Stratton resigns – but the row isn’t over

The row over the Downing Street ‘party’ has claimed its first victim. On Wednesday Allegra Stratton announced that she was resigning from government. Her decision followed the leaked footage of a practice press briefing in which Stratton — then spokeswoman for the Prime Minister — appeared to joke about a lockdown breaching No. 10 party four days after is alleged to have taken place. Addressing reporters outside her home, Stratton — who most recently has been working on the COP26 summit — said she was deeply sorry for her comments:  My remarks seemed to make light of the rules, rules that people were doing everything to obey. That was never my intention. I

Olivia Potts

Christmas puddings tried and tested: from Aldi to M&S

Christmas puddings are a little like Marmite: you either love them beyond all measure, or you’d be perfectly happy if one never crossed your path again. But, unlike Marmite, there are dozens on the market to pick through – and given that most of us will only eat one a year, it’s important to get the right pudding for you. We’ve taste-tested more Christmas puds than one person should ever eat to bring you the best of the best. Best overall pudding runner up: Aldi Specially Selected Marc de Champagne Christmas Pudding, 400g, £4.99 What they say: A celebration of vine fruits, glacé cherries and nuts blended with cider brandy, Champagne and

The dos and don’ts of Christmas cards

Not even a pillowy panettone or the most lethal of brandy butters can beat the thud of a round robin letter on the doormat. It’s that perfect concoction of mundane detail (how the electric car is faring) and low-level bragging (news of a child’s Oxbridge acceptance letter) that make them so tantalising, the ultimate yuletide indulgence. You simultaneously snigger at how on earth this distant relation could think you’d be interested in the trials and tribulations of their daughter’s grade eight trumpet exam, while combing through it with the diligence of a lawyer. If our Instagram addiction has taught us anything, it’s that we are, after all, interested in the seemingly irrelevant

Why the No. 10 Christmas ‘party’ story matters

It’s crime week for the government — with Boris Johnson and his ministers set to unveil a range of measures to show how they plan to get tough on law and order. Only the ministers sent out to land that message are themselves facing questions over criminality. The claims of a ‘boozy’ Christmas party of up to 50 people, held last year when the rest of the country was banned from mixing between households, emerged in the Mirror last week but don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.  Downing Street has insisted that no rules had been broken though the Prime Minister has not denied that an event took place In various broadcast rounds,

Olivia Potts

A foodie’s guide to Christmas gifts

Like Father Christmas, I’m making a list, and checking it twice. I have scoured the food and drink world to bring you the greatest and most varied gifts for Christmas 2021. Entirely coincidentally, those who are obliged to buy presents for me can consider this my Christmas list, but I hope it will also provide inspiration for the food-lover in your life. For the keen cook I’ve used a lot of cooking thermometers over the years, both at home and at work, and Thermapen is the hands-down winner. With a temperature range of -49.9 to 299.9°C, and an accurate measurement in one second, it is easy to use, easy to

Sunday shows round-up: abused children need ‘maximum protection’ says Raab

Dominic Raab – Abused children like Labinjo-Hughes need ‘maximum protection’ The Justice Secretary undertook the government’s media round this morning. On Sky, Trevor Phillips began the interview by asking Raab about the tragic case of six-year-old Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, who was tortured and murdered by his father and stepmother last year.  Raab told Phillips that there would be a review as a result of the incident, amid the revelation that the safeguarding authorities in Solihull had not reported any concerns about Labinjo-Hughes’s situation. He also confirmed that there would also be a review into the sentences handed to Thomas Hughes and Emma Tustin, to ensure that they were not too lenient:

The mince pie taste test: from Greggs to Fortnum & Mason

The number of different mince pies available in 2021 is staggering – more mince pies, frankly, than you could shake a stick at. And with all of them boasting about their vine-ripened fruits, their rich pastry, and the myriad boozed, how do you navigate the groaning supermarket shelves? We’ve tasted and tested until we had mincemeat coming out of our ears in order to bring you our guide to the best. Harvey Nichols Mini Traditional Rich Fruit Mince Pies, 12 for £9.95 What they say: Our decadently buttery Harvey Nichols Mince Pies are jam-packed with Christmas spices and rich fruit soaked in brandy and rum. What we say: These are

The forever ‘war on Christmas’

It seems to get earlier each year, doesn’t it? It’s not yet even December, and the Mail on Sunday has splashed on ‘NOW THE WOKE ‘BLOB’ TRIES TO BAN CHRISTMAS’. Lordy be. I say this every year and every year my woke comrades fail to learn. We have a leak, a chatty flake, I say. Someone’s feeding our plans to the Mail on Sunday, I say. We need a major overhaul of woke blob op-sec if we’re ever going to get this whole Christmas-banning thing done, I say. And do they listen? To be honest, I thought we were onto a good one this time. It was subtle. As the

Lockdown creations: the best of the year’s cookery books reviewed

‘I may, one day, stop making notes and writing down recipes,’ Nigel Slater says in A Cook’s Book (Fourth Estate, £30). Please don’t. This is his 16th book and his writing feels as fresh as it ever did. I remember cutting out his recipes from Elle Magazine three decades ago, and I do not believe he has ever put pen to paper without wanting his ideas to work for others. Mountains of good food must have been set on tables and shared by people as a result, because Slater is a master of his trade. ‘A recipe must work. Otherwise, what’s the point?’ he says. Quite; though a cynic would

No Christmas turkey? No problem

According to recent reports, we might be looking down the sharp end of a turkey-less Christmas. Kate Martin of the Traditional Farm Fresh Turkey Association has warned that a lack of European farmhands means that Britain could be facing a turkey shortage this December. Turkeys have been synonymous with British Christmas dinners since the Victorian era; what do we do without them? For many, this won’t be too much of a loss: a lot of people actively dislike turkey (although they dislike it even more when you tell them that’s just because they’re not cooking it properly). I confess, I’m a turkey evangelist: I love turkey. I think it’s juicy

What exactly is the ‘festive season’?

‘Here you are, darling,’ I said to my husband. ‘These lines might have been written for you: “Drinke, quaffe, be blith; oh how this festive joy / Stirs up my fury to revenge and death.”’ ‘Very Christmassy,’ he agreed. The lines came from a series of five plays by Shakespeare’s contemporary Thomas Heywood, in which he canters through classical mythology. Here Althea is commenting on her plan to kill her own son Meleager at a feast by consigning to the fire the piece of firewood that magically preserves his life. He feels as though the fires of Etna were in his bosom and dies. It was not of course a

Join the counter culture, continue Christmas

The great Joan Collins, this paper’s occasional diarist, was quick off the mark in putting up her Christmas decorations… around November, I recall. But the really sane and sensible thing to do is to go retro and be late taking them down. Today is, I need hardly say, the Twelfth Day of Christmas when the three wise men turned up at Bethlehem with their gold frankincense and myrrh. Happy Epiphany. But in happier days, viz, before Christmas was commercialised last century, and in even happier times before the Reformation, the season didn’t turn out like a light. It went into a kind of slow-burn right down to Candlemas on 2

Why Christmas sends a shiver down my spine

Does Christmas send a shiver down your spine? It should. We seek at this time of year to reclaim the magic of Christmases past. We think of snow thick on the ground. Rosy-cheeked children skating on frozen ponds. Carol services by candlelight in draughty churches. In 2020, there has been very little magic and wonder. Instead there has been sickness, death and a ban on seeing our loved ones; lost jobs and lost hope. To compensate, we feel more urgency this Christmas to seek out the magic, to find those spine-tingling moments, to reach beyond the humdrum and the daily grind. But, lovely though the fairy lights and colourful baubles

‘Fairytale of New York’ is under attack

Truly great songs that are as emotionally powerful as ‘Fairytale of New York’ are very rare indeed. ‘Fairytale’ is a lyrical high-wire act of dizzying scope and potency, and it rightly takes its place as the greatest Christmas song ever written. It stands shoulder to shoulder with any great song, from any time, not just for its sheer audacity, or its deep empathy, but for its astonishing technical brilliance. One of the many reasons this song is so loved is that, beyond almost any other song I can think of, it speaks with such profound compassion to the marginalised and the dispossessed. With one of the greatest opening lines ever

The BBC’s Christmas schedule is a tawdry disappointment

Along with holly wreaths, unfeasibly large poultry and popular carols played on an endless loop, there is another ritual at this time of year; the BBC unveils its Christmas schedules — followed immediately by a chorus of sour complaint about the fare on offer. The Corporation published details of its programming at the start of December and, true to form, the Daily Mail and its readers were far from pleased: ‘Deja View’ ran the headline ‘BBC Christmas schedule in slammed by viewers’. In uncertain times it’s good to see time-hallowed traditions kept alive. The substance of the Mail’s complaint was that there were too many repeats and game shows —

A farmer’s notebook: why I’m not dreaming of a white Christmas

It snowed the other day. I could tell from the light through the gap in the curtains and the muffled silence. The kids came into our room at 6.45am in high excitement and loaded with a comprehensive legal argument about how they had to stay off school because of the ‘dangerous’ roads and the ‘risks of travel’. I caved. I always cave. I hated school, and screw it, they’ve barely been this year anyway and haven’t turned in to deadbeats or junkies yet. Mark Twain said you shouldn’t confuse your schooling with your education, and he was right. Twenty minutes later they were heading out in the dangerous white wilderness

Theo Hobson

Christmas raises the most basic political question

A few years ago, around this time of year, I overheard a nice exchange in a charity shop (I was doing my Christmas shopping, I suppose) outside of London, in a middle-England market town. A woman came in, a bit flustered, had a quick rummage through some hangers, and then asked the lady at the till: ‘Have you got anything for a camel? My son’s a camel this year.’ Her meaning was clear, both to the shop assistant and to me: her son was in a nativity play and she needed to cobble together a costume. It gave me a little warm sense of shared meaning, and tradition: something very

The truth about Christmas card virtue signallers

If there is one thing to raise the spirits at this time of year, it’s the sound of a letterbox rattling open and the satisfying thud of post on the mat. Along with the creditors’ letters, there is quite likely to be a few envelopes pleasingly suggestive of robins and snow scenes.  Yep, the Christmas cards have arrived, from the organised, as early as the beginning of December, to the ones delivered on Christmas Eve, plainly as a response to the one you sent the recipient a couple of days before. All are cheering, all suggestive of goodwill, all more or less reflective of the personality of the sender. Obviously

Six global alternatives to Christmas pudding

The traditional Christmas meal takes on different guises around the globe. Our festive table groaning under turkey and all the trimmings would look quite unrecognisable to many. For Jewish people living in the US the tradition at Christmas is to eat Chinese food. And in Japan come Christmas you’ll find everyone eating KFC. Seriously—you have to be sure to order your friend chicken weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. I don’t suggest looking to Japan for Christmas culinary inspiration, but there is the odd thing we might want to borrow from abroad. Namely, dessert. Call me a heretic but I’ve never much liked Christmas pudding. Too dense and heavy; packed

Women need to take control and take the wheel

There is a Saudi Arabian film that I love. It is called Wadjda and is about a young girl who longs to have her own bike, so that she can play outside and ride wherever and with whomsoever she likes. Yet Riyadh’s restrictive patriarchy frowns upon women having agency over their means of transport, even bicycles, ensuring that they are forever at the mercy of capricious and often irascible male drivers.  I have thought about this film and its message a lot this year, when the many benefits of having our own independent methods of transport, primarily cars, have been amply highlighted. Those of us with four wheels have been