Featured articles


Katy Balls

Can Boris take back control of No. 10?

There’s a mutinous mood in Westminster this Christmas. In quiet corridors on the parliamentary estate the question is being asked: has Boris outlived his usefulness? Ministers are laying low. Tory WhatsApp groups are hushed. MPs are dodging calls from the whips, claiming to be sick or working from home. In conversations with Tory MPs, it

The PowerPoint plot against Joe Biden

If the revolution won’t be televised, the counter-revolution will at least be on PowerPoint. A series of 36 corporate-style PowerPoint slides have now been handed over to the Congressional Committee investigating the 6 January insurrection. Written and conceived by a retired colonel (who else?), the PowerPoint lays out a clear, if bonkers, strategy for keeping

Best of the Blob: who would be picked for its 1st XV?

Selectors for the Blob have chosen their 1st XV. Fans of The Game sometimes ask, as they do about Barbarians RFC: ‘Who are these people, do they have any supporters and who exactly pays them?’ Well, now we have the answer to at least that first question. Full back: Sir Philip Barton, head of the

What’s your kindness IQ?

A few weeks ago, MailOnline carried a rather mundane story about some personnel changes at my charity, Sarah’s Trust, and another I support as patron, Humanitas. The piece reported quite fairly some of the work that we have been doing, including supplying hundreds of sleeping bags and essential supplies to homeless people. I rarely venture into

The moment I fell in love with music

I’ve lived in Chelsea for the past 35 years. Since 2002, I’ve photographed everything I find interesting here — churches, streets, door knockers and pub signs, plus two old Chelsea pensioners chatting on a bench with their medal ribbons and rank pinned to their scarlet coats. I’ve recently finished my project and added these 1,800

How chilling ghost stories became a Christmas tradition

‘A sad tale’s best for winter,’ says little Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale: ‘I have one/ Of sprites and goblins…’ (He is dead by Act III.) Ghost stories have always been best told on a midwinter night — preferably aloud, in a group drawn close together around a blazing fire. Pleasure comes from awareness of

The best children’s books: a Spectator Christmas survey

J.K. Rowling Poignant, funny and genuinely scary, The Hundred and One Dalmatians was one of my favourite books as a child and the story has lingered in my imagination ever since. Blue iced cakes always put me in mind of Cruella de Vil’s experimental food colourings, and whenever our dogs whine to get out at

The day I got the key to the Sistine Chapel

After being landlocked for the past 18 months, it was a particular thrill to set off to film in three European capitals: Berlin, Paris and Rome. As always, it is my duty to supply and prepare my wardrobe for each documentary, having been given a list of the things we shall be doing so that

Reality check: could our universe be a simulation?

Are we all living in a computer simulation? Is the world we imagine to be real simply virtual reality instead, an elaborate computer program? That sounds ridiculous, but nonetheless it’s what many clever people actually think — or at least, think possible. One of them, the philosopher David Chalmers, has just written a book on

How is humanity served by the e-scooter?

In Hatchards for the launch of Andrea Rose’s catalogue raisonné of Leon Kossoff’s oil paintings. It’s bad for the morale of writers to frequent bookshops: too many shelves without their books on them. But I’m here to talk about Kossoff, not me. Whether he shunned galleries that showed him scant respect — one of the

What musicians like me learned from the pandemic

My mother died earlier this year aged 85. She left me her old pianola. These were popular in the 1920s and 1930s before people had records and hi-fis. You would put the rolls on the pianolas and they were cut by the great pianists of the day, from the popular players like Charlie Kunz, as

The last Noël in the USSR

It was on Christmas morning in Moscow in 1990 that my daughter, then aged seven, realised that Santa Claus was not to be trusted. She had made the usual elaborate suggestions to him in a letter to Lapland (perhaps hoping that, being posted from a frozen region, it would get through more readily). But when

The predictive power of science fiction

The pandemic is not quite over, but we are getting used to its inconveniences. What disaster will be next? An antibiotic-resistant strain of the bubonic plague? Climate collapse? Coronal mass ejection? Will the next catastrophe be natural — perhaps a massive volcanic eruption, the likes of which we have not seen for more than two

Our new era of Jewish-Muslim relations

Reactions to the recent passing of F.W. de Klerk transported me back to my childhood in South Africa. The horror of apartheid was a frequent topic of conversation in our family. My uncle’s law firm, Witkin, Sidelsky and Eidelman, pioneered the employment of black people and gave Nelson Mandela his first job as a clerk,

What happens to Afghan migrants when they reach the UK?

Migrants continue to cross the Channel and to reach Britain by other means. But what happens once they arrive? The answer for many is a new life of boredom and endless waiting. Dotted around the south coast are hotels where these people are housed, hidden out of sight. I went to meet some of them.

Gus and his mate Mark: A short story by Lissa Evans

‘I’ve just seen a wen,’ said Gus, returning from the toilets. ‘A what?’ ‘A wen. It’s a benign thing, I can’t remember the proper name for it. It looked like a button mushroom growing out of this bloke’s head. Really hard not to stare.’ ‘A wen,’ repeated Mark, broodingly. ‘I’ve never even heard of it.

Notes on...

Why do we bother with Christmas trees?

The closest thing we have to a native Christmas tree is the often broccoli-shaped Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). But the Norwegian spruce (Picea abies) is the classic Christmas tree. Despite it being present in Britain during the last interglacial period, it is not considered native. It did not return to Britain after the most recent