Chinua Achebe is chuckling as he attempts to describe how much it means to him to have won the Man Booker International Prize. ‘How do I answer that?’ he wonders, in his soft, sing-song voice. ‘It means I am appreciated in certain quarters, that my work means something to people. When I started writing all those years ago, I wasn’t even aware there were such rewards. All I had in mind was to write a true story, in the way that fiction can be true.
Fraser Nelson says that the new Prime Minister has positioned himself in territory that the Tories have left vacant, and is ready to fight a cultural battle to defend the ‘British way of life’ and win over the C1 voters who decide electionsIt was a phrase that David Cameron would never dare to utter. As Gordon Brown was giving his first speech as Labour party leader in Manchester, he repeatedly pledged to defend the ‘British way of life’.
It’s not enough, if you wanted a rare interview with Lady T, just to cosy up to her. This would only, in the parlance of formal logic, be a necessary but not sufficient condition. So first I took her out to lunch — at Scott’s. As we entered the restaurant, I observed to Lady T: ‘I am sorry there are so many men!’‘But you seem to forget that I spent a lot of time in Parliament,’ she retorted, quick as a flash.
British politics used to be dominated by the country’s relentless economic decline. Long before James Carville’s mantra for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential election bid — ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ — it was the economy which determined British general elections and alternative economic policies which most divided the parties. I spent most of my early career as a journalist chronicling this economic decline and commenting on it.
A Job Centre machine had been installed right outside James Purnell’s office. It’s one of the Department of Work and Pensions’s new toys, matching up some of Britain’s 1.6 million unemployed with its 638,000 vacancies. But why this device should be outside the desk of the Minister for Pensions is unclear. ‘It is rather ominous,’ he says, patting it. ‘This wasn’t there last week.’ Ask anyone in Westminster to name the rising stars under Prime Minister Brown, and Mr Purnell’s name is routinely offered.
‘Bastard’! hissed Mohamed Fayed when he saw me in the Royal Courts of Justice during the pre-hearings for the inquests into Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s deaths. This was my welcome to Planet Fayed — the parallel universe currently dominating the inquest pre-hearings. I had never seen my quest for evidence into how Diana died in personal terms, but Mohamed clearly begs to differ. I have often asked Fayed for an interview in the past ten years to quiz him about the Paris crash, but I have only heard two words in response; his salutation when he saw me in court the following week was identical.