2 July 2005
The Spectator was established in 1828, and is the oldest continuously published magazine in the
English language. The Spectator’s taste for controversy, however, remains undiminished. There is no
party line to which The Spectator’s writers are bound - originality of thought and elegance of expression are the
sole editorial constraints.
The trial issue contains a “Thought Crime Special” with articles from Melanie Phillips,
“I think, therefore I’m guilty”; Christopher Booker writes about
“Scientists in hiding; the demonisation of academics who question the consensus”; Alan Rusbridger explores
“How to stifle the press” and how England’s libel laws make it easy.
UK politics come under scrutiny from
James Forsyth, Brendan O’Neill ponders if teenagers could ever be
“Drunk and orderly”; while
Tom Hollander writes his diary and
James Delingpole says
eat local organic food if you like, but don’t kid yourself that it’s ‘green’.
The Spectator’s regular arts coverage includes
1. Alex Massie: Boris’s Scottish holiday from hell
Boris Johnson is far from being the first prime minister to holiday in Scotland, writes Alex Massie, but he may be the first to holiday north of the Tweed as a matter of political calculation. The problem is that opinion polls now suggest that if an independence referendum were held next month, Scotland would vote ‘yes’. Scotland has a five-party political system but one of these parties, the SNP, commands the loyalty of nearly 50 per cent of voters. Sturgeon could shed a fifth of her support and still dominate the political landscape. It doesn’t matter that the SNP have not, as yet, formulated convincing answers on matters of finance, currency, and much else besides. It is a question of identity, not economics. As such, it’s hard to argue or campaign against. The catalyst — what has turned public opinion in Scotland into a small but fairly consistent majority for independence — is Covid. Just 21 per cent of voters in Scotland think Johnson has done a good job handling Covid-19, whereas 74 per cent think Sturgeon has done well. Even Scottish Tory voters, by a margin of 44-38, give the First Minister a passing grade. Boris Johnson is duty-bound to ignore any demand for a second referendum, even if the SNP win their projected big majority at next year’s Holyrood elections, but saying ‘No’ is not a strategy for the long-term. At some point, the political and moral pressure to concede a fresh plebiscite on independence will prove irresistible. Enjoy your holiday, Prime Minister.
2. Freddy Gray: the many sides of Kamala Harris
It’s easy to forget that only last year Kamala Harris was considered a favourite to win the Democratic presidential nomination. ‘She’s got major ovaries,’ said one supporter. The media praised for attacking Joe Biden – now her running mate – for his record on race relations. But voters just didn’t warm to her so she dropped out of the race in December. However just because she was a bad presidential candidate does not necessarily make her a bad running mate for Biden. As far back as 2010 Democrats have been puffing Harris as a sort of female Obama. They are both the mixed-race children of immigrants, raised by single mothers. In the Democratic party, where identity politics matters, that counts for a lot. Harris’s critics on the left believe her past as a brutal prosecutor may put off African-American voters for whom criminal justice reform is still an important issue, yet that’s precisely why she might prove a shrewd vice-presidential choice. She presents the Republicans with a dilemma. Trump wants to show Biden to be an old fool who will let the radical left take over, but it will be hard for them to paint Harris as soft on criminality. At the same time, Trump wants to increase his share of the African-American vote and may be tempted to attack Harris for incarcerating vulnerable black men. But that would mean sending out contradictory messages to the electorate.
3. Mark Honigsbaum: the truth about bats
Bats are a highly adapted kind of mammal, writes Mark Honigsbaum. They can tolerate a wide range of viruses that, in other animals, would cause a dangerous or deadly bodily response. This is bad news for us: bats can harbour thousands of coronaviruses like Sars-CoV-2, and they make up a fifth of all the mammals on the planet, so there may be as many as 13,000 other coronaviruses waiting to be discovered. All it takes for humans to pick up a novel coronavirus is contact with an infected animal. Spillovers happen all the time, and as many as seven million people in south-west China could be infected with bat coronaviruses right now. More worrying are the other kinds of virus that a bat can carry, which have been blamed for the 2014 ebola outbreak. In the interests of preventing future pandemics, deforestation should be reduced and wild animal trade more strictly regulated.
4. Kate Andrews: Britain’s recovery position
The UK looks set to lose the Covid recovery race, says Kate Andrews. The economy is now nearly a fifth smaller than it was at the start of the year. Almost no other western country has been hit so badly in this way by the virus, because a service-heavy economy like ours can’t bear such stringent social distancing measures. The longer Britain struggles out of lockdown, the less likely it is to achieve a V-shaped recovery. Sweden’s Covid death rate was nearly as bad as ours but its stock markets are almost back to normal. Westminster is distracted from economic recovery by local lockdowns, the criteria for which are still uncertain, making business planning even more tremulous. Britain might not face a second wave of the virus but it will have to weather one of unemployment – the current rate of 3.9 per cent is only a technicality, resting on the impermanent furlough scheme. The government can’t control the virus, but it does decide the coherency of our response, and confidence to spend can only be restored with a proper test and trace system. The story of Britain’s economic recovery can still be written.
5. Paul Wood: who’s really in charge in Beirut?
The mood in Lebanon is for revolution, writes Paul Wood. Following the Beirut explosion, the Lebanese people are united behind a common goal to overthrow an old, malevolent system. This is the last in a series of galvanising events: corruption was protected by the sectarian division of power in Lebanon, but economic and health crises were pulling factions together even before. Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his entire cabinet have already resigned, but many believe that real power lies with big figures from the civil war or their sons. Blame is falling squarely on Hezbollah, suspected of stockpiling ammonium nitrate for use in attacks outside of Lebanon. But even Hezbollah is calling for ‘Lebanese unity’, as is the Iranian media, critical of the British Royal Navy’s ‘aid’. Is now the right time for the West to re-enter Middle Eastern affairs? Hezbollah is backed by 40 per cent of the population, and it would be tough to ensure that international aid was not stolen. Lebanon must either break free of its past or return to the unease of the Taif agreement.