Can we do without cash? Since 2015, digital payments in the UK have outnumbered those in cash, and we are invited by the great and the good to cheer this on. The fully cashless era will be magnificently convenient, they say, with goods delivered directly to the door: no fumbling for change, just tap and go. Some London branches of several chains (Waitrose, Tossed, Doddle) don’t accept cash any more.
It looks like the people might do it again. After the British electorate misled themselves so badly and American voters failed to rotate the Clinton and Bush families for another presidential cycle, the latest fear is that democracy might occur in Holland.
Polls currently show Geert Wilders’s Freedom party almost at level pegging with the governing VVD party, both milling around the 30-seat mark. Questions about when the Dutch became illiberal miss the point that this is a revolt in defence of liberalism rather than against it.
That the US should have elected as president someone like Donald Trump came as a shock. But the US is a strange country, given to periodic outbursts of political madness — though perhaps never quite as mad as this. That the Dutch, often caricatured as pragmatic, bourgeois, phlegmatic, business-minded, tolerant and perhaps a little boring, might in March pick a party led by a vulgar rabble-rouser with dyed blond hair to be the biggest in the land is more surprising.
There are plans in place to tax horses out of British life. Proposed adjustments in business rates for non--residential properties — increases of up to eight times — could make vast swaths of the horsey world unviable. Life will be tough for top-end enterprises like racing yards and stud farms; it will be the end for the many riding schools and livery yards that exist on the far edge of the possible.
‘Did you really deserve the Nobel prize?’ I ask Amartya Sen. ‘Why do you think you won?’
When you’re sitting opposite the world’s most respected living economist, at a time when the dismal science is under intense scrutiny, an opening question should be punchy.
Thankfully, Sen, an 83-year-old Harvard professor, has a sense of humour. ‘You can’t ask me that,’ he says with a grin. ‘I have absolutely no idea why I won.
For weeks now, we have been reading about a crisis in A&E — a symptom, we’re told, of a funding crisis in the National Health Service more generally. Since I started working for the NHS almost 45 years ago, this has been a familiar theme: the system is creaking, but a bit more tax money should suffice. To many of us who have seen the system close at hand, another question presents itself: what if the NHS were to cut down on waste? And perhaps recover costs from the health tourists who turn up for treatment to which they are not entitled?
I first made the case for doing so four years ago, in the pages of this magazine, when I was the senior surgeon of a rare cancers unit at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
‘The Reformation was a process of both renewal and division among Christians in Europe,’ said the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in a ‘joint reflection’ statement marking 500 years of Protestantism. ‘In this Reformation anniversary year, many Christians will want to give thanks for the great blessings they have received to which the Reformation directly contributed.’
Many will want to? OK, but what about you? Why this timid slippage into the third person? Some journalists reported the statement as an apology.
On Wednesday afternoon I went to the British embassy in Washington for ‘a tea and champagne reception’ to mark the inauguration of President Trump. Like most institutions, the embassy has struggled to come to terms with the Donald. We all know (thanks to Twitter) that Trump wants Nigel Farage to be the UK representative in DC, which must leave the current ambassador, Sir Kim Darroch, feeling a bit tense.
Every Christmas, I ask my loved ones for at least two pairs of corduroy trousers. Off with a sigh tramps my girlfriend, who knows that fashion cycles dictate that corduroy will be ‘in’, and therefore purchasable, only every fourth or fifth year or so. For three or four years corduroy will be invisible. Shop assistants will look askance at anyone who dares even mention it. Then corduroy is rediscovered by whoever decides these things, and it’s everywhere.