Botswana’s President: elephant hunting isn’t cruel, it’s necessary

Last month, Botswana’s Minister for Environment and Tourism Dumezweni Mthimkhulu threatened to send 10,000 elephants to Hyde Park. This week, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi went a step further and suggested sending 20,000 elephants to Germany. These are strange and not entirely plausible threats, yet they reflect the frustration that Botswanan politicians feel over western governments lecturing them about animal rights. The United Kingdom and Germany are both in the process of passing laws to block the importing of hunting trophies. The point Masisi and his government want to make is that, unlike westerners, the people of Botswana live in increasingly close proximity to the world’s largest population of

From pit-ponies to polo ponies: hoofprints on the British landscape

Horses have schlepped, hauled and galloped grooves into Britain, providing the muscle for transport, industry, agriculture and leisure and the inspiration for myth, art and literature. In The Bridleway, the environmentalist Tiffany Francis-Baker maps this busy-storied topography from the Uffington White Horse to ancient roads, canals, coaching inns, race courses, conservation projects and public art. She crosses the country to speak to horse-people and explores old bridleways. Some of the landscapes she visits are subsiding, as she puts it, ‘into the healing bosom of the earth’. Others are threatened with erasure, and so, ‘to keep these spaces full of memory, all we must do is tread the same paths, either

The next big hunting battle

In his memoirs, Tony Blair did not have much good to say about his government’s seven-year long struggle to ban fox hunting. The former PM, writing in 2010, admitted he deliberately sabotaged the 2004 Hunting Act to ensure there were enough loopholes to allow hunting to continue. Confessing that he initially agreed to a ban without properly understanding the issue, Blair wrote: ‘If I’d proposed solving the pension problem by compulsory euthanasia for every fifth pensioner I’d have got less trouble. By the end of it, I felt like the damn fox.’ Yet while the Act applies to England and Wales – with similar legislation passed in Scotland in 2002 – no such ban

Should monuments to past Archbishops of Canterbury come down?

This week, the Church of England issued its document ‘Contested Heritage in Cathedrals and Churches’. It is guidance for what those locally running more than 12,000 churches should do about their monuments ‘to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation’ and address ‘the Church’s own complicity in structural sin’ and ‘oppression or marginalisation of people on the basis of their race, gender, religion or sexual orientation’. In church monuments, this usually boils down to whether the person commemorated had links with slavery. Seen from a parish level (where the poor churchwardens, such as my dear wife, will have to do the

Letters: The C of E’s obsession with critical race theory

Christian approach Sir: Dr Michael Nazir-Ali’s criticism of our report ‘From Lament to Action’ (‘Bad faith’, 1 May) was wide of the mark in its suggestion that Marxist-inspired critical race theory was the ‘intellectual underpinning’ of our approach. Far from it. The source material for our report was three decades of reports on the issue of racial justice from the General Synod of the Church of England. Doubtless there are valid criticisms which can be made of Synod; however, being a hotbed of radical Marxism is not one of them. Our report explicitly rejects any idea that our work should be viewed as a battle in a culture war. Rather

A vegan’s defence of field sports

In modern Britain, the quickest way to prove that you’re a good person is to show that you love animals. People share cat videos and pose with dogs in pictures for dating websites. Anyone who is seen to hurt animals — like the Danish zoo that culled a giraffe or the lawyer who clubbed a fox — is sent to a special circle of social media hell. Those who participate in field sports reside in this inferno: the men and women who shoot, stalk or hunt. They are killers in a society that doesn’t like to see death. When polled, around 85 per cent of the British public are in

What happens when Facebook pays for news?

The recently departed head of MI6, Sir Alex Younger, wants to balance China’s ideological antagonism to the West with the need for coexistence. Commenting on the government’s new ‘integrated review’, he says we must fight back with technological innovation and stronger alliances but avoid a second Cold War. He advocates ‘One Planet: Two Systems’ — a globalised echo of the Anglo-Chinese Hong Kong Agreement by which Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 under the principle of ‘One Country: Two Systems’. Sir Alex’s is an interesting analogy, but the important thing to note about ‘One Country: Two Systems’ is that China adhered to it only for 20 years

Letters: It’s too late for Boris

Disastrous decisions Sir: In his otherwise excellent analysis of Boris Johnson’s premiership (‘The missing leader’, 19 September), Fraser Nelson suggests that he could still succeed. It’s too late. Although we ‘know that he’s not responsible for the pandemic’, he is responsible for the government’s response to it. The consequences of that hysterical response, seemingly contrived by a small, mostly unelected cabal, have been, and will be, disastrous for huge numbers of people; the enormity of the failures too great to be set against subsequent successes. Boris persuaded us to support him with a carefully crafted image of a jovial positive thinker, a libertarian and man of the people. He’s been

Britain’s hunts are a rural lifeline in the fight against coronavirus

Puppy shows cancelled. Point-to-points put on hold. Hound shows, team chases, skittles leagues, pony club camp – all have been axed from the countryside calendar. These are not announcements that tend to make headlines. What’s the cancellation of the Cattistock Countryside show when Glastonbury is grinding to a halt? Not that it’s a competition, but it’s a fact that rural areas get overlooked in times like these. In response, countryside folk are taking matters into their own hands. In my own village in Dorset – a village not big enough to qualify for a postbox – Sylvia, an ex-schoolteacher, has decided it’s essential we have a community pop-up shop for emergency rations. At 66,

The mysteries of the Corbyn world-view

It is worth fixing for posterity the feelings which, on polling day, swirled in the breasts of many who wanted a Boris victory. Being a journalist, I normally enjoy the electoral scene with some detachment. I cannot claim to be neutral, since I have never, even in Tony Blair’s pinkish dawn of 1997, wanted a Labour government; but I can take it in my stride. This time, however, millions, including myself, were knotted with fear that anything other than a clear Tory victory would destroy Brexit and make Jeremy Corbyn prime minister. The risks were actually frightening. We sought distractions. Listening to the Radio 4 Today programme that morning, I

Labour thinks that its trump card is Trump

On Wednesday morning, I was hoisted into the air of Whitehall on a cherry-picker. A century ago the proto-Cenotaph appeared in time for the London Peace Parade in July 1919, which followed the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In that first year, the Cenotaph was only a timber and canvas structure, built to last a week; but Edwin Lutyens’s design seemed so right that the present structure, more precisely designed, was built in Portland stone for Remembrance Day 1920. English Heritage, now a charity rather than a government body, cares for the monument — as it does for 400 monuments in England, including 46 in London. The chairman, Vice-Admiral

Big two-hearted river

The Rhône is a strong river. The Loire derives graciousness from its châteaux. The Rhine and the Thames have been sentimentalised: not the Rhône. There are no Rhône-maidens, no suggestion of ‘sweet Rhône run softly till I end my song’. A powerful onrush of water rips past the banks of a river that knows how to drown men. But it also brings fertility in abundance. This is probably the oldest wine-growing region in France. The romantic version is that Greeks brought the Shiraz grape from Persia; 2,500 years later, Syrah is still the region’s vinous bedrock. As one would expect from a combination of the River God and the Sun


Harvey’s finest moment, he would tell you, was the chicken kiev. I’d just made the garlic butter and inserted it into the chicken breast when the phone rang. The call went on for a while, after which I returned. No chicken breast. ‘Must have put it in the fridge,’ I thought, and began to look. Only then did I glance across at the dog. His expression said: ‘You’re going to work it out in a moment, aren’t you?’ It’s the beagle’s defining characteristic: a yearning to become the widest animal known to man. ‘Taking candy from a child’ isn’t just a phrase for a beagle, it’s a way of life.

The Spectator’s notes | 26 October 2017

Theresa May’s style of negotiating with the European Union is coming spookily to resemble David Cameron’s. She is in the mindset where the important thing is to get a deal, rather than working out what sort of a deal is worth getting. The EU understands this, and therefore delays, making Cameron/May more desperate to settle, even on bad terms. Eventually, there is an inadequate deal which the British government then has to sell to a doubting electorate. Mr Cameron was punished for this at the referendum he had called. Mrs May is inviting punishment at a general election. It is interesting how moderate politics cannot get a hearing just now.

Bad behaviour

Molly Keane achieved fame and critical acclaim in 1981 aged 75, when she published the novel Good Behaviour, a razor-sharp social comedy about the Anglo-Irish in the 1930s. Her success was the more sensational because it was unexpected. Twenty years previously her play Dazzling Prospect had flopped disastrously at the box office. A drawing-room farce in the era of the kitchen sink, it seemed so dated that Kenneth Tynan remarked that he could hear horses whinnying in the audience. Convinced that her writing career was finished, Keane had published nothing since. She wrote Good Behaviour in secret, for herself. When her friend the publisher Billy Collins turned it down as

The trapper and the trapped

The Hungarian novelist László Krasznahorkai has only lately become known to Anglophone audiences, through the masterly translations of George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet. Work written and published in the 1980s, during the corrupt and cynical last days of so-called ‘goulash communism’ under János Kádár, began to circulate in English in the early 2000s. In Sátántangó, War and War and The Melancholy of Resistance, readers were introduced to nightmarish, purgatorial worlds shot through with millennarian anxiety and a hopeless mystical yearning for the divine. Then, in 2013, the massive novel — or perhaps more accurately a cloud of novellas — Seiobo There Below (published in Hungarian in 2008) revealed a writer

How did you kill that hat?

The well-dressed lady turned the fur collar over in her hands and fixed me with a withering stare. ‘Is this real fur?’ I was helping out in my friend’s clothes shop, a fashionable haunt in a chichi area of south-west London. ‘Yes,’ I said, bracing myself. She stroked the luxuriant fur, then asked, ‘What is it?’ ‘Fox?’ I said, making the answer a question, as you do when you are expecting protest. ‘Where did the fox come from?’ This was too much. I hadn’t the foggiest. So I fixed her with a meaningful gaze and said: ‘Northcote Road. It was going through the bins.’ She didn’t laugh. Was she going

Sherry to start

Someone came up with a century-old quotation plangent with irony and sadness: ‘The year 1916 was cursed: 1917 will surely be better.’ That was Tsar Nicholas II. Poor fellow: tragedy for him and his family, tragedy down the decades for tens of millions of his subjects. Its spectre is still haunting Russia. Although we raised a toast to the tsar’s memory, tragedy was far from our minds as we welcomed the latest New Year in a mood best described as eupeptic pessimism. Not hard to do: Dorset is one of the least dyspeptic places on earth. My friends who live there sometimes try to discourage me from praising their sweet

The truth about the fox hunting ban

During my years at the League Against Cruel Sports, the one single message we impressed upon people at every opportunity was that a ban on hunting with dogs was popular, simple and inexpensive. And animals, of course, would be saved from a cruel death. This belief was encouraged by a Tony Benn quote, which refers to everyone suddenly being on the winning side after any social change: ‘The change happens and you can’t find anyone that doesn’t claim to have been fighting for it with you.’ It was echoed shortly after I had left the LACS (having become disillusioned with the campaign and doubtful that any genuine animal welfare benefit would

Don’t try to be liked, and buy your steak at Aldi – the lessons I’ve learned in 2016

Merry Christmas everyone. Here are some things I learned — or relearned — in 2016.   1. That which does not kill you makes you still alive. It’s weird to think that less than 12 months ago I was in hospital, dosed up with morphine, battered and bruised with a broken clavicle, numerous cracked ribs and a pulmonary embolism which can actually kill you, don’t you know. And now it’s as if the whole thing never happened. Well, apart from the hideous titanium plate, like a giant centipede, which I can still feel all stiff across my collar bone. And the bastard hunting ban my family has imposed on me…