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 June 2013

Against the Law
There's only one problem with Chris Grayling's legal reforms - they don't go far enough. Shakespeare took it a little far in Henry IV, Part II , when Dick the Butcher said, 'Let's kill all the lawyers.' Chris Grayling hasn't made the same proposal but...
A Little Bird Told Me
Rumour-mongering and censorship in the age of twitter Have you heard? Do you know? Are you, as they say, 'in the loop'? When the Mail on Sunday said a 'sensational affair' between 'high profile figures' close to Cameron had 'rocked' No. 10, did you...
America's Mrs Miniver
Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge by Evan S. Connell Penguin Modern Classics, £8.99 each, ISBN 9780141198651 and 9780141198668 A policeman encountering Mrs Bridge on the home furnishings floor of a Kansas City department store recognises her at once for what...
Babes in the Hood
This Boy by Alan Johnson Bantam, £16.99, pp. 304, ISBN 9780593069646 This Boy is no ordinary politician's memoir, still less a politician's ordinary memoir. It ends where others might begin: when the author is barely 18, newly married and only just...
Bewitched and Bewildered
Roderick Conway Morris finds a mix of the weird and the wonderful at the 55th Venice Biennale ARTS Bew itched and bew i ldered wonderful at the 55th Venice Biennale W illiam Empson believed that 'the arts are produced by overcrowding'. But, as 20,000...
Cinema Love Is in the Air
Behind the Candelabra 15, Nationwide Behind the Candelabra is Stephen Soderbergh's film about Liberace, starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon, and already you will have heard two things which, naturally, you will need me to confirm so you can move...
Cui Bono?
The Frontman by Harry Browne Verso, £9.99, pp. 179, ISBN 9781781680827 According to a story which Harry Browne accepts is surely apocryphal, but which he includes in his book anyway, at a U2 gig in Glasgow the band's singer silenced the audience and...
Dea R M a R Y Y O U R P R O B L E M S S O L V E D
Q. With just a month to go of training as a primary school teacher, I am relieved and excited to have been offered a job. Now it has been a few weeks since I last spoke to one of my good friends in our PGCE cohort. I have many lively stories to tell...
Defying China's Elite
Chen Guangcheng on his fight against the one-child policy How did a blind Ch inese d iss ident scale the walls of his house while under house arrest, evade government surveillance, travel hundreds of miles to Beijing, seek asylum in the American embassy...
Diary
This was the best kind of week. It started with a three-hour road trip with my manager/surrogate father/ shrink/bodyguard to Monmouth to record album no. 5. Glenn Gould (whom I worship with the fervour of a pre-teen Belieber) talked about the 'womb-like...
Doris Karloff and the Vampire
Strictly Ann by Ann Widdecombe Weidenfeld, £20, pp. 452, ISBN 9780297866435 An oddball. And proud to be one. Ann Widdecombe has sailed through life with the same brisk, no-nonsense style that she brings to this highly readable memoir. She attended a...
'Drinking Wine Is a Social Norm in Certain Circles. to Request Anything Else Marks You out as a Deviant' - Rory Sutherland, P77 High Life
'Sexist mores of super-rich hurt us all, ' sobs an American female columnist in the New York Times. I don't usually follow this kind of drivel - the sexist stuff, I mean - but a familiar name caught my bloodshot eye, so I read further. Apparently the...
Exhibitions Glorious Mud
Leon Kossoff: London Landscapes Annely Juda Fine Art, 23 Dering Street, W1, until 6 July The Bay Area School Thomas Williams Fine Art, 22 Old Bond Street, W1, until 22 June Paint is but coloured mud, pace scientists and conservators, and it can be said...
Fashion Victims
Hairstyles Ancient to Present by Charlotte Fiell Goodman Fiell, £30, pp. 512, ISBN 9781847960405 The key thing in 18th-century France was to get the hair extremely high. Perching on a small ladder behind his client, a Parisian hairdresser could pull...
From Vikings to Vintages
The Macdonalds of Clanranald are one of the oldest families in the world. Their lineage comfortably predates the Scotland of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Descended from the Macdonald Lords of the I sles and sea kings of Dalriada, the Clanranalds emerge from...
Imperial Brussels
Last week Matthew Parris argued that Ukip was 'extremist' because its supporters thought of the EU's 'methods, despotism and oppression of them and their daily lives as barely distinguishable from those of the Soviet Union'. All right, if Mr Parris...
Intense Irishry
The Spoken Word: Irish Poets and Writers British Library, £20, 3 CDS, 3 hours, 35 minutes ISBN 9780712351263 Here is further evidence that it is disillusioning, more often than not, to encounter close up any artist long admired at a distance. This...
I've Checked My Privilege, Thanks. I'm Still Right
This week, I bring you a dispatch from the frontline of pseudo-intellectual, metropolitan navel-gazing. This is, after all, what you pay me for. So right now the big thing for people who consider themselves warriors against nasty isms and phobias (of...
Learning by Observing
Lloyd Evans talks to the theatre director Marianne Elliott Ah! Here comes the girl from the temping agency. That's my first reaction when I meet Marianne Elliott, director of the global hit War Horse, and winner of this year's Olivier for her work on...
Letters
Why Ukip aren't extremists Sir: I don't wish to be rude to Matthew Parris ('Why Ukip is a party of extremists', 1 June), but he should think carefully before labelling civilised citizens as extremists. It's a silly word to use given what real extremists...
London's Secondhand Bookshops H A Y W O O D
A fter seeing the Dalai Lama receive an award at St Paul's Cathedral, I thought I'd look in at some secondhand bookshops around the British Museum on my walk home. They had all gone. Gone the neat shop in Museum Street where I bought David Knowles's...
Long Life
My irritability grows with age and tends to attach itself to things that surprise even me - for example, to the widely popular sight of people riding horses on country roads. The smug, self-righteous look on their faces makes my blood simmer dangerously....
Low Life
Three miles up the road is a glass-fronted cupboard in a hedge that often contains free-range eggs for sale at £1.20 a half-dozen. It's a sales point relying on and trusting in other people's honesty. You slide back the glass, pleased to be living in...
My Meritocratic Inheritance
One of the many things I 'm grateful to my father for is inventing the word 'meritocracy'. He coined it in 1958 to describe a society in which social status is determined by 'merit', which he defined as a combination of intelligence and effort. As a...
Opera Breaking Glass
The Perfect American English National Opera, in rep until 28 June Imeneo Barbican First nights at English National Opera are, in the main, matters for a sociologist rather than an opera critic. That emphatically wasn't the case with Wozzeck, but that...
Pop out of Tunes
I am suffering, as we all do from time to time, from a shortage of decent new tunes. Of course, 'suffering' may be a slight exaggeration here. Very little physical pain has been involved. But research has shown that music obsessives need a constant...
Portrait of the Week
Home Patrick Mercer MP resigned the Conservative whip after being filmed in discussion with a fake Fijian firm that paid him £4,000 to ask parliamentary questions; he was in fact being investigated by BBC's Panorama and the Daily Telegraph. Lord Cunningham...
Radio Worldwide Web
Coronation Day 1953 could have marked the end of radio as we know it. No one wanted to listen to the commentary from Westminster Abbey. Everyone wanted to see what was going on. Hearing could not, it was thought, be as effective an act of witness as...
Real Life
The man at the next table looked down at my fidgeting spaniel and shook his head. 'Not trained, ' he said. How rude. There I was, having a quiet drink with my friend at the local pub, when the man at the next table decided to give me some unsolicited...
Recent Crime Novels
'We no longer believe in God but hope nevertheless for miracles, ' remarks Frederic Mordaunt, one of the characters of John Harwood's third novel, The Asylum (Cape, £14.99). He's being over-optimistic, as Georgina Ferrers, the niece of a London bookseller,...
Red Lines
Last August President Barack Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line. He repeated the phrase in December: red line. Why should the line be red and what happens if it is crossed? A simple, unhelpful answer is that...
Seeds of Doubt
The Man Who Plants Trees by Jim Robbins Prole Books, £10.99, pp. 217, ISBN 9781781250624 Remember the 'Plant a Tree in '73' campaign? Forty years on, has anyone inquired into what happened to all those trees and how many are still alive? Since then,...
Spectator Mini-Bar
I was lucky enough to attend the 650th anniversary dinner for the Vintners' Company last month. Some of the greatest winemakers in the world (Edouard Moueix, Aubert de Villaine of RomaneeConti, Patrice Noyelle of Pol Roger - wow! ), the most distinguished...
Television Desperate Wives
The Tudors have invaded television. Everywhere you look, it's Henry VIII this, Henry VII that, Anne Boleyn this, Anne of Cleves that. On BBC2 is the continuing drama series The Tudors, whose Henry VIII looks like the lead singer in a boy band who's...
Theatre Mamet Pulls It Off
Race Hampstead, until 29 June Paradise Lost Trinity Buoy Wharf, until 22June Mamet is back. His 2009 play Race is an offbeat courtroom drama set entirely in a lawyers' office before the trial begins. Jack and Henry are two hotshot attorneys, one white,...
The Beginning of the End of the Cold War
To Move the World by Jeffrey Sachs Bodley Head, £14.99, pp. 230, ISBN 9780812994926 Jeffrey Sachs is the world's best-connected development economist. An academic with highly developed communication skills, he has always managed to secure access to...
The Folly of Turning Stars into Tsars and the Scandal of Business Rates
On my way to chair a town meeting, I was chuckling over Phillip Warner's cartoon last week headed 'Mary Portas reinvigorates the High Street'. First, TV's sharp-tongued queen of retail holds forth in front of a row of abandoned shops; then townsfolk...
The Greens Are Wrong about Logging Too
Just because the environmentalists have been proved so epically wrong about global warming doesn't mean they're right about everything else. Ocean acidification, overpopulation, species loss. . . you're going to hear a lot about dire and urgent threats...
The Next General Election Campaign Has Already Started
Tory MPs were in buoyant mood as they dashed off to the 7 p. m. vote on Monday night. They shouted out hearty greetings to each other, slapped backs and had a spring in their step. They were buzzing in the way a fielding team does just after the fast...
The Past Is a Foreign Country
Alexandria: The Last Nights of Cleopatra by Peter Stothard Granta, £25, pp. 383, ISBN 9781847087034 This subtle, mournful book is many things. It is a diary of three weeks spent, during the tense winter before the outburst of the Arab Spring, in off-season...
The Spectator's Notes
What a strange country this is. On the same day that we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the coronation, a mystical rite founded for the ancient kings of Israel and continuous here for a thousand years, our almost equally venerable House of Lords...
The Syrian Quagmire
There can be little doubt that Britain is edging towards intervening in Syria. President Bashar Assad's bloody ruthlessness seems to be paying off: his forces are retaking former rebel strongholds (the strategic town of Qusair was reclaimed this week)...
The Teenage Professor
The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett Fig Tree, £18.99, pp. 272, ISBN 9780241145623 Jacob Barnett is a youthful prodigy. His IQ tested off the scale. At nine he began work on an original theory in astrophysics; aged 12...
The Turf Derby Dream
After Ruler Of The World had won the 234th Derby, the owners, the Coolmore team, were asked if it hadn't been something of a hostage to fortune giving the horse such a name. Drily John Magnier replied, 'Not really. There have been plenty of bad American...
The View from the South
No one seems to agree on what characterises a 'northerner' says Philip Hensher, and Paul Morley's latest book leaves us none the wiser. The North (And Almost Everything In It) by Paul Morley Bloomsbury, £20, pp. 582, ISBN 9780747578161 Obviously, now...
The Year of Timothy
The year of Timothy Few people under the age of 65 will have heard of the cartoonist Timothy Birdsall, who died 50 years ago on 10 June 1963, having produced his finest work in the last months of his life here in The Spectator and in Private Eye . But...
What's Eating Turkey
Ankara 'I slam, politics, economics - choose two' is a great line, said by one of my Turkish students, and it would make a good exam question. Tayyip (the name means 'very clean' in Arabic - cf. ritual washing) Erdogan (meaning 'strong hawk', a Turkish...
Why Did My Old Friend Patrick Mercer Fall for a Slease Sting? I'm Pretty Sure I Know
It's sleaze time again in Westminster. A few good stings by the broadcasters and the press and we see his lordship 'Nuclear' Jack Cunningham coining it by asking for £12,000 per month to make use of his extensive contacts and also his ability to get...
Why Does Anyone Drink Wine?
You will be scandalised by the suggestion, of course, especially those of you who spend several hours every week drinking it, reading about it or discussing it. But most wine is actually rubbish. I'll let you off the hook if you drink wine only with...
Why Sweden Has Riots
The fault line in Polly Toynbee's perfect society Stockholm 'All of them should have been very happy, ' Robert A. Heinlein begins his 1942 novel Beyond This Horizon . The material problem has been solved on this future earth, poverty and disease have...
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