As Robert Lindsay demonstrated unforgettably as Wolfie, leader of the Tooting Popular Front in Citizen Smith, anyone who shouts ‘Power to the People!’ can end up looking a prize idiot. So let me throw caution to the wind and say that this is precisely what the web, new media and mobile technology offer us, if we choose to seize the opportunity: democratisation on a new and unprecedented scale.This, at least, is the conclusion I have drawn making two Radio Four programmes on politics and the internet.
The motion: Britain Doesn’t Need TridentHarrowing stuff. Helena Kennedy QC began by invoking the memory of Hiroshima. ‘Peeling skin, melting eyeballs. People on pavements vomiting and waiting for death.’ Though she made the pacifist argument Lady Kennedy wasn’t suggesting that to scrap Trident was ‘some wild left-wing peacenik plan’. She cited conservative figures like Simon Jenkins and Lord Bramall, a former defence chief of staff, who both oppose renewing the nuclear deterrent.
In 1864 a Talmudist named Jacob Saphir arrived at Cairo. He made his way to the district confusingly named ‘Babylon’ after a Roman fort. There he visited the ancient Synagogue of Ben Ezra, and after complex negotiations he gained access to the Geniza, or treasury. The keepers provided him with a ladder and he climbed up to the roof of a room, two and a half storeys high. Wriggling through a hole, he landed on an enormous mound of parchment, papyrus and leather bindings.
Now we know. Until now, we Americans have been wondering whether we were witnessing from the new boy on the foreign policy stage a cock-up or a considered change in Britain’s policy towards the United States. When Gordon Brown exclaimed that he would never have appointed the man who wears his hatred of the American president and the neoconservatives as ‘a badge of honour’ had he known how offensive Malloch Brown would be to George Bush and the Americans, there was an inclination to believe him, even though it taxed credulity to think the Prime Minister had been so badly briefed.
The Annapolis Middle East summit won’t produce anything more than a commitment to hold another meeting. But the real worry is that Condoleezza Rice’s intense focus on the Israel Palestine question could distract her from more pressing matters in Iraq, Pakistan and North Korea.It must all have been so different in their dreams. Scroll back to January 2005, the aftermath of the Iraqi elections and the beginning of President George W.
Alex Salmond is excitedly brandishing his new House of Commons security pass. ‘Look at the expiry date,’ he says. ‘May 2010. That’s the latest date for a general election.’ By then, on his calculations, Scotland will be seven years away from independence. Each MP has to choose a four-digit security code for the card, and I ask if he chose 2017, his new deadline to end the Union. ‘Could be,’ he smiles, as if to hint that his real timetable is even shorter.
‘Beowulf! How’s your father?’ shouts Anthony Hopkins as Ray Winstone steps out of the boat which has brought the Geats’ tribal leader from Sweden to Denmark. As a way of grabbing attention it probably works better than ‘Hwaet!’ — the narrator’s initial injunction to sit up and listen in the original text. This may be English literature’s first epic, but even its admirers concede that the multiple plots recounted in 3,182 lines can confuse.
In the last month, another respected international survey placed Oxford and Cambridge joint second to Harvard in the league table of world-class universities. This confirms what others have suggested in recent years. Moreover, other British universities — most notably London’s Imperial College and University College — came out high on the list. There are, alas, too few areas of our national life — the armed forces, the City of London, our diplomatic service — where we do as well in global comparisons.
The Threadneedle/Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards
Last Thursday the 24th annual Threadneedle/Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year lunch was held in front of a roomful of the great and good at Claridges, and — this being the first ever live ‘vodcast’ award ceremony — in front of thousands of web-watchers worldwide as well. Matthew d’Ancona, editor of The Spectator, welcomed the Rt Hon John Reid MP to present the awards, saying: ‘As Home Secretary, he showed that the spirit of The Sweeney is not dead, metaphorically hurling substandard officials on to the bonnet of his Cortina, investing the words “not fit for purpose” with new and chilling meaning.
Samina Malik may be cretinous, but shouldn’t be criminalisedEeny meeny miny mo
Catch a kafir by the toe,
If he hollers, chop his head off,
And put the video on YouTube.I’d better be quick, because I assume the Old Bill will be around any moment now. The little verse quoted above is my poetry debut for The Spectator and before you point out its many deficiencies of feet, metre, scansion, rhyme — not to mention its strictly limited breadth, semantically speaking — let me assure you it was intended as a pastiche.