I have long pondered the motive with which Michael Wharton, for long the author of the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Simple column, gave a memorable detail in his second volume of memories, A Dubious Codicil, about the habits of his rival Colin Welch: ‘He had a habit of picking his nose, occasionally tasting the extracted mucus or “bogey”, without any attempt to conceal himself, as most people would, behind a newspaper.’ Since they are both dead, I am unlikely to find out. But I have been piqued recently by another kind of pick, mostly relating to Donald Trump, and now spilling over into British affairs. The choice for one of his cabinet

From Tacitus to Justin Welby

Many are still questioning the enthusiasm with which newspapers have implicated Archbishop Justin Welby, as a young man, in the abusive activities of a Christian camp leader for whom he was working. This line from the Daily Telegraph is typical: ‘Archbishop Welby is said to have gained much of his early grounding in Christian doctrine from the Iwerne holiday camps, where boys were recruited for John Smyth’s sadomasochistic cult.’ The Roman historian Tacitus (d. c. AD 117) was a master of this sort of insinuation, in which ‘is said’ (as used above) exculpates the writer from responsibility for the statement, and the relative clause ‘where…’ associates the young Welby with a cult

What the papers say: Britain’s defence spending isn’t enough

A key part of Theresa May’s strategy for wooing Donald Trump was making it clear that Britain was pulling its weight with funding Nato, with the PM calling on other countries to match the two per cent of GDP that Britain spent on defence so ‘that the burden is more fairly shared’. The report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies that the UK had, in fact, missed this target was potentially explosive then – and it’s no surprise the MoD stepped in quickly to bat away the claims. But whether too much or too little, the amount of money spent on military matters is the talking point in many

Press regulation will silence pesky gadflies like me

Nineteen years ago I was threatened with a libel suit by Harold Evans because of an article I’d written in the Spectator about his departure as president of the New York publishing company Random House. Via his solicitors, Evans threatened to sue me for libel unless I paid his legal costs, gave a sum of money to charity and signed an undertaking that I would never write about him again. I can’t claim to have been a high-minded journalist taking on a corrupt businessman. It was more of a Mickey-taking piece, pointing out that the former Sunday Times editor, once a titan of British journalism, had become a humourless, self-important

Dumb and dumber | 5 January 2017

Katie Hopkins did something dreadful this week, which is not unusual, because she craves such things. She retweeted praise — also not unusual, for she is narcissistic for a masochist — from a Twitter account called AntiJuden SS. The page even featured a swastika, should AntiJuden SS not have been clear indication enough. For Hopkins, however, neo-Nazi praise is a dog making love to your ankle. It would repel most people, but for her it still counts. Fake outrage begat fake outrage and Hopkins de-tweeted the retweet, and apologised: ‘My New Year’s resolution is to show contrition.’ To show contrition, not to be contrite; that is quite precise for Hopkins.

Competition: write a response to the government’s ‘consultation’ on press freedom

Since my blog about the new threat to press freedom yesterday, and the notorious Section 40 being consulted on by the government, responses have been coming in thick and fast. A few of you have copied me in to emails sent to Karen Bradley, the Culture Secretary, many of them rather brilliant. More importantly, I’ve been contacted by a software designer who has agreed to make a form that we can use to send a template response to the government’s consultation. This leaves us with one question: what form of words? One form has been created, here. But all you really need to do is mention Section 40 and a new

Meat and greet

Zelman Meats — catchphrase ‘great meat’ — is sustenance for a hard Brexit — a harder Brexit, if you will. It is a snorting meat shack in north Soho; it is also, comfortingly for the reader, mid-market. It is from the owners of Beast, who display their meat in cases, as trophies — and Burger and Lobster, where you get burgers and lobsters for £20 a head. It is thrillingly monomaniacal and simplistic: what do you get at Zelman Meats? Meat, that’s all, comrade. It could theoretically be a butcher’s shop; no, it could be a cow sitting on a bonfire wondering what went wrong. Don’t come here if you

My husband’s ‘gay affair’ with Gove

A few weeks ago I discovered that while he should have been focused on the fight of his life during the referendum campaign, David Cameron was instead obsessing over whether or not his justice secretary, Michael Gove, had had an affair with my husband, Dom Cummings, campaign director of Vote Leave. The story was in the Mail on Sunday, who eked it out across two consecutive issues. On week one it kept Dom and Michael’s names under wraps (for ethical reasons, it said) but revealed the source of the thrilling bit of gossip to be an aide of Cameron’s called Gavin Williamson (now Chief Whip). Williamson had, said the MoS,

Height, weight, hair colour, race, bum size: critics must be allowed to discuss how performers look

‘Dancer sees red at critic’s ginger jibes’ was the Times headline on Tuesday. You can call the Royal Ballet dancer Ed Watson many things, apparently, including awkward, freakishly flexible, melodramatic, but just don’t call him ginger. Watson, who has brightened Covent Garden for 20 years in psychologically contorted acting roles and double-jointed dancing ones, is a favourite performer for many critics in many aspects (including me, quite often), but not at all to Alastair Macaulay, a distinguished figure who sharpened his teeth on the Financial Times before moving to the New York Times. Macaulay professes little time for Watson’s ‘problematic, weak’ dancing (‘He’s simply lovely when not dancing,’ he told

Exclusive: Trinity Mirror’s New Day to close on Friday

When the New Day was first launched in February, Trinity Mirror’s chief executive Simon Fox made clear that the company would close the title if it failed to deliver results. However, Mr S is pretty sure that he didn’t anticipate having to make such a decision quite so soon. Just over two months since its launch and with circulation now below 40,000, Steerpike understands that the New Day‘s final issue will be on Friday. Mr S’s mole says that staff at the ‘politically neutral’ paper have been informed today that it will close and a formal announcement is expected to follow tomorrow. While a spokesman for Trinity Mirror declines to

Letters | 28 April 2016

Green reasons to stay in Sir: As Conservatives we are clear that the European Union has been central to improving the quality of the UK’s environment. European policy is not always perfect, but on environmental issues it has allowed us to move forward in leaps and bounds. The wealth of the environment on which our economy depends is not confined to national boundaries, which is why the EU has become such a vital forum for negotiating Britain’s interest in maintaining healthy seas, clean air, climate security and species protection. It is largely thanks to European agreements that we now have sewage-free beaches in Britain. Because of tough European vehicle standards, British car

Fit to print

For weeks, Westminster has been full of rumours about the private life of a certain cabinet member. It was said he had started to visit a dominatrix in Earl’s Court but ended up falling in love with her and taking her to official functions. Like a Westminster remake of the film Pretty Woman, in fact, but with the Culture Secretary, John Whitting-dale, playing the part of Richard Gere. There was much comment in Parliament about this, and jokes about what London is coming to if an MP has to travel all the way to Earl’s Court for such services, when they used to be available a stone’s throw away from

‘Cameron comes clean’: Newspapers savage PM after offshore tax confession

This morning’s newspapers were never going to make enjoyable reading for the Prime Minister following his admission yesterday that he owned shares in an offshore trust. But David Cameron may still not have been quite prepared for the focus with which the headlines go after him. He has experienced bad newspaper headlines before, of course, but this is the first time the attacks have focused so specifically on him, rather than on a policy introduced by the Government. It’s hard to feel sorry for Cameron, though. By dragging the story out with statements that raised more questions than they answered, he only has himself to blame for whipping this up into

Diary – 7 April 2016

It’s clear that Vladimir Putin has had a facelift, which might explain why Wendi Deng would take an interest in him. But a friend who met him was surprised enough to ask his translator why it was so obvious. ‘Surely he has enough money to get a better one done?’ he said. ‘Oh yes,’ she replied. ‘But here in Russia, a facelift is a status symbol so everyone has to be aware that it’s been done.’ I wonder if the reason American women continue to go for the wind-tunnel effect favoured by Joan Rivers isn’t based on the same social pressure. Wealth and power have their own looks. After nearly 50

Diary – 23 March 2016

Killing time in a Heathrow first-class lounge, I notice how many men adopt an unmistakable ‘first-class lounge’ persona. They stand like maquettes in an architect’s model (feet apart, shoulders squared, defining their perimeter) and bellow into mobiles like they’re the first person ever to need ‘rather an urgent word’ with Maureen in HR. Along with this ‘manstanding’ comes the ‘manspreading’ of jackets, laptops and newspapers (FT for show; Mail for dough) over a Sargasso Sea of seats. In many ways, ‘first-class-lounge persona’ echoes ‘country-house-hotel face’ — the affectations couples embrace during weekend mini-breaks. These include: pretending to be at ease in a Grade I Palladian mansion; summoning tea with a patrician


On the Radio 4 news at 11 o’clock last Saturday morning there was a joky report about roosters in Brisbane. The cocks, it said, were annoying people with their crowing. The news at noon called them not roosters and cocks, but cockerels and fowls. I wrote here in 2005 about the advent of the ‘Year of the Cockerel’ and suggested that cock would soon be unusable because it put everyone in mind of a rude word for penis. Things have got worse since then. Mealy-mouthed folk who say cockerel simply ignore its meaning, which is ‘a young cock’. It’s like calling all cats kittens. Oddly enough, the Oxford English Dictionary says

Turkey’s assault on press freedom is the act of a dictatorship, not a democracy

When Vice News journalist Mohammed Ismael Rasool was detained by Turkish authorities last August, I wrote to a friend in Turkey to ask for his help. I remarked in passing on the worsening situation for press freedom in the country: ‘Yes, getting much worse,’ he replied. ‘At some stage they will come after us, too. Then we will need your help.’ This prediction of darker times ahead proved right much more quickly than any of us foresaw. On Friday, after months of arrests and detentions of prominent journalists, the country hit a new low: courts seized control of opposition newspaper Zaman, one of Turkey’s leading media outlets. Police fired teargas and

Newspaper front pages dump on Cameron’s deal – again

For David Cameron, the only upside to such a late agreement on his deal is that news didn’t break in time for most of the first editions of the newspapers – do they cannot dump on him from quite such a height as they did last time (see picture at the bottom). But still, they’re pretty discouraging. The Daily Mail is as unimpressed as ever. Its first edition led on 5,000 jihadis amongst EU immigrants: its later editions heaped further derision on Cameron’s deal. Inside, its editorial is blistering. “All that lost sleep, and for what?… Gone are his commitments to ‘full-on treaty change’, war on bureaucracy, sovereignty for Westminster… Mr Cameron and George Osborne

Could I have prevented a Kray murder?

It was watching the latest film on the Krays (ludicrously called Legend) that brought it all back. I remembered not so much the deliberate and casual violence which underlay the swinging Sixties in Britain but something more personal. A recurrent question I have asked since those days is whether I personally could have prevented one of the Kray murders. Let me go back to 1966. I was a journalist on the Times commissioned to write two articles on British prisons. The Prison Department had directed me to the new secure prison of Albany on the Isle of Wight and to the psychiatric work being done at Grendon Underwood. But I

Diary – 1 October 2015

Party conference season is the most pointless waste of money, time and liver quality ever devised. I attended these sweaty, drunken gatherings for ten years during my newspaper-editor days and achieved nothing constructive other than clarity over which is the best way to treat a monstrous hangover. (Answer: my late grandmother’s recipe of vine tomatoes on toast, laden with thick Marmite and gargantuan grinds from a pepper mill.) But they were fun, so long as I adhered to the golden rule: always leave the bar before 2 a.m., thus avoiding the moment when enough alcohol emboldens other delegates, and indeed one’s own staff, to tell you what they really think