I can’t say I was surprised that Jeremy Corbyn had no hesitation in accepting the £125,000 salary and chauffer-driven car that comes with his new job. After all, this veteran campaigner against inequality was brought up in a seven-bedroom mansion and went to a private school. Like so many Labour leaders before him, it’s a case of do as I say, not do what I do.
As the son of a prominent left-wing intellectual – and brought up in North London, not far from Corbyn’s constituency – I witnessed this hypocrisy at first hand.
When I saw the footage of Corbyn singing the Red Flag at the end of he Labour Party conference, my mind was immediately transported back to Christmas Eve in the mid-1970s and a memorable supper party at the house of Anthony Crosland, then a Labour Secretary of State. (To read more, click here.)
Last week I went to a screening of Steve Jobs, the new biopic about the co-founder of Apple directed by Danny Boyle, and was impressed. It's structured like a three-act play, with each act set backstage at the launch of a new product – in 1984, 1988 and 1998 – and then unfolding in real time. Superficially, the film is about the gradual ascent of Apple (and Steve Jobs) as the dominant force in the personal computer industry, but beneath the surface it's about much more than that. As portrayed by Michael Fassbender, Jobs isn't just a common-or-garden perfectionist. He's neurotic, obsessive, driven, ruthless and almost inhumanly oblivious to the needs of others, including his own daughter. For Jobs, the perambulator in the hall isn't an enemy of promise, as it is for most ambitious people. He simply doesn't notice it.
Tim Cook, the current chief executive of Apple, has criticised the film for portraying his predecessor in an unflattering light, but that's only half-true. One of the subplots of Steve Jobs revolves around his complicated relationship with Steve Wozniak, the other co-founder of Apple, who – in the film, at least – resents the fact that his childhood friend attracts more attention than him. Wozniak questions Jobs's contribution to the development of Apple's products – "What is it that you do, exactly?" – and accuses him of hogging all the credit for what is, essentially, a collaborative enterprise.
But this doubting Thomas never really convinces. (To read more, click here.)
I wanted to let you know about the new issue of Spectator Life that’s out today – free with the latest issue of the Spectator. It’s my first issue in charge as editor and I’m pleased to say that one of our stories – a profile of Alan Yentob by ex-Newsnight producer Meirion Jones – has made it on to the front page of today’s Sun. It’s a great read. The Sun has splashed on the allegation that Yentob branded Meirion and his fellow producer Liz MacKean ‘traitors to the BBC’ after they publicly complained about the Beeb’s decision to pull the film they’d made exposing Jimmy Savile as a paedophile a year before he died. Yentob strongly denies saying this, but Jones’s source – a BBC colleague – claims to have heard it directly from Yentob’s mouth and sent an email to the Director General, which Jones has a copy of, complaining about Yentob’s remark. The Conservative MP Philip Davies has called for an investigation into the matter, so we may not have heard the last of it. (To read more, click here.)
My first reaction on reading the extracts from Lord Ashcroft’s muckraking biography of David Cameron in today’s Mail was, “It that it?” Ashcroft has been digging for dirt about the Prime Minister for the best part of five years, even luring Isabel Oakeshott away from the Sunday Times to wield the shovel, and all he’s been able to come up with is that he smoked cannabis with James Delingpole when he was a student and may have been present while someone else took cocaine at his house. And, of course, there’s the pig story.
I’m dubious about the pig episode and I’m better informed than most, having been a contemporary of Cameron’s at Oxford. I wrote about the Piers Gaveston Society for Vanity fair in 1995 and subsequently did a fair amount of muckraking myself about Cameron’s undergraduate antics for a drama-documentary I produced for Channel 4 called ‘When Boris Met Dave’. I turned this research into a piece about Oxford’s “decadent” dining societies for Harper’s Bazaar in 2009 that you can read here. (To read more, click here.)
Even I was taken aback when, during the election campaign, David Cameron pledged to create 500 new free schools if the Conservatives won a majority. Was he being serious? Five hundred is twice the number that opened during the last parliament and, to be frank, some of those probably shouldn’t have done. Two have closed already — the Discovery New School and the Durham Free School — and a few more will probably shut before 2020. Was this just intended as another negotiating chip for use in the coalition talks in the event of a hung parliament?
I don’t think so. I bumped into Cameron at a party in July and the first thing he said to me was that he wanted to keep the momentum of the free schools programme going. He’s in deadly earnest about it. When he retires in five years’ time, he wants to be able to point to 750 new schools as part of his legacy.
In spite of the teething problems, there’s no doubt it has been a successful programme to date. Yes, two have closed, but that’s quite a low rate of attrition considering that 255 are still open. And those that have opened are above average, according to Ofsted. A quarter of the free schools it has inspected so far are ‘Outstanding’, compared to just 10 per cent of schools overall. (To read more, click here.)
It’s no good. I’ve tried to resist it, but I’ve succumbed. I’m now a full-blown litter Nazi.
Whenever I leave my house, I make a point of taking a plastic bag with me so I can pick up litter. This is in Acton, mind you, so we’re talking a full-size bin-liner, not your common-or-garden Sainsbury’s job. Everything goes in the bag. Not just mean beer cans and cigarette packets – I’m talking about mucky stuff like wet newspapers, polystyrene takeaway containers and banana skins. I even pick up those little black plastic bags full of excrement that conscientious dog owners carefully place beside trees or hang on railings.
My children are mortified by this behaviour. They usually try and physically restrain me, pinning my arms to my side, or, failing that, run ahead, shouting, “Ergh” and “Yucky”. They’re right to be embarrassed. I often attract queer looks from passers-by, who aren’t used to seeing middle-aged men in suits bent double over the pavement, manically trying to scrape a wet tissue off the asphalt. I’ve become so obsessed, I’m thinking about buying one of those industrial machines that street cleaners use to remove chewing gum from the pavement. (To read more, click here.)