In British politics, the Europe question always comes to embody the problems that a Prime Minister faces. So Gordon Brown will fly back from Lisbon with a treaty that emphasises that he is scared of putting things to the country and that he spins just as much as his predecessor ever did. With the ratification process expected to run for six months, Mr. Brown faces prolonged trouble over this document and maybe even his first large scale Labour rebellion.
Politics trumps economics. That’s the best summary of the Tory and Labour competition to pander to those who until now have been threatened with paying to the Treasury a portion of the money they receive for just ‘being there’.Let’s de-emotionalise this issue. An inheritance tax is not a death duty. The slogan ‘No taxation without respiration’ is too clever by half. Even a Chancellor of the Exchequer as powerful as the previous occupant of the office could not get a corpse to sign a cheque.
Four years ago I published a book set in the East End, about a troubled young woman who lives and works in the vibrant multiethnic community of Bethnal Green. It was fun to write, and reasonably well-reviewed. But just before publication I turned around and saw a magnificent tidal wave filling the literary horizon, and approaching fast. ‘Another book about the East End,’ I thought to myself. ‘Wow, that looks rather impressive.
The Muslims’ letter to the Pope is not all it seemsAt first sight the letter from 138 prominent Muslim scholars and imams to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders published last week, ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’, is a welcome statement of a number of obvious truths — that Christianity and Islam worship one God; that both religions enjoin truth, justice and love of neighbour; and that if these two great monotheistic religions fight one another, then there is little chance of peace in the world.
IstanbulTwo elderly shoe-shiners were shouting with rage outside my local in Istanbul. The subject was America, and they ranted on and on — first about the disaster in Iraq, then about the stirring up of the Kurds, and then about the latest effort in Congress to ‘recognise the Armenian genocide’. What is so very strange about all of this is that American relations with Turkey have generally been very good.
To date there have been no indications of ministerial disquiet with Sir John Bourn, Britain’s comptroller and auditor general. Ministers speak of him in glowing terms, insisting that he is the embodiment of rectitude. Conservative front-bench spokesmen take the same favourable view.This is very striking in view of the stream of revelations concerning this guardian of our public finances. Embarrassing details emerged last week, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act, concerning Sir John’s personal extravagance.
People living within a 25-mile radius of Michael Gove, MP, are more likely to die of cirrhosis of the liver and alcohol-related tumours than anywhere else in the country. There is a direct correlation between (fairly) close proximity to Michael and very high levels of alcohol consumption. A study carried out by researchers from the Liverpool John Moores University discovered that five of Britain’s most alcohol-saturated areas were congregated around Michael’s constituency in Surrey Heath.
Hammer’s 1958 Dracula is being re-releasedTo some, the spectacle of heaving bosoms, goblets and hideous bloodshot eyes might simply signify an average night out in Boujis. For the rest of us, however, these are the amusingly persistent leitmotifs of Hammer Horror — together with brightly lit Transylvanian inns, horses clattering through Home Counties woodlands, huge fangs and glass paintings of distant castles.