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by Will Lloyd
Wednesday, 24
November 2021

The melancholy decline of the semicolon

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. ...  Continue reading

by Will Lloyd
Monday, 1
November 2021

Nobody can reform the National Trust

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. ...  Continue reading

by Will Lloyd
Tuesday, 5
October 2021

Michael Gove channels his inner Disraeli

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. ...  Continue reading

by Will Lloyd
Monday, 4
October 2021

Ben Houchen understands ‘Johnsonism’ better than Boris

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.” ...  Continue reading

by Will Lloyd
Friday, 24
September 2021

Is Gordon Brown the new Brendan O’Neill?

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. ...  Continue reading

by Will Lloyd
Monday, 23
August 2021
Seen Elsewhere

David Graeber’s last essay

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.” ...  Continue reading

by Will Lloyd
Thursday, 8
July 2021

The sad decline of Oliver Stone

The filmmaker has sold himself to some of the worst tyrannies on earth

Writer-director Oliver Stone is one of the most gifted filmmakers the United States ever produced. In the late 1980s, Stone had a remarkable run, with Salvador, Platoon, Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July making him one of the most discussed, imitated, and controversial figures in Hollywood.

Left-wing but idiosyncratic in his politics, uber-literate and a maximal drug user, for a time Stone was the baby boom generation’s foremost guru.

So how deflating to see that Stone is reduced to shilling for Nursultan Nazarbayev, the former President of Kazakhstan. Qazaq: History of the Golden Man is an eight-hour documentary about Nazarbayev and his near three decades long, quasi-monarchical rule of the central Asian state. The film premiered on the autocrat’s 81st birthday — one of several gifts, which also included the unveiling of two new Nazarbayev statues in Kazakh cities. ...  Continue reading

by Will Lloyd
Friday, 2
July 2021

Labour’s problem is not George Galloway: it’s Arthur Balfour

Victory in Batley and Spen will not make the Palestinian question go away

There were three main issues on the doorstep during the by-election in Batley and Spen: police, potholes, and Palestine. A new police station can be built. Potholes can be fixed. But for Labour, even after narrowly winning the seat, Palestine won’t go away. 

Last Saturday a senior Labour official told the Mail on Sunday that the party was “hemorrhaging votes” among Muslims in the constituency. Reports in the Jewish Chronicle and Jewish News were jammed with vox pops that explained why.  

Residents told the JC that “the Zionist lobby” was why they turned their backs on Labour. In Batley, the seat’s largest town, Jewish News found that “the number one issue at stake for the vast majority is that of Palestine”. Voters of South Asian origin make up around 20% of the electorate in the constituency, and 19% of them are Muslim. The party lost their vote in this by-election.  ...  Continue reading