The Spectator 3 January 2017
In the first days of January ‘17, the Arctic air frosted over London forcing even the most careless citizen of that metropolis to accept the mastery of those great elemental forces which shriek at mankind through the bars of his civilisation. Holmes would not move from his fire, and was as moody as only he could be when he had no case to interest him.
‘Why,’ said I, glancing up at my companion, ‘that was surely the bell. Who could come tonight? Some friend of yours, perhaps?’
‘Except yourself I have none,’ he answered.
‘A client, then?’
‘If so, it is a serious case. Nothing less would bring a man out on such a day and at such an hour. But I take it that it is more likely to be some crony of the landlady’s.’
Sherlock Holmes was wrong in his conjecture, however, for there came a step in the passage and a tapping at the door. Continue reading
The Spectator 31 October 2016
I have never advised anyone to use the English libel laws. I spent years helping the campaign to reform them, and am proud of the liberalisation I and many, many others helped bring. I have to admit, though, our achievement was modest.
The Spectator 18 Ocotber 2017
The silencing of Stephen Daisley has nagged away at journalism in Scotland for months. His employer, STV, holds the ITV licences for central and northern Scotland, and is staying very quiet. The Scottish National Party rolls around like a drunk who has won a bar fight. Its politicians and its claque of Twitter trolls celebrate their power to bully and tell direct lies about the journalist they have humiliated. The BBC endorses them. The National Union of Journalists supports them. Everyone behaves as if they are living in a one-party state.
The Spectator, 7 July 2016
There are two theories about racial prejudice. Most people talk as if there is a fixed block of people ‘the racists’: always white and extreme right wing, and usually covered in tattoos. They are ugly to be sure, but they are just a few irreconcilables in the otherwise merrily diverse land of multi-faith, multi-cultural Britain.
The alternative is less cheering. Prejudice can overcome all or most of us in the right circumstances. It just lies there, like a virus waiting to be triggered. We may not know we have it, but we are capable of succumbing in the right circumstances.
From the Spectator 24 May 2016
In England after the Norman Conquest the worst insults you could throw were class insults. So long has feudal prejudice survived that we unconsciously echo the Anglo-Norman aristocracy when we use ‘villainous’ (from villien) and ‘churlish’ (from ‘churl’).
The churl of the 1300s might have reflected that, however miserable his life, it was not his fault that he had been born into servitude. His suffering was the result of an unjust society not a real reflection of his worth. No one shouts ‘churl’ or ‘rustic’ or ‘villien’ today. We live in a meritocratic country and feudalism is long gone except for a few gaudy spectacles around the monarch. So they shout ‘loser’ instead.