Optimists speculate that Xi Jinping’s power accumulation is the prelude to a burst of liberalising reform in his second five-year term as the Communist party’s general secretary, which will be consecrated at the current Congress. Nothing seems more unlikely, with the Chinese leader insisting in his marathon opening speech on Wednesday that his country should ‘strive for the great success of socialism with Chinese characteristics’ to take ‘centre stage in the world’.
So Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker enjoyed a ‘broad and constructive exchange’ during their working dinner in Brussels. Last time the Prime Minister broke bread with the President of the European Commission — at Downing Street six months ago — Juncker dubbed her ‘deluded’ and complained about the food.
Despite better mood music, this latest supper summit was hardly positive. European Union negotiators still refuse to discuss trade or end the divisive impasse over citizens’ rights until Britain agrees to pay a stonking ‘divorce bill’ — upwards of £40-£50 billion.
For the first time since the death of Chairman Mao four decades ago, a leadership personality cult is emerging in China. You can see it in Beijing’s streets, where President Xi Jinping’s face appears on posters on bus stops, next to those of revolutionary war heroes. Scarlet banners fly with bold white letters saying: ‘Continue Achieving the Successes of Socialism... with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core’.
Brian Sewell once wrote an article about abortion headlined: ‘Women, the killers in our midst.’ He got an awful lot of flak for it, which he took in his stride. He came to mind during the screening of Abortion On Trial, the documentary hosted by Anne Robinson and screened this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act. In it, one of the participants described abortion as murder.
Lothario, Don Juan, philanderer, ‘naughty’, ‘plays away’ — all terms for men who have an overwhelming drive to seduce scores of women, take no responsibility, and often get away with it. In the recent allegations about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory sexual attacks on more than 30 females, mainly actresses, whose careers seem to have depended on them being compliant, most of his victims now complain too of his physical unattractiveness.
If Michel Barnier and David Davis, in their regular dialogue of the deaf, seem to be inhabiting different mental universes, that is because they are. The British and French have often found each other particularly difficult to negotiate with. Of course, Barnier represents not France but the EU, and he has a negotiating position, the notorious European Council Guidelines, on which the veteran British diplomat Sir Peter Marshall has recently commented that ‘I have never seen, nor heard tell of, a text as antipathetic to the principle of give and take which is generally assumed to be at the heart of negotiation among like-minded democracies’.
In Dan Brown’s new thriller, Origin, we are introduced to the Catholic church’s sinister far-right rival — a paranoid worldwide cult dedicated to undermining the reforms of Pope Francis.
This toxic outfit has its own pope, who runs it from his ‘Vatican’ at El Palmar de Troya, on the Andalusian plain; hence its name, the Palmarian Catholic church. Brown describes a ‘soaring Gothic cathedral’ dominated by ‘eight towering spires, each with a triple-tiered bell tower’.
When Crystal Cruises invited me to join their flagship as the guest classical pianist for a springtime voyage around the Aegean, I had my doubts. Inspecting their website, I anticipated jazz-age glamour, Art Deco-inflected design and gourmet cuisine. But playing Beethoven on a boat? What about the noise, and the movement — not to mention the psychological effect of the environment on my interpretation? How, for instance, would my inner Richter fare in a face-off with my inner Liberace in a venue called the Galaxy Lounge?
I have a genetic piano-seeking compulsion, however.