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One man rules

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

No deal is a good deal

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

Papa Xi

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

Pregnant silence

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

Dangerous liaisons | 19 October 2017

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

Lost in translation | 19 October 2017

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

Cult classic

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

Notes on...

Cruise ship pianists

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