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 2008

Accidental Empires
'Is democracy on the march or is it in retreat?' screams a headline in the Washington Times. The question was put to Condoleezza Rice last week, and I must say, for a little-to-show-for-it secretary of state, she answered very well: 'Freedom does not...
A Dying Fall
THE CELLIST OF SARAJEVO by Steven Galloway Atlantic, £12.99, pp. 278, ISBN 9781843547396 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Many novels about war deal with the horrors of the front line, of the terrors of battle. Steven Galloway, in this accomplished,...
Ancient & Modern
Hamid Karzai's government is said to control a mere 30 per cent of Afghanistan. The rest is in the control of tribal leaders and the Taleban. As David Miliband says, we will 'win' only by diplomacy. The long-term stability of the Roman empire depended...
Can Lord Bell's PR Skills Combat the Aroma of Communism and Cabbage?
Minsk is not a mecca for entrepreneurs or foreign investors, but it seems that the perpetual leader of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, has decided to change that. The kolkhoz (collective farms) are not about to be broken up, and nor is the KGB ready...
Collaborating with Chaos
John Hoyland dislikes being called 'one of Britain's leading abstract painters'. He thinks it's lazy thinking, and over-reliance on labelling. 'They don't say: "Lucian Freud, leading figurative painter" -- he's just a painter. Or "Francis Bacon, leading...
Conduct Becoming
That's a lot of violins, I thought. Then I realised they were violas. The violins were to the left, smaller. Always smaller than I expect, violins -- maybe because I wrestled with one as a child and it beat me: Tiny, pretty little things they are, with...
De Gaulle Understood That Only Nations Are Real
Almost exactly half a century ago, on 1 June 1958, Charles de Gaulle became the last Prime Minister of the French Fourth Republic and immediately began the construction of the Fifth. The Fourth Republic, be it said, was not as bad as it was painted,...
Diary
I co-own a rather jolly children's shop on Ebury Street and my stock has recently expanded to include a Romanian tramp. I discovered him sleeping on my doorstep after returning to collect a laptop charger I'd left behind. As it was physically impossible...
Diary of a Notting Hill Nobody
MONDAY Another superb by-election victory party at HQ with lashings of Pol Roger! The vibe v much: 'Humility and workmanlike determination to get on with the job of serving the British people.' Jed made a fantastic speech about how jubilation should...
Don't Forget Franck
Once so sure in the pantheon, esteemed by composers and critical taste, beloved by players and audiences, César Franck appears nowadays to be almost universally reviled. Of the late handful of indubitable masterpieces, only the Violin Sonata still enjoys...
Drama at the Opera
Samuel Johnson famously defined opera in his A Dictionary of the English Language as 'an exotic and irrational entertainment'. It's possibly the most overquoted quotation concerning the subject, but in 1755, when the dictionary was published, he probably...
Experience Is Only the Beginning
A fortnight ago Sam Leith, reviewing Neil Powell's book on the Amises, father and son, wrote: Powell is insistent -- and for all I know dead right, but that's hardly the point -- that Kingsley was a sufferer from depression. Of the last sentence of...
Fighting Gerry on Two Fronts
A GOOD WAR by Patrick Bishop Hodder & Stoughton, £12.99, pp.392, ISBN 9780340951705 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 The Battle of Britain and the campaign by the French Resistance make ideal settings for fiction, since they are full of...
Fix Your Departure Date Now, Gordon, and Give Your Legacy a Chance
It is time for Gordon Brown to start contemplating leaving Downing Street. But he should only set a date well into the next decade. To get there he needs to consider now how he wants to be remembered. If he does not initiate discussions on his own legacy,...
Forward to the Past
THE RETURN OF HISTORY AND THE END OF DREAMS by Robert Kagan Atlantic, £12.99, pp. 105, ISBN 9781843548119 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 When the planes flew into the Twin Towers many rushed to declare it the end of the end of history. But...
Giving the Boy a Bad Review
THE INFORMERS by Juan Gabriel Vásquez Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 338, ISBN 9780747592570 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Do we carry the sins of our fathers? This sentiment may seem archaic -- reminiscent, for instance, of the revenge cycles...
Global Warning
Life has taught me very little, but one thing I have learned is that the only employee of local councils with a genuine vocation is the rat-catcher. He always loves his rats, eliminating them with the deepest respect, and is extremely knowledgeable...
Guiding Lights
Summer is here (well, just) and with it a national sprouting of good intentions, as people dust off the dreary remnants of winter and a long, damp spring and start shaping up for the hot weather. People are heading for the gym and the spa, but I have...
Homer's Cure
This morning, when I woke up, I reached out and pressed the button on my bedside radio and the first word that came out of it was the word 'tolerance'. The radio was tuned to the Today programme. It isn't the first time that the first word I've heard...
How Bad Government Caused the Food Crisis
On the road to Agra, travelling to see the Taj Mahal, we found ourselves passing a seemingly endless convoy of trucks. Well, not so much a convoy as a convention, since the trucks were stationary. Miles and miles of motionless juggernauts, their drivers...
I Have Worked out How We Can Win the Eurovision Song Contest Next Year
I watched the entirety of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, camped out on the sofa with acute sinusitis, dosed up on antibiotics and Sudafed. Every so often some hirsute Balkan hag would appear before me, gyrating and caterwauling as if her life...
Irish Spoilsports
The Irish show enough enthusiasm for the 'jumping Olympics' at Cheltenham in March. Horses, trainers and punters come over in their hordes. For this year's Epsom Derby it is a different matter. Two of Ireland's leading trainers are effectively boycotting...
Lost Plot
Sir: While Marianne Macdonald's article ('Sex and the City is a myth', 24 May) was an entertaining read, its central thesis -- that the airbrushed on-screen portrayal of the four female leads in Sex and the City is fundamentally detached from real life...
Mazed and Confused
Is it possible for a Sat-Nav-coddled generation really to appreciate the aesthetic pleasure of a hedge maze? After all, if there is one thing that never happens in theory any more, it is people getting lost. Would many children even properly understand...
Might Is Always Right
A HISTORY OF POLITICAL TRIALS FROM CHARLES I TO SADDAM HUSSEIN by John Laughland Peter Lang, £12.99, pp. 315, ISBN 9781906165000 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Since the first political trial in modern history -- that of Charles I in 1649...
Nothing Ever New out of Africa
DINNER WITH MUGABE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A FREEDOM FIGHTER WHO BECAME A TERRORIST by Heidi Holland Penguin, £17.99, pp. 250, ISBN 9780143025573 £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 When I was a young doctor working in what was still Rhodesia, I...
Obama and McCain Offer a Choice, Not an Echo
In the Republican corner it is to be John Sidney McCain III, white, age 71. In the Democratic corner we have Barack Hussein Obama, black, age 46. No American election battle since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has attracted so much worldwide attention....
Out of Sympathy
L'incoronazione di Poppea Glyndebourne Der Rosenkavalier English National Opera Monteverdi's last opera L'incoronazione di Poppea was the first opera I saw at Glyndebourne, in 1962. I saw it there again in 1984, once more 'realised' by Raymond Leppard,...
Perfect Package
Sex and the City 15, Nationwide I do know that not everyone gets Sex and the City. Bubbles, for example, does not get Sex and the City. 'I don't know what you see in this crap, ' he would say, whenever I watched it on television, and before going off...
Sorry, but Apologies Really Are the Work of the Devil
There is no end, of course, to all this human erring. And we know forgiveness is divine -- look at Nelson Mandela. But, for the non-divine of us, genuine forgiveness is largely impossible. This is, in my view, because most apologies are so insincere...
Space Odyssey
The light pollution at Chequers can't be that bad in semi-rural Bucks, so perhaps someone should suggest to our troubled PM that next time he has a weekend off he should take a look upwards to the night sky. It might help him to realise that the petty...
Spectator Mini-Bar Offer
The Loire produces wonderful wines for summer. Perhaps it's holidays in July and August, driving from château to château, past the slow reaches of the river and green meadows almost yellow from the sun. Baguettes and pâté under the willow trees. . ....
The Circle of a Lonely Psychiatrist
THE SORROWS OF AN AMERICAN by Siri Hustvedt Sceptre, £16.99, pp. 306, ISBN 9780340897065 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Born into a second generation Norwegian immigrant family, Erik Davidsen is a divorced New York psychoanalyst with his...
The Fumes of Failure
'We have no plans not to implement our budget': the double negative employed by Phil Woolas, the Environment Minister, on Tuesday's Newsnight, and the familiar 'no plans' formula, told you all you need to know about this government's collapse of confidence....
The Hammer of the Scots
THE INVENTION OF SCOTLAND by Hugh Trevor-Roper, edited by Jeremy J. Carter Yale, £18.99, pp. 282, ISBN 9780300136869 £15.19 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 This is a book from beyond the grave -- the last that Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote, and though...
The Lark and the Economist
BLOOMSBURY BALLERINA by Judith Marcell Weidenfeld, £25, pp. 476, ISBN 978 0297849087 £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Judith Mackrell describes her subject as 'a star whom the world almost forgot'. Lydia herself lamented, on the death of Pavlova,...
The Spectator's Notes
Camp Bastion, Helmand province Outside the Joint Support Unit HQ here stands a cross rising from a mound of cobbles. On each of the four sides of the mound is set a brass plate for the names of those British soldiers who have died in Afghanistan. The...
The Wiki Man
'Linda works miracles in the kitchen while Trevor is ubiquitous with the cup that cheers.' This sentence has haunted me for 15 years. It's from a parody of the typical reader's review in The Good Food Guide, probably by Craig Brown. I still quote it...
'Touch Wood,' Karzai Said to Me. You Hear It All the Time
Kabul There is something oddly soothing about going to sleep to the sound of gunfire in Kandahar airbase. The shots are fired by British troops, honing the night combat skills which achieved such success over the Taleban last winter. The fighting season...
Triumph of the Polymaths
THE PHOENIX by Leo Hollis Weidenfeld, £20, pp. 389, ISBN 9780297850779 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 LONDON LIGHTS by James Hamilton John Murray, £25, pp. 400, ISBN 9780297850079 £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 Books about London tend...
Two Sides of the Dark Continent
THE EYE OF THE LEOPARD Harvill Secker, £12.99, pp. 315, ISBN 9781843430490 £10.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 THE MIRACLE AT SPEEDY MOTORS by Alexander McCall Smith Little Brown, £14.99, pp. 256, ISBN 9780316030076 £11.99 (plus £2.45 p&p)...
We Should Resist the Globalisation of Smells. from London to Delhi, Stench Is Truth
Every Sunday night for the past couple of months, I have been going back in time. I have been in the early 1960s. Sharp suits, womanly curves, and hair that went one way or went the other, and damn well left a line if it changed its mind. I've been...
When Labour Ministers Say 'We're Listening', This Is What They Really Mean -- and It's Frightening
Last week the Labour government revealed its plans to create a national cyber-database to hold details of every phone call, text, email and visit to the internet, as part of its plan to fight terrorism and crime. Internet service providers and telecoms...
Whitehouse Effect
'Stupid old bat.' That's what my father always used to say when Mary Whitehouse appeared on the screen, and the older I grew the more I agreed with him. What right had this ghastly woman with her horn-rimmed specs and silly hats and Black Country accent...
Who Decided That All Motorists Were Criminals?
Do others like me wake every day angry that we are unwilling members of a persecuted majority? At the risk of becoming a serial whiner, it seems to me that the unholy trinity of the Treasury, local authorities and the police forces are intent on intimidating...
Wisdom from beyond the Grave
ARMAGGEDON IN RETROSPECT AND OTHER NEW AND UNPUBLISHED WRITING ON WAR AND PEACE by Kurt Vonnegut Cape, £16.99, pp. 232, ISBN 9780224085397 £13.59 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655 A few years ago a friend of mine, a writer, attended a conference with...
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