At the Labour party conference in Bournemouth, Tony Blair was airbrushed out of the picture. But this week Blair’s ghost has returned to haunt Gordon Brown with a new biography of the ex-PM, sniping from the disaffected and the evidence of Yates of the Yard on cash for honours. The challenge now for Gordon Brown is to lay out an agenda that allows new Labour to move beyond its past.You could have spent the whole week at Labour’s conference in Bournemouth without realising somebody called Tony Blair had ever existed.
IstanbulTurkey at the moment is being swept by a great wave of patriotic rage. In the past several weeks a dozen or more young soldiers have been killed in the borderlands of Iraq, and even the most sober television channels again and again show their faces, their funerals, their weeping mothers and sisters. There have been vast demonstrations in Ankara and even in provincial towns, bringing the traffic to a stop for hours on end, and there is enormous pressure on the government for something to be done.
An eyewitness report of the bombing of Benazir Bhutto’s busIt’s Saturday night on Clifton beach and men in shalwar kameez are selling rides on short white horses or camels decorated with coloured bobbles. Stalls lit up by halogen lights offer roasted cobs of corn and cups of sugarcane juice ground from a large wheel. A noisy crowd gathers to place bets for a fight between a snake and a mongoose. Everywhere there are people — rich Karachi-ites out in their gold-threaded finery and conspicuous designer watches; the poor in plastic sandals.
Patrick Kielty says that there are three ages in a comedian’s life. ‘He starts off as the young Turk who is angry about the state of the world and wants to put it right. Then comes the age of hypocrisy — when he is still quite angry and still quite young, but quietly goes home after the show is over and puts his feet up at his nice pad in Chelsea. Then there is the final age when he is well into middle-age and making jokes about the goo-goo noises his children make.
In the autumn of 1994 I was looking at Byzantine churches on the Syrian-Israeli border for my book From the Holy Mountain. Telephoning home, I heard that one of the broadsheets had run a series of prominent stories claiming that Syria was mobilising its troops for an invasion of Israel. The paper described the roads jammed with Soviet-built tanks heading for the Golan Heights. As I happened to be in the area concerned, I could see that the story was completely false: the only movements I could see were of donkeys carrying olives from the harvest to their villages.
‘Mr White Man’s Time’ would be a pretty racist nickname if it hadn’t been invented by black Africans. In Ivory Coast, though, it’s a term of some distinction. The nickname belongs to Narcisse Aka, a legal adviser aged 40, who has just won the country’s hallowed Punctuality Night competition — and a £30,000 villa — after he consistently turned up for work on time while his compatriots took a more relaxed attitude to punctuality.
The heavyweight legal collision between the coroner Lord Justice Scott Baker’s evidence-driven inquests into Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s deaths, and Planet Fayed’s evidence-free legal and media circus, had always threatened to be messy. Last week was the first full week of witness evidence from Paris and London, and it produced ominous signs. Planet Fayed’s three QCs are his performing elephants — already dubbed ‘Hugefee QCs’ by Private Eye.
Notable people who are quite right-wing live a lot longer than notable people who are decidedly left of centre. This discovery of mine is, you might argue, counter-intuitive; you would expect right-wingers to be eaten away with dyspepsia and choler, the blood vessels on their foreheads popping open every time they read of a mosque about to open, or a wildcat strike about to take place. Whereas lefties, traditionally, possess a communal ethos and are tolerant of the many and diverse ways in which our society expresses itself.
Gordon Brown looks like a moth-eaten Prime Minister nowadays. His botched handling of a general election and his help in unifying the Conservatives have been the unexpected hallmarks of an amateur, not a consummate professional. If one adds to this his unpopular protestations that the European Treaty does not require the promised referendum, it would seem that never again will it be glad confident morn for his tenure in Downing Street.