The latest round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent Security Council members and Germany) held on Friday and Saturday in Almaty promised much. Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, had described the previous meeting (in February) as a ‘turning point’ and the foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, had said negotiations were ‘on the right track and moving in the right direction’. Western diplomats, too, had expressed quiet confidence.
Which was perhaps foolish. We have been here many, many times during the eleven years that this saga has rumbled on, and, sure enough, the latest round of talks broke down with each side blaming the other for the lack of progress. No common ground was reached; there wasn’t even an agreement to meet again for more talks. More »
There are a few hundred outsourced workers at Senate House and other University of London buildings in Bloomsbury, including the intercollegiate student halls. Most of the caterers are employed by Aramark; the cleaners, security guards and maintenance by Balfour Beatty Workplace, the services arm of the construction giant. Most are immigrants; from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and, overwhelmingly in the case of the cleaners, Latin America. More »
Margaret Thatcher once said that her greatest political achievement was New Labour. Tony Blair said today she was a ‘towering figure’, ‘genuine leader’ and ‘generous-spirited’ person who was ‘rightly admired’ and will be ‘sadly missed’; and though they disagreed on ‘certain issues’ he thought his ‘job was to build on some of the things she had done rather than reverse them’. Twenty-five years ago he wrote in the LRB:
What makes things even worse for radical, progressive spirits is that the Ultra-Right appears to be even more in control of the Conservative Party this year than it has been previously. Mrs Thatcher clearly regards herself as a dea ex machina, sent down from on high to ‘knock Britain into shape’. She will wield her power over the next few years dictatorially and without compunction. On the other hand, there is a tremendous danger – to which Dr Owen has succumbed – in believing that ‘Thatcherism’ is somehow now invincible, that it has established a new consensus and that all the rest of us can do is debate alternatives within its framework. It is essential to demythologise ‘Thatcherism’. More »
You never know what might happen when you write for the LRB. A recent piece of mine has caused a bit of a stir – unwittingly, so far as I am concerned. I was reviewing Calder Walton’s Empire of Secrets, which is about the part played by the British secret services in decolonisation. One of the questions is whether they got up to any dirty tricks. One that is sometimes attributed to them is the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Congo, in 1961. Walton doesn’t rule this out, but has found no evidence for it; so ‘at present we do not know.’ Then came the surprise: a letter from David Lea, who said that Daphne Park, the head of MI6 in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) at the time, told him a few months before she died in March 2010 that she had organised Lumumba’s assassination. More »
By now, if you’re British, you’ve probably taken the test based on a new study of social class for the BBC by Manchester University. If you’re not British, you won’t know what I’m talking about – just move along. The old three-class structure is irrelevant and outdated, the survey found. It’s too simplistic and no longer ‘nuanced’ enough. The new nuanced British class structure looks like this, with seven classes: the elite, the established middle class, the technical middle class, new affluent workers, emergent service workers, the traditional working class and the precariat or precarious proletariat, which comprises 15 per cent of the population. We’re all middle class now, except for 3/20ths of us, and they, it seems from their name, don’t know whether they’re coming or going. More »
Scottish Land and Estates, which represents landowners in Scotland, recently released a promotional video to tie in with its submission to the Scottish government’s Land Reform Review Group. The ten-minute film opens with a reassurance from Luke Borwick, the group’s chairman, that Scotland’s landowners aren’t all plutocrats: ‘The vast majority of our members are medium and small owner occupiers.’ As he speaks, the film cuts to shots of a couple strolling beside a massive country pile and an inebriated dinner party. This is Roshven House. Set on 50 acres near Fort William, Roshven is available to rent (for £11,000 a week).
Boredom’s use as a political weapon is underappreciated. It allows liberties to be filched by stealth, on the wild frontier beyond people’s attention span. Such is the case with Real Time Information (RTI), whose full ‘roll out’ starts with the new fiscal year on 6 April (it’s already being piloted). It’s been described as the biggest change to Pay As You Earn since 1944, when PAYE came in, but few people beyond payroll managers, employers and accountants have heard of it. Under RTI the tedium that shrouds any accountancy-related matter is compounded by the blandness of a clerical rejig. Instead of reporting payroll details to HMRC at the end of the tax year, as now, employers will be ‘invited’ (at two weeks’ notice) to join RTI, where the data are supplied to HMRC in ‘real time’. More »
You crazy people! I myself don’t know,
I just don’t know which way this is –
In straying to the black abyss,
To death itself, or paradise,
I’ll take you with me as I go.
Anna Akhmatova, Moscow, 10 October 1959 (afternoon). More »
I’m not one to talk. I know very well about the befuddling spell of clothes, the nature of desire fulfilled for just a moment by the perfect this or that, and then the need to find it again. What I want is the elegant, the perfectly simple and comfortable that tends to come at a bit of a price. It’s at this point that Buzz Bissinger – the writer, 20 years ago, of Friday Night Lights – and I part company. Though had I known about it we would have parted company when he endorsed Mitt Romney. He spends all he wants on clothes, and at a rate I could only nightmare about, but what he’s after is ‘rocker, edgy, tight, bad boy, hip, stylish, flamboyant, unafraid, raging against the conformity’. You don’t spend $13,900 on a Gucci ostrich skin jacket to achieve comfort. More »