Why won’t Rishi honour our £1,000 bet?

When I interviewed Rishi Sunak in February, I told him I thought his Rwanda plan for ‘stopping the boats’ was an expensive, unworkable dud and offered him a £1,000 bet to be paid to a refugee charity that he wouldn’t get any asylum-seeker planes taking off before the next general election. To my surprise, the

Who has the worst voice in parliament?

For the first time in more than two decades we are dog-less, and the house feels horribly empty. Our Patterdale terrier, Bonnie, led a long, vigorous life but her balance had gone and her breathing was heavy, so we called the vet. Patterdales are little imps and Bonnie was ‘known to the police’. I never

The day Keir Starmer cried on me about his childhood

I have had a good idea. It may even be an important idea. See what you think. The other day I interviewed Keir Starmer for my weekly podcast, Rosebud. It’s so called because of the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane. Rosebud, you will recall, was the trade name of the sledge on which Kane, as

My Britney Spears Theory of Action

Every week I check the weather in Longyearbyen, the main settlement in Svalbard. It’s about as close as you can get to a gulag with a human face – a heap of wooden houses where around 2,000 people live. It has a couple of stores and restaurants, and even a very small university. Outside the

Tennis is sexy again

For 50 years, I’ve avoided wearing anything resembling formal tennis kit but in a rather lame way, I’ve been seduced by the current tenniscore fashion movement. Although tennis is my only sport, I’ve never owned whites, but a rather fabulous white – actually ecru – tennis ‘skort’ has arrived in the post. I only just

Wayne Rooney, the war buff

I blame Thierry Henry and I never blame Thierry for anything. He’s funny, charming and was a majestic footballer. But it was his outrageous handball assist for a France goal against the Republic of Ireland in 2009 that ushered in VAR – Video Assistant Referee – technology to rescue on-field refs from ‘clear and obvious’

I always judge a hotel by its club sandwich

As a child I was fascinated by the exotic names of certain cities: Havana, Rio de Janeiro and Los Angeles sounded so glamorous to me, and I was determined to visit them (which I eventually did). But never in my childhood musings did the country of Czechoslovakia join this roll-call of dream destinations. However, since

In defence of the EU

Eastern Europe is the graveyard of empires. Rome failed on the Danube, Napoleon on the Dnieper. The epic struggle between the empires of Austria, Russia and Turkey in the first world war ended with the destruction of all three and the fragmentation of eastern Europe, giving rise to the word ‘Balkanisation’. Driving through the Balkans

How on earth does Rishi Sunak keep going?

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…

Why the fuss over The Spectator’s sale?

This diary is late. Two months late. The columnists who missed my Evening Standard deadlines often had elaborate excuses. Mine is that I’ve been involved in working out who is going to own this magazine. We’ve seen some oddities in this particular drama. Those vehemently opposed to government interference in a free press suddenly calling

The BBC has an aura of entitlement

To W12 to be in W1A. The spoof TV series on internal BBC politics (one of that vanishingly rare UK television species – a comedy that’s actually funny) filmed a special episode for Red Nose Day. It poked fun at Lenny Henry’s final appearance as Comic Relief host after nearly 40 years at the helm.

Could Cameron take over the Tories?

My weekly appearance on the podcast How to Win an Election, which I do with Danny Finkelstein, Polly Mackenzie and Matt Chorley, had succeeded in avoiding embarrassment until last week when, in response to a listener’s question about politicians’ appearance, I was momentarily stuck for something to say about Keir Starmer. I should have remained

Why do people resent the theatre?

By chance, I was living in New York when John McPhee published his New Yorker essay ‘Brigade de Cuisine’. It was 19 February 1979. It caused quite a stir. McPhee described in lip-smacking detail a restaurant which was situated somewhere upstate. He inflamed the reader’s imagination by detailing how delicious the food was without revealing

Why would British universities want to be like Harvard?

A visit to Jerusalem last week reminded me of the enduring value of sociology as a discipline, despite its lamentable politicisation in recent times. The founders of sociology – I think especially of Max Weber – would have been fascinated by Israeli society. In their politics, Israeli citizens are deeply divided: there are 12 parties

My Keir Starmer fantasy

A work outing to Venice. Sweetpea (yes, her real name) has captained my ship, run my life, steered me from countless disasters for 15 years and she deserved a decent break. Luckily two of my oldest friends have an apartment in the city. Our first supper at Corte Sconta in the authentic Castello district was

When John Lennon took on Barry Humphries

Barry Humphries would have been 90 on 17 February. To commemorate his life, Radio 4 is broadcasting Barry Humphries: Gloriously Uncut that evening. For the programme, I recalled the joy of talking to Barry about the column he wrote for the Oldie. What a delight, too, it was to hear from the great diplomat Sir

Labour is right to ditch its £28 billion green pledge

My family despises war movies, so it’s way after Christmas that I get to see Ridley Scott’s dire Napoleon film. The most embarrassing scene is where Josephine lifts up her dress and tells Bonaparte: ‘If you look down you will see a surprise, and once you see it you will always want it.’ It strikes

The Trump farce is America’s tragedy

We’ve just found out the core message of Joe Biden’s re-election campaign. It is the same as his original election message: I’m not Donald Trump, who, if re-elected, will be Hitler 2.0. This is a message destined to inspire the Democrats’ base and MSNBC viewers but suffers from one obvious constraint. The truth is that

This week’s diary

Monday and Tuesday I gave over to two long conversations with Arvid Ågren, a Swedish biologist who wants to write a scientific biography of me. As the author of The Gene’s-Eye View of Evolution, he knows the subject inside out. Disconcertingly, he seems to have read every word I’ve ever written, and has an almost

Why Emirati ownership of The Spectator matters

George Osborne was originally meant to fill this slot. We were always rather mean to him when he was chancellor (deservedly so) so it pains me to admit what a good diary writer he is: always stylish, engaging, ready to spill some beans. He had agreed, but then suddenly pulled out, leaving us scrambling. Something