How on earth does Rishi Sunak keep going?

It’s my birthday this week and the end of my seventh decade (mathematicians will note that this does not make me 79). Looking at my long and generally happy life, I do wonder quite how we arrived where we are with this all-pervading sense of gloom and despondency. Gaza, Ukraine, Putin, Trump, Islamic State, Brexit… whichever way you look, there’s something you don’t want to see. The doomsday clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest we’ve ever been to complete annihilation. Happy birthday to me. It’s not all bad though. Last week my son came home with a borrowed Apple Vision Pro, the wrap-around headset which retails

In defence of forgiveness

It is often the small constants in the culture that give the game away. Much of the news today is not about anything significant, but rather a sort of lower gossip. Every day, some new scandal bubbles along. Someone is found to have said something once, often a long time ago. The culprit is shamed and condemned. Take the case of Frank Hester, a donor who has given an estimated £10 million to the Conservative party. Few had heard of him until recently. Then it was reported that at a meeting at his company headquarters in 2019, Hester said that Diane Abbott MP made him ‘just want to hate all

The vibrancy of the Edinburgh Festival

I’m doing a show in Edinburgh for the first time in a long while. It’s fun, although I feel I’m basically wearing a scent called Elder Statesman (I’m hoping it smells more of ancient leather and authority than incontinence). I get stopped in the street a lot, including by some people who have not mistaken me for Ben Elton. One of the two shows I’m doing, at Assembly Studios at lunchtime, is a Q&A based around the themes in my books Jews Don’t Count and The God Desire. The idea comes from doing loads of literary festivals, where I tend to get interviewed by a luminary for 50 minutes and then there

What, if anything, have dictators over the centuries had in common?

Big Caesars and Little Caesars is an entertaining jumble with no obvious beginning, middle, end, or indeed argument. But there is an intriguing book buried underneath it which asks more or less this: where does Boris Johnson stand in the historical procession of would-be strongmen or, as Ferdinand Mount calls them, ‘Caesars’? How successful was Johnson’s attempt – overshadowed by the Brexit noise, his personal scandals and his Bertie Wooster act – to turn Britain into a more authoritarian state? Even when Caesars are kicked out, they weaken a country’s institutions Mount, now 84, comes at this from a long Tory past that in recent years he has seemed to

Prayer for the Day is the best thing to wake up to

As the owner of a radio alarm clock, I could theoretically start listening to the Today programme before I’m even awake, but I rarely do. I tell myself it’s too much for first thing; that it’s bound to put me in a bad mood with some interview or other; that Today can wait until tomorrow – or at least until I’ve had my breakfast and a blitz of the somewhat jollier Times Radio. The levée, I say in a Bertie Woosterish sort of way, demands something light. When you crave something thought-provoking but also comforting, nothing beats a few minutes of prayer But then I find myself waking up unintentionally

Elon Musk is right about BBC funding

The BBC has today been using its various news platforms to protest against being described as ‘government funded’ by Twitter. It has instructed Twitter to remove this insult ‘as soon as possible’ and its journalistic contacts have found a direct link to Elon Musk himself who, we are told, is a ‘fan’ of the BBC. So perhaps a quiet word with the right person in power can overcome this little hiccup. Radio Four even had a ‘debate’ which just featured one interviewee: Mary Hockaday, a former BBC executive. ‘As a BBC journalist, I care about accuracy,’ she said, ‘the simple fact is that to describe on Twitter the BBC as

Why is the food in parliament so bad?

Anyone who finds themselves gazing at a parliamentary samosa for two minutes or more (me, for the avoidance of doubt) probably has a problem. Sadly, this is what my life has become since the Twitter account @Parliscran arrived on the scene. The reason the samosa was so mesmerising is because I was trying to work out whether it had been covered in balsamic glaze, a long-held obsession of mine. The sauce, dark and sticky as it appeared, was more likely to be some sort of tamarind situation, but nevertheless I found it beguiling.  A cursory doom-scroll through Parliscran would be a cathartic deviance to anybody who enjoys food. It is

What are the best alternatives to Twitter?

From the moment Elon Musk suggested buying Twitter, users began threatening to leave – and the Tesla kingpin’s erratic behaviour since he took over hasn’t exactly helped his case, with thousands of workers laid off and hundreds more resigning. The MIT Technology Review estimates that more than a million Twitter users have jumped ship since Musk took the reins. Today the social network is launching a revamped version of Twitter Blue, its paid-for verification system, after a previous attempt last month was marred by a flood of imposters and fake accounts. So for those who decide not to stick around to see how this one turns out, what alternatives are

Why I couldn’t wait to buy a Twitter blue tick

I’ve just given Elon Musk $8 a month to get a blue tick by my name on Twitter. The fact I haven’t been able to secure one of these ticks on merit like so many other nonentities has been a source of near-constant irritation for the past half decade, particularly given how much time I spend on the site. My assumption had been that a Spectator-reading Twitter employee would eventually accept my brilliance – perhaps after reading something rude I’d written about Meghan Markle – and press the required button to make it happen. But when I finally accepted this wasn’t likely, about two years ago, I decided to take

Why are progressives scared of Elon Musk?

Billionaire edgelord Elon Musk has just given progressives another reason to dread his ongoing attempt to buy Twitter. The founder of Tesla and SpaceX has confirmed that, should he succeed in acquiring the social media site, he would rescind the ban on Donald Trump’s account. Musk told the FT’s Future of the Car conference he would ‘reverse the permaban’ because it was ‘a morally bad decision and foolish in the extreme’. Twitter had managed to ‘amplify (Trump’s voice) among the right’, which was ‘morally wrong and flat-out stupid’. The culprit, Musk said, was the company’s ‘strong left bias’, adding: ‘Twitter needs to be much more even-handed.’ It’s important to remember

The fight is on to censor Elon Musk’s Twitter

If Elon Musk truly intends to make Twitter a free-speech platform, he’s clearly got a fight on his hands. That was made abundantly clear by the collective meltdown among media and political elites that greeted the billionaire’s shock takeover of the platform last month. The vested interests in keeping Twitter a sanitised, censorious place are apparently considerable. And not only will Musk have the great and good, his own employees, our own Nadine Dorries and Joe Biden’s new ‘disinformation tsar’ to contend with, but potentially Twitter’s advertisers, too. CNN reports that giant American brands, including Coca-Cola and Disney, are coming under pressure to boycott Twitter if Elon Musk makes good

Sleepwalking into censorship: a reply to Nadine Dorries

In this week’s magazine I look at the threats posed by the so-called Online Safety Bill now making its way through the House of Commons. It gives sweeping censorship powers by creating a new category of speech that must be censored: ‘legal but harmful’. The government will ask social media companies to do the censoring – and threaten them if they do not. The idea is for the UK to fine them up to 10 per cent of global revenue (ie: billions) if they publish ‘harmful’ content – but harmful is not really defined. So censorship potential is wide open. Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, has suggested that the jokes of the

Martin Vander Weyer

The one thing Netflix could do to keep me subscribing

Anecdotes and statistics should never be confused, but let’s do just that to build a composite picture of today’s UK economy. As the ‘cost of living crisis’ – barely out of its starting blocks – began to eat spending power and erode confidence, high street sales fell 1.4 per cent in March while non-store retail (largely online) dropped 7.9 per cent. Office occupancy, blighted by working from home, is stuck below 30 per cent of capacity. The City of London is a ghost town on Mondays and Fridays, while West End footfall remains a fifth below 2019 levels. But in case you’re planning a resumed commute or an in-town shopping

Fraser Nelson

Can Elon Musk take on the tech censors?

After three centuries of failing to assert power over the printed press, the House of Commons is finding the digital world easier to conquer. The Online Safety Bill now going through parliament will give ministers the power to decide what can and can’t be said online by banning what they regard as ‘harmful’. The word is not very well defined – which, of course, gives sweeping powers to the government regulators who will define it. It will be one of the most ambitious censorship laws that the world has ever seen. Enter Elon Musk. His $44 billion takeover of Twitter is intended, he says, not to make money but to

The perverse joys of Elon Musk buying Twitter

The predictable yet somehow still hilarious news that Elon Musk is to acquire Twitter for $44 billion has been greeted with the usual chorus of anguished hand-wringing. The left seems appalled that such an unconventional and apparently ungovernable figure now has control of the most volatile social media platform in the world. (It’s hard to imagine that Musk purchasing, say, Instagram would have led to anything like this level of excitement and upset.) Yet even as one acknowledges that Twitter in its current state is hardly run by a commune of basket-weaving, soya-milking Brooklyn hippies, the flamboyant Mr Musk remains one of the oddest men to have emerged in public

Why Elon Musk should forget Twitter and stick to Tesla

I spent Easter agonising over whether to throw the considerable weight of this column behind Elon Musk’s maverick $43 billion bid for Twitter. One thing I didn’t do, however, was consult the multitude of opinions on the matter available via Twitter itself, because I’m afraid I regard it as a satanic cacophony of misinformation and vanity. If that puts me in the position of the late-15th-century scholar who said ‘Printing presses? Pah! The only news I trust is handwritten by monks’, so be it. But when I read Musk’s claim that ‘civilisational risk’ would be decreased by his sole ownership of the ubiquitous microblogging site, I laughed out loud. Not

Free speech shouldn’t depend on billionaires

If you take any interest in social media, Silicon Valley, or the culture wars — which all seem to be the same thing these days — you will be aware that the world is currently ending. At least, that is the impression given by those reacting to an attempt by Elon Musk to buy Twitter. Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s former labour secretary, inveighs against Musk’s ‘libertarian vision’ for the internet as ‘dangerous rubbish’ and intones that it would be ‘the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth’. (He also seems pretty peeved that Musk blocked him.) Professor Jeff Jarvis, TV Guide reviewer turned Supreme Arbiter

What really happened to Politics For All

On 2 January I woke up late to the sound of my phone buzzing continuously and a sense that something had gone badly wrong. The first message was from a friend. ‘Having a nice holiday?’ he wrote, above a screenshot of my political Twitter account covered in block letters: ‘Suspended.’ My reaction was to swear in just the way my dad does whenever he crashes his car. Politics For All was a news aggregation service I started two years ago when I was 17. It took the most salient lines from news articles and posted them across social media, always pointing readers to the original publication. The aim was to

I’m sharing my boyfriend with 60,000 other people

I fell in love with a social media influencer. I could say there are three people in our relationship but I’d be lying. There are 63,423. Imagine a world in which your partner’s private life is his professional life: with thousands of fawning acolytes all vying for his approval, all competing for online traction — a traction that comes from your other half’s thumbs. His fingers hover over the phone rather a lot, giving updates into whatever he’s up to. It’s a little disconcerting. Life with an influencer can be challenging. Every trip must be documented, every meal photographed prior to consumption. I’ve lost count of the number of times

Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Twitter ban is nothing to celebrate

Marjorie Taylor Greene is nuttier than M&M World. Not your garden-variety conservative, or even a conservative at all, but a conspiracy theorist who rode these febrile times into a seat in Congress. She describes American Airlines Flight 77 as ‘the so-called plane that crashed into the Pentagon’ on 9/11, remarking that ‘it’s odd there’s never any evidence shown for a plane in the Pentagon’. She suspects the 2018 California wildfires were started by a Rothschild-funded ‘laser beam or light beam coming down to Earth’ in order to help Democrats build a high-speed rail project. Her Facebook account has liked a post proposing ‘a bullet to the head’ for Nancy Pelosi.