The changing of the guard at 10 Downing Street always creates opportunities for the commentariat. I don’t just mean it gives them something to talk about for the next week or two; it also provides a chance for reinvention and renewal.
Suppose you have been a relentless critic of Brexit for the past three years, convinced the British public made a catastrophic mistake. You’ve been pushing that line day in, day out, whether reviewing the papers for Marr or as a panellist on Politics Live. And let’s face it, you’re a little bit bored of hearing these same arguments coming out of your mouth. Well, the good news is, you can now change tack. You can join the Boris bandwagon and become a born-again Brexiteer.
In truth, I don’t expect Alastair Campbell, Matthew Parris and Carole Cadwalladr to buttonhole me in the Newsnight green room and say: ‘You know Toby, I’m beginning to think you were right all along.’ But some undoubtedly will. And the funny thing is, it won’t do their careers a jot of harm. (To read more, click here.)
Is Boris Britain's Trump? — In our latest podcast, James Delingpole and I discuss the new Prime Minister and ask whether this tsunami of soundness can sweep away Woke-us Dei (answer: probably not). To listen, click here.
Nothing is more guaranteed to bring Boris enthusiasts out in hives than comparing him to Trump. It sounds like – and in many ways is – a typical Remainer smear. The new Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is witty and self-deprecating, not attributes that spring immediately to mind with the US President. What’s more, Boris has a thick mop of blond hair that Trump would kill for.
But before we get too hot under the collar, it’s worth pointing out that the US President isn’t the caricature he’s portrayed as either. Those suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome portray him as a homophobe, a misogynist and a white supremacist. But that’s not a view shared by the American electorate.
Fourteen per cent of LGBT voters in 2016 cast their ballots for Trump, as did a third of Hispanics, a majority of white women and more African-Americans than voted for Mitt Romney. And, for the most part, those voters have had nothing to complain about since. (To read more, click here.)
I first set eyes on Boris Johnson in the autumn of 1983 when we went up to Oxford at the same time. I knew who he was since my uncle Christopher was an ex-boyfriend of his mother’s and he had told me to keep an eye out for him, but I still wasn’t prepared for the sight (and sound) of him at the dispatch box of the Oxford Union. This was the world famous debating society where ambitious undergraduates honed their public-speaking skills before embarking on careers in politics or journalism, and Boris was proposing the motion.
With his huge mop of blond hair, his tie askew and his shirt escaping from his trousers, he looked like an overgrown schoolboy. Yet with his imposing physical build, his thick neck and his broad, Germanic forehead, there was also something of Nietzsche’s Übermensch about him. You could imagine him in lederhosen, wandering through the Black Forest with an axe over his shoulder, looking for ogres to kill. This same combination—a state of advanced dishevelment and a sense of coiled strength, of an almost tangible will to power—was even more pronounced in his way of speaking. (To read more, click here.)
I was surprised to see Gary Linker's name earlier today among the nine new visiting fellows appointed to Lady Margaret Hall, the Oxford College. Could it be because LMH Principal Alan Rusbridger shares Gary's views on Brexit? My take for the Spectator's Coffee House blog.
I have just returned from Minneapolis after attending the annual conference of the International Society for Intelligence Research. That’s ‘intelligence’ in the sense of general cognitive ability rather than spooks. It’s the third time I’ve gone, having been asked by the society to give a lecture in 2017 (a different journalist is invited each year to talk about how to improve the public understanding of the field). There are a lot of myths floating around about intelligence, such as the belief that IQ isn’t real. In fact, it is possible to measure intelligence using standardised tests, people’s scores don’t change much after childhood and they help to predict a huge range of lifetime outcomes, such as academic attainment, income, occupation, health, even how long you’re likely to live. The existence of a measurable intelligence quotient is probably the single most robust finding in the entire field of psychology, yet for some reason the public is more likely to believe in complete bunk that’s failed to replicate, such as growth mindset theory.
In retrospect, I feel a bit of a fraud for offering these academics advice about how to communicate their findings without becoming embroiled in controversy. Six months after my first lecture, I was targeted by a left-wing mob, in part because I’d written some supposedly outrageous things about intelligence. One of my sins, as enumerated at great length in the Guardian and elsewhere, was having attended an intelligence conference at UCL — not one organised by this society, I should say, but by the psychologist James Thompson, who was then hounded out of his university. (To read more, click here.)
Some of my Trump-supporting friends have been defending the President’s racist tweets by claiming that they’re clever politics. By forcing senior members of the Democratic Party, including the leading contenders for the Presidential nomination, to defend the four hard Left Congresswomen known as “the Squad”, he is tainting them by association. If they’re willing to stand up for people like Ilhan Omar, the Democratic Congresswoman from Minnesota’s fifth district, even if it’s for noble reasons, it will look as though the entire party stands behind all the idiotic things she’s said, including her anti-Semitic remarks.
I’m not convinced. First of all, that explanation attributes a degree of strategic calculation to the President’s social media activity that is just wishful thinking. As the American writer Jonah Goldbderg says, Trump tweets like an escaped monkey from a cocaine experiment. (To read more, click here.)
Fourteen years ago, almost to the day, Lloyd Evans and I received a note from Boris. It was the press night of Who’s The Daddy?, our play about the various sex scandals that had engulfed The Spectator in the previous 12 months, and we were terrified about how he’d react. As the editor of the magazine, he would have been within his rights to sack us, given how disloyal we’d been. We had portrayed him as a sex-mad buffoon with a portrait of Margaret Thatcher on his office wall that turned into a pull-down bed — in constant use throughout, needless to say. Not only that, but we’d sent up numerous other members of staff, including Kimberly Fortier, the publisher, Petronella Wyatt, the deputy editor, and Rod Liddle, the magazine’s star columnist. (Of the three, only Rod survives at The Spectator.) At that time, Lloyd and I were sharing the drama critic beat and if we’d behaved this badly at any other magazine we would have been crucified. How would Boris respond?
I’ll get to that in a minute, but first a bit of background. The Spectator found itself in the news in the second half of 2004 thanks to a string of scandals. First, Rod fell in love with Alicia Monckton, a 22-year-old staff member, and left his wife Rachel Royce, who vented her rage in the Daily Mail. Then the News of the World revealed that Kimberly was having an affair with the home secretary, David Blunkett. (To read more, click here.)