Armed guards are patrolling the perimeter fence of a sleek factory. Software experts are fending off hackers. Border officials are checking trucks and ferries, not for weapons or illegal immigrants, but for a mysterious biochemical soup, while spies and spin doctors are feeding social media with scare stories flaming one national champion or another. Welcome to the first great geopolitical battle of the 21st century. It may sound like something ripped from the pages of a dystopian sci-fi novel, but in truth we’re seeing the opening salvos in the vaccine wars.
Australia has been a rare success story during the pandemic. There have been around 29,000 cases of Covid, 908 of which have proved fatal. There are currently just 125 active cases in the entire country, a mere 25 of which have required hospitalisation. For a population of 25 million, this is a vastly different experience to that of Covid-beleaguered Europe and North America. No wonder the British government is considering whether it might be time to copy Australia’s approach, to help save an economy and society battered to a degree Australians can scarcely comprehend.
Accusations of child abuse against Olivier Duhamel, now 70, ex-vice-president of Sciences Po university and of the secretive Siècle (Century) club of Parisian movers and shakers, have cast a dark shadow on the legacy of the soixante-huitards, the baby boomers who occupied the Sorbonne in 1968 and went on to rule (and ruin) France.
Duhamel’s disgrace is long delayed. Only now has his stepdaughter, Camille Kouchner, published a book accusing him of sexually abusing her twin brother 30 years ago — and doing so within a culture in which his fashionable friends knew about the abuse but kept quiet.
In the first month of Brexit, two British orchestras were publicly beheaded. The London Symphony Orchestra was shocked to discover that its music director, Sir Simon Rattle, had taken a better job in Munich, while the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was forced to accept that its luminous Lithuanian, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, was simply too hot to hold any longer. Some pundits quickly predicted a post-Brexit talent haemorrhage.
Thursday 3 April 1721 was an unremarkable day in political London. No fanfare or ceremony surrounded King George I’s appointment of Robert Walpole as First Lord of the Treasury (Prime Minister), merely a paragraph buried in the press: ‘We are informed that a Commiffion is preparing appointing Mr Walpole Firft Lord…’ Yet here was the start of what has become the longest-lasting head of government job in the democratic world — and its 300th anniversary falls on 3 April this year.
Teaching unions have spent much of the past year campaigning with the social media hashtag #CloseTheSchools. It’s a reminder of the imbalance in debate over education. Unions represent the adults, MPs represent their constituents, but who in Westminster speaks for children?
In 2005 the Blair government sought to answer this question by creating a Children’s Commissioner, who would promote and protect the rights of children in decisions affecting their lives.
No new year would be complete without the traditional Oxfam survey showing that a few of the richest people on the planet own more assets than the poorest 50 per cent of the world’s population combined. The figures change, but the gist is the same. January is usually a slow month, and it makes for startling headlines, intended to get us thinking about capitalism’s shortcomings.
It’s also been tradition, for those of us more positive about free markets, to offer a retort: before Covid, global poverty was falling at the fastest rate in history.
A few of the hip young things sitting along the Lisbon quayside turned their heads my way as my walking sticks scraped along the pavement. I didn’t slow down, though, because I was self-conscious about how I looked. Hiking 2,000km along an extended Camino pilgrimage from the French-Spanish border through northern Spain then down through Portugal will do that to you. My beard had gone feral, my greying hair was out of control.
Doc Martens are one of those quintessentially British things that, like the royal family and lorries queuing on the M20, turn out actually to be Germany’s doing. The ancestor of what became the ‘Air Wair’ sole was designed in 1945 by a German army doctor with a sore foot. Amid the postwar hurly-burly, he ‘salvaged’ a cobbler’s last from a shop in Munich and knocked himself up an air-cushioned shoe to relieve his discomfort.