‘Has the Secretary of State, like me, managed to watch programmes such as Benefits Street and On Benefits & Proud? If so, has he, like me, been struck by the number who complain about welfare reform while able to afford copious amounts of cigarettes, have lots of tattoos, and watch Sky TV on the obligatory widescreen television?’
This question, from the Tory backbencher Philip Davies in Parliament this week, was not one Iain Duncan Smith would have welcomed.
Obviously, the whole Hollande business is utterly compelling from a prurient point of view, though journalists did brilliantly in coming up with spurious public interest reasons for talking about it (Corsican mafia! Presidential security! Lying!). The most riveting aspect, for me, is the heroic restraint of his former partner Ségolène Royale when she was asked about it on telly — given that she was ditched by Mr Hollande after 30 years of respectable concubinage and four children in favour of the woman now being humiliated by this affair.
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[/audioplayer]No scandal has been more successfully covered up than the appalling truth about what happens to Britain’s poorest people. We have, as a country, grown used to pretending they don’t exist; we shovel them off to edge-of-town housing estates and pay them to stay there in economic exile.
Towards the end of last year Tom Stoppard gave a rather brilliant PEN/Pinter lecture on freedom of expression which was, in part, a kind of love letter to the place which has been his home since 1946: ‘There is no country in the world I would rather be living in, no country where I would feel safer.’
Later in the same lecture he listed his own ‘obsequies over the England we have mislaid’. The list began: ‘Surveillance, mis-selling pensions and insurance.
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[/audioplayer]Fifty years ago this week, a cover story in The Spectator helped to bring down a Conservative government. It was called ‘The Tory Leadership’ and was written by the editor, Iain Macleod, who had been a senior minister in Harold Macmillan’s government.
This is a story about Nelson Mandela, and it begins on Robben Island in 1974. Prisoner number 466/64 is writing up his life story, working all night and sleeping all day. Finished pages go to trusted comrades who write comments and queries in the margins. The text is then passed to one Laloo Chiba, who transcribes it in ‘microscopic’ letters on to sheets of paper which are later inserted into the binding of notebooks and carried off the island by Mac Maharaj when he is released in 1976.
Hollywood tends to treat Richard Nixon as an oafish B-movie villain, so it is ambitious and original of Harry Shearer to try to convince a British audience of the very feminine side of the 37th American president.
As a veteran comedy actor and the ‘voice’ of several of the Simpsons cartoon characters — including Mr Burns, Smithers, and Ned Flanders — Shearer has the vocal range to get almost anyone right if he puts his mind to it.
‘What are people in your country saying about Holland these days?’ one Dutch friend recently asked me. I hadn’t the heart to reply that no one was talking that much about his country. But the question seemed typically Dutch. Endlessly outward-looking and interested, yet charmingly insular and with a slightly off-kilter view of itself. The Dutch character — like the country — is fascinating for that cocktail of conservatism and libertinism, strict rule-making and anarchism which runs through it.