May 2019


24 May 2019

Notes on the Indian Election

Tariq Ali

That Narendra Modi would win again was never really in dispute. The only question was whether the Bharatiya Janata Party would be forced to seek coalition partners in the Lok Sabha, or repeat its astonishing success of 2014 and govern alone. The main opposition, the Congress, turned the campaign into a referendum on Modi. Could the tea-seller’s son, they asked, an untutored, uncouth, bigoted, small-town petit-bourgeois (who can’t even speak English) be trusted again? India’s electorate has now provided the answer. They love their Modi. The BJP-dominated alliance has 351 seats, the Congress alternative 95. Another landslide victory for the orchestrator of pogroms against Muslims. Hardly a surprise that Modi, Trump and Netanyahu share electoral affinities.


22 May 2019

Milkshakes and Other Disagreeable Anointings

James Butler

The recent spate of milkshake protests against the far right began in Warrington on 2 May. A young Asian man was being harassed by Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (a.k.a. ‘Tommy Robinson’, formerly of the BNP and EDL, now Ukip). As henchmen bristled around him, he defended himself with what came to hand. Yaxley-Lennon got another dousing in Wigan the next day, and Nigel Farage caught a banana and salted caramel coating in Newcastle earlier this week. Various professional hyperventilators have decried the apparent coarsening of British politics and predicted a rapid skate down a slippery slope. But this form of grassroots censure has a long history. George Eliot wrote of Mr Brooke being ‘disagreeably anointed’ under a ‘hail of eggs’ while campaigning in Middlemarch.


21 May 2019

Thinking inside the Box

Gill Partington

d.p. houston’s poetry collection Boîte de Vers is completely unreadable, but not in the sense that it’s bad. It could well be, but I have no idea because it comes in a sealed box.


20 May 2019

You win or you die

John Lanchester

Game of Thrones is arguably responsible for a quarter of my not being able to speak Spanish. Has it been worth it?


17 May 2019

Power Plays

Benjamin Markovits

The first mistake I made when I joined the basketball team in Germany was admitting I spoke the language. It would have been weird not to – it would have been very weird. But sometimes over the course of the year, I imagined what it would be like for people around me (coaches, players) to talk naturally with each other in the expectation that I couldn’t understand them. It would have given me an edge.


16 May 2019

Drawn from Life

Gillian Darley on Margaret Gillies

The Report of the Children’s Employment Commission, published in 1842, was compiled by Dickens’s friend Richard Henry Horne. The result of a three-year investigation, it was unprecedented, not merely for the level of shocking detail and first-hand evidence, but because it was illustrated. And most of the 26 images were by Gillies.


15 May 2019

Safe, Solid and Unquestionable

James Butler

Saturday’s Times carried on its front page a protracted complaint by the headmaster of Stowe School that Oxbridge was actively discriminating against the beneficiaries of private education, and that any complaint about the staggering overrepresentation of the privately educated in every avenue of British life was born of the same reasoning as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. It was a particularly inept rendition of a favoured right-wing talking point: that any analysis which talks in terms of groups or classes is already merrily chugging along to the gulag, with precious individuality flattened under its wheels.


13 May 2019

The Measles Scandal

Hugh Pennington

In 2004 I described the basis of attacks on the MMR vaccine as ‘unsubstantiated speculation masquerading as science’, and finished the piece: ‘I despair.’ Measles is now busier in Europe than it was fifteen years ago.


10 May 2019

Incredible Untrue Events

Jeremy Bernstein

Trevor Nunn’s movie Red Joan, starring Sophie Cookson and Judi Dench, claims to be ‘based on incredible true events’, namely the life of Melita Norwood. But the story told by the film is so far from the truth it’s nonsense.


9 May 2019

Istanbul returns to the polls

Julian Sayarer

On 31 March, Ekrem İmamoğlu of the opposition Turkish Republican Party (CHP) was elected mayor of Istanbul at the head of a National Alliance coalition. He was sworn in on 17 April, but removed from office this week when the Supreme Electoral Council announced that the vote will be re-run on 23 June.

İmamoğlu and the CHP will not have been unprepared for the decision. In a city of more than fifteen million people, he defeated the AKP candidate, Binali Yıldırım, by 23,000 votes at first tally. The government ordered a recount. To protect against tampering, polling station officials – supporters not of İmamoğlu so much as of Turkish democracy – slept next to the sacks of ballots waiting to be recounted. İmamoğlu’s majority was reduced to less than 14,000. But he had still won


9 May 2019

Another Day in the USA

Eliot Weinberger

Grass Valley is a small town in the California Sierra Nevadas, and every year the Grass Valley Charter School Foundation holds a fundraising fair, the Blue Marble Jubilee, that celebrates planet Earth with folk music and activities for children, such as making paper butterflies and egg carton caterpillars. This year’s Jubilee was scheduled for 11 May.


8 May 2019

Beyond the Duck Houses

Eliane Glaser

Ten years ago today, the Telegraph began publishing, in daily instalments, the expense claims made by British MPs over the previous four years. The humiliating examples were laid out like the yard sale of a bankrupt family: digital radios, hobnobs, light bulbs, fluffy dusters, scatter cushions, ice cube trays and toilet brushes.


7 May 2019

Preliminary Squalls

James Butler · The Local Elections

Before the local elections last week, the Conservative Party had said that losing a thousand councillors would be a disaster. In the event, the collapse of the Tory vote was more than three hundred seats worse than that. The wipeout in Chelmsford left the Tory MP, Vicky Ford, in tears; at a gathering of Welsh Conservatives, the prime minister was greeted with active heckling, a rare choice for the Tory grassroots, who generally prefer to dissent in truculent silence. Andrew Mitchell, a former chief whip, was ‘surprised anyone was bothered to vote for us’. At the coming European elections, with the Brexit Party in contention, the faithful remnant may be yet further diminished.


3 May 2019

The Politics of Old Europe

Michael Sonenscher

British politics now looks more like that of Weimar Germany, postwar Italy or the France of the Third and Fourth Republics. It has become quite hard to believe that for much of the 19th and 20th centuries the properties of the elusive British constitution were a subject of sustained, serious and intense intellectual inquiry.


3 May 2019

The Battle for Tripoli

Tom Stevenson

On 15 April, President Trump made an unexpected phone call to Khalifa Haftar, a Libyan military officer and former CIA asset who has launched an attack on Tripoli with the aim of overthrowing Libya’s nominal ruling authority, the UN-backed Government of National Accord. According to a White House statement, Trump ‘recognised Field Marshal Haftar’s significant role in fighting terrorism and securing Libya’s oil resources’, and the two men discussed their ‘shared vision for Libya’s transition’.


2 May 2019

Beyond the Cornershop

Ian Patel

In the grey corner of north-east London where I grew up, there was a station, and by it, the closest among many, a newsagent. Like everything where we lived, the newsagent’s shopfront was unassailably urban and plain, a green plastic fascia and glass. The story went that a young woman, herself local, had entered the shop just after eleven o’clock one night. She asked for cigarettes. The owner, who was Gujarati, told her that he didn’t have a licence to sell cigarettes after eleven o’clock.


1 May 2019

It wasn’t personal

James Butler

I remember the Admiral Duncan bombing through the media coverage: footage of fire engines and a policeman with a bloodstained shirt on the Nine O’Clock News that evening; the gouged-out front of the bar in grainy newsprint photos the next day. And I remember thinking: ‘They really hate gay people.’ It’s the kind of awkward thought you have on the cusp of adolescence: ‘they’ is hard to define, but it’s large, out there and armed; and ‘gay people’, you are beginning to sense, however scrupulously you may draw the third-person boundary in speech, includes you.