Daniel Finkelstein

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A famous, if apocryphal, story is told of the French statesman Georges Clemenceau negotiating to buy a statuette in a bazaar. The shopkeeper offered it for “only” 75 rupees, while the Frenchman counteroffered with 45 rupees. After that, no matter the haggling, he refused to move. And there they were. Stuck.

Eventually the shopkeeper threw up his hands and said: “You are impossible! I’d rather give it to you.” Clemenceau smiled, pocketed the statuette and said: “Done.” And then he added: “You are very kind, and such a kindness could only come from a friend. Allow me to offer you a gift in return.…  Seguir leyendo »

It’s odd isn’t it? We’ve had all that discussion about “crashing out” of the European Union on “WTO terms”. Yet we’ve heard very little about the World Trade Organisation itself, how it makes its rules and whether they can be enforced. Isn’t it about time we did?

For it seems almost entirely to have escaped political attention that, just at the moment we are contemplating relying on it, the WTO faces a political crisis. It is already unable to make rulings on some of the cases before it. Before this year is out, it may be unable to make any rulings at all.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is there a majority in parliament for leaving the EU without a deal? No. Is there a majority for staying in the single market Norway-fashion for now? No. Is there a majority for Theresa May’s Chequers proposals? No. Is there a majority for a Canadian-style free trade agreement? No. Is there a majority for a second referendum? No. And is there a majority for calling a general election? No.

There isn’t a majority for anything.

So if the country isn’t simply to reach the end of March 2019 still debating as we fall off the cliff, someone is going to have to move.…  Seguir leyendo »

Fifty years ago today, about 6pm central time, Martin Luther King Jr stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis and waited for his friends to join him. They were off to dinner, celebrating a court victory.

At that moment, across the way at Bessie Brewer’s Memphis boarding house, the inhabitant of room 5B poked his Remington Gamemaster out of the window of the communal bathroom, took careful aim with the aid of his Redfield scope, and shot King dead.

James Earl Ray did not act alone. From the moment he was arrested, more than two months later at Heathrow airport (he was apprehended with the words “I say old fellow, would you mind stepping over here for a moment”), carrying the proceeds of a robbery of the Fulham branch of the Trustee Savings Bank, he started lying.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the last days before the European referendum I appeared on the BBC with the Brexit campaigner Andrea Leadsom. I expressed my concern that, because of the terms we would secure, our trade with Europe would suffer if we left the EU. Ms Leadsom was convinced I was wrong.

She patiently explained that German car manufacturers and other European businesses would not allow their political leaders to damage trade with Britain in order to pursue political objectives. We would get smooth, tariff-free trade. European leaders would not — could not — afford to ignore companies like that.

Equally patiently, I put the counter view.…  Seguir leyendo »

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was a person of great political importance. Which is a pretty odd statement to make, given that he hardly ever said or did a political thing.

Let me start with this. “He sort of had this persona of wanting to be Hawaiian, the way his hair was, his shirts. He would say he was part Hawaiian, and in a way he could look Hawaiian. I think that something with his being Hawaiian was knowing that he could be more successful if maybe he wasn’t black.”

This observation, by the record executive Marshall Chess, is not the only time one of Chuck Berry’s friends commented on what his biographer Bruce Pegg has called the musician’s “racial ambivalence”.…  Seguir leyendo »

I am going to write about Silvio Berlusconi and his so-called private life. But before I do, I want to ask you a question. Could you write a serious biography of Mao Zedong and miss out the girls and the drugs? If you did, it would be a little read book.

Mao liked the girls. Even in his mid-seventies, this four-times- married man regularly invited three, four or even five women at a time into his oversized bed. The word “invited” overstates the extent of the willing co-operation of the other participants. Actually, Mao liked the boys, too, requiring that handsome young male attendants came to his chamber to give him nightly groin massages.…  Seguir leyendo »

It was a glittering time. They literally swept into office, ready, moving, generating their style, their confidence — they were going to get America moving again. There was a sense that these were brilliant men, men of force, not cruel, not harsh, but men who acted rather than waited” In his stunning book The Best and the Brightest, David Halberstam captures the glamour, the drive, the élan of the men who came to Washington to help John F. Kennedy to usher in a new era. And of these men none was brighter or better than Robert S. McNamara.

When you see those playful photos of JFK in Camelot with his little children, there are always determined men there, too, with their short hair, and white shirts with thin ties and their jackets discarded.…  Seguir leyendo »

It was strictly forbidden to have a notebook in Belsen, but my Aunt Ruth had one anyway. Just a little pocket diary - an appointment book with one of those tiny pencils. And in it, in the autumn of 1944, she noted that Anne Frank and Anne's sister, Ruth's schoolfriend Margot, had arrived in the concentration camp.

My mother and my aunt had been watching through the camp wire when the Franks arrived. Mum remembers it well, because they had been excited to spot girls they knew from the old days in Amsterdam. They had played in the same streets, been to the same schools and Ruth and Margot attended Hebrew classes together.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the summer of 1928 Walter Elias Disney hung a bedroom sheet from his office wall and asked some members of his family in to watch a film. Disney was only 26 years old, but he'd lived quite a tough life. And he was down on his luck - he had been cheated in a business deal, he had no money and he couldn't find anyone to distribute his films.

That June night, however, Walt was exultant. He had his brother Roy man the projector and his small team of animators produce sound synchronised to the action. They had to improvise - banging pencils against a spitoon that served as a gong, for instance.…  Seguir leyendo »

Well, there have been for me. That was my first reaction when I saw the headlines. There have been for me.

Today, after a new report from a House of Lords committee, I am being asked to believe that immigration has no economic benefits. I am sorry, but I can't.

It's ironic, this. I am strongly for immigration control. I think there are important arguments, vital arguments, for limiting the numbers of new migrants. It's just that the idea that there are no economic benefits to immigration isn't among them.

Let me take you through my case carefully. The House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs has examined the available evidence on the economic impact of immigration.…  Seguir leyendo »

When I was a small child I thought that the Vietnam War was taking place in a car park.

Every time I watched the news, I heard reporters talking sombrely of that conflict, accompanied by pictures of violent encounters. Some of the soldiers wore uniforms and charged on horses, others were clothed in denim. It wasn't clear who was winning, but I remember the smoke and the chaos, and a young man lying across a car bonnet being hit with a club. The young man was carrying a poster on a stick, which even to my infant mind seemed an odd thing to carry into a warzone.…  Seguir leyendo »

Comment Central: Ten reasons why Castro isn't a hero of the left

I had a strange idea yesterday. I had the idea of inviting Harriet Harman home for dinner. This isn't a thought that occurs to me often, but I suddenly felt it might be fun.

I'd invite my Dad too. And then, when we'd given Harriet a nice meal (what do you think she likes to eat?), my father could tell her his story.

He could tell her how the Soviets and the Nazis closed in on his home town of Lvov in September 1939 and how the town council chose the Soviets to surrender to.…  Seguir leyendo »

It's time for me to return a favour. Way past time really, since the favour I am returning was gifted to me more than a decade ago.

And my act of reciprocation is not a lone one. It's a tiny part of the general exchange of ideas and advice among international conservatives, a new movement with the potential to be as significant as the coming together of international centre-left parties that followed the election of Bill Clinton in 1992.

Back in 1995, as I was heading off to work as John Major's adviser, I asked an old friend to visit London and give me the benefit of his thoughts.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Labour MP Keith Vaz and I are not Facebook friends. The fact that we don’t exchange Christmas cards is not simply because only one of us believes Jesus is the Messiah. And – how shall I put this delicately – I’ve read the entire Standards and Privileges Committee report on Mr Vaz’s business affairs.

So I take a deep breath before I say this – Gordon Brown should be paying closer attention to the advice of Mr Vaz.

Actually, not just Mr Vaz. The Prime Minister might also find it worthwhile listening to a couple of Nobel prize-winners, reading a history of Chinese psychological punishments and thinking about why he bothers to go out canvassing for votes.…  Seguir leyendo »

What if we’re both right? That’s the gloomy question that events in Gaza have prompted in my mind. What if we’re both right?

When my grandfather returned to his home from the front at the end of the First World War, he plunged into the great political debate among his fellow German Jews. The Zionists argued that the Jews were in mortal danger, that they needed a state of their own. My grandfather was only too aware of the rising tide of antiSemitism. But he was an integrationist, passionate about his German identity. And he also a deep feeling for Arab culture.…  Seguir leyendo »

On the face of it, it seemed a little odd. Back in 1994 Newt Gingrich’s pollsters were testing his proposed Contract with America when they stumbled across a puzzling inconsistency. When voters were asked if they thought that benefits should not be given to lone parents who refused to work, they strongly agreed. But when asked if those parents should be denied benefits, they were much less favourable. The policy appeared the same, the support for it very different.

What the pollsters were witnessing was actually something quite common — the finding provided an example of what academics call the Status Quo Bias.…  Seguir leyendo »

What’s your favourite fact? Come on, everyone has a favourite fact. Here’s mine: more young people supported the Vietnam War than did any other section of the American population. As the war progressed, the whole country turned against it, but those under 30 remained least likely to regard it as an error.

I have deployed this point on countless occasions — arguments about the Sixties, disputes about the political views of young people, discussions on the differences between the views of activists and the general public — but I bring it up now for a different reason. The man from whom I first learnt it (it was in one of his many books) died last week.…  Seguir leyendo »

Curves are in fashion. Not just in The Sun and Vogue, but also in The Economist, Prospect and, well, The Times. In a recent Spectator article William Skidelsky pointed out that many of the latest fashionable intellectual ideas are based on graphs.

It started with Malcolm Gladwell’s incredibly successful book The Tipping Point, for instance, in which he argued that the incidence of, say, criminal behaviour or the purchase of Hush Puppies travelled along a similar curve to that of an infectious disease.

More recently Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail provided a graphical account of the rise of the internet.…  Seguir leyendo »