Portrait of the week: tax cuts, hostage releases and highly rated horses

Home Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said, ‘We can now move on to the next phase of our economic plan and turn our attention to cutting taxes,’ having seen a reduction in inflation. Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, followed suit in the Autumn Statement, cutting personal taxes. The government was to make changes to long-term benefits. The minimum wage, known officially as the National Living Wage, currently £10.42 an hour for those over the age of 23, will rise to £11.44 an hour for those over 21 from next April. The government also drew attention to £8.3 billion allocated to mending potholes, money purportedly saved from the curtailment

Toby Young

I’m living in my very own hell’s kitchen

According to a friend who sold a successful consulting business a few years ago, the problem with employing middle-class Britons, unlike Americans, is that there’s a summit to their ambitions. Once they’ve earned enough money to trade in their BMW for a Porsche, install a new kitchen and create an attic room with a dormer window, they start taking it easy. ‘Those are the only three things they really want,’ he says. As a freelance journalist, I’ve abandoned all hope of owning a Porsche or getting the attic done. But after living in the same house in Acton for 15 years, I’m finally remodelling the kitchen. Or rather Caroline is.

What do sugar and cocaine have in common?

Stephen Fry is a national treasure whom half the nation can’t stand. He drops his façade of loveability mid-chortle as soon as Brexit is mentioned. He threw a spectacularly pompous Remainer wobbly a few weeks ago and I remember thinking: is he determined to make the people he disdains actively hate him? If so, it’s working. Last weekend Fry was on John Cleese’s GB News chat show, talking about his former cocaine habit and its connection to his adolescent consumption of sugar. He mentioned the sweets in the shape of cigarettes that were sold at his school tuck shop. As he put it: ‘When I was a teenager, I had

Dear Mary: does eating meat count as a dietary requirement? 

Q. My friend and I are being driven mad by a woman at our church who, after Mass, buttonholes us in the car park and goes on about a small airfield she is in a dispute with. In church she appears devout but I can’t help noticing she never asks how we are. I once stood for 30 minutes outside Aldi while she told me about the deaths of her parents in Covid lockdowns. Naturally I was sympathetic but a couple who had let me go ahead to pay as I had only three items must have been surprised I was still there. How can we avoid her without being

Dear Mary: how do I make sure I look popular at a book signing?

Q. A central London bookshop has kindly invited me to be one of 30 authors signing copies of our books at its Christmas customer evening. I feel it would be rude to say no, so I’ve said yes. But I went to last year’s event at that same shop, and saw the excruciating sight of some of my favourite authors sitting alone and unvisited at their signing tables, while crowds were queueing round the shop for Gyles Brandreth. This would bring back my worst childhood nightmares of not being picked for games teams. What occupation could you recommend to pass the time as I sit there from six till eight,

The sad death of the pony ride

Pony rides were once a staple of every village, church and primary-school fête. A brusque, horsey mother would swing you up into the saddle, and the patient pony would trudge up and down while you clung to its mane, before it was the turn of the next child in the queue. No one ever plonked a hard hat on your head. There were certainly none of those restrictive body protectors that children are encased in now, bundled up like scarab beetles. These days, I am that horsey mother. When we moved to the country from London after the lockdowns, ponies were top of my shopping list – above a replacement

Portrait of the week: Starmer’s stall, high treason and the horrors of Hamas

Home At the Labour party conference, cheerful in the hall but overshadowed by the war in Israel, Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said that in government he would build 1.5 million homes and a host of ‘Labour new towns’. He wanted to spend £1.1 billion a year on higher overtime payments within NHS England to reduce waiting lists. A protestor poured glitter over him. Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, also said Labour would ‘rebuild Britain’. ‘Rachel Reeves is a serious economist,’ said Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England. Labour took Rutherglen and Hamilton West in a by-election that the Scottish

What going blind taught me about humanity

Twenty-one years ago, when I was a young Labour MP, I wrote a piece in these pages about going blind. I described a rare degenerative eye condition called choroideremia, which shrinks and darkens one’s vision until eventually there’s nothing left. I started to see less in my late teens; by the time I wrote the piece in 2002 I was 33 and perhaps half-blind, but could still manage to do most things pretty well.  The daily differences were such, though, that people could tell there was something not quite right. I would do things – such as failing to see, and therefore to shake, an outstretched hand – which just

Patsy would have just ignored Rishi’s cigarette ban

On Monday night, still shaken from the weekend’s news, I went to a small dinner in the basement of a charming restaurant in Chancery Lane, with fellow supporters of the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). The brave MSF doctors and nurses are rather like fire-watchers in their turrets, scanning the world for where they are needed next before diving into danger at a moment’s notice. No war zone is too perilous. They have been entrenched in Gaza for years and are used to functioning under the most difficult conditions. This week, they had to work out of tented operating theatres, erected between bombed-out ruins, because ambulances cannot be

The rise of the groupthink podcast

A long tradition in the Liddle household on a Saturday morning is to read aloud sections from the Guardian Weekend magazine and fall about laughing. It is of course the sole reason we buy the paper. Two regular features in particular create a quite enormous amount of merriment. The first, Blind Date, is where two of the paper’s readers are brought together to see if they fancy copping off with each other (they almost never do, for good reason). It’s not a bad idea, to be honest – but, oh, Christ help us… the people. Epicene smirking hipsters; growling diesel dykes; ingenuous gayers with multiple piercings; ugly, embittered, hummus-breathed third-sector

Lloyd Evans

Could I find a girlfriend on a Guardian Blind Date?

Free grub, free booze and the chance to fall in love. That’s the deal offered by Blind Date, a matchmaking strand in the Guardian that brings together lonely hearts and asks them to spill the beans. When I applied for this enticing freebie I had no expectation of being chosen, but my email was answered within hours. Amazing. Randy singletons are in short supply among Guardian readers. I was asked to describe my ‘interests’, which are rather limited. I tend to avoid travel, sport, art, museums, cars, planes, movies, pubs, music, parties, dancing, eating out or holidays. I’m never invited to dinner by anyone or ‘for the weekend’, thank God.

Portrait of the week: Braverman on migration, Burnham on HS2 and police on AI

Home Dozens of armed police in London laid down their guns after a Metropolitan Police officer was charged with the murder of Chris Kaba, 24, shot in Streatham Hill last year. The army stood by, but enough policemen returned to armed duties to make Military Aid to the Civil Authorities unnecessary. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, backed some sort of review of armed policing guidelines ordered by Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, which Downing Street said was expected to conclude by the end of the year. Mrs Braverman warned separately that as many as 780 million people will be eligible to claim asylum without radical reform of rules based on

Toby Young

I’m a slave to my horse-chestnut tree

Trying to work in my garden shed at this time of year is tricky. I will be crouched over my keyboard, face screwed up in concentration, when suddenly there’s a tremendous bang just above my head. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a conker falling from a horse-chestnut tree and hitting the roof of my office. It happens about once an hour, just infrequently enough to startle me every time. I’ve grown to hate this tree over the years. It isn’t just the astonishingly loud noise the conkers make. It’s also the damage the tree does to the lawn. A typical conker will bounce off the

The cult of the gilet

Last summer I attended a reunion at my prep school. The occasion was the leaving of a much-loved master. I thought that the appropriate thing to wear would be a tweed jacket in honour of prep-school masters everywhere. I found myself woefully overdressed. Pretty much all of my contemporaries were wearing gilets. It was a similar story this year at the Fortnum & Mason awards, the Oscars of the British food and drink scene. I wore a suit, but it seemed as if every other guest was casually sporting a gilet. When I was growing up the only people who wore gilets were fishermen, farmers and Michael J. Fox in

Letters: Bully XL owners are deluding themselves

Bed and breakfast Sir: Cindy Yu asks, in her ‘Leaving Hong Kong’ piece (23 September): ‘Where are they?’ I can help with that one. I live near Epsom, Surrey, and there has been a huge influx of people from Hong Kong here over the past 18 months. The area is attractive because housing is affordable in south-east terms compared, price-wise, with where they have come from. There are half a dozen very good schools in Epsom, Sutton and Cheam – and the area has very low crime rates. If anybody wants to seek positives from controlled immigration then it is here. The influx of the Hong Kongers (as Yu described

Portrait of the week: Met misconduct, Starmer in Paris and Spanish football in turmoil

Home Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, proposed reaching net zero in 2050 ‘in a better, more proportionate way’ such as by delaying a ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel cars and delaying the phasing out of gas boilers. Ford the car makers told him it would undermine the three things it needed from the government: ‘ambition, commitment and consistency’. Inflation decreased from 6.8 per cent annually in July to 6.7 per cent in August despite a rise in oil prices. Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, appointed commissioners to run Birmingham, which had run out of money. A man was killed by two dogs, said to

Dear Mary: how do I get talking to a pretty woman on WhatsApp?

Q. Scrolling through my WhatsApp contacts, I have found a name I don’t recognise but when I click on the profile I can see it is a very pretty girl. I suspect I may have met her on a night out when I might have had too much to drink which would account for me not remembering who she is. Because I don’t know how long ago this meeting was, or even where it was, I’m not sure if I can now send her a message and start a conversation. What do you think, Mary? – E.L., London SW11 A. Send a lunchtime WhatsApp saying, ‘I’m standing outside the Wolseley

Lionel Shriver

Shoplifters need to feel shame

This is my brother’s story and, like many telling stories, it’s small. Tim lives in Iowa, as our mother’s family did, a lightly populated state smack in the centre of the US, and breadbasket to the world. Its rolling hills, panoramic skies and cornfields stippling to the horizon exude what I can only call wholesomeness. This is a place that produces not simply words, ideas or transient technologies, but tangible commodities that keep the human race alive at scale. Historically, Iowans have been friendly, open and guileless; farmers have tended to look out for one another. However much coastal urbanites may disdain the rubes who raise the cattle feed for

Letters: Boris Johnson’s doublespeak over Ukraine

Whose victory? Sir: Politicians are often accused of engaging in doublespeak, and I fear in the case of Boris Johnson’s article (‘Bombshell’, 16 September) the accusation may be valid. According to our former prime minister we’re to believe two contradictory assertions; firstly that a Russian victory risks an immediate and existential threat not only to Russia’s neighbours but to the broader West. Then secondly, that the victory of the Ukrainian armed forces is as inevitable as night following day. Those two positions cannot both be true – either the outcome of the war is still in the balance, or Ukrainian victory is assured. I fear a degree of romanticism has