A gripping podcast about America’s obsession with guns

The love affair between so many Americans and their guns – long a source of international fascination – appears to be getting more painfully intense. The greater the publicity over gun crime, the more Americans think they’d better acquire a firearm to keep themselves safe. There are now roughly 400 million guns in the US – but most citizens feel more unsafe than ever, and with some justification. Last year featured both the highest level of gun ownership in US history and the highest recorded number of mass shootings. This really is one to listen to in bed, in the pitch dark – even better, pretend you’re in a couchette

‘The potential for jeopardy’: Pullman Dining on the Great Western Railway, reviewed

I am lazy and nosy, and so I spend a lot of time on the GWR service from Penzance to London Paddington. Each journey is a play with a unique atmosphere. Some are seething, particularly in summer when an eight-carriage train cannot fit everyone who wants to swim in the ocean but dine in west London that same night. Some are non-committal; some restful. I rage at usual things: luggage in the disabled space, which is almost always occupied by the non-disabled, though they may be fat; videos played without headphones; young people swearing at older people because they grapple with a rage they cannot understand. You can measure the

Are we asking the wrong questions about HS2?

I am not sure there was much else Rishi could have done to salvage HS2. But I come bearing good news. There is no reason why HS2 cannot still be a great railway, even if it travels along the wrong route at the wrong speed and was constructed in the wrong direction to solve a problem which no longer exists. All you need to do is redefine what the railway is for. Perhaps it can be the right answer to a different question. A useful precedent for reinvention here might be what was originally called the Millennium Dome. Though hopeless at fulfilling its original purpose, once reinvented as the O2

Bernard Looney shows why every board should be braced for scandal

Bernard Looney, the fallen BP chief, always had a certain swagger about him. I’ve no idea whether he was unsafe in taxis, but he was certainly prone to unguarded remarks. ‘Not every barrel of oil in the world will get produced’ was a bold way, back in 2018, to introduce BP shareholders to the idea that the world’s energy giants will one day have to strand remaining carbon assets if they really intend to achieve net-zero targets. ‘This is literally a cash machine’ was not the best way to describe BP’s profit performance in November 2021, when British households were beginning to feel the pain of soaring energy bills. And

Just stop HS2!

I have two suggestions for HS2. Either stop it or make it stop. The spiralling cost and delays are reason enough to rethink the project, never mind the changes to patterns of rail use since 2021. Any economic case based on pre–pandemic projections needs to be revisited. So one option would be to stop the project completely. But what if the project goes ahead in a reduced form to save face? Well, in this case, the need for speed is questionable. The value of speed to passengers is far from linear. For instance, cutting a journey time from four hours to two, as the TGV did between Paris and Lyon, is

You think British trains are bad? Try German ones

I found Jean-Pierre standing at a half-open window gulping down lungfuls of stale Dutch air as our night train chuntered, unseeing, through an expectoration of towns: Zutphen, Eefde, Gorssell. He was 79 years old, he told me, and returning to Berlin for the first time in 61 years for a meeting with an old friend. Our steward made it absolutely clear he couldn’t give a stuff that there was no buffet car Back in 1962, Jean-Pierre had been a very young Belgian Jesuit employed in smuggling hard currency from West to East Berlin, which he did by stuffing the notes inside a plaster cast which covered his right leg. There

Gloves, tea strainers and a game of Monopoly… how the Great Train Robbery unfolded

We don’t know if the two teenagers who attempted a train robbery in Scotland this week knew that it was the 60th anniversary of the most famous one in British history. Given their failure – nothing was stolen and the charges include ‘malicious mischief’ – it seems unlikely. Either way, the train robbery of August 1963 remains secure in its title of ‘Great’. Why did it fascinate us so much in the first place? Partly it was the zeitgeist timing (that year also saw Profumo, Beatlemania and JFK’s assassination); partly the amount stolen (£2.5 million, worth more than £40 million today); and partly the narrative of ‘plucky underdogs vs the

Why Putin should watch his back

How secure is Vladimir Putin? His Presidential Security Service consists of 2,500 personnel, his Federal Protective Service of 50,000 troops and the National Guard, essentially his personal army, of 350,000. What could possibly go wrong? Roman emperors might have had a view. It was Augustus who invented the Praetorian Guard (27 bc), a personal, prestigious protection force of 9,000 men, based in Rome and accompanying him abroad. It did not start well. The second emperor Tiberius came within an ace of being displaced by his captain of the Guard Sejanus. The next (insane) emperor Caligula was murdered by conspirators, including a Praetorian, and the Guard hauled out a terrified Claudius

Bring back the railway restaurant car

It’s six o’clock and you’ve fought your way on to a train at a major London terminus. The carriage is rammed – heavily pregnant women, the stricken and the young stand in the corridors like it’s A&E – and everywhere people are diving into takeaways. The pungent egg and cress sandwich from Pret is bursting at the seams next to you; on the other side of the table there’s a lout blasting music from his phone speaker and eating the smelliest katsu curry money can buy. A pasty is crumbling down the front of a businessman going to fat on the far side of the aisle; another tubby businessman belches

Trains, planes and wheelchairs: why is this still a route to disaster?

Whenever I take a train journey, I am filled with dread. Despite always booking assistance, I am terrified there won’t be someone at my destination with a ramp to help me and my powered wheelchair on to the platform. Many a time has my travel companion – or a complete stranger – had to straddle the train and the platform to stop the train doors closing with me stuck inside. I have frequently arrived at my destination late and stressed, left with the impression that my time doesn’t matter. What on earth could I be late for – surely nothing important? So I have read with horror, but not surprise,

It’s time to clear out the Bank of England’s board

Liz Truss says she intends to review the Bank of England’s mandate, which has been fixed as a 2 per cent inflation target since Gordon Brown gave the Bank its independence in 1997. We’re told Governor Andrew Bailey, keen to keep his job, thinks a review is ‘probably the right thing’. But is it? A return to the long-term inflationary average of 2 per cent is highly desirable as soon as global price spikes subside – but if the odds-on next PM thinks the Bank incapable of achieving it, setting more dynamic inflation-and-growth objectives would surely be an overreach. Instead, maybe she should take her axe to the organisation, starting

The authoritarianism of British Transport Police

When our freedoms are being taken away we are like the proverbial frog boiled alive in water where the temperature is slowly brought to boiling point. Who batted an eyelid in June when it was reported that rail companies are drawing up plans to abolish paper rail tickets and have us all travel with e-tickets instead? Who picked up on today’s story that explains one of the reasons why the police are so keen to switch us to e-ticketing? Lucy D’Orsi, chief constable of the British Transport Police, says her force wants access to data from passengers’ mobile phones and bank cards so that it can track us around the

Who monitors the moralists?

If anyone was suitable to be the Prime Minister’s adviser on ministerial interests, it was Lord Geidt. Self-effacing, professional, unself-righteous but thoroughly proper, he could be relied on to do his job without an eye to attracting headlines, gaining Remainer revenge and similar modern temptations to which some officials succumb. Yet last week he resigned. It seems a good moment to ask whether the job is doable. Many will say that it isn’t, and blame Boris Johnson. It is undoubtedly true that any system based on rules comes under strain when confronted with Boris’s work methods. Last week, a horse called Etonian ran at Ascot. A newspaper reported that he

Abolish the railways!

As the country is held hostage once again by the rail unions, it’s time for the nation to ask itself: does it need trains at all? The last time anyone dared ask this question was 60 years ago when Dr Richard Beeching boldly closed more than 2,000 stations and 5,000 miles of track. The time has come to finish the job and shut down the rest of Britain’s viciously expensive, underperforming and fundamentally inefficient rail network. The economic reasons for doing so are irrefutable, no matter how the railroad anoraks might sputter. Originally private, then nationalised, then privatised again, then morphed into an odd hybrid in which tax subsidies are higher

The utter shamelessness of Britain’s rail unions

In what other industry could demand collapse by a tenth and yet the staff still think that they have a right to an above inflation pay rise and no job losses? Rail privatisation was supposed to put an end to union militancy and to relieve taxpayers of the financial risk of running the railways. Patently, it has achieved neither objective. Three national rail strikes have been declared for later in the month, to compound strikes on the London underground. Meanwhile, taxpayers will contribute £16 billion this year to propping up an industry in which demand for its services have collapsed. In the week to 22 May (before the effect of

It’s time for Boris to take on the rail unions

Imagine if we gave the rail unions what they really wanted, and renationalised the railways. Would they then leave us alone and get on quietly with the job of driving trains, clipping tickets and so on? Like hell they would. Thankfully, Nicola Sturgeon has just tried this very human experiment, so that the Westminster government does not have to. On 1 April, railway services north of the border were taken back into public ownership so that, as the unions would put it, passengers could once again be put first and profits no longer drained away by nasty private companies rewarding their evil shareholders. And the result? Er, a national rail

Women-only train carriages insult us all

Sooner or later, somewhere in the UK, we’ll have trains with women-only coaches. It’s an idea which keeps rolling around, and though the train people complain — it’s unworkable, unenforceable — it makes no odds. It’s too seductive an idea for a progressive politician. Jeremy Corbyn was tempted by it back in 2015, and now the Scottish transport secretary, one Jenny Gilruth, is considering it. She often feels unsafe on trains, she says, because they’re ‘full of drunk men’, especially the train to Fife, which is her constituency. ‘I just want our railways to be safe places for women to travel.’ I’ve nothing against ladies’ coaches in principle. In my

Women-only carriages are a bonkers idea

Here we go again. Another suggestion, this time by the SNP transport minister, Jenny Gilruth, to introduce women-only carriages on public transport in order to address the ‘systemic problem’ of women feeling too scared to travel ‘because of men’s behaviour’. Does that mean it’s okay for men to sexually assault women in mixed carriages? Rather than addressing the fact that rape is obscenely under prosecuted in this country (with around 1 per cent of reported rapes ending in a conviction in England and Wales) the minister is following in the footsteps of the likes of Jeremy Corbyn in coming up with a bonkers idea to keep women safe. How about

What tea with the WI taught me about responsible investment

Late-breaking exam results: many of the City’s top fund managers have failed a vital test of ‘stewardship’ — defined for this purpose as ‘the responsible allocation, management and oversight of capital to create long-term value for clients and beneficiaries leading to sustainable benefits for the economy, the environment and society’. That mouthful comes from the Financial Reporting Council’s UK Stewardship Code; asset management firms seeking to become ‘signatories’ to the code were asked to submit essays describing their own investment principles, highlighting their approach to hot-button ‘ESG’ (environmental, social and governance) issues. Out of 189 applicants, 64 failed to reach the pass mark, while some major firms chose not to

Letters: The sorry state of BBC sport

Misplaced Trust Sir: Charles Moore is as ever bang on target (The Spectator’s Notes, 26 September). National Trust members have had a raw deal this year, but so have many loyal staff and volunteers. It should not surprise any visitor to a National Trust property that a very rich person built it and lived there. No doubt they achieved great financial wealth by being quick-witted, entrepreneurial and above all ruthless in their dealing. They likely exploited everyone irrespective of race or creed. How many mill owners sent ‘boys’ up chimneys, down mines and into the machinery to clear blockages? The National Trust is a curator of buildings, artefacts and estates.