Four rules for stylish writing


Arguments about grammar should be arguments about style. I do not claim to be anything more than a competent writer. On the rare occasions when I have written a book or article that does not make me shudder on re-reading, I have followed my own style guidelines, which may help you to decide when you should stick by the “rules” of English and when you should ignore them.

Carry on reading

If you are so rich, how come you are so left wing?


A few days ago the Telegraph revealed that the leader of Momentum was – inevitably – the privately educated son of a property tycoon, whose father had the wealth to fund a home in Primrose Hill, a wife, children, and allegedly a couple of mistresses on the side.

I shared the news on social media, because I have met and disliked too many of his kind. The complaints began at once. I should not judge a man by his background. He did not choose his parents. What matters are James Schneider’s beliefs. It is where you are going which counts, not where you come from. And so on.

And on.

The easy response was to say that, as Schneider’s beliefs must lead to a purge of the Labour party on behalf of the fag end of British Leninism, they provide a sufficiently target-rich environment. Continue reading

Political correctness is the enemy of art


This is a version of a speech I made to the No Boundaries conference at the Bristol Watershed Theatre on how censorship affects the arts, museums and libraries.

The organisers asked me to talk about political correctness and the arts; a touchy subject which requires enormous sensitivity to the feelings of others, and long, thoughtful discussions of whether we should use the term ‘political correctness’ at all. Unfortunately, they continued, you have only 10 minutes and there will be no time for any of that. You will just have to get on with it.

So forgive me if I belt out arguments like a machine gun, but I must get on. Continue reading

Future generations will despise our ‘realism’ on Syria

The Observer 13 September 2105


When the people of the future look back at our time, there will be much wringing of hands at the west’s failure to stop the slaughter in Syria. Liberal writers will bewail our “guilt” and “shame” (bewailing is what we liberals are best at, after all). Readers will pat themselves on the back and say that they would never have behaved as we behaved; just as we look back on the Second World War and imagine we would never have collaborated if the Nazis had invaded.

Look at what the generation of the 2010s ignored as they admired their iPhones and took their selfies, they will say in shocked voices.
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Review: The Rise and Fall of the House of Caesar

Review of Tom Holland’s Dynasty

Observer 6 September 2015

Writers have always conscripted the Caesars to fight their battles. In 1934, Robert Graves turned Claudius into a liberal surrounded by tyrannical monsters, not so different from the tyrants who surrounded Graves in the 1930s. During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, Gore Vidal assailed Americans’ belief that monogamous heterosexuality was “normal” by showing them that the Roman emperors abused men and women, boys and girls with bisexual abandon. Contemporaries did indeed regard Claudius as an eccentric because he only wanted to sleep with women. But as the defining feature of tyrants is their tyranny, Claudius’s readiness to execute opponents for real and imagined treasons is more striking than his taste in concubines.

Continue reading