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What’s behind the Boris Johnson show?

Coming in from the pouring rain, I make my way to the office on the eighth floor of City Hall. With its curving windows, many books and bust of Pericles tucked away in a corner, it reminds me both of a classroom and the cockpit of a spacecraft. Its occupant is waiting for me, looking

How to fix Britain’s immigration crisis (without leaving Europe)

The response to the Ukip surge has reached the panic stage. Just as British business and academia chorused the economic benefits of Union in the final stages of the Scottish referendum campaign, now their refrain is of the economic benefits of immigration. A letter from ten chief executives in the Financial Times pronounced that unimpeded

Has the Chief Inspector of Schools really gone rogue?

What’s up with Sir Michael Wilshaw? The chief schools inspector was once seen as a pillar of common sense and an enthusiastic partner of Michael Gove in pragmatic schools reform. Now, he stands accused of trying to enforce a particularly toxic form of political correctness as his inspectors mark down a succession of rural English

From the archive: Sound of the season

Some songs are hits — No. 1 for a couple of weeks. Some songs are standards — they endure decade after decade. And a few very rare songs reach way beyond either category, to embed themselves so deeply in the collective consciousness they become part of the soundtrack of society. They start off the same

Alan Turing’s last victory

‘So were you levitating with rage by the end?’ I asked her. She — a veteran of Bletchley Park — and I were discussing The Imitation Game, the new film about the mathematician and code–breaker Alan Turing, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch and a host of historical inaccuracies. But she remained sanguine: ‘Not at all, I really

Interview: Alex Salmond’s game plan for the Commons

Alex Salmond is losing his voice but that’s not going to stop him from talking — I doubt that anything would, or could. I meet him in the Savoy, after The Spectator’s Parliamentarian of the Year Awards (he won top gong) and he orders a hot toddy — setting out the ingredients just in case

Why are we abandoning the Middle East’s Christians to Isis?

She took the call herself the night the Islamic State came into Mosul. ‘Convert or leave or you’ll be killed,’ she was told. The callers, identifying themselves as Isis members, knew the household was Christian because her husband worked as a priest in the city. They fled that night. Like many of their Christian neighbours

The threat to Christmas carols – and how to save them

So, Christmas carols — they haven’t really gone away, but we don’t sing them as much as we used to. We aren’t, in general, much good at massed singing these days. Look around you at a church wedding when it’s time for a hymn and watch the congregation standing in mute embarrassment, the only sound

More features

The Christmas lunch

Illustrated by Carolyn Gowdy There was no soup in the freezer. She surveyed the jettisoned items and there, on a can of creosote, was a tub The early Christmas lunch party had been Bunny Wedgewood’s idea. But Bunny had pulled out the day before, having been sectioned by her daughter and son-in-law. Notification came from

The Servant

You will see, alas, that all of this is true. One morning, I awoke in a feather bed in a room in a tavern and reached, as I always did, for my purse of gold, but it was not there. I had been travelling on business for many months and weeks with only my faithful


Pippa Middleton on wine, fishing and Kim Kardashian

A few days ago I went truffle hunting in Piedmont. It’s been a bumper year for white truffles in northern Italy — the best ever, according to some experts — thanks to climate change and an exceptionally wet summer. My guide was a brilliantly sharp-eyed Italian, Mario, whose dog Rex did the snuffling. Mario told

Black flags and Christmas lights: a letter from Beirut

Blue and white Christmas lights twinkle over the shops near my apartment in Beirut’s Christian quarter; pricy boutiques display elaborate nativity scenes. But people are having trouble getting into the festive mood. ‘Do you think the war will come here?’ asks my landlady nervously, not for the first time. There is no rush to battle,

Notes on...

The Northern Lights

Getting here took a long time. First a flight to Seattle, then a connection to Fairbanks, followed by a coach to Coldfoot Camp and a final stage by minibus. It’s long after midnight and I’m shivering outside a snow-covered lodge in Wiseman, Alaska (population: 14), two hours north of the Arctic Circle, wrenching my tripod