Britain seems to be following America down a dangerous path. There’s your politician David Lammy accusing Oxford and Cambridge of racial bias — and refusing to listen when they point out they simply accept whoever gets top grades. Then there’s the author Lionel Shriver, pilloried because she dared to suggest (in this magazine) that privileging identity quotas over talent might be a mistake. It seems the UK is succumbing to the same madness over diversity and quotas that has plagued the US for half a century.
Dear 2016 WriteNow mentees,
Thanks so much for your open letter to me. It seems only good manners for me to write back.
You’re rightly proud of having been admitted to a challenging programme at Penguin Random House that mentors gifted young minority authors and helps to cultivate their talents. My own publisher, HarperCollins, runs a similar programme, which enjoys my full support. Such proactive outreach is exactly the approach I endorse for helping to vary the voices on our bookshelves.
Here’s a rum thing: you can tell the quality of a piece of land with your eyes closed. Your ears alone will tell you if it’s any good or not. And this, as it happens, was good land.
I was attempting to explain this concept to a group of disparate individuals, among them land-owners, gamekeepers, shoot-owners, farm workers, solicitors, an official from the National Farming Union, an RSPB warden, someone from Norfolk Wildlife Trust, a local councillor and a person who sells agricultural equipment.
Was there ever a more fatuous contribution to a political debate than Lord Hague following up the case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell — the boy whose mother says he needs cannabis oil to control his epilepsy — with a demand for recreational cannabis to be legalised? But the former foreign secretary has done us a favour of sorts. He has inadvertently explained why Billy Caldwell has become such a cause célèbre over the past few days: the drug-legalisation lobby has cottoned on to his huge propaganda potential.
When the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu visited London in 1978, the British government did some serious sucking up. Ceausescu was an egomaniac and possibly crazy. When he went hunting outside Bucharest, his body-guards shot game with machine guns so he could be photographed at the end of the day with a shoulder-high pile of dead animals. He was also said to be a germophobe, sterilising his hand with pure alcohol if it touched a door handle.
Sexual intercourse, Philip Larkin famously wrote, began in 1963. And listening to contemporary commentators, you’d think that it came to an end in 2017 with the birth of the #MeToo movement. For these voices of doom, the end of the erotic is nigh; Britain is on the brink of sexual apocalypse.
The recent news that Netflix has banned flirtation from film sets — along with lingering hugs, requests for phone numbers and extensive touching — is for these commentators just the latest example of #MeToo sexual correctness gone mad.
When my American friends invited us to stay with them in New Jersey, my 13-year-old daughter was thrilled. She’d never been to the States before, and she couldn’t wait to see Manhattan. I had to break the news to her that there were no skyscrapers where we’d be staying. Plainfield, New Jersey, is an easy commute from New York City, but it feels like a world away. Clapboard houses with star spangled banners: this is the real America.