Nineteen Thirty-One

If the left didn’t find a constructive policy to tackle Britain’s economic problems at root, Leonard Woolf warned in the Political Quarterly in autumn 1931, the right would go on ‘triumphing until it has created conditions which almost inevitably result in violent revolution’. A global slump, soaring unemployment and a run on the pound had brought about the resignation of Ramsay Macdonald’s Labour Cabinet in August, swiftly followed by the formation of the emergency, cross-party National Government, which immediately pushed massive spending cuts through Parliament. More »

After Jammeh

The consensus among the European tourists interviewed by the international press at Banjul airport last week was that their evacuation from Gambia was an overreaction. ‘We just think it’s overkill,’ a man in holiday clothes said confidently. ‘Nothing will actually happen, Mr Jammeh will go, he’s using it as a bargaining tool, and it will be done peacefully.’ He shrugged. A woman with sunburnt skin widened her eyes. ‘In the hotel, everything was OK,’ she said. It was only on the transfer to the airport that they had seen people were leaving.

During the first weeks of January, as the outgoing president, Yahya Jammeh, refused to relinquish office, tens of thousands of Gambians left the country, bracing themselves for conflict. Regional troops gathered at the border. More »

On the Women’s March

The queue to get onto the train at Howard University subway station stretched all the way up the stairs and onto the street. As I approached, women began to turn around, looking at us and shaking their heads: ‘Don’t bother.’ I decided to walk the two miles to the National Mall. Washington DC is hard to navigate; it is laid out in a series of pinwheels designed to be difficult to invade, and many areas are geoblocked, turning the map on my phone into a blank. But there was only one direction that anyone was walking. Protesters held signs and wore ‘pussy hats’; pink, mostly handmade, with points on the top like cat ears. A lot of us were carrying clear plastic backpacks with granola bars and bottles of water; fabric bags weren’t allowed because they are too easy to hide a bomb in. More »

He won, won, won

A still from the 'Twilight Zone' episode that haunts Donald Trump

A still from the ‘Twilight Zone’ episode that haunts Donald Trump

On Thursday, Wayne Barrett died of lung disease in Manhattan. He had written about Trump’s business dealings for decades, mostly for the Village Voice, and for his book Trump: The Deals and the Downfall (1992), a portrait of a man who got ahead because of his willingness, at every stage of his career, to screw over anyone foolish enough to trust him. It was reissued last year as Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Deals, the Downfall, the Reinvention. More »

Pinter’s ‘American Football’

‘First we are going to cut it off, and then we are going to kill it.’ That was how Colin Powell described the battle plan he and his generals came up with for the war they were about to wage against Saddam Hussein’s army in 1991, and that is, more or less, what happened. ​

After the US A-10 tank-buster bombers known as Warthogs had finished off the Iraqi armoured brigades on the Basra Road, Harold Pinter, disgusted by the gratuitous carnage, wrote a poem called ‘American Football’. He sent it to several publications, including the London Review of Books, where I then worked. He had it faxed to the paper’s office on Tavistock Square. None of the editors much liked the poem, but because it was by Pinter there was some further deliberation, and as the afternoon ended we thought we’d defer the decision to the following morning. More »

Inauguration Day

As King Ubu from Queens makes ready to take the presidential oath of office, assuming the ‘leadership of the free world’ and the computer codes that unlock America’s nuclear arsenal, the Pollyanna in me would like to remind those hiding in their basements with an eight-year supply of protein powder and Green Giant corn niblets that when Ronald Reagan took office at noon on 20 January 1981, the prospect of an extremely right-wing B-movie actor and longtime shill for General Electric entering the White House was hardly less surreal and unnerving than what we face now. True, Reagan had served two terms as governor of California (1967-75), but we here in the Golden State are still digging ourselves out from under them 42 years later, during which time vast sums of money have been transferred from the state’s resources for health, infrastructure, education etc. to the wealthiest 5 per cent of individuals. More »

The Prince and the Ladybird

prince-charles-ladybirdHis Royal Highness the Prince Charles Arthur Philip George, Prince of Wales and nob of much else, has written a Ladybird book on climate change. Naturally, as with other tasks such as brushing one’s teeth and providing one’s urine sample, this is not a feat the dauphin has pulled off solo. He’s roped in Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth (FoE) and Emily Shuckburgh of the British Antarctic Survey for a spot of authorial toothpaste-squirting and flask-holding. Penguin, which owns Ladybird, apparently tapped seven specialists to wrestle with the 5000-word spider-written MS in order, as Roland White of Penguin put it, to ‘amend some of the more assertive language to ensure it was bulletproof’. More »

Earthquakes, continued

Antonio Tajani, a former spokesman for Silvio Berlusconi, was elected president of the European Parliament yesterday. He dedicated his victory to the people who died in the earthquake in central Italy last August. At 10.25 this morning, a magnitude 5.3 earthquake struck not far from Amatrice. There have been three more of equivalent size in the hours since (and 200 of magnitude 2 or above): an unprecedented phenomenon, More »

No Separate Queue for Cubans

‘We’re leaving,’ my Cuban friend N. told me in November. ‘We’re building a raft.’ I was shocked, partly because he planned to leave, partly because of the way he planned to do it. I consulted another friend, who’d spent several months in a coastguard team, hauling people out of the water when their rafts fell apart. ‘He’s mad,’ he said. ‘He mustn’t do it. Hardly any of them make it, it’s far too dangerous.’ I spoke to N. to try to dissuade him; he was unconvinced. He’d just had a phone call from Miami: a young neighbour had left a week or two before, the raft had reached the Everglades and some Miami-Cuban fisherman had spotted them and shown them where to land. They’d made it. More »

At the Gogol Centre

gogol-flyer

‘Can you speak Russian? No? So why go to the theatre when you can’t understand a word?’ My challenger (English) was incredulous that I’d asked one of the Russian helpers on the British Council tour, whose mother had been a principal dancer with the Kirov, to find me, if at all possible, a ticket to a play. There was a performance of Anna Akhmatova’s poetry, she’d told me. The legendary Alla Demidova would be performing; the director was Kirill Serebrennikov, a daring force in the Russian avant-garde; and it would be taking place in the Gogol Centre, a former warehouse designed in industrial cool with gorgeous Constructivist lettering that makes the word Гоголь look like the limbs of an Alexandra Exter puppet. More »

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