Portrait of the Week: Starmer’s first steps, Biden’s wobble and Australia’s egg shortage

Home Sir Keir Starmer, the Prime Minister, appointed several ministers who are not MPs, but will be created life peers. Most cabinet posts went to MPs who had shadowed the portfolios, but as Attorney General he appointed Richard Hermer KC, a human rights lawyer, instead of Emily Thornberry, who said she was ‘very sorry and surprised’. James Timpson, the shoe-repair businessman and prison reformer, was made prisons minister. Sir Patrick Vallance was made science minister. The former home secretary Jacqui Smith became higher education minister; Ellie Reeves, the sister of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, became minister without portfolio. The government dropped the phrase ‘levelling up’. The Chancellor

Le Pen is still the biggest winner in France’s elections

Ignore most snap verdicts from last night – the big winner in the French parliamentary election was still Marine Le Pen, whose third-place finish was perfectly placed. True, egged on by polls showing it on the verge of an absolute majority, the Rassemblement National (National Rally) over-promised and underdelivered. But, in the topsy-turvy world of French politics in 2024, to lose was to win. Dirty work is about to be done at the Elysée Le Pen fought a competent campaign and her voters aren’t blaming her for failing to take the top of the podium. She’s demonstrated again that she’s highly resilient. Not achieving a majority has done her a

How Marine Le Pen rebranded herself

Marine Le Pen was called a ‘bitch’ this week and threatened with sexual violence. It’s what passes for rap music these days in France. The threats won’t unduly concern Le Pen. She’s experienced worse. When she was eight, far-left extremists tried to kill her and her family with five kilos of dynamite. The Le Pens survived, but their Paris apartment didn’t. Say what you like about the leader of the National Rally, and many do, but Marine Le Pen is a tough cookie. She was assaulted on the campaign trail during the 2017 presidential election, a minor setback compared to her subsequent disastrous performance in the television debate with Emmanuel

Let’s start the new era with a glass of champagne

‘I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad,’ Madame Lily Bollinger (1899-1977) remarked. ‘Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory.’ As the last constituency results trickle in, we’ll all inevitably find ourselves in some combination of those four states. If you’re sad, I hope at least you have good company – and that you’re as well supplied with the great French spirit-lifter as I have been this week, with a busload of Spectator readers on a tour to Reims, Epernay and Aÿ. But I suspect you’ve also consumed more than enough media comment on the spectacle of second-rate politicians slime-wrestling,

Portrait of the week: an election looms, Joe Biden crashes and England wins

Home A general election shook the nation’s political snowglobe. Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, was able to stop stunts for the camera after making a bungee jump at Eastbourne. Before the election, Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister for the time being, commented on Channel 4 footage of a Reform UK supporter talking of him in racially abusive language: ‘My two daughters have to see and hear Reform people who campaign for Nigel Farage calling me an effing Paki. It hurts and it makes me angry.’ Reform UK made an official complaint against Channel 4 to the Electoral Commission, claiming that the supporter filmed was an actor. England beat

My nights with the eagle owls

Provence Summer has arrived. The evenings are warm enough to sit out on the balcony terrace and watch the lights come on in the village below. Each night at ten, the great limestone cliff, into which my little house was built, is floodlit for a couple of hours. On cue two huge baby eagle owls (fully grown wingspan 170cm) begin rehearsing for adulthood and flap clumsily, then majestically, around the rock, calling for their parents and terrorising the smaller nesting birds hidden deep within the crags and crevices. English women wearing broderie anglaise dresses, straw hats and anxious smiles drift about The annual migration of tourists has begun too. On

John Keiger

What the National Rally means for France’s foreign policy

The electoral turmoil in France threatens its status as a world power. Friendly nations are despairing; rivals and enemies are gloating, even circling. France is the world’s seventh-largest economic power, a prominent Nato member, a member of the UN Security Council and the EU’s leader on foreign and defence issues. It has the fifth largest strategic nuclear force and the fifth largest navy, a ‘tier one’ military and one of the highly effective ‘Nine Eyes’ intelligence services. Last year France was the world’s second largest arms exporter. It controls the third largest global undersea cables network and has the second largest coastal economic area, whose confetti territories give it a

Starmer’s Europe dilemma

13 min listen

As Europe comes to terms with the fallout from Marine Le Pen’s victory in the first round of their parliamentary elections, Cindy Yu talks to Freddy Gray and Katy Balls about what it all means for Keir Starmer. If he does win the UK’s own election on Thursday, he faces a European landscape that could be harder to navigate. What do the results mean for the UK and what reaction has there been? Produced by Cindy Yu and Patrick Gibbons.

Katy Balls, Gavin Mortimer, Sean Thomas, Robert Colvile and Melissa Kite

31 min listen

On this week’s Spectator Out Loud: Katy Balls reflects on the UK general election campaign and wonders how bad things could get for the Tories (1:02); Gavin Mortimer argues that France’s own election is between the ‘somewheres’ and the ‘anywheres’ (7:00); Sean Thomas searches for authentic travel in Colombia (13:16); after reviewing the books Great Britain? by Torsten Bell and Left Behind by Paul Collier, Robert Colvile ponders whether Britain’s problems will ever get solved (20:43); and, Melissa Kite questions if America’s ye olde Ireland really exists (25:44).  Presented by Patrick Gibbons.  

John Keiger

Macron’s power in Europe is draining

In Brussels over the last two days EU heads of state and government have been carving up the ‘top jobs’. France is represented by President Emmanuel Macron, whose party took a lashing in the European elections, diminishing further his international standing. By contrast, Marine Le Pen’s victorious Rassemblement National, now on track to win the 7 July general elections, was not present. When RN forms a government it will have to live with the consequences of the President’s decisions for at least five years. It is no coincidence, therefore, that on Wednesday night Marine Le Pen gave an interview opening the way to a constitutional struggle with the head of state

The shooting of Nahel Merzouk still haunts France

One year ago today, a 17-year-old called Nahel Merzouk was fatally shot by a policeman as he sped away from a vehicle checkpoint in western Paris. What followed shocked France. Days of rioting, looting and burning across the country. Not just in the inner cities but in provincial towns such as Montargis in central France, where a mob vandalised the town hall and pillaged scores of shops. ‘I still have people who almost a year later don’t want to come back to the centre because of the riots,’ said one shopkeeper this week. ‘They’ve been apprehensive ever since, traumatised, even though we’re a fairly quiet town.’ For millions of French

Gavin Mortimer

France’s ‘Somewheres’ want revenge

The builder who has been working on my house in Burgundy will be voting for Marine Le Pen’s National Rally on Sunday in the first round of the French parliamentary election. So will the electrician. I haven’t asked the plumber, but I suspect I know where his vote will go, given that his assistant is voting for Le Pen. My neighbour, a farmer, is voting Le Pen, as is a teacher acquaintance. The local policeman is also voting Le Pen. ‘What do I think of Macron?’ retorted the electrician. ‘Put it this way, he’s not my friend’ It’s not that surprising in this neck of the woods. The National Rally

France under Macron keeps getting worse

The warnings continue to come thick and fast in France about the disaster that could befall the Republic on 7 July if Emmanuel Macron and his government are not returned to power. From the celebrity world to the corporate world – including American investment bank Goldman Sachs – the belief is that France is doomed if either Marine Le Pen’s ‘union of the right’ or Jean-Luc Melenchon’s left-wing coalition is elected to government. Several former senior French politicians have joined the fear-mongering, among them Dominique de Villepin, who was Jacques Chirac’s centre-right prime minister in the 2000s before leaving politics for a lucrative career working with Qatar. In an interview

Meet the musicians trying to revive French-language pop 

The other day, I went to see a nouveau riot-girl band called Claire Dance play in a disused factory in Bagnolet on the edge of Paris. They were great: the kind of sonic kick in the nuts I’d been waiting more than a decade for an all-female band to deliver. I half-wondered whether it was just my own imperfect command of French that left me clueless as to their message. ‘C’était tout een eenglish,’ came the response from the guitarist afterwards. How come they never considered accompanying such emotionally charged music with lyrics in their mother tongue? ‘It’s considered cringe,’ she replied. ‘We only like English music.’ The alternative scene

Starmer and Le Pen’s similarities

Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call a snap election in France is turning out to be a blunder of Sunakian proportions. His second term as president lasts until 2027 and he could have struggled on with a hung parliament in which his was the largest single party. But when Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won 31 per cent of the vote in the European Parliament elections, to his party’s 15 per cent, he decided to call French voters’ bluff. In a parliamentary election, would they really back Le Pen and put in Jordan Bardella, her new 28-year-old party frontman, as prime minister? It is becoming clear that they may well do

Is France’s left-wing coalition more dangerous than Le Pen?

French and international media cannot break their fixation with the ‘extreme right’. They continue to target the Rassemblement National (RN) as the ultimate menace for the 7 July legislative elections. But as of Friday, a more potent threat to French political and financial stability has raised its head: the radical left-wing ‘New Popular Front’ (NPF). This coalition of greens, communists, socialists and Trotskyists dominated by the radical-left La France Insoumise party (LFI), surprised many by their agreement to field common constituency candidates and a common manifesto.   Following the bitter breakup two years ago of the radical left-wing NUPES coalition, prospects for a new agreement were slim. Something close to civil war had

Macron’s game: can he still outplay Le Pen?

45 min listen

This week: Macron’s game. Our cover piece looks at the big news following the European elections at the weekend, President Macron’s decision to call early parliamentary elections in France. Madness or genius, either way the decision comes with huge risk. And can he still outplay Le Pen, asks writer Jonathan Miller. Jonathan joins the podcast to analyse Macron’s decision alongside Professor Alberto Alemanno, who explains how the decision is realigning French politics, and argues it must be seen in its wider European context. (01:58) Then: Will and Gus take us through some of their favourite pieces from the magazine, including Catriona Olding’s Life column and Sam McPhail’s notes on Madri. 

How Miss La La captured Degas’s imagination

‘Can you come Saturday morning to my studio, 19 bis rue Fontaine?’ Degas wrote to Edmond de Goncourt in 1879. ‘From 10.30 to half-past noon, I will have my négresse and her partner who will come expressly to be at your disposal.’ Not content with dangling from a rope by her teeth, she suspended a 300-kilo cannon barrel from her jaw It’s not what it sounds like. The ‘négresse’ in question was Anna Albertine Olga Brown, stage name Miss La La, an aerialist at the Cirque Fernando who had been sitting – or more accurately hanging – in Degas’s studio for a painting for that year’s fourth Impressionist exhibition. As

My dreams of Jeremy Clarke

The other week my eldest daughter and I were staying with friends in Richmond for the launch of Jeremy’s third collection of Low Life columns. The night before the anniversary of his death – the day of the launch – I woke at 2 a.m. and unable to sleep was back in the cave holding Jeremy’s hand; machines clicking and beeping as his life ebbed unpeacefully away. He died at 9 a.m.  A few weeks after Jeremy died, I dreamt he walked into the house… he looked fit, strong and full of life At 9.05 a.m., in tears and still wearing a nightie, jumper and flip-flops, I ran downstairs, almost colliding with one

Second life: Playboy, by Constance Debré, reviewed

Playboy is part one of a trilogy that draws on the life of its author, Constance Debré. Part two, Love Me Tender, was published in Britain last year. The trilogy was inspired by Debré’s experience of leaving her husband, abandoning her career as a lawyer, and then losing custody of her child when she re-emerged as a lesbian (and a writer). In Love Me Tender we met a womaniser who referred to girls by numbers rather than their names; in Playboy, via her first female lovers, we witness her transformation into a queer Casanova. The novel is bold and brash and at the same time quietly controlled. Take this line: