a word or two in a statement so that it sounds slightly different from the last one.
I’m sitting at home working, minding my business, and the mobile rings. It’s DC Lyle from Wandsworth police station. He says that my name was given to Crimestoppers anonymously as a potential witness to the ‘Putney Pusher’ incident. Remember that nutter who barged a woman into the path of a bus on Putney Bridge while out for his morning jog? Well, six months on and they still haven’t found him — and DC Lyle wants to meet.
Maybe we should blame John Grisham. In his breakthrough best-seller The Firm, the young lawyer Mitch, played by Tom Cruise in the movie, has to make regular trips to the Cayman Islands where the corrupt law firm he works for creates hundreds of shell companies for the assorted cast of money launderers, tax dodgers and gangsters who are its core client base. Ever since then, the murky ‘offshore centre’ has become a staple of the post-Cold War thriller: a place where, amid the palm trees and skyscrapers, sharply dressed financiers salt away billions, safely out of view of any government.
Dining rooms have been in the doldrums for decades. Even Mary Berry has given up on hers. ‘Most of us, I think, live in the kitchen,’ she said recently.
She’s right. Plenty of us don’t have a dining room to give up on, me included. Plenty more have knocked down what once divided a dining room from a kitchen to create an airy, open-plan ‘living space’ where we do battle with avocados and everything else.
This one goes out to all the male MPs I’ve taken to lunch. I want to apologise to each and every one of you. Some of you know who you are and what went on. Some of you were so tipsy you may not have been fully aware of how shockingly you were being exploited.
I estimate there are dozens, if not hundreds, of you whom I’ve taken to lunch, dinner and drinks during my time as a political correspondent.
The first election day since Donald Trump was elected president a year ago brought a funereal mood to Washington that you could feel on the streets. The swamp, apparently, remains undrained. Elections for governor in Virginia and New Jersey and for mayor in New York City cheered the locals a bit, producing the expected victories for Democrats. Virginia was the most consequential of these. It seemed a harbinger of the next presidential race.
‘Foot – foot – foot – foot – sloggin’ over Africa — / (Boots – boots – boots – boots – movin’ up and down again!).’ I do like Rudyard Kipling. I know I’m not supposed to. Trigger warning: empire, jungle stereotypes, microaggressions against monkeys, cultural appropriation of other people’s elephants. But what a stomping great marching poem ‘Boots’ is.
Learn at least the first verse by heart: it’s the right rhythm for walking when the rain comes on and you’re miles from home.