Dear John, I really hope you won’t be offended by this letter from your uncle. I have nothing but respect for you and I would hate to damage the friendly relationship we have had since I first met you when you were six years old.
I understand from your aunt that you voted Labour in the latest election and that you are a ‘Corbynista’. In fact even your aunt herself — a lifelong Tory as far as I know — has been saying how nice Jeremy Corbyn is and how much better he handled the Grenfell Tower tragedy than Theresa May did.
Which Hogwarts house would you be in? There are four options, and everybody fits into one. The brave and chivalrous are put in Gryffindor. Patient and loyal types head to Hufflepuff. Ravenclaw is for the witty and intelligent. The cunning and ambitious — and potentially evil — are destined for Slytherin. In the Harry Potter books, a pugnacious talking hat, known as the ‘Sorting Hat’, carries out the selection.
The Tory party is having the wrong conversation. Whenever two or three Conservative MPs are gathered together, they discuss who should succeed Theresa May. They lament that the front-runners all have their flaws, scan the ministerial list for a ‘dark horse’ candidate — and debate whether it’d be better for May to go at this autumn’s conference or to hang on until the end of the Brexit talks.
But rather than discussing who should succeed May, and when, they should be thinking about what should succeed her.
If the British Conservative party is feeling stunned, having calamitously misread the public mood in a general election, then it is in good company. Across Europe, right-wing parties are struggling to find messages that resonate. It’s not that voters have turned away from conservative ideas: polls show a huge number interested in individual liberty, lower taxes and the nation state. The problem is that conservative parties have given up on those ideas — and, as a result, voters are giving up on them.
Should it be Boris? He was twice elected mayor of a Labour city and if the Tory mission is to stop Jeremy Corybn, surely you need someone charismatic to see off a populist. Then again, David Davis is a dependable caretaker, a bruiser who can hold the line on Brexit. Or why not skip a generation? There’s the articulate Priti Patel and the accomplished Dominic Raab. And to make this party go with a bang, why not ask Michael Gove to be someone’s campaign manager? He’ll change his mind on the day and then: pow! They’ll all form a circular firing squad, like last time, and whoever’s left standing wins.
Bicycling up Regent Street in the intense June heat last week, I was cut up by a black cab driver. When I remonstrated with him, he leapt out of the cab and assaulted me, with a violent shove in the small of my back, trying to push me off my bike.
It was the heat that did it. The driver wouldn’t have deserted his snug cab — and his passenger — if it had been raining. But, in the longest heatwave in more than a decade, he went stir-crazy in his confined space, as the black paint of his taxi absorbed mind-altering quantities of ultraviolet rays.
Israel’s Channel 2 news station improbably made history last week by airing a brief interview with an obscure policy wonk named Abed al-Hamid Hakim. The subject was the blockade of Qatar imposed by the Saudis and a couple of other despotic Sunni Arab rulers to punish the country for its ties to Iran, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. It obviously wasn’t what Hakim had to say — religion should not be used to justify violence and extremism; we should all try to live in peace and harmony — that aroused interest.
The last housing scandal in Notting Hill brought down a Conservative government and transformed the social policy of Britain. Peter Rachman was a slum landlord with a pink Rolls-Royce. His appalling treatment of poor immigrants, exposed during the Profumo affair, magnified the myth of exploitative, capitalist, decadent Tories. The 1964 election swept Harold Wilson to power with a promise of rent controls, and the era of council estates, comprehensive education and welfare entitlement was upon us.
I gave up coffee a couple of weeks ago. I won’t pretend it was easy. The physical withdrawal began with a blinding headache accompanied by creeping nausea. My limbs turned rubbery, and I was reminded of when Winston Churchill cruelly compared Ramsay MacDonald to a Barnum’s Circus freak dubbed ‘The Boneless Wonder’. I felt just like The Boneless Wonder, but with my head trapped in a vice. This feeling lasted for more than a week.
BBC Radio 4 – The Reith lectures
A few years back, before I began writing novels about the Tudors, my partner and I bought a new-build house in Surrey. We bought it off-plan, and watched it grow out of an open field. The site looked like a battlefield from the Great War. It was a churned-up wasteland filled with shattering noise, and if you visited it after working hours, you felt as if you had arrived in the middle of a temporary truce, and the ground beneath your feet was still shaking.
When friends from overseas with the slightest interest in music ask for recommendations about what to see in London, I always come up trumps. Boastful but true. In fact, even friends who’ve lived in London all their lives are impressed when I suggest a night of opera at the Royal College of Music’s Britten Theatre.
Normally, that’s because they’ve never heard of it, never mind not knowing where it is or what it does.