If Al-Shabaab was behind the terrorist attack in Nairobi, then the group has come a long way since its foundation in a derelict shampoo factory called Ifka Halane — ‘Clean and Shiny’ — in Mogadishu in 2006. I know a little about the group because I am the only westerner to have met its founder, Aden Hashi Ayro, before he was killed in a US air strike. In those days Al-Shabaab was a small militia providing muscle for the Islamic courts in Mogadishu.
Kenya is one of those places where everybody knows everybody — and each one of us seems to have friends or relatives caught up in the Westgate shopping mall terrorist attack. My friends Simon and Amanda Belcher were on their way to lunch at the mall before catching a film at the cinema. They had parked their car on the top floor and walked past a marquee where a children’s ‘super chef’ cookery competition was about to start when gunfire erupted inside.
Thomas Barnes, who edited the Times from 1817 to 1841, declared that the ‘newspaper is not an organ through which government can influence people, but through which people can influence the government.’
There have been periods when principle guided the Times — for instance when the great war correspondent W.H. Russell exposed government incompetence in the Crimean War. At other times the newspaper has a tendency to become the organ of official opinion, impartially supporting any political party (just so long as it happens to be the one in power).
It doesn’t matter how many times they expand the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay, Paris’s past is so colossally rich that it could never be squeezed into its great public buildings. The city has instead developed its own breed of ‘house museum’ — ready-made monuments to its distinguished inhabitants.
It’s not just regular tourist stops like the Maison de Victor Hugo, either. In Montparnasse, the studios of artists Ossip Zadkine and Antoine Bourdelle display sublime sculpted figures in shaded gardens, and across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower you will find Balzac’s former village home, cramped among the Belle Époque curves and 1970s luxury towers of the 16ème.
The most common objection to a Tory-Ukip pact is that neither David Cameron nor Nigel Farage will touch it. So why waste time discussing it?
But a pact doesn’t need to be endorsed by the leaders of either party to work. What I have in mind is something bottom-up rather than top-down. A unite-the-right website set up by members of both parties that tells people who they should vote for in their constituency to keep out Labour and the Lib Dems.
David Cameron heads to the Tory conference in Manchester in a far better position than he would have dared hope a year ago. Labour’s opinion poll lead is shrinking, the economy is finally recovering and Ed Miliband is running out of time to persuade the country that he’s a potential Prime Minister. Ordinarily, the Tory tribe would be in high spirits — but there is a spectre haunting this conference, which almost no one dares name: Ukip.
This morning, Nick Clegg promised to take £500 million from taxpayers, and use it to subsidise electric cars. Last year, the Spectator's annual Matt Ridley Prize was won by an essay exposing the idiocy of the scheme - and the menacing social implications of subsidingof the rich.
My wife’s friend Charlotte earns £17,000 a year working as a teaching assistant, lives in a housing association flat and is having sleepless nights about paying her recent £124.
When I meet Chris Grayling in his departmental office, I do a double take. The Justice Secretary is not wearing a suit or even his Lord Chancellor’s robes but a pair of pale chinos and a pink Ralph Lauren button-down shirt. Noticing my surprise, Grayling reveals that this is his definition of ‘smart casual’: he’s off to a Tory away day straight after the interview.
Grayling is 6ft 5 and his height makes his mood pretty obvious.