There will be no last-minute deal. The talks between the UK and the EU have effectively broken down. It isn’t that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, it’s that there’s no tunnel at all. The blame game is now far more advanced than the negotiations. The diplomatic crockery has been smashed even before Boris Johnson and the leaders of the EU27 have arrived in Brussels for this month’s European Council.
A few years ago I was sitting on the sofa at Sandringham enjoying a ham sandwich with the Queen’s then-head gamekeeper, David Clarke. The thing about working for the royals, he said, is that if a drive’s a flop, they completely understand. What Clarke meant is that even if no royal bags a bird, they won’t complain. It’s about the day, not the numbers dead.
Sandringham (unsurprisingly) provides a snapshot of a bygone sporting era, a time when most shooting syndicates were collections of friends and locals, before entrepreneurial types sussed there was a few quid to be made out of shooting.
The UK was the ‘sick man’ when we ‘joined Europe’ in 1973. Now, with Britain on the cusp of leaving, the European Union’s largest economy is decidedly out of sorts. After failing to recover over the summer, Germany is now almost certainly in recession. The state of the fourth biggest economy on earth always matters — but with Germany dragging down the broader eurozone, its declining health could decisively impact Brexit negotiations too.
The French writer Michel Houellebecq has a disconcerting habit of correctly predicting unsettling events. In 2001 in Plateforme he predicted a terrorist attack on tourists that duly occurred in Bali a year later. Sérotonine, written last year, foretold the gilet jaunes. In Soumission (2015), he famously predicted that France would elect a Muslim president by 2022.
This remains improbable, with the three-year timescale.
We’ve begun to behave as if young people are special; more virtuous and wiser than adults. It’s wrong and it’s creepy and we’ve got to stop it — not for our sake so much as for theirs. It looked, for a terrible moment this week, as if 16-year-old Greta Thunberg would win the Nobel peace prize. On Thursday, 96 per cent bets placed with William Hill were for Greta. Though in the end, the prize went to Abiy Ahmed, the sheer volume of votes for Greta was proof that even the most sophisticated adults in the world have signed up to the bonkers idea that children can somehow intuit the answers to humanity’s existential problems, though Lord knows what the grown-ups expect the kids to do — build a better world on Minecraft?
The foundation for this great elevation of the young was laid in the years after the 2008 financial crisis.
More than a decade ago, four Dutch nurses decided something needed to be done about their country’s care in the community. Back then, it was almost as bad as it is in Britain now — where a recent report found that at least 400 pensioners a week sell their homes to pay for social care. Nursing in the Netherlands had taken a terrible turn in the 1990s, when the government decided healthcare should be more ‘professional’.
I went to a gaudy last weekend. Several British universities now host these splendid events; mine was at Worcester College, Oxford, from where I graduated in 1981 with a double third in mathematics. A gaudy is essentially a reunion weekend with knobs on. At Worcester they are blessedly free, which is great for paups like me who can enjoy the exceptionally good food and, particularly, wine with a huge stupid smile.