On Tuesday the Culture Secretary Maria Miller announced to a breathless world the latest development in the Leveson saga. The government wants a royal charter to oversee a new press watchdog. I say ‘the government’, but the Liberal Democrats are only half on board. Like Labour, they seem still to hanker after some sort of statute to set Leveson in stone. As for Hacked Off, the celebrity-backed pressure group that has campaigned for greater press regulation, it will settle for nothing less than a statute, and wants every recommendation made by Lord Justice Leveson to be implemented without delay.
In March 2005, when it became clear that Pope John Paul II would soon die, Boris Johnson asked me to write a piece for The Spectator predicting who would be chosen as the next pope. With no special insight into the minds of the cardinals, I ran through the possibilities that had been mentioned in the press — an African such as the Nigerian Cardinal Arinze, a South American such as Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a Frenchman such as Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Archbishop of Paris — but concluded that the best candidate would be the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Josef Cardinal Ratzinger.
Shock is probably the predominant emotion evoked by the decision of Pope Benedict XVI to resign at the end of February. Given that the last papal resignation took place 600 years ago, it’s understandable that the world has got used to the idea that being pope is a life sentence. Indeed, previous popes seem to have got used to it as well. Some of them, including Benedict’s immediate predecessor, were martyrs to the job, and not entirely metaphorically.
It is 20 years since the US presidential candidate Ross Perot railed against globalisation, warning of a ‘giant sucking sound’ as millions of jobs left America and went to foreign factories. The presidential hopeful warned that a new economic curse — offshoring — would shut steel mills and factories without government protection. But listen closely and a different sucking sound can now be heard: jobs coming back to America.
I used to hang around a group of friends who worked for a British events company. Their boss was a keen follower of Buddhism and all things Oriental and, since the course of business never does run smooth, regularly consulted a feng shui practitioner. The practitioner, who wanted to be called Jampa, gave advice on everything from the setting up of a branch office to the placement of a goldfish bowl.
The assassin came to his home dressed as a postman. When the historian and journalist Lars Hedegaard opened his front door, the man — whom Lars describes as ‘looking like a typical Muslim immigrant’ in his mid-twenties — fired straight at his head. Though Hedegaard was a yard away, the bullet narrowly missed. The mild-mannered scholar (70 years old) then punched his assailant in the head. The man dropped the gun, picked it up and fired again.
To say someone was ‘sweet’ used to be quite common in Britain. We didn’t just use the word to describe our mothers and grandmothers, but a wide range of people, including public figures. But not any more. Public acts of sweetness, such as gently warning people that their shoelaces were untied, are now rare. Sweetness seems to be in terminal decline. Having just celebrated Valentine’s Day, now seems an appropriate time to ask why.
My week began on a plane to Quebec, where I’m filming a show for Canadian television. It is a broadcast pilot for a format of my own devising and, if it flies, I stand to make billions. But first it must succeed in Canada. Because Canada is the country that has bravely chosen to try it first, and shelled out the initial moolah. I am delighted that my show is getting its big chance in this great country, rather than boring old America, say, or England.