The Spectator

A weekly, UK-based magazine covering current political, economic, and cultural issues. Articles include interviews, commentary, opinion pieces, essays, and cultural criticism.

Articles from May 2013

American Notebook
AMERICAN NOTEBOOK As we landed at Houston, I suddenly thought of my first visit to America in 1965 duringn what we didn't then call my gap year. Forty-eight years does seem a long time, but my fascination with this country is undimmed. The occasion...
Aristophanes on Nigel Farage
Ukip is on the march, and the F word on the lips of every ashen-faced MP in the House - or the NF word, to be exact. What should be NF's next step? Let the Athenian comic poet Aristophanes insert a tiny thought under his seething trilby. Aristophanes'...
A Sweeping Saga of Siblings
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini Bloomsbury, £18.99, pp. 404, ISBN 9781408842423 The American comedian Stephen Colbert once joked that when he publicly criticised the novels of Khaled Hosseini, his front garden was invaded by angry members...
Black Diamonds
Not long ago Cyril Ramaphosa, probably South Africa's future president and ANC leader, attempted to buy a buffalo. It was at an auction for hunters and game ranchers. He bid £1.3 million and, incredibly, lost out to another tycoon. At the same event...
Cinema Noises Off
Star Trek Into Darkness 12A, Nationwide P.D. James is a figure of fun in my household. She used to be a regular pundit on Newsnight Review, the old BBC arts programme, and her film criticism was guided by her hearing. Every new film, she complained,...
CUL T U R E N O T E S Knights on Wheels
A knight and his lady awaken, naked in the forest. She pins up her embroidered gown while he begins his ablutions in a pond. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! He plants a stick between his shoulder blades before getting dressed himself. On goes his tunic, gauntlets...
Dear Mary Your Problems Solved
Q. My literary agent has failed to return my emails and phone calls and it has been six weeks since we last talked. I don't want to appear desperate but all I think about each day is - is my book going to be published, or not? Any suggestions? - Name...
Delphic Wisdom for Bankers from the Bishop in the Library
You may have gathered from last week's column that I've been cruising the Med in search of fresh subject matter. It's the sort of cruise that includes a programme of lectures, and the star turn on that front has been the Bishop of London, Dr Richard...
Diary
At evensong in Trinity College, Cambridge last Sunday, Ann Widdecombe was preaching. The pews were packed, with many in the congregation bagging seats half an hour before the service began. 'Strictly Come Dancing fans, ' my neighbour whispered to me....
Drink the Spirit of Spain
Spain: an easy country to enjoy; very hard, even for Spaniards, to understand. I remember a dinner party, sitting next to a girl who seemed to want to talk about what had been on television the previous night. She was pretty enough, but I feared that...
Each Peach, Pear, Plum . .
The Tradescants' Orchard: The Mystery of a SeventeenthCentury Painted Fruit Book by Barrie Juniper and Hanneke Grootenboer Bodleian Library, £30, pp. 120, ISBN 9781851242771 Elias Ashmole, fortune-hunter, scholar and collector, bequeathed his coins,...
English like What It Ought to Be
Last week saw the launch of the Bad Grammar Awards, an annual contest in which prizes are handed out for poor E nglish. Actually, 'prizes' is probably the wrong word since no one wants to win them. No one, that is, apart from A.A. Gill. He entered himself...
Exhibitions Mobile Master
Calder after the War Pace London, 6 Burlington Gardens, W1, until 7 June The Physicality of Seeing: Sculpture by Eilis O'Connell Canary Wharf, E14, until 24 May Mary Newcomb Crane Kalman Gallery, 178 Brompton Road, SW3, until 1 June Alexander Calder...
For the Person Who Has Everything
The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome by Gordon Campbell OUP, £16.99, pp. 257, ISBN 9780199696994 In his 1780 essay On Modern Gardening Horace Walpole declared that of the many ornamental features then fashionable, the one...
Game-Changing
I n the days when we had bottles of milk delivered, some tits discovered how to peck through the foil tops and consume the cream beneath. Suddenly all the tits were at it. This illustrated what the alternative scientist Rupert Sheldrake called morphic...
High Life
Life is definitely beautiful, as long as one can see, that is, which for two miserable days last week I couldn't. Having had a glaucoma operation two months ago, I needed to use drops for a while but didn't pay attention - too many girls in their summer...
I Don't Want to Be Normal
A relatively sober lunch with my old mucker Julie Burchill Seeing Julie Burchill sitting at the back of the restaurant near Victoria Station, I feel a surge of affection. Chin up, sunglasses on, lips fixed in a pout, she is presenting her usual defiant...
If I'm Part of the Ruling Elite Why Isn't Charles Moore?
Look, we've known each other a while, you and I, so I think it's time for a confession. It's a big one, this. I haven't even told my parents yet. But I think I might be a member of the ruling elite. Granted, it doesn't feel that way of a morning, when...
Letters
One-nation Toryism Sir: When my late father, John McKee, stood as Conservative candidate for South Shields in the 1970 general election he gained 19,960 votes, more even than David Miliband in the same constituency 40 years later. In last week's by-election...
London's Luxu R Y F Lat Boom
Think of a currency which has intrinsic value, is highly constrained in its supply and to boot is actually useful, even if only occasionally. It isn't sterling, the dollar or even the Swiss franc - or the Bitcoin. But then neither does gold quite meet...
Long Life
I am on my first ever visit to Sweden and enjoying it greatly. My idea of this country had recently become rather confused. I used to picture it as a social democratic paradise, a tolerant, law-abiding welfare state in which everyone was a good and...
Lord Lawson's Exit
Lord Lawson's announcement that he intends to vote for Britain to leave the European Union has been interpreted by some as reinforcing demands that David Cameron holds his referendum this year or next, rather than 2017. But it does no such thing. Follow...
Low Life
Next morning, Sunday, up early. I must have been the only person at the Butlins music festival minus a hangover. Day three, and I was yet to hear a live musical note or get myself an altered consciousness. I walked into town along the promenade feeling...
Master of His Own Destiny
Young Titan by Michael Shelden Simon & Schuster, £25, pp. 383, ISBN 9781471113222 Churchill's First War by Con Coughlin Macmillan, £25, pp. 298, ISBN 9780230758513 One evening in 1906, shortly after the election that brought Campbell-Bannerman's...
Millar's Tale
Peter Hoskin meets a comic-book writer who's conquering the multiverse. I n purely demographic terms, Mark Millar isn't too different from the rest of us. He's a middle-aged, wiry-haired, churchgoing Scot with two kids. He subscribes to The Spectator,...
Niall Ferguson Shouldn't Have Apologised for His Comments about Keynes
Is it homophobic to argue that it's mainly gay men who keep the flame of popular culture alive? If so, then Simon Napier Bell has some grovelling to do. Napier Bell, as I'm sure you all know, is the rock impresario who has managed everyone from the...
Not-So-Great Gatsby
The cult around Fitzgerald's most overrated work feeds the illusions of upper-crust Americans You do not need to have read the book or even seen a film adaptation to feel a thrill at the word 'Gatsby'. More than a novel, a film or a character, 'Gatsby'...
One Law to Rule Them All
When will our legislators realise that they can't repeal the Law of Unintended Consequencesss Last week, the European Commission voted to ban three pesticides which are said to harm bees. Everyone loves bees, so perhaps we should all be rejoicing? Well,...
Opera Economy Class
Joshua Opera North Don Carlo Royal Opera House, in rep until 25 May Why stage a Handel oratorio, or anyone else's for that matter? The recent urge to do it, with Bach's Passions - even, I'm told, with Messiah - suggests a further incursion of TV into...
Pop the Last Days of Disco
Every new product, whatever it is, needs a bit of 'buzz', and indeed vast numbers of people around the world make a decent living trying to generate that 'buzz', while the rest of us spend much of our time trying to ignore it. Last week, though, much...
Portrait of the Week
Home The UK Independence Party gave the government and opposition a jolt by doing well in the elections for 34 English councils, increasing its number of councillors from eight to 147 and gaining a projected national vote share of 23 per cent (compared...
Putting the House in Order
Jane Ridley describes the human as well as political, drama of the 1830s, when Britain was on the verge of revolution Perilous Question: The Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 by Antonia Fraser Weidenfeld, £20, pp. 318, ISBN 9780297864301 There are...
Radio Wake Up to Birdsong
What will you miss most if your hearing begins to diminish? Those secretly overheard snippets of conversation on the bus? The throwaway comments of partner or child? A great Shakespearean in full flow on the stage of the National? High on my list would...
Real Life
'We hate Tottenham!' If they had shouted it once they had shouted it 100 times. I wasn't sure why, as we were watching Chelsea v. Basel. But I knew enough about a girl's place at a football match not to turn to my male companion and ask what would no...
Save Me, Please, from People 'Living Life to the Full'
My copy of the Times on Tuesday this week kindly provided me with a list of things to do in order that I might 'live life to the full'. I am not at all sure that I wish to live life to the full, having met many people for whom this is their guiding...
Spectator Mini-Bar
The prices of the top Bordeaux reds are down this year, though you can still pay hundreds of pounds a bottle for the most famous labels. What puzzles me is the way that some of the smaller, unknown chateaux imagine that because Chinese millionaires...
Sublime Beauty
The Springtime of the Renaissance - Sculpture and the Arts in Florence, 1400-1460 Palazzo Strozzi, until 18 August; the Louvre, 23 September until 6 January 2014 Sixty per cent of the best Renaissance art is said to be in Italy, and half of that is...
Television Power to the People
Forget The Apprentice. A 'reality TV' show where you have no say, and where you can only watch as Sir Alan Sugar does all the hiring and firing? That is so last decade. Forget, too, quaint programmes such as The X Factor, where you pick the contestants...
Theatre Mythical Haven
The Weir Donmar, until 8 June The Tempest Shakespeare's Globe, until 4 July The Weir is the ultimate hit-from-nowhere. It was written in 1997 by the 26-year-old Conor McPherson. It opened at the Royal Court Upstairs and glided over to Broadway and then...
The Only Way Is Shale
If we give in the green lobby, Britain wil drift into an energy crisis. The scandal of official reluctance to develop Britain's shale gas potential is at last beginning to surface. It may prove to be the dress rehearsal for the ultimate drama - the...
The Spectator's Notes
On Tuesday night, at a Spectator readers' evening, Andrew Neil interviewed me about my biography of Margaret Thatcher. He asked me if, after leaving office, Lady Thatcher had come to the view that Britain should leave the European Union. I said yes...
The Tories Need Their Own Nigel Farage
There are two talking points in Westminster this week. One is about who is up and who is down following the local council elections. This finds the Cameroons privately pleased that the Tory party has largely kept its head despite the Ukip surge, the...
The Turf Drug Drama
Working partnerships don't always bring the results expected. I heard lately of a 12-yearold girl encouraged to spend a day on work experience with a relative in the building trade. After a day sorting correspondence, tidying files and making cups of...
The Wiki Man How to Fix an Election
In 1964 Harold Wilson was so afraid that a scheduled election - night broadcast of Steptoe & Son would cost him at least a dozen marginal seats that he successfully pressured the director-general of the BBC to postpone it. There are plenty of ways...
Two Good Men in Africa
Beyond the Malachite Hills: A Life of Colonial Service and Business in the New Africa by Jonathan Lawley I.B. Tauris, £18.99, pp. 315, ISBN 9781780764160 Last Man In: The End of Empire in Northern Nigeria by John Hare Neville & Harding, £20, pp....
Unclean, but Not Unhealthy
The Serpent's Promise: by Steve Jones Little, Brown, £25, pp. 446, ISBN 9781408702851 The weight of bacteria that each of us carries around is equal to that of our brain, a kilogram of the creatures, billions of them, ten times as many in the gut alone...
Whom Should We Believe?
A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran by Peter Oborne and David Morrison Elliott & Thompson, £8.99, pp. 112, ISBN 97819087139896 Whether the United States is a force for global peace is not really up for debate in the self-described...
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