Orbán has been described by his biographer Paul Lendvai as a ‘master tactician, gifted populist’ and ‘radical and consummate opportunist’ – remind you of someone? Anyone familiar with Boris, however (and I was a close acquaintance for 25 years), will know that the parallels are misleading. Johnson isn’t a nationalist strongman in the Orbán mould. He’s a lot more cavalier than that.
In May, the leading British general in the anti-ISIS coalition in Iraq disputed White House claims of an increased Iranian threat. But the foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, sided with Washington against his own military officer on the ground. Unlike its European partners, Britain joined the US in swiftly blaming Iran for the subsequent attacks on Gulf shipping. And when Washington urged London to seize an Iranian oil tanker off the coast of Gibraltar this month, the British obliged.
‘Why had we come to the moon?’ the narrator of H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon (1901) asks. ‘The thing presented itself to me as a perplexing problem.’ The novel features in The Moon exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, alongside other books that anticipated the space age: Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and Lucian of Samosata’s True Story, written in the second century AD. It begins with a ship blown to the moon by a whirlwind; a war between Phaethon and Endymion ensues, enabled by giant spiders. Aubrey Beardsley was one of the illustrators of an 1894 English edition.
After Sir Kim Darroch resigned as the British ambassador to Washington last week, everyone from leader writers in the Times to George Galloway on Russia Today was quoting Sir Henry Wotton’s line about an ambassador being ‘an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country’. Wotton wrote it in Latin in 1604 in the album amicorum (a sort of early modern autograph book) of a German acquaintance, en route to the Republic of Venice for his first embassy: ‘legatus est vir bonus peregre missus ad mentiendum reipublicae causa.’ It isn’t a pun in Latin, unfortunately: the verb mentior means ‘lie’ as in ‘deceive’ but not as in ‘lie down’.
One evening last month, I joined a group of anti-Haftar militiamen on the outskirts of Tripoli. On the roof of a ruined villa, lanky young men scanned the front with a night vision scope. The air was heavy with the smell of sweat and rotten fruit. The LNA were three hundred metres away, on the other side of an olive grove hemmed by junipers. To our left, there were flashes of tracer-fire, the growl of heavy machine-guns and the crash of mortars. Hunkered behind a breezeblock wall, the commander on the roof was listening intently to a walkie-talkie he’d stolen from Haftar’s forces.
The British Museum is one of the world’s few encyclopaedic museums: it tells the story of how civilisation was built; it boasts seven million visitors a year and is committed to free entry; it holds a unique place of authority in the nation’s – perhaps the world’s – consciousness. A few days ago I resigned from its Board of Trustees.
My resignation was not in protest at a single issue; it was a cumulative response to the museum’s immovability on issues of critical concern to the people who should be its core constituency: the young and the less privileged.
This summer has for some time been looked forward to as a make-or-break moment for English cricket. With England and Wales hosting the World Cup and an Ashes series starting here in August, it should be the perfect opportunity to make cricket part of the national conversation again; to try and halt the decline in enthusiasm for, and participation in, England’s traditional summer sport.