Are we living in the age of the strongman – or the weak man? Politics in the 21st century has so far been defined by a global drift away from liberalism, whatever that was, and towards authoritarianism – Xi in China, Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey, Modi in India, Orban in Hungary, Bolsonaro in Brazil and that delightful Mr Duterte in the Philippines. In the 2020s, however, in our supposedly more advanced democracies, the political leitmotif has been one of feeble and failing leadership.
The protests against the film The Lady of Heaven
reminded me of a demonstration I attended as a child. My father had taken me to Hyde Park to stand with thousands of other British Muslims to oppose Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Ban the book, the cries went up. Some began to burn copies. Others started to chant ‘Death to Rushdie’. My father quickly grabbed my hand and turned away. ‘We are not a people who burn books or kill authors,’ he said later.
Last month, Vadim Shishimarin, a 21-year-old Russian soldier, was jailed for life. His sentence marked the first successful war-crimes prosecution since the conflict in Ukraine began.
On the fourth day of the invasion, after coming under fire, Shishimarin and four other soldiers hijacked a car and drove around looking for other units to join. They stopped in the north-eastern village of Chupakhivka where they came across 62-year-old Oleksandr Shelipov.
There was still a minute to go in round one when my opponent Rudy started hugging me. ‘Are you OK? Are you OK? I’m so, so sorry,’ he said, looking distraught. Then the doctor appeared, shoved an oxygen tank over my face and ordered me to lie flat on the canvas.
That was the moment when I realised that my plan to go from 56-year-old fitness nobody to superstar boxer in just three months hadn’t quite worked out.
Long involvement in The Spectator’s Economic
Innovator Awards has taught me that entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes.
Even so, when I met the founder of a British rocket-science venture called
Pulsar Fusion, I was looking for a bespectacled boffin rather than someone I
might have presumed was a musical-theatre actor – or a star of one of those TV
reality shows populated only by the young, fit and blond, such as Made In
In his memoirs, Charles de Gaulle famously wrote that he had always possessed ‘a certain idea of France’, a phrase that evoked a mystical past of grandeur and glory, as well as an ‘eminent and exceptional destiny’. In French it is a lovely expression, but it’s doubtful the great man had in mind the angry parents of state-school children revolting against incumbent politicians in the 14th arrondissement of Paris, where on Sunday night there was a kind of mini-insurrection by Nupes, the ungainly coalition of left-wing parties that threatens to upend the French political establishment and deny President Emmanuel Macron majority control of the National Assembly during his second five-year term.
For the first time since the pandemic, Prince Charles has returned to Transylvania. When he visits the small village of Miclosoara, or, as the Hungarian locals who live here know it, Miklósvár, the weather is perfect. There’s a small breeze and a light rain has fallen, but the sun is now out. ‘Look at that!’ someone exclaims in surprise and points a finger in the air. It’s a rare sight: over the mossy rooftops, an angry jay is chasing off a stork.
There’s an old saying that English summertime begins when the frothy heads of elderflowers appear in hedgerows – and ends when the black elderberries have ripened. People have been picking these great white ‘plates’, as the flower heads are known, to make drinks since at least Tudor times. In Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1747) there’s a recipe for elderflower wine. But only in the past 20 years or so have elderflower cordial and pressé become ubiquitous as soft drinks.