When piracy meets protest

Sometimes there are advantages to being ill-informed. Knowing embarrassingly little about why 30 Greenpeace activists were jailed in Russia in 2013, or the wilder assertions made by the broadcaster Alex Jones (emphatically not the woman from The One Show) meant that two documentaries this week unfolded for me like the twistiest – if not necessarily the most plausible – of thrillers. Twenty-four per cent of Americans still doubt that the Sandy Hook massacre even happened Then again, in my slight defence, such ignorance seemed to be what both programmes were assuming – because, unlike many documentaries, they didn’t summarise or give away the story they were about to tell. Instead,

Clean up the MoD graffiti!

When I first saw the Ministry of Defence building splattered in blood-red paint, I assumed that it had only just happened. There were no police or protestors about but the damage was so extensive and so shocking, I felt sure it was recent. No decent government would put up with that for long. I was east-bound in a car at the time and as we drove past I craned out of the window for a last look. The Whitehall clean-up crew would arrive soon, I assumed, and I gawped because I wouldn’t see it again. I cannot for the life of me understand why it’s all right to leave the

Just how much lower can the Conservatives sink?

This is the year in which Michael Gambon died, so by definition a grim one for theatre. Of all the tributes, one of the most acute was by Tom Hollander, who recalled how expressive Gambon’s voice was after 30 years on stage. He could reach hundreds of people while seeming to address only one or two. That’s essential theatre acting. When Gambon turned to cinema, his voice had become supple and mellow. It set me to thinking of other great cinema voices. Simone Signoret came first to mind. Then Jeanne Moreau, James Mason, and above all, Henry Fonda. These actors have you at hello. I would have added Marlene Dietrich,

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

Inside the Armistice Day protests

The Metropolitan Police today staged their largest-ever operation with two marches – the pro-Palestinian march and a smaller counter-protest – taking place in London. The latter, centred on Westminster, provided most of the arrests. The main route of the pro-Palestine march (which started in Park Lane and was moving towards the US Embassy in Vauxhall) passed more peacefully with fewer scuffles. The demonstration drew perhaps 300,000 (although Jeremy Corbyn claimed a million) and the main arrests seem to be those who decided to sit down at Waterloo station and not move when asked. No one person on the march can hope to give an account on the whole thing. But I can

France wants Macron to send in the army

Nearly three quarters of French people think it’s time for President Macron to send in the army to restore order to the towns and cities that have been sacked in recent days. According to a poll published yesterday, 70 per cent of people said they wanted the military to be deployed to areas that have been looted, vandalised and firebombed since police shot dead a 17-year-old in western Paris on Tuesday morning. The teenager, Nahel, was laid to rest on Saturday afternoon but it remains to be seen whether the furious reaction to his death – for which a policeman has been charged with voluntary manslaughter – will abate in

Is Macron heading for his Margaret Thatcher moment?

There was a sense of foreboding in France at the start of this week. After the anarchy of last Thursday and the extraordinary violence in western France on Saturday, where radical environmentalists fought a pitched battle with police, what would the next seven days bring?  Much of the media speculated that the 10th day of action organised by unions in protest at the government’s pension reform bill would result in the sort of scenes witnessed across France five days earlier, with city halls torched, shops sacked and police stations attacked. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the left-wing La France Insoumise, was accused by the government on Monday of tacitly encouraging the

Kill the Bill!

The more you study what is going on with the Just Stop Oil protests and the Public Order Bill, the more weird and inconsistent our national attitude to protesters seems. Britain, according to those opposed to the Bill, is a police state. If you look at their response to the Just Stop Oil protests, however, we look like pushovers. It would be easy to come to the conclusion, watching protesters block roads and the police often just stand and watch, that Britain is in desperate need of more laws to deal with this kind of thing: to make it clear that yes, everyone has the right to protest but no,

How to protest the protestors

These are bleak times in our land, and we must take our pleasures where we can. Personally I have been able to find a great deal of consolation over recent days in watching members of the public confronting protestors from the Just Stop Oil movement. There is some especially pleasing footage of van drivers in south London hauling protestors off the roads by the scruff of their necks. The colourful language which accompanies these acts is an additional delight, for the irate British public is not always immune to using words that polite people might deplore. All the videos bring some satisfaction. This week a strange-looking man-child with a comb-over

I took my son to Drag Queen Story Hour

The nice young man in the library had told us he was worried about protests when I booked tickets for Drag Queen Story Hour. We only began to hear the chants halfway through the show; they drifted up from the courtyard in front of St John’s Hall, the council building that houses Penzance library, through the window behind where my son and I were sitting. They got louder and louder – the children started looking round, puzzled, and the drag queen gesticulated at me to close the window. It took me a few moments to realise what the gestures meant – I had assumed that it was what they call

In defence of ‘Stop Brexit Man’ Steve Bray

It is a great and ancient right of all freeborn Englishmen, stretching back far beyond the reaches of our recorded history. From Magna Carta to the Glorious Revolution, it has been woven into each of the defining constitutional moments of the British story, a principle bled and died for on the battlefields of Europe. It is, of course, the right to make a tit of yourself. Whitehall’s Stop Brexit Man has been the most vociferous pursuer of that right in recent years. Steve Bray, with his Brussels blue top hat and shouty megaphone demeanour, loves to make a tit of himself. He marches around Westminster barking inanities at any unsuspecting

Three cheers for booing in the theatre

In the theatre, to boo is taboo. There was an exception last week when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s name was booed by the crowd at the final performance of his musical Cinderella after a letter written by him to the cast, in which he called the show a ‘costly mistake’, was read out on stage. But that’s rare. Outside of panto season, the West End generally prefers a play to be received in a sepulchral hush. It’s curious that booing is absent from modern theatre, because it’s as old as European drama. The earliest reports of audience booing were recorded at the annual festival of Dionysus in Athens where playwrights competed

There is no transgender debate

Anyone still talking about ‘two sides in the transgender debate’ needs to look at the footage from Bristol yesterday. Actually, there was no debate. What happened was one group of people (mainly men) intimidating a second group of people (mainly women). The video is terrifying. If you couldn’t catch what was said through their masks, here is my transcript: Go, get in the sea. Die out. You’re dinosaurs. Dinosaurs. Fossils. You’re going to die out (x5). You are ancient history. You are fossils. You are dinosaurs. You have failed (x2). Your ideas have failed. Get in the sea. Get in the sea like Colston. Go home. Get in the sea. The

What’s happening in Kazakhstan?

Since the start of the new year, riots have spread throughout Kazakhstan. In the former capital of Almaty, the airport has been taken over and the mayor’s office stormed. Dozens of security forces and civilians have been killed in violent clashes while hundreds have been wounded. Is this Kazakhstan’s Tiananmen Square moment, in which the government is shaken to its roots but survives? Or will it be like the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine in which a pro-Russian ruler was overthrown by the mob? The main cause of the uprising is not dissimilar to Tiananmen Square. It is not a demand for democracy, which some inept journalists at the BBC and CNN ascribed as the

The law is not fit to stop Extinction Rebellion’s street protests

Extinction Rebellion (XR) are once again blocking London’s streets, reportedly emboldened by the Supreme Court’s recent Ziegler decision – which found that deliberately blocking roads can be lawful protest. The police maintain that the judgment does not substantially change the law and that XR, like everyone else, has a right to assemble and protest but not to cause serious disruption to the community or to hold the streets to ransom. But while the judgment is not a sea change in the law – whatever some protestors may now say – it does reveal that the law as it stands is failing to adequately protect the public’s right to use the

The French are rebelling against Macron’s Covid Passports

A manager of an attraction park in France was reportedly assaulted on Sunday after he denied entry to a customer. It’s alleged the man lost his rag when he was turned back because he didn’t have a valid Covid passport. It is unlikely to be the last such incident. In the space of a fortnight, the atmosphere in France has turned toxic. A hospital in Saint-Étienne was invaded on Monday by 60 demonstrators, mainly medical professionals, opposed to the measure that will force them to vaccinate or be suspended without pay. That is also a strike at a Lyon hospital that will start tomorrow. Elsewhere cinemas, theme parks and fitness

Cuba libre: why Cubans have reached breaking point

Havana There is an astonishing patience in the Cuban people, born of endless waiting. When a store has, say, chicken, people queue, often for days. But on Monday, outside the Zanja police station in central Havana, people weren’t waiting for food. They were waiting — patiently — for news of family members who had been arrested during unprecedented protests at the weekend. The demonstrations flared like a petrol fire. Cubans had settled down for lunch, many preparing to watch the Euro 2020 final, when news spread of a march in the town of San Antonio de los Baños on the outskirts of Havana. Videos on social media showed people, driven

Britain should resist copying the EU’s corporate responsibility law

Big corporations have a lot not to be proud of, and we certainly could do with laws to rein in some of their excesses. But that doesn’t mean that we should necessarily nod those laws through without a careful look.  A case in point is the demand made in recent days for the government to follow an EU initiative and introduce a ‘corporate responsibility’ law. This would require British companies to vet their entire supply chains for, among other things, human rights violations. The EU scheme in question, based on a European parliament vote in March, is what you have to look at to see just what is being asked for. Its demands

Don’t ‘Kill the Bill’

Are the rights of protesters and the rights of all other citizens fairly balanced? Think back to the Extinction Rebellion protests of April 2019, when climate activists chose to ‘peacefully occupy the centres of power and shut them down’, as they put it, including the heart of London. The protests, organised globally, were perhaps the most disruptive in history. A small number of people managed to stop hundreds of thousands more going about their daily lives. People could not get to work, see family and friends or go shopping, because the streets were blocked by an extensive series of roadblocks and other tactics. At one point, printing presses were blockaded,

Cairo in crisis: The Republic of False Truths, by Alaa Al Aswany, reviewed

Certain novels complicate the very notion of literary enjoyment. This, by the author of the international bestseller The Yacoubian Building, is such a one. Despite its gripping narrative, compelling structure and vivid characters, every time I picked it up it was with a sinking heart. In telling the story of the Egyptian revolution of 2011 through the viewpoint of a variety of Cairenes both for and against, Alaa Al Aswany holds out the slender straw of hope against the slashing shears of repression. General Ahmad Alwany has just supervised the torture of a man and the abuse of his wife at his HQ. But it’s not as though he’s devoid