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[/audioplayer]I stood alongside the chairman of the board of a state-owned enterprise in eastern China. The factory floor, partially open to the elements, stretched out far in front of us, littered with towers and blades designed for some of the world’s largest wind turbines.
When I covered Libya’s revolution in 2011, I had a driver named Mashallah. Mashallah was a decent and stoical man with an interesting propensity for malapropisms. He was regarded with fondness by us journalists — so when I decided to return to Libya recently, I sent him an email: did he want to work for me again?
Unfortunately, replied Mashallah, he was in Paris. This seemed strange. How would he have got a French visa? I emailed again suggesting another week and received another profound apology.
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[/audioplayer]Adelaide airport, 2006. One of those serpentine check-in queues that bring you face to face with a long series of different people. I was leaving, everyone I knew in the queue was carrying on to Perth.
When a terrorist group is active in the UK — as Islamist extremists and dissident republicans are at the moment — there is no more essential figure in the prevention of carnage than an agent working for the security services. Reliable intelligence is what defuses bombs, intercepts arms caches, and apprehends suspects. Its acquisition can involve unimaginable personal risks, in circumstances of nerve-shredding tension.
Are you a man? Those of you who don’t fall into the category of ‘adult male’ will clearly answer no — but even those who do might not say yes. Do you apply the label ‘man’ to yourself? Are you happy using the phrase ‘I’m as [insert quality] as the next man’? You’re not? Me neither.
At 43 I’ve spent a quarter of a century as a man in the eyes of the law, but still the word feels too grown-up for me to use it about myself.
What should be the response of politicians to mass emailings and Twitter storms? The question is an urgent one, especially for Conservative MPs, given the general truth that mass petitions, in which complex issues are simplified to ‘for or against’ and emotion given a head start over reasoned argument, tend to come from the left. I was astonished to learn that a Tory MP decided his vote on the proposed Hunting Bill would depend on opinion polls in his local newspaper.
It appeared the ultimate summer ‘silly season’ story: that Labour would choose an unrepentant, self-consciously unspun bearded leftie as its leader. But, as ballot papers for the leadership election are dispatched, the story is threatening to close with a nightmare final chapter for the party. This week the pollsters YouGov had Corbyn 20 points ahead of Andy Burnham, his closest rival, and in a position to win the contest in its first round.
‘What was it like growing up in Liverpool?’ a journalist asked John Lennon. ‘I didn’t grow up in Liverpool,’ he replied. ‘I grew up in Hamburg.’ My father grew up in Hamburg too, at the end of the second world war. The city had been bombed to smithereens. Cigarettes were the only currency, and my grandma had to trade her jewellery for food. When she met a British soldier who offered to take her to England, she grabbed this lifeline with both hands.