Is any sane Times reader under any illusion about the People’s Republic of China? Assuming not, I shall not labour the point that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the greatest threat the free world faces in the century ahead.
You know that. You know the CCP is treating China’s Uighur minority with hideous inhumanity, brutalising Hong Kong and breaking its word to Britain, and trying to seize control of the South China Sea; that at home China is becoming a surveillance state of Orwellian proportions, and abroad stealing our intellectual property and tilting the playing field against our exports; that the CCP tries to infiltrate our universities and intimidates great western commercial institutions such as HSBC into ashamed compliance.… Seguir leyendo »
Events at Batley Grammar School, where there have been angry demonstrations against the showing of a cartoon image of the Prophet Muhammad, take me back to the late 20th century. I sat for five years on a government quango called the Broadcasting Standards Council (BSC). Viewers or listeners sent in their complaints about TV or radio and we adjudicated.
Sex and violence featured heavily but the BSC’s diet was eclectic: whether any actual budgie had been upset during the filming of a home-insurance ad depicting the ceiling falling in around the bird’s cage; or whether a drama depicting (without recommending) satanic rituals outraged decent Christians.… Seguir leyendo »
How did the irony escape us? I predicted on this page almost two months ago that while we were obsessing about Theresa May “running down the clock” on MPs, another was ticking: Brussels was running down the clock on us. And this week Britain was finally cornered into a humiliating six-month extension during which we’ve had to promise not to misuse our voting rights as a member of the European Union.
So here’s the second irony, also still escaping us. The limbo in which we now sit until November, and which everyone calls humiliating, is a trial run for a Brino (Brexit in name only) Brexit.… Seguir leyendo »
In an attempt to distance myself from our Brexit insanities I am deep in Africa. My hope was to stand a little back, take a calmer and less partisan view.
Some hope. With distance, anger only grows. The further you travel the stupider this Brexit thing looks. People here, whose world of cyclones and cassava-harvests barely touches ours, have heard there’s a bad business going on in Britain. In any satellite’s heat-map of hotspots of human lunacy, the United Kingdom blushes crimson from outer space.
Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, shorn of even a hint of what might come after, failed to clear the Commons yesterday.… Seguir leyendo »
Who’s running down the clock on whom? As we British squabble noisily, variously berating or congratulating our politicians for “running down the clock” on each other or on Brussels, there’s a stranger in the background, observing silently. The hint of a sardonic (you could almost call it Gallic) smile plays upon his lips.
To his silence in a moment. But first to the British noise. Remainers and some Leavers (plus Labour) squawk that Theresa May is running down the clock on MPs, forever postponing high noon until it’s too late for parliament to choose between anything but her deal and “crashing out” of the European Union without any deal.… Seguir leyendo »
An ennui hangs over British politics and the prime minister is depending on it. Like a thin, wearisome fog it does not quite obscure but it blurs and greys, softening edges and dulling our reactions as we head into the new year. Brexit? Oh, for God’s sake. Haven’t we done enough of that?
No we have not. These very few weeks ahead, these weeks when change is still possible, await, still fluid, before everything fixes. Yesterday I watched a grim little video from the Home Office telling EU citizens legally resident here that they will have to make a new application to confirm their status.… Seguir leyendo »
Here’s a sentence I was not expecting to write: “I agree with Iain Martin.” On these pages yesterday, my Times colleague argued that if it comes to a “no-deal” Brexit, “we’ll need MPs and ministers to stay calm”; in which case, Iain says, the world will continue in its orbit.
He’s right. Remainers like myself are in danger of repeating the mistake we made before the last referendum: running around like Chicken Licken, only to find that the sky never did fall in. Our country’s possible futures do not, at least at the outset, look to me very different from each other.… Seguir leyendo »
Chaos is coming. How should sensible, moderate Tories, who in their heart of hearts always feared that the last referendum set Theresa May an impossible task, respond? Do we bend our energies to helping a tottering prime minister keep the show on the road? Or do we march with the People’s Vote crowd this morning?
Convinced Leavers, disregard this column: you’ll be wasting your time. Here I shall be seeking not to convert readers to Remain but to offer — to those whose heads and hearts are already with the cause — some thoughts on how we proceed from here.
But why (you’re entitled to ask) does this ageing columnist and long-retired former Conservative MP presume to advise today’s politicians?… Seguir leyendo »
No further from our offices at The Times than the northern reaches of our own country, a crisis is unfolding that’s bigger than Brexit. It could even bring violent civil conflict to one of our more important European allies, and threaten the very existence of the kingdom of Spain.
Relations between Catalonia and the rest of Spain are at breaking point.
Democratic politics in the Iberian peninsula has seized up due to a catastrophic failure of the leaderships of both the Spanish and Catalan governments. Political midgets and tinpot nationalists on both sides have puffed themselves into an entirely avoidable High Noon and nobody has the statesmanship or courage to block their ears to the cheers of the mob and lead their deluded followers back to safety.… Seguir leyendo »
Cryogenics grabs attention, and the story in yesterday’s Times about a dying teenager’s wish to be frozen grabbed mine. How could it not? A brave young woman; a desperate hope; a parental split about whether her corpse should be frozen . . . this is the stuff of nightmares and dreams.
Since long before H G Wells, science fiction has engaged us not only through the thrill of the fantastical but because unchaining the imagination unchains us to wonder where we’re going. The judge’s ruling in this case fell short of large speculations: he said that the issue was not cryonic preservation but a family dispute about a daughter’s wishes.… Seguir leyendo »
When I die, and if I have to arrange it myself, I will consult nobody, and do it unassisted if I can. I entertain not a flicker of moral or practical doubt on the subject, and never have. Speaking only for myself — in such matters one should never judge for others — if Nature does not do the job in a timely manner I shall consider it a duty to take matters into my own hands. For me it would be wretched, self-defeating, selfish, irrational, inefficient and pointlessly extravagant to live beyond the time when I am useful, or life is fun.… Seguir leyendo »
It’s time to stop striking poses over Afghanistan. Too many on both sides of this argument are getting hooked on sweeping statements — and I don’t exclude myself from that.
Among the No Turning Back (NTB) brigade the lazy remark is that our boys are risking their lives and must have everything their commanders request. “We cannot will the end,” cry the brigade, “without willing the means!” Cue a chorus of stout hear-hears. If more helicopters are needed, find them. If more armoured vehicles would save soldiers’ lives, produce them. If troop reinforcements would make the task easier, send them.
To this way of thinking, war requires politicians to step back and defer to the military.… Seguir leyendo »
It’s important not to understand. It’s important not to learn. In the total buggeration into which the world’s help for Afghanistan has now descended, it’s important not to know too much. Accept that somebody some day may understand, but it isn’t going to be you. Somebody some day may grab the Gordian knot and cut it, but it isn’t going to be us. Know only that. To know more is to know less.
It so happens that my week as Nato/Isaf’s guest here in Afghanistan has coincided with some big stories coming out of the country. There are battles; there are kidnappings; there came sad news of the deaths of Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe and Trooper Joshua Hammond.… Seguir leyendo »
Sitting in the shade of a walnut tree in the mountains of Lebanon, I'm reading to my hiking companions David Cameron's statement on Tory MPs' expenses. In the glare, I squint at the BlackBerry. Birds sing - goldfinches, cuckoos, larks.
“...George Osborne's particularly expensive car journey... pipe under Oliver Letwin's tennis court...”
The sky is a particularly intense blue and, from a pipe under our cart track, a spring-fed mountain stream gurgles; there is snow on distant peaks.
“...David Willetts's electrical bill..” It's no use. My companions aren't listening. The pass from Maaser el Shouf to Niha calls.
Lebanon is friendly and (now) safe.… Seguir leyendo »
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.… Seguir leyendo »
Sitting on a log, in a clearing by the banks of the River Matamata close to where it flows into the Amazon, Sara Bennett was encircled by her audience. This audience, too, sat on logs. We were composed of men and monkeys. The human contingent were my six travelling companions and I. The monkeys - well, they too had names, but I could no more name them than name the half-dozen different monkey species they came from.
The reddish-furred monkey in Dr Bennett's arms was a female howler monkey: this I did recognise - by the fearsome, echoing roar she made as she clung like an anxious child to her human matriarch.… Seguir leyendo »
Sneakily, Britain's first Muslim Minister, Shahid Malik, has ducked the critics that he will enrage in an interview to be broadcast on Channel 4's Dispatches programme on Monday.
Knowing that the phrase he uses to describe the situation of British Muslims - “the Jews of Europe” - will make the headlines, he has put it in the mouths of others. “If you ask Muslims today what do they feel like,” he says, “they feel like the Jews of Europe.” He does not say if he thinks that they are right.
I'll respond in the Malik method. If you asked most non-Muslims what they feel about the suggestion, they would say that it was disgraceful, outrageous and insulting.… Seguir leyendo »
In politics as in our personal lives, just six words comprise one of the commonest falsehoods around. Those six words are: “It can't go on like this.” But it can. I've come to the melancholy conclusion that in Zimbabwe it must.
This weekend there will be voices in our Prime Minister's ear suggesting how in one bound he might cast off his dithering reputation. To help to broker the toppling of Robert Mugabe (they will whisper) might be just the sort of history-making that rescued Margaret Thatcher from doldrums at home, before Galtieri invaded the Falklands. In The Times this week Lord (Paddy) Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon suggested that intervention may become necessary.… Seguir leyendo »
Fifty years ago the decolonisation of Africa began. The next half-century may see the continent recolonised. But the new imperialism will be less benign. Great powers aren't interested in administering wild places any more, still less in settling them: just raping them. Black gangster governments sponsored by self-interested Asian or Western powers could become the central story in 21st-century African history.
Nature abhors a vacuum. Take Zimbabwe. In the Western news media the clichés about Robert Mugabe's “despotism” roll, but this is a despotism crippled by monumental incompetence. The BBC's audience must have been bemused in recent weeks by John Simpson's reports from within a country where, as we are always being reminded, the BBC is banned.… Seguir leyendo »
You say,” said Lord Napier (confronted as Commander-in-Chief of the British Army in India by locals protesting against the suppression of suttee) “that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
The present Archbishop of Canterbury is no Napier. He was not, however, proposing tolerance for the wilder excesses of Sharia, let alone suttee, in his speech on Thursday.… Seguir leyendo »