Westminster has a new parlour game. Since Monday, a conversation with anyone in or around politics will open with a round of “So what are the chances for this new Independent Group?” Players are encouraged to produce ever smarter reasons why the cluster of 11 MPs who broke from their former parties – eight from Labour, three from the Tories – is doomed to fail. Bonus points are awarded for historical references or imaginative use of polling data. By way of a warm-up, there are the obvious early arguments. New or third parties do notoriously badly under our first-past-the-post electoral system: just look at the SDP. There are no heavyweight figures to match the Gang of Four, who broke from Labour in 1981. The Independents have no leader and no clear policy stance.
Such is the upside-down, topsy-turvy state of our world, that the children are now the adults and the adults are the children. In Westminster, our supposed leaders – men and women of mature vintage – keep stamping their feet and demanding what no one can give them.
It’s a fair bet that the new rules announced today aimed at preventing the gambling industry from targeting children will be welcomed by almost everyone. Who could be against a ban on betting ads popping up on sites, computer games or apps popular with kids, such as the promos that were once embedded in the I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here or Mario Kart apps? Given the extraordinary stats that show no fewer than 370,000 children aged 11 to 16 gamble each week – with 25,000 of those classed as problem gamblers – surely any move to keep young eyes away from temptation is to be applauded.
Sounding the klaxon and warning of imminent disaster is, it turns out, an even older British tradition than you might think. A tour of the spellbinding Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library confirms that back in the year 540, a scribbling sermoniser by the name of Gildas – surely the Guardian columnist of his day – was writing “on the ruin of Britain”. Even before the country properly existed, there were Cassandras to prophesy its demise.
There’s a new work that has the publishing world gripped, with editors in London and New York confessing themselves hooked. It races along like a thriller, with several dizzying twists and turns and a compelling central character. What’s more, this sensational story is not fiction but a detailed, well-sourced work of journalism.
I’m referring to the New Yorker’s 12,000-word profile of Dan Mallory, whose debut novel, The Woman in the Window, published under the pseudonym AJ Finn, has been a monster hit. The report makes an unsettling read, charting what the magazine calls the “trail of deceptions” left by Mallory, including claims that he has endured and survived cancer in various forms – with tumours in both his brain and spine – that his parents were dead, and that his brother took his own life.Continue reading...
It took 35 years but now, perhaps, comes the final act of the miners’ strike that tore Britain apart for one long, bitter year in the mid-1980s. Decades later, the second woman prime minister is promising balm to heal the wounds inflicted by the first, as Theresa May offers bundles of cash to areas of the country punched hard by Margaret Thatcher’s war on the pits.
History will damn the architects of Brexit – and the politicians on both sides whose delusions are leading us to disaster
They have only one argument left. Back in the spring of 2016, the Brexiteers were promising sunshine and riches, untrammelled sovereignty and £350m a week: all the ice-cream of EU membership and none of the spinach. We would head out into the world and recover our destiny as a global trading nation, with more money in our pockets and independence in our hearts. You don’t hear much of that kind of talk these days, not when Airbus warns it could pull out of the UK – taking its 125,000 direct and indirect jobs with it – Sony relocates its European HQ from London to Amsterdam, and the carmaker Bentley says baldly: “It’s Brexit that’s the killer.” Instead the pro-leave case now boils down to one argument: it may be rough – “We won’t be able to get certain foods like bananas or tomatoes,” in the words of one senior Brexiteer, confident our Blitz spirit will get us through the coming storm – but we have to do it. We have no choice. It is the will of the people, and that will must be done.
Let’s give James Dyson the benefit of the doubt. Let’s take at face value the assurances issued by his multibillion pound company – whose products involve the generation of hot air – as to why it is relocating its headquarters from Wiltshire to Singapore.
One of Brexit’s more pernicious aspects, even before you get to its actual flaws, is its tendency to suck all available oxygen unto itself, to drain resources that might otherwise have gone elsewhere. Before the referendum, civil servants warned that such a task – untangling 40 years of legal agreements, ripping out a delicate web of connections that had become embedded – would consume all their energies. Naturally, their warnings were dismissed as Project Fear. But even the head of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummings, before he took on the form of Benedict Cumberbatch, conceded via Twitter that leaving the European Union would present the British state with the “hardest job since beating Nazis”.