Portrait of the week: tax cuts, hostage releases and highly rated horses

Home Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said, ‘We can now move on to the next phase of our economic plan and turn our attention to cutting taxes,’ having seen a reduction in inflation. Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, followed suit in the Autumn Statement, cutting personal taxes. The government was to make changes to long-term benefits. The minimum wage, known officially as the National Living Wage, currently £10.42 an hour for those over the age of 23, will rise to £11.44 an hour for those over 21 from next April. The government also drew attention to £8.3 billion allocated to mending potholes, money purportedly saved from the curtailment

My futile morning guarding Churchill’s statue

On Armistice Day I made my way to Parliament Square with some vague notion of protecting Churchill’s statue. I’d discussed the need to stop it being defiled by pro-Palestinian protestors a few days earlier with a group I’m involved with called the British Friends of Israel, but in my head this had been a theoretical discussion, not something that involved me personally. Then Allison Pearson, a member of the group, announced in the Telegraph that she intended to stand in front of the statue armed with a rolled-up copy of the paper, and I felt shamed into joining her. Not that I was worried about her being knocked over by

Benjamin Netanyahu is increasingly seen as Israel’s curse

Jerusalem On Tuesday, I was driving down to an Israeli army headquarters on the border with Gaza as a massive convoy of police cars and black bullet-proof limousines forced me onto the side of the road by the town of Ofakim. In Israel, only one man travels in a convoy that large.  It was 7 November, a month after the Hamas attack on Israeli communities in which 1,400 were murdered and the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza began. Even during peacetime the Prime Minister’s movements are shrouded in secrecy until he is safely back in one of his homes or offices.  Many Israelis, including those who voted for

What did Hamas think was going to happen?

Much misfortune the woebegone couldn’t have seen coming: a raging fire in the house next door that spreads to yours. The invention of some kooky technology called ‘the internet’ that puts your travel agency out of business. Yet other calamities are foreseeable. If you suddenly stop filing tax returns without a good excuse – like, dying – it’s a virtual certainty that the all-seeing computer will come after you. So when compounding fees and interest leave you skint, our sympathies are apt to be scant. What did you think was going to happen? Or to up the moral ante: if you slaughter 18 innocents in a frenzy for no apparent

What Hamas promised to its electorate

Things you do not hear very often, number one: a pro-Palestinian protestor denouncing Hamas for the barbarity of its incursion into Israel on 7 October, appalled at the savagery of those attacks upon children, grandmothers, etc. It may seem as if, in saying this, I am stating the obvious – because support for that pogrom was, I would suggest, strong among some of those carrying Palestinian flags on marches through London and elsewhere. Six Arab language journalists were suspended by the BBC when it was discovered that they retweeted messages glorifying in that day’s murder. They were not members of Hamas. Ordinary Palestinians interviewed, cowering in the rubble of Gaza, were

Toby Young

Why I don’t trust the BBC’s Trusted News Initiative

You almost certainly haven’t heard of the Trusted News Initiative (TNI), although you probably should have. It’s a BBC-led consortium of the world’s most powerful news, social media and technology companies that seeks to cleanse the internet of ‘disinformation’. It carries out this mission by doing its best to discredit sites that challenge the prevailing narrative on topics like lockdowns, Covid vaccines, electoral fraud, the Ukraine war and climate change. It was founded in 2019 by Jessica Cecil, a senior BBC executive who, in 2021, was part of the Counter Disinformation Policy Forum, a shadowy group of ‘experts’ convened by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to monitor criticism

Homer’s take on theology

The Hamas charter does not mince its words: ‘The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: “The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”’ A return to the ancient pagan gods would surely be an improvement, but the modern world adopts the Hamas line. Consider the current deities of the bigots whose opponents, hiding behind a clearly sacrilegious belief in rational argument, must be condemned to eternal cancellation. The Greek

Joe Biden’s Middle East diplomacy is a wreck

Joe Biden prides himself on his decades of foreign-policy experience, his ability to talk tough yet be kind, and his talent for bringing opposing sides together. Touching down in Israel today, he gave Bibi Netanyahu a big hug – quite the gesture – and promptly told him he believed that ‘the other team’ – i.e. Hamas, not Israel – was responsible for the bomb that struck a hospital in Gaza last night, killing many of non-combatant Palestinians and inspiring another wave of anti-Israel protests. Biden will now set about trying to help release the hostages held by Hamas and persuading local powers to allow a secure flow of humanitarian aid

Why do I need security guards so I can play Shylock?

These are very odd times. The project of my life – The Merchant of Venice 1936, which sets Shakespeare’s play in East End London during the rise of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts – was postponed because of Covid, but is now alive and kicking. It’s kicking hard. We’re on a ten-week tour and I’ve been moved beyond words at the reactions of audiences and critics. Yet for the last week, the production has had to have security men around keeping an eye on things. It’s like a dystopian nightmare. A Jewish actress putting on a play about anti-Semitism which needs to be made secure because of Jew-hating extremists. As one reviewer

Lionel Shriver

Keep your politics à la carte

It’s a truism that the Anglosphere has developed a ‘tribalism’ that rivals the divisions between the Kikuyu and Luhya in Kenya. One pernicious aspect of mutually hostile groupsterism is prix fixe politics. Your side shares a rigid, prescribed collection of beliefs, and joining the club entails embracing every single one, while despising a compulsory roster of enemies and backing the folks on your team – whatever friend or foe may say, whatever friend or foe may do. As in French restaurants, there are no substitutions. Letting go of indefensible positions your gang is ‘supposed’ to maintain is a relief Rarely has set-menu morality been put on more vivid display than

An Israeli ground assault would be devastating for Gaza

On a patch of scrubland outside the Zikim kibbutz earlier this week, I came across a platoon of Merkava 4 tanks positioned among the trees. One of the tank commanders recognised my colleague and we exchanged a few words. ‘This is our Yom Kippur,’ he told us. ‘We haven’t even begun to grasp the implications of this.’ Yom Kippur, in this context, isn’t a reference to the annual Jewish day of atonement. Rather, it recalls October 1973, when Israel was surprised by an attack on two fronts from the forces of Egypt and Syria. The Hamas assault on Israeli Jewish communities around the Gaza Strip came exactly 50 years and a day after what Israelis

Paul Wood, James Heale and Robin Ashenden

23 min listen

This week Paul Wood delves into the complex background of the Middle East and asks if Iran might have been behind the Hamas attacks on Israel, and what might come next (01:11), James Heale ponders the great Tory tax debate by asking what is the point of the Tories if they don’t lower taxes (13:04) and Robin Ashenden on how he plans to introduce his half Russian daughter to the delights of red buses, Beefeaters and a proper full English (18:36). Produced and presented by Linden Kemkaran

Portrait of the week: Starmer’s stall, high treason and the horrors of Hamas

Home At the Labour party conference, cheerful in the hall but overshadowed by the war in Israel, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said that in government he would build 1.5 million homes and a host of ‘Labour new towns’. He wanted to spend £1.1 billion a year on higher overtime payments within NHS England to reduce waiting lists. A protestor poured glitter over him. Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, also said Labour would ‘rebuild Britain’. ‘Rachel Reeves is a serious economist,’ said Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England. Labour took Rutherglen and Hamilton West in a by-election that the Scottish

What Iran gains from the conflict in Israel

A little more than a week before Hamas carried out its Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, said: ‘The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.’ Sullivan was expressing a consensus view, one apparently shared by the Israeli government. Then came the attacks of last weekend and, as the Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, said, ‘Not since the Holocaust have so many Jews been killed in one day.’ The surprise attacks have been called Israel’s 9/11, its Pearl Harbor, and so the question Israelis are asking is: how could this happen? And of more consequence, perhaps: who was really behind it?

Five of the worst responses to the Hamas attacks on Israel

Tragedies are often the moment when statesmen are at their best. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen from the response to yesterday’s attacks by Hamas on Israel, they can also show politicians at their worst. Below are five of the more insensitive, tone-deaf and even downright offensive reactions to the tragedy that is unfolding in the Middle East… Jeremy Corbyn Where else to start? Step forward Jeremy Corbyn, the man who sinks to every occasion. The Right Honourable Member for Islington North reacted to the Hamas attack with his signature blend of cynicism and equivocation, declaring that: The unfolding events in Israel and Palestine are deeply alarming. We need an immediate ceasefire

Priti Patel’s Hamas ban doesn’t go far enough

It’s been a rough old week for Hamas. The UK announced plans to proscribe the organisation, Justin Bieber ignored its call to cancel his 2022 concert in Tel Aviv, and even the recently friendly Labour party has vowed that it ‘does not and will not support BDS’. One minute, you’re going about your business, trying to drive the Jews into the sea, and the next you’re being treated like you’re the bad guy. Priti Patel’s decision to add Hamas to the Home Office list of terrorist organisations corrects a 20-year-old error which saw the Izz al-Din al-Qassem Brigades — Hamas’s paramilitary wing — outlawed in 2001 but the rest of

I’m getting sick of the Tories

I suppose this happens to all of us at different speeds, but I am getting a little fed up of this government. In particular, I am getting fed up of the gap between its rhetoric and its actions. Most of the time this is most noticeable with the Prime Minister, who gives his base the occasional morsel of right-wingery only to then force-feed them great dollops of lefty-greenery. On a trip to Washington, Priti Patel has demonstrated that she is also no stranger to this tactic. So far we have had Patel (the DC version) talk about ‘the mass migration crisis’, as though she is merely an observer of the crisis

The war Israel is losing against Hamas

The Gaza conflict is bloody, brutal, and genuinely heartbreaking, but it is also perfunctory. This is a fight in which the military battle is predetermined: Hamas cannot win, and Israel cannot lose. What happens in between is almost balletic in its endless predictability. Hamas fires rockets, Israel fires back; Hamas targets Israeli cities; Israel bombs buildings in which Hamas hides and stores weapons. So what’s the point? Well, apart from Hamas needing to show strength – and Israel needing to, in the words of its security experts, ‘mow the grass‘ by periodically degrading Hamas’ military capabilities – there is a wider battle raging. This fight isn’t about missiles or rockets but about narratives;

The problem with the New York Times’ Gaza coverage

While war raged between Israel and Gaza, the New York Times published a powerful montage of 64 minors said to have been killed in the conflict so far. Under its famous motto ‘All the news that’s fit to print’, and with the headline ‘They Were Just Children’, America’s paper of record informed us that ‘they had wanted to be doctors, artists and leaders’, and invited us to read their stories. It was impossible to look at those innocent faces without feeling deeply distressed. This was the human cost of the Israeli war machine, brought directly to your breakfast table, in a way that the vicious Turkish assault on the Kurds

How London became a hub for Hamas

As the dust settles over Gaza, and Israel’s Iron Dome sensors cool, minds inevitably turn to the lessons that can be learned from the 11-day conflict that cost hundreds of lives. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, the American secretary of state Antony Blinken, and other international dignitaries have visited the region and offered their carefully calibrated support for ‘both sides’ delivering high-handed lectures on the ethics of asymmetric warfare in densely populated urban sprawl. Sadly, however, the British government has become part of the problem. It may have deep military and security ties to the Jewish state, but there lurks an elephant in the room. London itself has been allowed to