An Inadequate and Outstanding Hospital

In Yes Minister, ‘one of the best run hospitals in the country’ turns out to have a major advantage: it has no patients. This week, the Care Quality Commission said that the hospital I work at, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, is ‘inadequate’, despite acknowledging that the care provided to patients is ‘outstanding’, with one of the lowest standardised mortality rates in the UK. This outstanding hospital is so inadequate that it’s been placed in what are euphemistically termed ‘special measures’. More »

Distinct British Institutions

As we know from William Hague’s career-trouncing baseball cap boo-boo, a Conservative leader has to be very careful what he puts on his head. Lord Ashcroft’s allegation, serialised in the Daily Mail and denied by the Tory party, that as part of David Cameron’s initiation into the Piers Gaveston Society, the future prime minister got it on with a dead pig, testifies maybe to a youthful lack of judgment, or perhaps simply to a dearth of sexual partners in Oxford in the 1980s. Whatever the reason, and regardless of the facts of the matter, the vision rears up of Dave tuxed and red-cheeked, breeches at half-mast and a bristly ear in each fist, pounding the snout with his symphysis. More »

I am not General Beg

In June, I received an invitation to the Second International Congress of 17,000 Iranian Terror Victims, to be held in Tehran at the beginning of September. The email was addressed to General Mirza Aslam Beg, the former head of the Pakistani army. I wrote back to say that, although in no way affiliated with the armed forces of Pakistan, I’d like to come. Four days later I got my own invitation and a promise to arrange my visa. More »

Goodbye to a Bookshop

In Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop, published in 1978 but set in the late 1950s (and based on her experience in a Southwold bookshop), Florence Green decides to open the only bookshop in Hardborough, a place with no fish and chips, no cinema, no laundrette, an ‘island between sea and river’. Ripping Yarns, the Highgate bookshop which will close on Sunday, is on a sort of island too, between Highgate Village and Muswell Hill. More »

Labour’s Future

Upsets don’t come much bigger than Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour party leadership, so it’s unsurprising that Sadiq Khan’s triumph over Tessa Jowell to be the party’s candidate for London mayor has been overlooked. Londoners won’t go to the polls until next May, but the ballot will be a defining moment for the Corbyn project in opposition, and the first significant bellwether of the likelihood of a Labour government, of some kind, four years later. More »


Had​ ​I put £1000 on a Tory​ ​Parliamentary​ ​majority​ ​in March​, when the odds of that​ ​outcome​ ​were​ ​rated as low as​ ​100-1, I’d have made £100,000.​ Had I then placed my winnings on Jeremy Corbyn to win the Labour Party leadership at the start of the contest, when he was a 200-1 outsider, I would have found myself on 12 September with £20 million. But I didn’t: Cameron and Corbyn’s victories may have made someone a fortune, but it wasn’t me.

Those two elections have another winner, someone who has run no campaign but has recently returned to a position of power after four years away from the job. No prizes, no bets on who that is: More »

In Golgonooza

jerusalem frontispiece

The frontispiece to Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’.

Two years ago, I counted 64 cranes from the top of Primrose Hill; now I count 96. Words attributed to William Blake are carved in stone on the hill’s summit: ‘I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun, I saw him on Primrose Hill.’ They were recorded by the poet’s friend, Henry Crabb Robinson. Blake told Crabb Robinson that God had spoken to him: ‘He said, “Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?” “No,” I said, “that” – and Blake pointed to the sky – “that is the Greek Apollo. He is Satan.”’ More »

Undermining the Unions

As soon as Ed Miliband was elected Labour leader in 2010, political commentators argued he had only won because of the ‘union vote’. (In the final round of voting, Miliband won 46.6 per cent of MPs’ votes, 45.6 per cent of party members, and 59.8 per cent of affiliated union members.) The line was repeated over and over by Tory frontbenchers. In 2013, David Cameron told Miliband that the unions ‘own you, lock, stock and block vote’, even though John Smith had abolished the union block vote in 1993. More »

In Parliament Square

‘Some people are going to have a problem with that flag,’ a man said to me as we marched down Piccadilly on Saturday. He was talking about the flag of the Syrian National Coalition: green, white and black, with three red stars. A Syrian refugee recently arrived in Britain, he said the flag didn’t represent Christians or Kurds, and that he hoped the protesters ‘support all civilians’. More »

Everyday Corruption

The huge blast at a chemical factory in Tianjin on 12 August, which killed around 150 people, was China’s worst industrial accident for several years. Since then there have been two more explosions in Shandong province, and now another in Zhejiang province on Monday. There have been at least 38 explosions so far this year at chemical plants, firework factories and mines. Among the causes are a lack of oversight, local corruption and attempts to boost profits by employing less qualified workers or ignoring safety protocols. These problems are endemic to most areas of the Chinese economy, whether it be food provision, the rail network or domestic tourism, all of which have seen serious accidents or health scares in recent years. More »

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