The Prime Minister's career started and ended on screen
Boris Johnson’s story is nearly over. It has been told so many times that it no longer makes any sense at all. New York, 1964. Father (philanderer); mother (depressive). They all — and it is all, for this is as much a clan as it is a family — have the same face. Scholarship boy at Eton. Learns to embody Wodehouse’s prose. This should unnerve people but they like it. Chums, debates, Oxford — upper second-class degree. Sacked from the Times for lying, but has the last laugh. His skill is making disaster work for him. Goes to Brussels, goes to the Spectator, goes to Henley. Marriages; mistresses; mayoralty. Takes Britain out of the European Union by accident — whoops! Prime Minister: not during peaceful years when he can write a book about Shakespeare, but during grimly austere plague years — cripes! ...
The prosecution is having a torrid time so far
They gather outside the Thurgood Marshall courthouse in lower Manhattan. QAnonners, conspiracy podcasters, sceptics; private citizens who use their private time to make public placards about alleged sex traffickers. To them Ghislaine Maxwell is not a woman. She is an avatar of an elite that crushes the poor and the desperate with casual, contemptuous cruelty. They are watching Maxwell being tried on six counts of (essentially) conditioning girls and young women to satiate Jeffrey Epstein’s pedophilia. She denies any wrongdoing. The placards are waiting for an entire system of wealth and power to be indicted with her. ...
Researchers found that it is becoming rarer in British fiction
The semicolon is a profound public mystery; the only punctuation mark that regularly unites readers and writers in deep-seated repugnance. Time to celebrate then — this week researchers at Lancaster University announced that semicolon use is becoming rarer in British fiction, falling in use by 25% over the last 30 years.
In 2017, author Ben Blatt discovered that semicolon use dropped by about 70% from 1800 to 2000. The ghosts of several authors are now rejoicing. Writers like George Orwell, who called semicolons “an unnecessary stop”. Or Edgar Allan Poe, who preferred the dash. Or Kurt Vonnegut, who famously advised against their use, saying “All they do is show you’ve been to college.” The symbol is facing the same melancholy fate as the dodo, the dinosaur, and the Soviet Union. Extinction. ...
The charity has become the most conservative force in England
Watching the National Trust’s Annual General Meeting is not my usual idea of fun. But last Saturday’s AGM was supposed to be different.
Ever since the Trust released a report in September 2020 tracing its properties’ connections to colonialism and slavery, the mood music around the place had been Wagnerian, apocalyptic.
Two sides emerged: the ‘woke’ establishment that ran one of the country’s largest charities, and Restore Trust, a rebel group dredged from the Telegraph‘s comment desk (and comment section), that wanted to put all that nasty politicisation back in its box. ...
Levelling up means everything and nothing — and that's the point
If you wanted to understand why Britain is about to enter its twelfth year of Conservative rule, Michael Gove’s speech at conference yesterday offers some important clues.
Gove is now leading a new jumbo ministry, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, with a grand new title: the Minister for Intergovernmental Relations. His responsibility is to make Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘level up’ the country into a reality.
Both the concept and the minister are fluid, amorphous and hard to truly pin down. Education, Justice, and the Environment have all been Gove-led during the last decade. He was a Cameroon, then a Brexiteer, and now has the most important job in the post-2019 Conservative party. Like his boss, he is breathtakingly adaptable. ...
He reminded me of a cross between Michael Heseltine and Leon Trotsky
Boris Johnson might struggle to explain what ‘Johnsonism’ is. Ben Houchen doesn’t.
The Tees Valley mayor was returned to power in May with 73% of the vote on the same day the Conservatives won the Hartlepool by-election. Houchen was instantly tagged as “the most popular politician in the country”.
Here at the Tory conference in Manchester, I watched Houchen as he was trailed and followed around like a rising Cabinet minister. His authority is not simply derived from winning popularity contests though. Houchen is emblematic.
If we are watching the creation of a new Conservatism — a salvaging, modernising, updating, Northern and radically green Conservatism — then it is embodied by Geordie Houchen. In an interview with UnHerd earlier this year, the mayor went so far as to say that “Teesside will be one of the world’s centres for low carbon green technologies and become synonymous with Silicon Valley in the US.” ...
The former PM has developed a penchant for sounding off on trending topics
Quietly, without much notice, Gordon Brown has become a freelance pundit.
There he is on Sky News, sounding off on the latest trending topic like Brendan O’Neill or Paul Mason. Here he is in the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Project Syndicate, cranking out think pieces on Emma Radacanu and Marcus Rashford.
What Brown has to say is not especially striking. He thought, like so many others in his generation, that progress was linear. Globalisation would become more global. Free trade would get freer. Boom would abolish bust.
Now, he still believes these things. “A new Britain is waiting to be born”, he writes in the Statesman. Funnily enough, it sounds just like the Britain he spoke and wrote about in the 1990s. ...
The anarchist intellectual had one final message for the post-pandemic world
David Graeber, anthropologist, anarchist, author, and leading light of the Occupy movement, died suddenly in Venice last September. His work in economic anthropology — particularly Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) and Bullshit Jobs (2018) — was startlingly original, and made him an intellectual superstar. “He was a real intellectual” wrote Nassim Nicholas Taleb when Graeber passed away, “not one fake cell in his brain, not one fake bone in his body.”
Now, Graeber’s last essay has been published in the American socialist monthly Jacobin. After the pandemic, he argues, we cannot go back to the way things were. When the crisis is “declared over… we will be able to return to our ‘nonessential jobs’. For many, this will be like waking from a dream.” ...