What do we think of when we think of Essex?

Apparently much of the notoriety – or perhaps by now it has become allure – of Essex is my fault. In 1990, weeks before Mrs Thatcher was defenestrated, I wrote an article in the Sunday Telegraph called ‘Essex Man’, in circumstances that Tim Burrows describes entirely accurately in this exceptionally well-written and intelligent book. Although the Iron Lady was about to be history, the part of England that had come to exemplify her achievement and her legacy was throbbing with capitalist energy more than ever – which motivated the profile of Essex Man and his hard work and ability to seize opportunities in a society where native ability counted for

Gardening’s bad girl: the genius – and malice – of Ellen Willmott

In October 1897, the grandees of the Royal Horticultural Society gathered to bestow their highest award, the Victoria Medal of Honour, struck to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, to 60 of gardening’s greatest luminaries. For the first time, these included two women. One was Gertrude Jekyll, known by all as the Queen of Spades; the other was the 39-year-old Ellen Willmott. But Willmott did not turn up. This public snub was the beginning of her reputation as ‘gardening’s bad girl’, as Sandra Lawrence puts it, one that increased exponentially until it exploded in stories of daffodils being booby-trapped to deter bulb thieves. By trawling through innumerable newly discovered diaries and

Stop attacking billionaires

The $5.79 trillion budget plan Joe Biden submitted to Congress yesterday was more notable for what it didn’t include, rather than what it did. There were no line items on the environment or education – key pillars of his ‘Build Back Better’ agenda – but it did call for a new minimum tax requiring ‘billionaires’ to pay at least 20 per cent of their income in taxes, including on the gains on investments that have not been sold. This will, apparently, reduce the government deficit by $360 billion over the next decade. The President is in a tight spot. Since the turn of the year, his approval ratings have fallen

The rise of the new autocracy

Gstaad Dinner parties are no longer verboten here, so I posed a question to some youngsters my son had over: did any of them feel morally entitled to their privilege? The problem with talking about privilege is that the discussion goes around in circles, original thoughts get lost, and what emerges says more about those conversing than about the subject at hand. Ditto when I posed the question to my son’s friends. There were no straightforward answers. Let’s face it, privilege is so enjoyable that the beneficiaries are mostly seen as undeserving, spoilt lightweights — by the underprivileged, that is. Envy has always been around, as has the urge to