This weekend will see thousands of people flocking to the Henley Regatta, many of them resplendent in stripy blazers. If previous years are anything to go by, we’ll also be treated to a barrage of complaints about Henley’s archaic dress code. “Jeans, shorts, denim or trainers are NOT acceptable,” says the official website. [Itals] No shorts?!? [itals] Many people think this is ridiculous stuffy in the 21st Century, particularly in weather as sweltering as this.
I’m a great believer in dress codes. Not because I have a particular reverence for the sartorial traditions associated with the English social season, but because they provide a perfect excuse for a pastime that is even more quintessentially British than donning a cravat to watch a boat race – namely, whinging. Defenders of dress codes can mutter about falling standards each year, particularly at Ascot, while sceptics can condemn the “golf club mentality” of the “petty martinets” who see it as their job to enforce them. A true Brit is never happier than when complaining about something – and ‘How to whinge’ should really be taught as one of the “British values” that schools are now required to include on the curriculum. (To read more, click here.)
Two months ago, I set myself the target of losing 11 pounds in time for the Spectator’s summer party on 1st July. To help achieve that, I swore off alcohol and, had I succeeded, my plan was to start drinking again at the party. Well, I managed the weight loss, but I didn’t make it to the party because it clashed with a Board meeting of the educational charity I set up five years ago. The upshot is I haven’t started drinking again and I’m now debating whether to remain tea total for the rest of the year.
Temperance has its advantages. I’ve experienced almost no headaches or stomach aches since I gave up the booze, although that may also be connected with my diet. I’ve cut out bread, biscuits, crackers, potatoes, pasta, ice cream and chocolate and tried to limit myself to about 1,000 calories a day. I’m permanently hungry and often gagging for a drink, but the upside is a sense of moral superiority when seeing my less abstemious friends, particularly when they’re washing down carbohydrates with copious quantities of wine. In his autobiography, Keith Richards relates that one of the few compensations of giving up heroin was watching the different emotions flitting across the faces of his former drug buddies when he declined to partake. First they looked shocked, then angry, then hurt, as if he was passing judgment on them – which, of course, he was. I know what he means. (To read more, click here.)
Press regulator IPSO has thrown out a complaint brought against the Telegraph by an ex-editor of the Economist for publishing a review I wrote of his pro-EU propaganda film The Great European Disaster Movie. You can read the original article here and IPSO's judgement here.
Few things are more likely to provoke the disapproval of the [itals] bien pensant [itals] Left than criticising someone else’s grammar. The very idea that one way of speaking is more “correct” than another is an absolute anathema to them. Under the guise of being helpful, it asserts the supremacy of the white educated bourgeoisie and seeks to rob the working class and ethnic minorities of any pride in their own culture. It’s a form of “linguistic imperialism”.
This explains the tidal wave of hostility that engulfed Michael Gove earlier this week after he issued some letter-writing guidance to officials in the Ministry of Justice. Typical Gove, eh? First he tries to impose his narrow, right wing view of British history on the nation’s schoolchildren and now he’s telling senior civil servants that they should all write exactly like him. Time to stick his head in the stocks again and reach for the rotten tomatoes.
I first became aware of Gove’s latest “outrage” via the reaction on Twitter and Googled his memo expecting to find a detailed enunciation of grammatical principles so archaic they hadn’t been in use since the outbreak of the Second World War: “The particle ‘to’ and the infinitive form of the verb should not be separated… etc, etc”
Imagine my surprise, therefore, to discover that the vast majority of Gove’s “rules” weren’t grammatical at all, more of a beginner’s guide to how to write good English. For instance, he counsels against using too many adverbs, which “add little”. Nothing controversial about that. Indeed, it reminded me of Elmore Leonard’s third and fourth rules of good writing: “Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue” and “Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’… he admonished gravely”. (To read more, click here.)
I have some sympathy for the Murray siblings - both the Wimbledon champion and his older brother. Last week, their mother, Judy tweeted a picture of Andy with Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho, along with the words “The Special One with my Special One”.
“Thank you mum,” chided Jamie (the elder by a year), for her apparent favouritism. But it wasn’t long before Andy volleyed back with his version of events. “We all know you are number 1 son noobs,” he tweeted. “Best presents at Christmas, bigger bedroom, blame everything on me, etc.” In fact, he’s always credited his long-standing status as the number two son for his competitive spirit and success.
I know what it’s like to have a high-achieving older sibling, as well as a mother who is less than doting. My sister Sophie was two years ahead of me during our school years and while she won all the glittering prizes I was the class dunce. (To read more, click here.)
Since the election, eurosceptics have had little to cheer about. Yes, we’re finally getting that in/out referendum we’ve been agitating for, but we look increasingly unlikely to win it. The wording of the referendum question (Should Britain remain a member of the European Union?) means the europhiles will be able to campaign for a “yes” vote; the government has announced that the “purdah rules” will be relaxed, allowing ministers and officials to make pro-EU announcements during the campaign; and the polls suggests the “yes” side is beating the “no” side by about 55 per cent to 45 per cent at present.
There’s a warning buried in the detail of the new report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission looking at why top companies employ so few applicants from comprehensive schools: “Though this study provides valuable insights into barriers to the elite professions, there are nevertheless some limitations associated with the chosen research methodology. As a small scale qualitative study, the aim is to explore issues and generalisability is limited.”
Unfortunately, most of the pundits who’ve commented on the report so far haven’t read this caveat. “New research… reveals the privileged choose and look after their own,” wrote Owen Jones in the Guardian. “They don’t like accents that sound a bit, well, ‘common’.” Grace Dent made the same point in the Independent: “The UK’s elite financial services and legal firms are reportedly operating a ‘poshness test’ that systematically locks out talented working class people.”
Well, I’ve read the report and it contains little hard evidence that high-paying professions are discriminating against applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds. (To read more, click here.)
Just before Jeremy Corbyn made it on to the Labour leadership ballot, Ladbrokes were offering odds of 100 to one against him winning. Now, they’re down to 20 to one and falling. I wish I’d had the foresight to get on that sooner. By September he could well be the favourite. At least, he could if I have anything to do with it.
With the first televised Labour leadership hustings being broadcast tonight, I’d like to take this opportunity to endorse the #ToriesForCorbyn campaign. I can’t claim credit for this hashtag – that honour belongs to Marcus Walker, the associate director of the Anglican Centre in Rome – but I will certainly do my best to promote it. As the Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson pointed out on Twitter yesterday, Labour’s new electoral rules mean that all members, registered supporters and affiliated supporters who join before 12pm on the 12 August can vote in the leadership election. The cheapest option is to become a “registered supporter”, which you can do here for £3. Once signed up, you can play your part in ensuring Labour remains out of power for a decade. (To read more, click here.)
I’ve been reading Fire and Ashes, Michael Ignatieff’s account of his disastrous foray into politics, in an attempt to understand where it all went wrong for Ed Miliband. In combination with Patrick Wintour’s long post-mortem in the Guardian, in which he talks to many of the people in Miliband’s inner circle, it’s extremely illuminating.
For those unfamiliar with his story, Ignatieff is a left-wing Harvard professor who in 2004 received a surprise visit by three “men in black” – high-ups in the Liberal Party of Canada who sounded him out about making a run for the leadership. Beyond working on Pierre Troudeau’s Presidential campaign as a student in 1968, Ignatieff was a political virgin, but the three fixers thought that might be an asset because it meant he wasn’t tainted by the party’s bitter sectarian in-fighting or recent financial scandals. Ignatieff said “yes” and after being elected to the Canadian House of Commons in 2006 became the Leader of the Opposition two years later.
He was a disaster. In the 2011 general election, his party lost 43 of its 77 seats, finishing in third place, while Stephen Harper’s Conservatives won an overall majority. It was the worst result the Liberals had ever recorded and Ignatieff was the first Canadian Leader of the Opposition to lose his seat since 1878. (To read more, click here.)
The 2015 General Election may be over, but the political fallout is still very much raining over the UK. With David Cameron now starting to build his new empire with some heavy handed tactics regarding Europe, a large portion of the country are now asking the obvious question, how did we get into this position?
However, that's not the only question the country is currently pondering. Will we stay in the EU? How is the deficit going to be redressed? As well as making great fodder for those engaging in pub debates, these uncertainties have given online odd makers and gaming operators a wealth of events to hang their proverbial betting hats upon.
Of course, to know where you're going it's important to know where you've been and, if you want to speculate on the direction the country is headed, you need the answer to the original question, how did we get into this position?
To refresh your memories and show you exactly what the country did and didn't vote for, we've got a four-minute round-up of the 2015 General Election's highlights. Picking out all the best bits, this video should shed some light on why Mr. Cameron and the Conservatives are now calling the shots in Downing Street.
Indeed, was it Nick Clegg's zip wire antics that left the Lib Dems floundering? Was Ed Miliband's interview with Russell Brand a PR disaster? These questions (and many more) have been answered in this post-election breakdown and "should" give you a clue as to where we're heading in the coming months and years.