Anthony Horowitz

How on earth does Rishi Sunak keep going?

[Getty Images]

It’s my birthday this week and the end of my seventh decade (mathematicians will note that this does not make me 79). Looking at my long and generally happy life, I do wonder quite how we arrived where we are with this all-pervading sense of gloom and despondency. Gaza, Ukraine, Putin, Trump, Islamic State, Brexit… whichever way you look, there’s something you don’t want to see. The doomsday clock now stands at 90 seconds to midnight, the closest we’ve ever been to complete annihilation. Happy birthday to me.

It’s not all bad though. Last week my son came home with a borrowed Apple Vision Pro, the wrap-around headset which retails at around £3,000. I put it on and took my first steps into the brave new world of augmented and virtual reality which, coincidentally, I described in my last Alex Rider novel. The experience is stunning. Non-existent switches floated in front of me but I could reach out and turn them on. A butterfly appeared and began to flutter around my kitchen. A wall slid open to reveal a vast desert with mountains and a full moon beyond. The butterfly settled on a rock at which point a massive dinosaur lumbered forward, examined it and then turned towards me… I was there, surrounded by it! The system may have its critics (its price, its weight), but these are early days and, quite honestly, I felt the same excitement that audiences must have experienced in 1888 when the first film ever made was screened, watching people walk in a garden for all of three seconds. With the Apple system, you can see films projected on to a screen the size of an office block and it makes me wonder if, ten years from now, people will still bother going to the cinema. Nobody will care if the bombs are falling or the planet is burning. That’ll all be happening somewhere else.

Perhaps that’s the danger. New technology is not just changing the world; it’s changing the way we behave as human beings. I’ve come to believe that social media may be the most destructive invention of modern times, flooding our lives with an unending stream of hatred and misery. Elon Musk has managed to turn Twitter, which I used to enjoy as a useful link to my readers, into a truly X-certificate experience. On 1 January, I deleted my account and can report an immediate and positive change in my sense of wellbeing. Ashes to ashes, Musk to Musk.

Hatred infests modern politics too. ‘Ruthless’, ‘bigoted’, ‘detested’, ‘toxic’, ‘lower than vermin’, ‘patently corrupt’ – one month’s reportage of the Tory party makes a putrid word cloud. It’s not enough for them to be voted out: they must be crushed. How on earth does Rishi Sunak keep going, I wonder, waking up day after day to all this? Those who know him say that the PM is a decent and serious politician who seldom stops work before midnight – but journalists and sketch-writers never give him a break. In a recent article Caroline Lucas (Green party) found him ‘sickening’ and ‘morally bankrupt’. Yes, we have to hold politicians to account but should we use language like this? And are we really to believe that they don’t have even a spark of humanity? If Labour do get into power, how long will it be before the pack turns and gets its teeth into Sir Keir? I give it six months.

And so to the oldest hatred of all. Last week I gave a talk at a London synagogue and before I began, there was the usual announcement about fire alarms and exits. Rather more alarming though was the warning that followed. In the event of a continuous tone, we would all be locked in, we were told. The implicit suggestion was that it was just possible that we might come under attack. I would never characterise the Gaza demonstrations as ‘hate marches’ but there is no doubt that they have helped to create a real climate of fear.

Recently, I met a friend who sits in the House of Lords: a genial, civilised man some years older than me. Strolling together, he mentioned to me that he found Israeli politics ‘nauseating’ and added that he would never forgive the ‘blitzkrieg’ perpetrated by the IDF. That single word really shocked me. ‘Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ is one of the UK government’s definitions of anti-Semitism. I said I was offended by this description, but he was unapologetic. What should I have done? Argued? Turned my back on him? Perhaps what struck me most was the sheer ordinariness of it all: a sunny day, a pleasant walk and, from a friend, this insensitivity. Well, I’m certainly not inviting him to my birthday lunch.

Anthony Horowitz’s new novel, Close to Death, is out on 11 April.