The Observer 14 February 2014
From the moment he took office, commentators said that David Cameron “looked like a prime minister”. However deferential their assumption that old Etonians were born to rule, they were right to concentrate on appearances. Cameron speaks his lines and plays his part. He is a lead rather than a leader. Britain’s acting prime minister.
Like a body double, his administration fills the roles history assigned it. We remain one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. We still have the second strongest military force in Nato and the third largest economy in the European Union.
Yet as far as a convulsed Europe is concerned, Britain might as well not exist.
The Observer 25 January 2015
Journalists must protect their sources. From whistleblowers revealing great secrets to exposés of everyday corruption and incompetence, few will talk if they fear they will lose their jobs or maybe more than their jobs. The police might arrest and jail them. In extreme cases, dictatorships or terrorists might kill them. Livelihood, liberty, life – all can be endangered when sources speak out.
Observer 17 January 2105
He may once have been a bouncer, but the pope no longer looks like the kind of guy who can handle himself in a fight. Most opponents would fancy their chances of downing him with a knee to the pontifical plexus. Be in no doubt that, whatever his physical condition, the pope is still up for it. He will bellow the Latin equivalent of “come on then, if you think you’re hard enough” – “agite tentateque si fortiores vos putatis”, our classical correspondent tells me – and it will all kick off.
After saying that he believed in freedom of speech, as everyone does, Pope Francis added the inevitable “but,” as so many do. If a friend “says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” he told reporters. Insults to religion invite the same violent response as insults to his manly pride and family honour. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” Or to put it another way, the Parisian satirists had it coming.
The Observer 11 January 2015
We have a blasphemy law. No electorate has approved it. No parliament has passed it. No judge supervises its application and no jury determines guilt beyond reasonable doubt. There’s no right of appeal. And the penalty is death. It is enforced not by a police bound by codes of conduct, but by a fear that dare not speak its name; a cowardice so total it lacks the courage to admit it is afraid.
The British are the world’s worst cowards.
Observer 3 January 2015
I sound a feeble republican when I say it, but if you have to have a hereditary head of state, Elizabeth II is as good a monarch as you can get. Journalists have tried for decades to catch her interfering in politics and found nothing. We know she is pro-union, pro-Commonwealth and, one supposes, a Tory traditionalist. But no one has been able to show that she has lobbied or manipulated.
It may be ancient history to her 21st-century subjects, but she remembers that the Baldwin government forced her uncle, Edward VIII, to abdicate in 1936, in part because of his admiration of Hitler and Mussolini, and his interference in politics, which the party leaders of the 1930s regarded as unconstitutional.
The Queen could not be more different: dull, cautious and safe. She has been on the throne for so long you have to be in your 70s to remember another monarch. We are used to her and assume she will go on forever. We forget that sooner or later everyone steps aside or dies in post and with an 88-year-old your money should be on the sooner.
Observer 21 December 2014
hen you are in a radical movement, it’s wise to assume that the person arguing for the most extreme action is an agent provocateur. The question for opponents of fracking is on whose behalf are the agents provocateurs provoking.
From the Observer 22 November 2014
You cannot describe Ukip as a far-right party without running into trouble. Respectable commentators tell you that, while individual members may be neo-fascists and that while Ukip had indeed allied with far-right parties in Europe, it does not come from fascist tradition. And I just about accept that.
Hardly any commentator, respectable or otherwise, notices that Nigel Farage has created his own stab-in-the-back myth. The treacherous “Westminster elite” so despised the decent people of Britain that it flooded the land with foreigners who “took our country from us”. This is the manure in which far-right movements have always grown. But, once again, if anyone objects, I accept that Farage is not a führer or duce.
Rather than arguing about labels, let us agree to allow the facts to speak for themselves. Farage is a rabble-rouser and a coward. He plays with racism, the way Ian Paisley used to play with sectarianism: whips it up, then backs off just before he can be accused of inciting violence.