Any time we see a politician fail, or an idiotic policy collapse as it passes through parliament — which these days seems like a regular occurrence — we are left with a familiar feeling. That this screw-up is the result of a chancer at work. Someone who has, at the very best, a shallow understanding of the country they’re trying to govern. Someone who knew how to come up with a headline-grabbing idea, and how to make it sound convincing and radical — but didn’t ever have the faintest idea how to implement it.
When I went to see V.S. Naipaul in hospital last week he was feeling marginally better. His wife Nadira had arranged for a violinist to play some Mozart to him, helping him relax. She did not allow too many visitors. This was not the first time he had been in hospital. His health had been deteriorating for the past 12 months and the family had been receiving — as always — a flurry of invitations from literary festivals and heads of state.
How can you be attacked by an encyclopaedia? Until last week I would have thought the idea as absurd as being savaged by a tree frog. Now I know better. Wikipedia bites. Fortunately it can only do so in the electronic dreamland of the internet. But as we all increasingly discover, that world is growing fast alongside the real one: millions spend much of their lives within it, and for many people it is almost as solid as reality.
On Valentine’s Day, a homeless man was found dead in the pedestrian subway near the Houses of Parliament. This week, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire published the government’s response, its much-delayed £100 million ‘rough sleeping strategy’, which includes the eye-catching initiative to eradicate all rough sleeping by 2027. Charities and Labour were unimpressed, quickly working out that the promised funding was not new money but appeared to have been reallocated from other budgets.
It’s like any traditional bazaar. Cushions litter the floor and crowds gather around displays of Chinese pottery and Persian rugs. Tea cups stand ready to celebrate a hard-bartered purchase. Except no tea will be poured: this market happens to be in the middle of a stateroom in Buckingham Palace and is the centrepiece of the Prince of Wales’s new exhibition showcasing his favourite pieces of art and craftsmanship.
The great grey river stretched into the horizon. The sun was big and low in the sky. The air was very fresh and the clear sky streaked with smears of pink and orange. We had only a little left of the day.
From our spot on the Globian Sluice, a steel grating promontory, we could see the gaunt cranes of DP World London Gateway port, smoking factories across the water on the Isle of Grain and a ship or two, loitering.