Six months into Imran Khan’s premiership and the new Pakistan prime minister has been plunged into his first major foreign crisis.
Last week, a suicide bomber attacked Indian soldiers in Kashmir, killing more than 40 paramilitary troops. Simultaneously, another suicide attack massacred 27 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard near the Pakistani border of Iran’s troubled Sistan and Baluchestan Province.
The first thing to note about the ‘South Bank seven’ is that they are nothing like the four former Labour cabinet ministers who split the party in 1981, forming the SDP. The Gang of Four were national figures who between them had held every major office of state, bar the top job. Most of the MPs who announced from a swish venue on the South Bank that they were quitting Labour to set up a new outfit have little to no public profile.
In September 2016, the Labour party reached a turning point but then failed to turn. The re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader with an increased majority, despite the opposition of two thirds of his own MPs, seemed to make a split inevitable. But it wasn’t until this week that Labour MPs found the nerve to leave the party and begin to form a new one: the Independent Group.
Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey all quit citing various aspects of Corbyn’s leadership as their reason for going.
Brexit was a mutiny. Like all mutinies, it was driven by anger at authority rather than by a strategy for the future. To date, the consequences have been to deepen polarisation, but triumphant victory for either side is not the way forward. That there is no majority for any of the current options is entirely understandable: they are all awful. We can only break the polarisation with a new strategy.
‘Last fling before the ring.’ ‘Buy me a shot, I’m tying the knot.’ ‘Keep calm and bridesmaid on.’ If you find yourself on a train to Brighton, Paris or Amsterdam with a group of women in T-shirts bearing the above slogans, change carriages. You are about to witness Jen’s hen in full prosecco-and-Pringles feather. On the lash, off the leash, bonded together in squealing sisterhood for one night only.
Every ten to 15 years there is a technology breakthrough that really changes what it means to be human. The internet, mobile phones, social media and, most recently, AI voice assistance: all of these amplify the human experience. And with each technological game-changer we go through much of the same series of questions and anxieties. We worry both that it’s all too much, and too little. With the recent advances in artificial intelligence we leap ahead to the existential dangers, and at the same time wonder whether there aren’t more pressing issues to discuss: healthcare, climate change, education, the economy.
At the end of January, I had the honour and pleasure of being on Desert Island Discs. I liked Lauren Laverne and enjoyed talking with her. Afterwards I wondered if I’d been careful enough about what I said. Had I made a fool of myself? As the transmission date approached I was anxious. I told hardly anyone about the programme, in the totally unrealistic hope that people wouldn’t notice it was on. But it was OK.
Benjamin Britten was adamant that he did not want any memorial sculpture of himself in Aldeburgh, the Suffolk coastal town where he lived for 30 years. He died in 1976 and he is remembered there by the Britten-Pears music school and Snape Maltings concert hall, by John Piper’s magnificent window in the church, and at the Red House, where Britten lived, which contains his entire library, art collection and musical archive.