Saviours of souls: the heroism of lifeboat crews

Our summer holidays by the sea were the thrill of the year and the lifeboat was the thrill the holidays. Whissh-crack! went the maroon, sending the dauntless crew and their punchy little vessel off into the waves to save souls. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution has been doing this for 200 years. Mariners and all of us must hope it never stops, because its story is the best of us. In One Crew, Helen Doe, a maritime historian, writes the official history with verve and precision. She explains that there were 39 lifeboats operating independently around the coast, ‘enjoying varying degrees of effectiveness’, before Sir William Hillary, a ‘bankrupt baron’

Refugee lives: The Singularity, by Balsam Karam, reviewed

One Friday evening in a half-ruined, half-rebuilt city, where smart tourists dine out in restaurants next to refugees in makeshift shelters, a woman walks the streets. In torn clothes and slippers ‘worn ragged’, she hands out leaflets. On every piece of paper the same words are written: ‘Has anyone seen my daughter?’ On the same evening, in the same coastal city, which is ‘half obscured by skyscrapers’, another woman walks the streets with a different purpose, seeking to spend time away from her co-workers on a business trip. As she cradles her pregnant stomach, she watches as a female figure climbs over a clifftop railing and jumps, leaving behind a

Soapy and sentimental: Ken Loach’s The Old Oak reviewed

Ken Loach has said The Old Oak will be his last film – he’s 87; the golf course probably beckons. It’s not one of the ones he’ll be remembered for. At least, however, it is starkly different from the others as it’s a cheerful, sunny romcom set in Paris in the spring. I’m joshing you. It’s set in the deprived north-east where the skies are permanently grim and tensions rise due to the arrival of Syrian refugees. As you’d expect, it is a compassionate film that is respectful all round but it is also heavy-handed, soapy and sentimental, with a redemptive ending that is unearned. I wish him joy on

At home in the multiverse: Bridge, by Lauren Beukes, reviewed

Lauren Beukes is a writer who puts cerebral propositions into breakneck thrillers: structural misogyny in The Shining Girls; the flipside of patriarchy in Afterland. In Bridge, she investigates the depressive’s favourite hypotheticals – could have, should have, would have, might have. The protagonist is Bridget, whose mother, Jo, has recently died from brain cancer. Jo was a scientist, interested in rather eccentric ideas, and has bequeathed Bridget a problematic legacy. It seems as if Jo had found a way, using harmonics, visual stimuli and an odd, worm-like thing (think fungus or parasite or the nematode in a tequila bottle) to access other realities. Through trial and error, Bridget manages to

Rishi Sunak is right about illegal migration

The Illegal Migration Bill is having a distorting effect on the Tory party. It has put Theresa May and Iain Duncan Smith together on the side of liberal opinion – and Ken Clarke on the side of the Prime Minister. This week, May and Duncan Smith sought to stop the government from overturning a Lords amendment which would prevent the deportation of those claiming to be victims of people-trafficking. Rishi Sunak thinks that loopholes in the law have been exploited by people-traffickers. May and Duncan Smith disagree. It fell to Clarke, a fierce critic of the government since Brexit, to challenge the plan’s opponents to come up with a better

The immigrant’s experience of Europe

Meet Ibrahim, from Syria. He fled Aleppo just before the bombs began to fall. A clean $4,000 in cash to a smuggler got him a fake passport and, voilà, a ticket to Europe – briefly in Greece, then in Germany (‘the people, they looked different’), now in Spain. Immigrant life was tough at first: the strange language, the alien norms, the overt racism. ‘He was not on their level. Just a refugee.’ Then a lucky break. He starred in a homemade porn video that went viral: ‘100 per cent real Arab bull.’ Next, he’s earning close to a seven-figure salary, owns a flash car and has women dripping off his

A visit from Neanderthals: The Red Children, by Maggie Gee, reviewed

This is the kind of novel that will be discussed jubilantly in the book clubs of places like Lib Dem north Oxford. It is a social polemic disguised as fiction. Maggie Gee’s concerns are topical: migration, global warming, ‘the virus’, colour prejudice and first nations. The Red Children will be selective in its appeal. Strange red people with large heads suddenly appear in Ramsgate, and stand about naked on the seafront The plot is a surreal fantasy set on ‘the edge of England’, in Ramsgate, where Gee lives. Strange red people with large heads turn up suddenly and stand about naked on the seafront looking out to the Channel or

My stock has soared since I’ve taken in two Ukrainians

I have temporarily taken in two Ukrainian refugees and suddenly find that, for very little sacrifice, my stock has soared. People who have regarded me as a hard-nosed, right-wing bastard are suddenly confused and struggling to readjust. A woke young relative who has despaired of my ignorant, reactionary views on Black Lives Matter, climate change, gender and so on suddenly sees a halo above my head. My mother-in-law on the Costa Brava reports mentioning that her daughter and son-in-law have Ukrainian refugees is like being sprinkled with gold dust. Her social circle is in awe. Never have I received so much praise for doing hardly anything at all. It started

The Rwanda plan could save Boris

If you want to see what explosive growth looks like then I invite you to eschew all the old Covid charts and instead make your own graph plotting the number of Channel-hopping migrants year on year. In 2018 there were 299, in 2019 there were 1,843, in 2020 there were 8,466 and in 2021 there were 28,527. So far in 2022 arrivals are running at easily more than twice last year’s month-by-month tally, meaning we are heading for 60,000+ by the end of the year. Extrapolating the trend to the general election year of 2024 takes us into the ballpark of 250,000 – roughly equivalent to the entire population of

I’m taking in a Ukrainian

Delighted though we all are that Benedict Cumberbatch has decided to allow a Ukrainian family to live in one of his houses, did he have to trumpet this to the entire population of the country? Surely these sorts of decision are best kept to oneself, no? But then, they’re always doing it, the luvvies – proclaiming their saintliness in order to protect and advance the brand, one supposes. Benedict should know that there are more than 100,000 ordinary people in this country, people who have never received a Bafta, who have offered their homes to Ukrainian refugees and they don’t go bragging about it on national media. People such as

Which countries have ditched daylight savings time?

Time for a change A bill before the US Senate would abolish daylight saving time. Some countries which have previously practised daylight saving but no longer do so: – Algeria (last changed clocks in 1981); Brazil (1932); China (1991); Colombia (1993); Egypt (2015); Falkland Islands (2010); Hong Kong (1979); Iceland (1968); India (1945); Indonesia (1963); Iraq (2007); Pakistan (2009); Peru (1994); Philippines (1990); Russia (2014); South Africa (1944); South Korea (1988). Pumped up The price of unleaded petrol reached an average of 165.37p per litre. How does that compare with spikes in petrol prices in the past? Actual price vs price adjusted for inflation (prices per litre except where *

Gove is clearing up Patel’s mess

Michael Gove has a reputation as a minister for clearing up colleagues’ messes – often the secretary of state he has replaced in a department – in a polite but very conspicuous fashion. Today it was Home Secretary Priti Patel’s turn to see what it was like to get a visit from Gove and his dustpan and brush. As Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary, Gove is responsible for one of the routes by which Ukrainian refugees can come to Britain, and he announced the details of the ‘Homes for Ukraine’ scheme in the Commons this afternoon. This has largely been passed to him because the Home Office is in such

Boris Johnson rejects Europe’s open approach to Ukrainian refugees

One of the most extraordinary (and moving) videos to have emerged since the invasion of Ukraine shows scenes at Berlin Central Station where refugees are paired upon arrival with locals offering accommodation. An unprecedented crisis has been met with an unprecedented public response – some 350,000 beds have been offered in Germany now. Over a million in Poland. People’s generosity has risen to the challenge – without government getting in the way to slow things down. Could it happen here? We risk ending up doing more than any European country to arm the Ukrainians but less than any other to help refugees Michael Gove is set to launch a British

Border farce: Britain is failing Ukraine’s refugees

 Calais, France ‘The British government is not turning anybody around,’ Priti Patel told her French counterpart last weekend. ‘Ukrainian refugees are welcome in the UK.’ She doubled down on her claims in the House of Commons on Monday: ‘It is wrong to say that we are just turning people back; we are absolutely not.’ You don’t have to spend long in Calais to disprove the Home Secretary’s claims. As we checked into our hotel at 1.30 a.m. on Tuesday, we saw seven Ukrainian refugees resting on the couches in the lobby. There was nothing eye-catching about the group, apart from their obvious weariness and the pile of Ukrainian passports and

Why is Britain so useless at helping Ukrainian refugees?

Some MPs were in tears yesterday when President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the House of Commons, and understandably so, given the soaring rhetoric and bravery of a man who knows his days on earth could be numbered.  One kind interpretation is that the caseworkers at the Home Office haven’t been trained sufficiently for them to use the initiative But across Westminster over the past few days, MPs and their constituency teams have also been crying tears of frustration at the Home Office’s handling of the visa application process. Not only has there been intense confusion between the different arms of government about how many routes there are for refugees – with

The myopic focus on racism at the Polish-Ukrainian border

There are already a hell of a lot of foreign correspondents and human-rights workers at the Ukrainian-Polish border – an immigration problem all by themselves, perhaps. Quite a few of these reporters seem to be desperately seeking ‘racism’ stories, since that is increasingly the only news which the English-speaking media seems able to process. The heart-warming scenes of Ukrainian women and children being given shelter isn’t the story. Because those refugees are white. At the border at Medyka on Thursday the Poles put out barbecued sausages, fruit juice and water for the incoming women and children. There were boxes of toys to cheer the traumatised little ones. At the train

Britain must give Ukrainians an unconditional right to asylum

During the Cold War, any citizen of a Soviet bloc country who made it to Britain and claimed asylum was welcomed with open arms. The fact people wished to take great risks to move westwards for safety and shelter, while hardly anyone wanted to move in the opposite direction, settled the question of which system was better. Besides, the numbers who made it out were tiny – the brutality of border guards patrolling the Iron Curtain saw to that. In recent years, the concept of asylum has been complicated by the debate on how to handle the much larger flow of migrants who are prepared to risk their lives fleeing

Are Poles really against immigrants?

Krakow The invasion of Ukraine is being felt across Europe. Already hundreds of thousands of displaced Ukrainians are spilling out west in an attempt to flee Russian hostility. Polish society and the conservative government have, on the whole, supported refugees from their troubled eastern neighbour. A recent poll shows that 53 per cent of Poles are in favour of taking in Ukrainian war refugees, compared to just 22 per cent against. In Germany, attitudes are more divided, with 41 per cent supporting the settlement of Ukrainian refugees compared to 38 per cent against. More than half of the supporters of the radical right nationalist Confederation party, whose detractors have long

Why the Channel migrant crisis is spooking Boris

The Tory position in the polls is weakening. Partly this is because of the vaccine bounce wearing off and a fortnight or so of sleaze stories. But, as I write in the Times today, ministers thinks that there’s another issue harming the government: small boats. ‘The sleaze is bad, but the issue that causes me most trouble with my constituents is the boats,’ says one cabinet member. Johnson himself has long been concerned about this problem. He worries about the sense of disorder that the small boats convey: he thinks they make a mockery of ‘taking back control’ of the borders. A long-serving No. 10 aide says that ‘other than Covid, no issue

How Turkey is fuelling the Belarus-Poland migrant crisis

In the cold, damp forest lining the border between Poland and Belarus, thousands of refugees flown over from the Middle East have waiting to cross into the EU for days. Belarusian riot police are shoving them away from their gates and towards Poland, where only more forces await. The Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has recently been in conflict with the EU, which has imposed sanctions on his regime after last year’s contested elections which many believe to have been rigged. Lukashenko is pushing refugees towards Poland to be pawns in a fight, with the backing of Putin. The refugees find themselves between a rock and a hard place: in front