Sam Leith

Sam Leith

Sam Leith is literary editor of The Spectator.

What Katharine Birbalsingh gets wrong about secularism

Katharine Birbalsingh is back in the papers again. The head teacher at Michaela, a free school whose outstanding academic record and ultra-strict behaviour policy have made it a culture-wars lightning rod, tells the Sunday Times that she and her staff have been getting death threats ever since her board of governors imposed a policy banning any

Why didn’t the British Library pay a ransom to cyber attackers?

‘They’ve turned one of our most important pieces of national infrastructure into an internet café,’ was how my friend Marcus, a scholar of early modern literature, put it to me, talking about the cyberattack that crashed the British Library at the end of last year. He’s not wrong. Since October, when a ransomware attack by the Rhysida criminal

How am I supposed to remember what happened in The Tourist?

Hooray, I thought. There’s a new season of The Tourist. I remember liking that, I thought. It was that thing with the bloke in Australia, wasn’t it? And I was all set to settle down for a good binge, when I realised that I had almost literally no idea what had happened in the first season. This is

Video games aren’t a total waste of time

My wife argues with the children about video games. I argue with the children about video games. The children argue with each other about video games. Consequently, I argue with my wife about video games. It is a total nightmare – and it’s one that in various versions will be replicated in houses with young

Michelle Mone and the rise of the ‘fight back’ documentary

You can’t turn on the telly or fire up the internet these days without stumbling across some celebrity or other baring their soul in a glossily produced documentary. Three hours, was it, of David Beckham – taking us from talented nipper playing keepy-uppy to grizzled paterfamilias wiping down his barbecue in wistful retirement? Or Renaissance: A Film, which showed Beyonce

Stop sending Christmas cards! 

Christmas cards are the pits, aren’t they? A positive engine of seasonal ill-will. They take hours to do, if you do them properly, and wing across the country (and have you checked the price of a stamp lately?) to be received by people you like but don’t see, or people you see but don’t like

Newsnight’s fate is a bad omen for the BBC

Newsnight, we learned last week, is losing ten minutes off its running time, more than half its staff including its entire reporting team and is dropping its investigative films in favour of cheap ‘n’ easy studio-based debates.    The BBC’s news supremo Deborah Turness calls it ‘an important BBC brand’, but said ‘we’ve made the decision to reformat Newsnight as a 30-minute late-night

The evolving phenomenon of ‘Brexit regret’

It was reported this weekend that the great trans-Pacific trade deal (CPTPP), the one that Lord Cameron just boasted would ‘put the UK at the heart of a group of some of the world’s most dynamic economies’, will boost our economy by practically nothing at all. The OBR reckons CPTPP will put 0.04 per cent

Can the government be trusted with free speech? 

This summer, horrified by the rising numbers of students no-platforming and harassing visiting speakers whose views they don’t like, the government anointed the Cambridge philosopher Arif Ahmed ‘free speech tsar’. Prof Ahmed said at the time that his new role, at least as he saw it, wasn’t a culture wars stunt: he was interested in protecting free expression

The dying days of Rishi Sunak’s black hole government

In my admittedly sketchy understanding of it, black holes are formed when something becomes so massive that it collapses in on itself (am I getting this right, Carlo?) … and then keeps collapsing, over and over again, until it becomes infinitely tiny and inside-out and even the rules of physics cease to apply. This applies to

What can be done about AI porn?

The foul-mouthed puppet musical Avenue Q, way back in 2003, caught the spirit of the age to come. ‘The internet is for porn!/ The internet is for porn!’ runs one of its more memorable songs. ‘Why do you think the net was born?/ Porn! Porn! Porn!’ Never was a truer word sung by a copyright-skirting knockoff of The Muppet

What the Babylon scandal tells us about the British government 

One of the consistent themes of Dominic Cummings’s kamikaze mission to reform the machinery of the British state was that we urgently needed more politicians with backgrounds in science, maths and engineering, and fewer with 2:1s in PPE. As he argued, the latter sort (see also: historians like Dom, classicists like Boris Johnson and pompous

Are Amazon’s publishing gurus doing anything wrong?

Alex Kaplo lives, apparently, the life of Riley. The 31-year-old’s website shows him roaring around in a Mercedes, and he boasts of taking ‘extravagant’ holidays and living in a high-end apartment. He has made all his dosh, as it turns out, as a ‘publishing chief executive’. He has caused hundreds of books to be released,

How to win four Nobel Prizes in literature

‘Hi Jacques,’ I say as the publisher of Fitzcarraldo Editions appears on my Zoom screen with his Franz Hals facial hair. ‘Thanks for making the time.’ I explain, apologetically but cheerily, that I’m going to be asking him to give his basic ‘how I keep winning Nobel Prizes’ spiel – at which, I say, he’s

Can we be honest about Israel and Palestine?

Qui tacet consentire videtur: who keeps silent is seen to consent. That Latin tag haunts the western response to the situation in Israel. We’re already seeing, amid the rage and grief, people being called out for what they don’t say as much as for what they do. But what are those of us – the

How Elon Musk killed Twitter/ X

Twitter was a newswire. That, at least at first, was the point of it. Something that came with all the glamour of digital innovation was, as it turned out, immediately recognisable as a version of something that has sat on every newspaper news desk for decades: a regularly refreshed ‘feed’ of short updates, ceaselessly scrolling, with

It is time to rethink the age of consent

In 1983 Samantha Fox was sixteen years old when she first appeared topless on Page Three of the Sun. That paper and its kind used to delight in doing birthday countdowns: in just three days, they’d promise, alongside a picture of a provocatively pouting fifteen-year-old, it’ll be legal for us to show you her breasts.

The ‘naive cynicism’ of Russell Brand’s hasty defenders 

I can’t imagine that Channel 4’s investigative slot Dispatches has had such an audience in living memory. On Saturday evening, many thousands of people who seldom if ever watch terrestrial television – I was one of them – will have tuned in at 9pm, just like the old days, to watch a conventional broadcast. Most of

There’s not much we can do about China spying

A parliamentary researcher has just been arrested on suspicion of espionage. A man in his late twenties, with reported links to the security minister and the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, is accused of spying for China and may have had access to sensitive secret documents. A second suspect has been collared in

Silicon Valley’s curious obsession with building old-fashioned communities 

It’s a peculiar thing about billionaires: they don’t half have a weak spot for building ideal communities from the ground up. You could call it pluto-utopianism. The latest manifestation of this is California Forever. A number of ultra-wealthy Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs have been quietly buying up 55,000 acres of farmland in Solano county, California, and at the end of