Sam Leith

Sam Leith

Sam Leith is literary editor of The Spectator.

Why not house refugees on barges?

‘By the light of the torches, we saw the black Hulk lying out a little way from the mud of the shore, like a wicked Noah’s ark. Cribbed and barred and moored by massive rusty chains, the prison-ship seemed in my young eyes to be ironed like the prisoners. We saw the boat go alongside,

Ancient worms and the problem with climate politics

The poet Elizabeth Bishop, when she was feeling blue (which she often was), used to find comfort in thinking in geological rather than human time. If the vast aeons amid which we wink in and out of existence render our lives insignificant, so too do they render our suffering. As someone else said: nothing matters very much, and few things matter

Immigration and a government in a state of post-hypnotic suggestion

Hurrah! The government, it was reported yesterday, is working on getting some more migrants. To plug a million-strong post-Brexit labour shortage in the hospitality sector, Suella Braverman and Robert Jenrick have been instructed by Downing Street to start talks to open the doors to young French, German, Spanish and Swiss nationals. If it goes well, the plan

YouTube and the final state of total Kippleization 

When I look back over my life, a decade or two from now, when I finally succumb to the strontium smog, I’ll at least be able to pinpoint the moment when I first knew human civilisation was doomed. Ah yes, I’ll think, as I hear scavengers scuttling towards my body across the trashscape, grunting and hooting for meat: that was the moment. That Friday evening,

Trans activists don’t help themselves

I’ve tried to stay out of the trans-rights conversation, honestly I have. There are a number of reasons for this, and not all of them are laziness and cowardice. The main thing is that – though it bears on some important points of principle – it directly affects a relatively tiny proportion of the population

The unedifying Yilin Wang vs British Museum row 

If you visited the British Museum’s new exhibition China’s Hidden Century a fortnight ago, you’d have seen a substantial section on the revolutionary woman poet Qiu Jin, with substantial extracts from her poems in Chinese and English displayed in a giant projection. What you might not have noticed was that the translator was not credited anywhere in the physical

The idiotic campaign against Elizabeth Gilbert

At the end of the 1920s, Erich Maria Remarque’s novel Im Westen nichts Neues appeared in English as All Quiet On The Western Front. For its readership in this country a devastating, grinding war against an enemy they had been encouraged to think of as bestial and inhuman huns was in recent memory. Here was

Is Boris Johnson a great man of history?

Boris Johnson has always been an enthusiastic proponent of the long unfashionable ‘great man’ theory of history. As he argued in his short biography of Winston Churchill, Churchill was a living refutation of the notion that great men and women are just ‘meretricious bubbles on the vast tides of social history’, a ‘withering retort to

The Schofield story is not a matter of national concern

I’d kind of hoped, until recently, that Phillip Schofield would not trouble my consciousness in any big way again. I had vague memories of his grinning, chipmunk-like face getting up to antics with Gordon the Gopher in the 1990s. I noticed when he was in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, because that was all over the

The price others pay for our next-day deliveries

When I was not more than nine or ten years old, I sent off in the post for a free poster that I’d seen advertised in a comic. It depicted Superman, whom I held in high regard, scragging a distinctly second-tier villain called Nick O’Teen; the relic of some lame early-eighties anti-smoking campaign. For reasons I can’t now fathom, I burned to have this on my bedroom wall. I remember it now

Martin Amis: 1949-2023

Over the next few days, people will be reaching for certain set phrases about Martin Amis. That he was ‘era-defining’ (though he defined more than one era); that he was ‘genre-defying’ (he defied more than one genre); that he was an ‘enfant terrible’ (it will be wryly noted that he remained an enfant terrible, somehow, into

Academic publishing is lazy and unethical

Last week witnessed the first tremors of what could be a welcome revolution: the resignation en masse of the 40-strong editorial board of NeuroImage magazine – regarded as the leading publication for brain-imaging research in the world. The board, whose members include very senior figures in the world of brain science, is protesting what it sees as the publisher Elsevier’s greedy and

The glumness of King Charles

A detail much noted in the commentary on Saturday‘s coronation was that His Majesty decided against making his first trip to the Abbey in the Gold State Coach. Who can blame him? His mother described riding in that particular wagon as ‘horrible’, and even Queen Victoria had as little to do with it as she

Why don’t the Tories want to help genuine asylum seekers?

It’s not the genuine asylum seekers that Suella Braverman and her crew are determined to prevent reaching our shores, we are often told. It’s the illegals. With our traditional British values of tolerance and fair play, we are one of the most welcoming nations on earth to those in real need. The issue is, we hear again and again,

The never-ending appeal of Tetris

I can remember exactly where I was when I first fell in love with Tetris. It was the student bar of Oriel College, Oxford, in the very early 1990s. I’d gone to visit my friend Ed, and we bunged a few 10ps into the sticky arcade cabinet in the corner of the bar while we chatted and drank our

Diane Abbott’s surreal U-turn

It’s sometimes said that there’s a tweet from the surrealist Twitter user @dril to cover everything. So it has proved with Diane Abbott, whose screeching U-turn on a letter to today’s Observer immediately put me in mind of this 2017 classic: ‘issuing correction on a previous post of mine, regarding the terror group ISIL. You

How I found friendship through online Scrabble

The internet, as we all know, is a place for rage and hate. It’s a free-fire zone in which even something as apparently innocuous as Facebook – original use-case: posting family snaps for your gran – ends up incubating armed insurrection and spreading 5G conspiracy theories. But what if there was some corner of it