This being the time of year for it, you’re probably thinking what form your New Year New You will take. You know — the reinvention that we’re all encouraged to go in for from 1 January. Well, I have a corker. It’s huge. It is nothing less than the programme created by Donald Trump’s spiritual mentor, and look where that got him. Before reading this formula for success, I did wonder how it was that Mr Trump got as far as the presidency; now the only wonder is that it took him this long.
Batavia, New York
The presidential campaign just ended was mercifully lacking in the ghostwritten platitudes with which Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan lull readers of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations to sleep. Hillary Clinton’s only memorable utterance was her defamation of one quarter of the electorate as a ‘basket of deplorables’ — a curiously clumsy locution that effectively conveyed her contempt for American prole-dom and sunk her candidacy.
Europeans are usually alarmed or sniffy about American concern for democracy’s fate, but this time liberal opinion on both sides of the pond sings in unison: populism is a threat to democracy.
A recent issue of the Journal of Democracy (a sober publication published by America’s National Endowment for Democracy) provided a handy compendium of all the parties, policies and histories that can be included in the vast cabin-trunk of populism.
After the tumult of 2016, Europe could do with a year of calm. It won’t get one. Elections are to be held in four of the six founder members of the European project, and populist Eurosceptic forces are on the march in each one. There will be at least one regime change: François Hollande has accepted that he is too unpopular to run again as French president, and it will be a surprise if he is the only European leader to go.
‘Ah, beware of snobbery,’ said Cary Grant, who was surprisingly often the smartest guy in the room. ‘It is the unwelcome recognition of one’s own past failings.’
In Britain, the only place where true toffs abide and, let’s face it, the place where modern snobbery was most successfully codified, it is still a more powerful force than we like to acknowledge.
Brexit was a comedy of the thwarted snobbery of the right and left.
Until a few years ago, Pakistan was one of the most dangerous countries on earth. The tribal areas in the north were infested by the Taleban, whose bases stretched to within 100 miles of the capital, Islamabad. Western intelligence agencies feared that the Taleban could seize one of the country’s nuclear installations, then hold the world to ransom. Large parts of the country elsewhere were lawless or terrorised by armed groups.
At the Westfield shopping centre in east London, the queues started at 2 a.m. on Christmas night. In Wrexham, people started lining up at three, getting ready for a six o’clock start. In Edinburgh, hardy shoppers braved flurries of morning snow to make sure they were first in line for Boxing Day bargains. Whatever else is happening at the close of this year, British shoppers are as indefatigable as ever in their determination to keep spending.
I’m standing in milady’s boudoir, a room which would have delighted Liberace. Here, nothing is de trop and everything is geared towards lavish indulgence. Two enormous freestanding baths face the window, giving exhibitionists a heaven-sent opportunity to disport in the altogether. The upstairs bed could comfortably accommodate four adults. Portraits of Ada Lovelace — who has given her name to the suite — festoon the staircase, and a half bottle of Taittinger champagne begs ‘Drink me’ in an ice bucket.