Britain’s diplomacy with Russia needs a rethink

A week after the UK expelled the Russian defence attaché, Colonel Maxim Yelovik, for being ‘an undeclared intelligence officer’, Russia predictably responded on Thursday by expelling my successor, Captain Adrian Coghill, from Moscow. He has a week to leave. Russia has also promised to retaliate to visa restrictions placed on Russian diplomats by Britain, and the to the removal of diplomatic status from buildings around London allegedly used for nefarious activities. Using the pretext that Yelovik was an ‘undeclared intelligence officer’ sets an impossibly high bar for of future Russian military attachés in London. Over recent decades, naval, army and air attachés have been routinely expelled by both Britain and

Fools rush in: Mania, by Lionel Shriver, reviewed

Pearson Converse teaches literature at Verlaine University, Pennsylvania. She exists in an alternative universe to our own in which the Mental Parity Movement holds sway.  There is intellectual levelling, and no ‘cognitive discrimination’. This is high satire, exaggerated, crude, inviting ridicule of the social system portrayed, close to the great satirists of the 18th century in tone if not in style.   Yet Lionel Shriver’s Mania is more than just a satire. It is a study of Pearson’s family life and her ‘unbalanced’ relationship with her best friend from childhood, Emory. Pearson has three children: an intellectually gifted girl and boy by a high-IQ sperm donor, and an averagely intelligent

Agent Zo: the Polish blonde with nerves of steel

In recent years, far from diminishing, the number of books on the Nazis, Occupied Europe and the Holocaust – events that now lie three quarters of a century in the past – seem only to grow. New archives are opened and attics are raided for forgotten diaries and letters. One historian who has mined them with great skill is Clare Mulley, the author of books on spies and Hitler’s pilots. She has now unearthed a story about a bold and resolute Polish agent, Elzbieta Zawacka, who went by the name of Zo. Her adventures are extraordinary, and their background is no less fascinating. Agent Zo is as much a book

Georgia is on the brink of revolution

For weeks, the Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi has looked like a battlefield. Thousands of protestors, mostly in their twenties, have been met by riot police armed with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets. On the face of it, the protest is about a new repressive bill in its final reading in the Georgian parliament. In reality, it’s the struggle between a government that is turning towards Moscow, and a citizenry who by and large believe the future lies with Europe. The crunch point comes next week when the Georgian parliament will vote on a bill which, if passed, would label as a ‘foreign agent’ any political or civil society

How Pret ate itself

How bad would it be if Royal Mail’s parent company, International Distributions Services (IDS), were to be taken over by the Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky? Our historic postal service is heavily lossmaking, struggling to maintain its universal delivery obligation and at war with its unions: a foreign owner would surely take an axe to it. Kretinsky, who owns almost 28 per cent of stockmarket-listed IDS, has gone back on an assurance that he would not try to take the company private and has tabled a £3.1 billion offer – above the group’s current market value but well below what other shareholders think it is worth. He won’t win with this

Why does the West protect Israel but not Ukraine?

When Israel and its allies shot down hundreds of Iranian drones and missiles, they demonstrated what an effective air defence looks like. The slow-moving Shahed-136 suicide drones were not hard for the Israeli, Jordanian, British, American and (probably) Saudi air forces to find and eliminate. Even Iran’s cruise missiles were thwarted. It was an overwhelming victory for Israel and a humiliation for Iran. In Ukraine, all this was watched with desperation and even anger. While Israel boasts robust air defence systems and, with its allies, can deploy hundreds of combat aircraft to repel Iran’s attack, Ukraine must ration its defence munitions. Kyiv is forced to choose which cities to protect. Ukraine’s

Macron vs Putin: this summer’s Olympic battle

Dixmont, Yonne Last summer, Emmanuel Macron lashed out at France’s constitution because it prevents him from running for a third consecutive term in office. It is, he told his entourage, a ‘disastrous stupidity’. The majority of the French people would disagree. Macron’s approval ratings are dire, and a poll at the start of this month revealed that the youngest president in the history of the Fifth Republic has the support of only 7 per cent of the under-35s. Should anyone be surprised? Immigration is out of control, farmers have marched on Paris and teachers are at the end of their tether because of classroom intimidation. Anti-Semitic acts have surged since

Portrait of the Week: Tory phishing, tension over Rafah and Cameron in America

Home The review by Dr Hilary Cass of gender-identity services for people under 18 called for an end to prescribing powerful hormone drugs; warned that children who change gender may regret it; and found that many had experienced trauma, neglect and abuse. More than 150,000 patients had to wait more than 24 hours in A&E before getting a hospital bed last year, a tenfold increase on 2019. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, suggested that Labour could plug the gap in its spending commitments by getting more taxes sooner from non-doms. Five Bulgarians admitted in court to stealing more than £50 million in fraudulent claims for Universal Credit. Britain held talks

Will Biden support Ukraine’s attacks on Russia?

This time last year, Volodymyr Zelensky was touring western capitals, calling for weapons and money to launch a decisive summer offensive. Nato eventually provided Leopard and Challenger tanks, Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, M777 howitzers, Himars rocket artillery and Patriot air defences – but too little, too late. The much-vaunted offensive went nowhere, despite a mutiny by the Wagner Group and widespread disarray in the Russian army. Instead, Soledar, Bakhmut and Avdiivka were seized. Today, Russian missile assaults are intensifying, not receding. In March, Russia hit Ukraine with 264 missiles and 515 drones. A relentless bombardment of Kharkiv is making Ukraine’s second city uninhabitable. In response, Kyiv’s most successful strategy to

Portrait of the Week: hate crimes, surprise knighthoods and flaming rickshaws

Home The Hate Crime and Public Order Act came into effect in Scotland, making it a crime to communicate or behave in a manner ‘that a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive’, with the intention of stirring up hatred based on age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity or being intersex. The Scottish government offered online training to 500 Police Scotland ‘Hate Crime Champions’. The author J.K. Rowling named ten people who call themselves women that she called men. Police Scotland said complaints had been received about her, but that but no action would be taken. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said: ‘We should not be criminalising

The horrors of the Eastern Front

Ten years ago David Cameron, as prime minister, pledged £50 million for the centenary of the first world war. The focus was on ‘capturing our national spirit in every corner of the country, something that says something about who we are as a people’. Beyond a celebration of the Tommy on the Western Front and a belated acknowledgement of colonial Britain’s sacrifice, it was a missed opportunity. There was little attempt to better understand the region where the war began – and where, according to Nick Lloyd’s exhaustive The Eastern Front, it never really ended. Indicative of his understandable wariness about penetrating beyond Britain’s comfort zone (he is the acclaimed

Mike Lynch has little chance of escaping US jail

As I’ve said before, I hold no brief for Dr Mike Lynch, the founder of the Cambridge-based software firm Autonomy, who faces US fraud charges over the $11 billion takeover of his company by Hewlett-Packard (HP) in 2011. But I watched with foreboding as US marshals bagged Lynch under the lopsided 2003 US-UK extradition treaty and flew him to California – after the then home secretary Priti Patel declined to halt the process – and a judge there changed his pre-agreed bail conditions to place him under armed house arrest. Now, having comprehensively lost the argument that as a UK citizen running a UK company he should have been tried in

Meet the Russians in Serbia who voted against Putin

Today, Russians in Serbia are heading to the polls to cast their vote and protest against what many see as a sham presidential election. A polling station in the capital Belgrade opened this morning at 8am, but many decided to turn up at ‘Noon against Putin’, a protest called by the late Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny.  Tens of thousands of Russians have settled in Serbia since the start of the war in Ukraine. Like millions of other Russian exiles around the world, they are eligible to vote in this weekend’s polls—which are almost certain to hand Vladimir Putin another six years in power. With no credible opponent and only

Russia will not attack Nato

There is a lot of war fever about. In January, Grant Shapps, Britain’s tiggerish defence secretary, said the UK was in a ‘pre-war’ period. The West’s adversaries in China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are mobilising, he said. Not wanting to be outdone, Shapps’s Labour shadow John Healey wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘If Putin wins, he will not stop at Ukraine.’ Timescales for when this conflict will come vary. Shapps said it could come within the next five years, whereas the estimates of European politicians range from three to eight years. Nato’s top military official warned that Europeans must be ready for a conflict with Russia within two decades. An

Why Latvia is expelling its Russian speakers

Riga, Latvia At the age of 74, Inessa Novikova, who is ethnically Russian, was told she had to learn Latvian or she’d be deported. ‘I felt physically ill when the policy was announced,’ she tells me when we meet in an office close to Riga’s city centre. ‘I’ve lived here peacefully for 20 years.’ There was no requirement for her to seek Latvian citizenship after the Cold War ended. Then, it was acknowledged that ethnic Russians, who make up a quarter of Latvia’s 1.8 million population, would co-exist with ethnic Latvians. But when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, this arrangement ended. If Latvia’s ‘non-citizens’ had Russian citizenship, as Inessa did, they now

A free spirit: Clairmont, by Lesley McDowell, reviewed

Commentary on the young Romantics can be curiously puritanical. Not on saintly John Keats, who died too young to cause any trouble. But Byron and Shelley? Beastly to women, negligent as parents, destructive as friends, oblivious to their own privilege. Feminist observers tend to resemble the English visitors to Geneva in 1816 who borrowed telescopes to spy on the renegade inhabitants of the Villa Diodati across the lake, hoping to be scandalised. A central character in the summer that saw the birth of Frankenstein was the only non-writer of the villa’s gathering, Byron’s young lover and Mary Shelley’s step-sister, Claire Clairmont. Fortunately, Lesley McDowell doesn’t let her impeccable feminist credentials

Bombed-out bank shares are a failure of modern capitalism

When I read news of a fresh strategic plan for Barclays, I seem to hear a ghostly rustling from the corner cupboard in the living room. Could it be a forlorn protest from the dusty bundle of share certificates that are the last vestiges of my late father’s lifelong service to Barclays from junior clerk to deputy chairman? They were a modest farewell reward – 40 years ago, in the era before mega-bonuses for senior executives – that might once have been swapped for a country cottage but today would barely yield enough to pay for his upcoming centenary dinner. Even the Qatari sheikhs have sold down their Barclays holdings

Harry Mount, Lara Prendergast, Catriona Olding, Owen Matthews and Jeremy Hildreth

29 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud, Harry Mount reads his diary, in which he recounts a legendary face-off between Barry Humphries and John Lennon (00:45); Lara Prendergast gives her tips for male beauty (06:15); Owen Matthews reports from Kyiv about the Ukrainians’ unbroken spirit (12:40); Catriona Olding writes on the importance of choosing how to spend one’s final days (18:40); and Jeremy Hildreth reads his Notes On Napoleon’s coffee. Produced by Cindy Yu, Margaret Mitchell, Max Jeffery and Natasha Feroze.

Will Rachel Reeves scrap the private equity tax break?

I’ve been reading – so you don’t have to – speeches recently addressed to a hot-ticket gathering of business leaders at the Oval cricket ground by Sir Keir Starmer and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves. The nub is a promise to hold corporation tax at the current rate of 25 per cent for the duration of the next parliament, combined with a warning that ‘levelling up of workers’ rights’ will cause companies’ labour costs to rise. Then there’s all the usual guff you’d expect from a government-in-waiting about infrastructure and skills; plus an unusually warm tone towards the financial services sector, including a pledge not to reinstate the EU-inspired cap on

Can anyone save the Post Office? 

Angry farmers offer a theme for the week – starting with the French at close quarters. Leaving the Eurotunnel at Calais en route to a wedding in the Alps, my car party encounters agricultural rage in the form of convoys of stationary trucks at all the port’s major exit points, as tractors blockade the autoroutes and police do nothing to shift them. Echoing recent protests in Germany, Poland and Romania, French farmers want better price protection, cheaper diesel, more import barriers, more aid from Brussels and less green regulation. We’re lucky not to be sprayed with manure, as was happening elsewhere. The protests have support from the powerful CGT union