Why 80 per cent of young people in this Macedonian town have turned to posting ‘fake news’

It’s such a relief to turn on the radio and hear the voice of Neil MacGregor. That reasoned authority, his deep knowledge of history and how things have come to be as they are, his measured common sense and ability to see round an argument or story. He’s like the voice of how things used to be, when the world was not so topsy-turvy and the news reports made sense. His series, As Others See Us, returns to Radio 4 this week (produced by Tom Alban), taking him this time to Singapore, the USA, Australia, Poland and Spain to talk to people there about Britain’s past connections, present woes and

Dangerous living

Here come three novels marketed as debuts but written by authors with some sort of previous, be it in short stories, journalism, theatre, television or a combination of the above. The Alarming Palsy of James Orr by Tom Lee (Granta, £12.99) takes a fable and transplants it into real life — in this case bourgeois southern British suburban life — where the neat conclusions we might draw from it if we encountered it in a more distilled form are muffled and made strange. The exemplar of Kafka is obvious (both Metamorphosis and The Trial); but I found myself thinking also of John Cheever, Richard Yates and other American writers who

Low life | 21 September 2017

I got off the plane at Changi still pleasantly sedated by Xanax, passed through the ‘nothing to declare’ channel, and there, waiting with my name on a signboard, was my guide for the next four days. Joy was short, middle-aged and had a low centre of gravity. She was Chinese, she said, pleased about it. A minibus and driver were waiting at the kerb. ‘Get in!’ said Joy. I did as I was told. We drove to the centre of Singapore just in time for the Garden Rhapsody light and sound show. ‘Look! Supertrees! Can you see them?’ she said. You couldn’t miss them. Towering above and around us were

First class

On the Today programme a month ago, Education Secretary Justine Greening was asked whether she could name any ‘respected figure or institution’ in favour of more grammar schools. She declined to answer, which was taken to mean that she couldn’t, and that there wasn’t. I’ve been travelling a lot this year, so wasn’t around to offer my support. I’m back now. Assuming that a professor of education at a Russell Group university is respectable enough, let me wade into the debate: yes, I’m in favour of more grammar schools. Educational experts against more grammar schools — of which there are plenty — point to the current evidence from England and

Out of hot water

During and after the second world war the Fourteenth Army in Burma became famous as the Forgotten Army, almost as famous for being forgotten as for its great victory. More truly forgotten, however, despite its great strategic achievement in keeping open the lifelines to the eastern empire, is the role of the Royal Navy in those warm and contested eastern waters. Typically, the only events most of us hear of are the disastrous losses of Singapore and of the warships Prince of Wales and Repulse, the latter blamed on Winston Churchill. We read of ossified naval thinking in the 1930s, of inadequate preparation and procurement muddle, symptomatic of inevitable national

Diary – 22 September 2016

‘Are you here to seek political asylum?’ asked a clever young student after my lecture at the National University of Singapore. It has certainly not been a great start to the political year: the Boundary Commission abolished my constituency and Jeremy Corbyn’s office declared me a ‘non-person’ by placing me on a list of 13 undesirable MPs deemed to have insulted the Dear Leader. In many ways, Singapore felt a good place to be. Here the role of the Workers’ party is not really to challenge the ruling People’s Action party for power: they play the part of perpetual opposition. Which is eerily close to where Labour is heading. The

Degrees in disaster

So farewell, Yanis Varoufakis. You used to be Greece’s finance minister. Then you resigned, or were you sacked? You took control of the Greek economy six months ago when it was growing. Yes, honestly! Growth last year ran at 0.8 per cent, with forecasts of 3 per cent this year. The government had a primary budget surplus. Unemployment was falling. Until you came along. Varoufakis was a product of British universities. He read economics at Essex and mathematical statistics at Birmingham, returning to Essex to do a PhD in economics. With the benefit of his British university education he returned to Greece and, during his short time in office, obliterated the

Long life | 4 June 2015

I wrote last week about a swarm of bees that had attached itself to a wall of my house, as if this were a rare and momentous event; but since then there have been three more swarms, and the men in spacesuits have been back again to remove them. Well, they’ve actually removed only two swarms, for I don’t know where the third one ended up. I only know that Stan, my nearest neighbour, knocked on my front door last weekend to report that a swarm in flight had just crossed his house and was making a bee-line (yes) for my garden. But whether they stopped there, and if so

Indulge your inner reptile

What do you get if you cross renegade psychoanalyst Carl Jung with lizard-men conspiracist David Icke? It is a question no one in their right mind would ask, but this book represents a kind of answer anyway. Offering a rambling pseudoscientific argument that some countries are better than others at enabling their citizens to flourish, it affects to have uncovered archetypes of the Jungian ‘collective unconscious’ that are characteristic of each nation. Meanwhile, cultures get a gold star if they indulge, rather than repress, the ‘reptilian’ part of our brains, which is mainly interested in food and sex, as opposed to the ‘limbic’ brain (emotions) and the cortex (higher reasoning).

So the FTSE100 has finally broken its record – it’s still not doing nearly as well as executive pay

The FTSE100 index has at last breached 7,000, surpassing its peak of 30 December 1999 and provoking moderate celebration among investors who have enjoyed such poor returns all these years. A thousand pounds invested in FTSE100 stocks on Millennium Eve, with dividends reinvested, was worth £1,670 by last month, an annual return of 3.4 per cent compared to inflation over the period of around 2.9 per cent. The same sum invested in a London house would have been worth £3,200, nearly twice the return on shares if we ignore running costs and the leverage effect of mortgage borrowing; invested on the rollercoaster of gold bullion, it would have been worth

Governments have failed — mayors are the future

As Michael Bloomberg approached the end of his time as Mayor of New York, Americans expected him to run for the White House. He had the money, the profile and the ego to be President. But the problem, as it turned out, was his ambition — he had too much of it to settle for the Oval Office. As he put it: ‘I have my own army, the seventh largest in the world. I have my own state department and I don’t listen to Washington very much.’ His ambition, it turns out, was not to be the next President of the United States. He wants to be Mayor of the World.

Britain has many major problems – racism isn’t one of them

I am a banana. In Singapore, where I used to live, this needs no explanation — it means I’m yellow on the outside but white on the inside, someone who looks ethnically Chinese but whose way of thinking is ‘western’. There are bananas all over Asia, and I daresay the world. We are better versed in Shakespeare than Confucius, our Mandarin is appalling, and we often have pretentious Anglo or American accents. Then there are people who are ‘ching-chong’, a reference to anyone who enjoys the kitschy bling of stereotypically Chinese things, sans irony — they like paving their entire garden with cement, for example, or driving a huge Mercedes,

What Gove should know about Singapore schools

Excelliarmus! Why do East Asian children feel they can relate to Harry Potter? Because he wears glasses, like so many of them do. The fascination with British wizarding students extends to British schools, and it’s safe to say that many Asian youngsters, not to mention their parents, picture the ideal institution of learning as being very much like Hogwarts — an age-old establishment with neat timetables, clear rules, homework, team sports, and a dash of imagination and magicking on top. In other words, an old-school school.  I have been thinking quite a lot about Michael Gove (in a scholarly kind of way) ever since he declared that the British education

What Michael Gove should know about going to school in Singapore

I like to tease my friend Wei about being a tiger mother. She once told me of an incident where her daughter Shu was making an artwork for a friend as a birthday present. Shu doodled for a few minutes, then showed her mother a sketch of a funny face. ‘I told her to knuckle down, spend more time, and come back with a far better drawing,’ said Wei. ‘It just wasn’t good enough.’ I said that was a bit harsh on her eight-year-old, especially since it was not schoolwork but part of Shu’s leisure time. Wei snorted. ‘It was a gift for her best mate, yet she hadn’t put

The Visit – Shiva Naipaul Prize, 2007

The 2007 Spectator/ Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize was won by Clarissa Tan. The prize, named after the late Trinidadian author, is for ‘the most acute and profound observation of a culture evidently alien to the writer’. The judges that year included William Boyd, Matthew d’Ancona (then editor of The Spectator) and Mark Amory (literary editor of The Spectator). Clarissa is now a staff writer at The Spectator. To find out more about the Shiva Naipaul competition, and how you can enter, click here.   The Visit Clarissa Tan I wish to write about a place of which I know everything yet nothing, where everything is familiar yet strange, a place where I feel

The Royal Wedding (extended expat version)

Last month, dressed as a town crier, the head of the British Club in Singapore, Sean Boyle, visited the offices of every major newspaper in the country. Accompanied by an entourage also in fancy dress, he declaimed that the British Club would be celebrating the nuptials of Prince William and Kate Middleton in a festival that would last 10 days. The reception to his announcement was warm. An editor of the Tamil Murasu, the newspaper that serves Singapore’s ethnic Indian population, left the newsroom to return dressed in traditional Indian costume, to pose for photos with Boyle (see above). The team at the Berita Harian, the Malay-language daily, gave the