16/12/2017
16 Dec 2017

Christmas special

16 Dec 2017

Christmas special

Featured articles

Features
Christian Wolmar
Are driverless cars the future?

  Philip Hammond’s last Budget focused on driverless cars as an example of the brave new technological world. But should we believe the hype? The Spectator arranged for Christian Wolmar, author of a new book on the subject, to meet Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather and The Spectator’s Wiki Man columnist, to talk about the future of driving and transport.   Wolmar: Let’s face it: we’re talking about a technology that will never happen.

Are driverless cars the future?
Quentin Letts
The Establishment of 2018: a guide

  Old establishment New establishment Order of the Garter BBC Sports Personality of the Year Parliament’s Woolsack The Supreme Court The Borgias Sir Nicholas Serota and friends William Rees-Mogg Owen Jones Jacob Bronowski Simon Cowell Ciggy soak and TV cook Fanny Cradock Clean-living (Deliciously) Ella Mills Shirley Williams Lily Allen MCC committee members BBC trustees

The Establishment of 2018: a guide
Ysenda Maxtone-Graham
Mission impossible? | 13 December 2017

If you work for the Church of England in any capacity, from Archbishop of Canterbury to parish flower-arranger, how do you deal with the distressing statistics that in the past 20 years, average Sunday attendance has plummeted to 780,000 and is going down by a rate of about 20,000 a year? Do you pretend it’s not happening and just tell everyone about the spike in your numbers at Christmas, or accept that it might be happening but believe that God’s grace will deal with the problem in its own good time? Or do you throw your weight behind a vast national marketing initiative, hurling millions of pounds at the problem? Are you, in short, a denier or a panicker? We must thank Bishop Humphrey Southern, principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon, for coming up with those two words to describe the people on opposite sides of the debate, which isn’t really a debate because the people on opposite sides are hardly speaking to each other.

Mission impossible? | 13 December 2017
Robert Tombs
Right side of history

How nice it would be, in this season of good cheer, to find something hopeful to say. Being a historian, I shall try: history often helps us to see our problems in proportion. But let us grit our teeth and begin with the depressing news. Worst is the sudden emergence — or re-emergence? — of an unusually angry division within our politics and society. A large part of the political class, and seemingly a sizeable proportion of the country’s educated elite, have distanced themselves from the majority of the country.

Right side of history
Mary Killen
How to date without getting sued

For the young heterosexual Spectator male, the dating world is beset with perplexities. It was all so different in his father’s era, when making a pass was not seen by women as harassment or assault but as par for the course on the romance-seeking circuit. Lunging for kisses without invitation and even pressing girls against a wall were the normal codes of conduct until 2000. The perma-passion of the dance floor, where women and men moved in rhythm, held in each other’s arms, allowed for swifter interpretations and conclusions than any other flirting method.

How to date without getting sued
Fraser Nelson
The Queen of Scots

'You wouldn’t make good spies, would you,’ chuckles Ruth Davidson as she finds us sitting with our backs to the door in the Scottish Parliament café. She then triumphantly declares that she knows who we’ve been speaking to when preparing for the interview — getting two out of the five names isn’t bad going. After this, she sets off for her office at a pace that leaves us and her communications director trailing in her wake.

The Queen of Scots
Anneka Rice
Every picture tells a story

I am in Paris for the Rolling Stones’ No Filter concert, in Ronnie Wood’s dressing room minutes before he is due on stage. Walking through the door, I find myself in what looks like a giant crèche, and every size of child and grandchild bouncing around on a thick rug woven in the pattern of Ronnie’s ‘Wild Horses’ painting. Ronnie greets me like a long-lost friend with a massive hug, no sign of pre-concert agitation.

Every picture tells a story
Allan Mallinson
Wise old war horse

It is always a delight to drive the country roads of Hampshire to see the man known throughout the army simply as ‘Dwin’ — Field Marshal Lord Bramall. Until quite recently, I was always greeted at the door in person by the last of the Chiefs of the Defence Staff (CDS) who had really seen war — in France and Germany — but today I am met by Paula, his dedicated carer. ‘Can’t get up so easily these days,’ he says as I ‘salute’ on entering his little study.

Wise old war horse
Matt Ridley
The ‘designer baby’ myth

Christmas Day marks the birthday of one of the most gifted human beings ever born. His brilliance was of a supernoval intensity, but he was, by all accounts, very far from pleasant company. I refer to Isaac Newton. Would you like your next child to have the intelligence of a Newton? It may not be long before this is a consumer choice, according to an ambitious new company founded in America a few months ago.

The ‘designer baby’ myth
Carola Binney
Christmas in China

If you think capitalism has blinged up Christmas, you should see what the Communists are doing to it. At this time of year, Chinese cities are dressed up like one big Oxford Street, but with lights that put London’s in the shade. Christmas Eve has become the biggest shopping day of the year. At the school where I taught last year, every classroom had at least three Christmas trees: one outside the door, one inside the door and one at the back.

Christmas in China
The Spectator
Have you heard a convincing ghost story?

  Anthony Horowitz  Novelist   I have never really believed in ghosts, but I actually had a personal experience which I still find hard to explain. I was walking beside the river Kwai in Thailand with my wife. We had been told that a steam train travelled across the famous bridge once a week as a memorial to the POWs who had died — and we were keen to photograph it. So we were shocked when, quite suddenly, we heard it approaching, an hour earlier than had been expected.

Have you heard a convincing ghost story?
Douglas Murray
Madness on parade

As Kim Jong-un might blow up the world next year, if not this, and people are forever trying to work out what is going on in his country, perhaps it is worth describing a military parade I attended in Pyongyang a few years back. The occasion was the centenary of the birth of the current Kim’s grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the founder of the Marxist monarchy who, despite his death more than two decades ago, remains Eternal Leader of the nation.

Madness on parade
Quentin Letts
Order, order | 13 December 2017

Diet nannies will spend Christmas telling us ‘you are what you eat’ but in the House of Commons ‘you are where you sit’. Are you a Tory Whips’ stooge or a Dominic Grieve groupie aching to block Brexit, a braw new blue Scot or an English provincial plodder without hope of advancement? Parliament-watchers discern plenty about your political leanings from where you park your posterior. Each side of the Commons chamber has five green-leather benches that are divided by a gangway.

Order, order | 13 December 2017
Notebook
Ben Schott
Miscellaneous Notebook

I have, for utterly explicable reasons, not been asked to guest-edit Radio 4’s Today this Christmas. Had I, though, I would have revived an idea first suggested, I think, by Tony Benn. Everyone loves the Shipping Forecast. But the weather forecast? That’s a different kettle of Michael Fish. The weather is rarely read, it’s emoted. ‘I’m sorry to say it’s been a rainy old day!’ Or, ‘Brrrr, bit of a frost, do wrap up!’ So why not replace emotion with detachment? First we carve up the country into meteorologically logical areas — since it’s Radio 4, let’s use Roman names — and then apply maritime thinking inland.

Miscellaneous Notebook
Michael Lewis
America Notebook | 13 December 2017

At the end of each year I pull out most of the New Year’s resolutions I’ve ever made — I now have them going back nearly two decades. They make for curious reading: some years they seem less like an account of what I intend to do with my life than what I don’t. I never took voice lessons, or wrote an original song for the guitar given to me six years ago by my wife, or even learned how to play that guitar.

America Notebook | 13 December 2017
Prue Leith
Winter Notebook | 13 December 2017

Edinburgh is a peach of a city, is it not? Last week, I walked up to the castle on a crisp and sunny morning. Crossing high above the railway line, I watched the trains slink out of Waverley station and snake along the valley floor, a giant Hornby set beneath my feet. The path to the castle is tarmacked and rough, but still slippery with morning frost, so I tread carefully as I follow the zigzag to stand under the castle walls at the top.

Winter Notebook | 13 December 2017
Henry Marsh
Surgeon’s Notebook

Memory, neuroscientists tell us, is fallible. It is a dynamic process whereby each time we remember something, it will be changed. Our first memories are probably even less reliable, but I think mine is of Christmas 1953, when I was three. My mother was German and we celebrated Christmas in the German way. An English Christmas is a dull affair in comparison, with presents handed out by underslept parents on a cold and drab Christmas morning, around a tree decorated with electric lights.

Surgeon’s Notebook
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