cameron the new newton
I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem, In England’s green & pleasant Land with apologies to William Blake
Home The High Speed 2 rail link between London and Birmingham is to go ahead, Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for Transport, announced. The stretch to Birmingham would be completed by 2026, but a connection to Heathrow not until 2033, when the extensions to Manchester and Leeds would be finished. The cost of the project would be £32.7 billion. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said in a separate initiative that shareholders would be empowered to limit the pay of company executives. Bob Holness, one of the first presenters on Radio 2 from 1967 and later the presenter of the television game Blockbusters, died, aged 83.
Mr Cameron said he wanted Scotland to hold a binding referendum on independence earlier than 2014. The Scottish National Party insisted that all referendums are advisory and that the questions, not necessarily a yes-no choice, should be decided in Scotland. Michael Moore, the Scottish Secretary, then told Parliament that it would be unconstitutional for a vote on independence to be held without the authority of the government of the United Kingdom. Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said he’d still go ahead in the autumn of 2014. The Migration Advisory Committee, the government’s official advisers, said in a report that 160,000 British-born workers’ jobs had been displaced by non-EU immigration between 1995 and 2010. The body found on the Sandringham estate was identified as that of a missing Latvian, Alisa Dmitrijeva, aged 17, from Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.
‘Ihave a very clear plan and I have set out very clear themes,’ Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour party declared after Lord Glasman, the founder of the Blue Labour group, had said that Labour seemed to have ‘no strategy, no narrative, and little energy’ under a leadership that ‘flickered rather than shone’. Mr Miliband called criticism of his leadership ‘noises off’ and made a speech in which he said that to win the next election Labour would be ‘a different party from the one we were in the past’. Mr Milband had earlier told Diane Abbott, the shadow public health minister, to apologise for tweeting: ‘White people love playing “divide & rule”.’ After saying that Ed Balls’s presence in the Commons chamber was like ‘having someone with Tourette’s permanently sitting opposite you’, David Cameron apologised ‘if I offended anyone’.
Abroad As protesters against the Syrian regime continued to be killed, President Bashir al-Assad said in a speech: ‘We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against the country.’ A team of 165 monitors from the Arab League, who arrived in December, remained in Syria. Bombs in Iraq targeting Shias killed 72 in one day, 14 on another. A court in Tehran sentenced an American, Amir Mirzai Hekmati, to death for ‘spreading corruption on earth and waging war against God’. In Tehran a nuclear scientist died when a bomb attached to his car exploded. The US Navy rescued 13 Iranian fishermen who had been captured by Somali pirates. One of Italy’s unelected ministers resigned because of a link with a corrupt businessman. The world price of orange juice reached a new high, after rising 25 per cent this year.
The British government warned tourists that a terrorist attack might be imminent in Kenya. A former US soldier, Craig Baxam, aged 24, was arrested in America on his return from Kenya and charged with trying to help al-Shabab, the Islamist terrorists in Somalia. Five died in Kano and one in Lagos during strikes against the raising of petrol prices in Nigeria. A woman was killed in a stampede to register for university places in Johannesburg. Eve Arnold, the photographer, died, aged 99. Erin Langworthy, aged 22, a tourist from Australia, made a bungee jump 360 feet above the Zambezi, but the rope broke; she survived with cuts and bruises after swimming ashore with her feet still tied together.
Mitt Romney, seeking the Republicans’ nomination as their presidential candidate, won the New Hampshire primary. Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff appointed a year ago, resigned; he will be replaced by Jacob Lew. In the first visit to Burma by a British foreign secretary for 55 years, William Hague asked its government to release political prisoners before British sanctions were removed. A report published in India found that 42 per cent of children under five there were malnourished. Eric Cantona, the former footballer, put himself forward as a candidate for the French presidency. CSH
the spectator | 14 January 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk Sam Leith
To Moscow! To Moscow! Recently I was in Russia as a guest of the British Council. My friend Damian Barr hosts a regular literary salon in London, and the idea was to put one on here, with the poet and essayist Linor Goralik, the novelist Alexander Ilichevsky, the publisher Dan Franklin and me. Extraliterary considerations: long johns. I asked my Russian friend Natasha, who’s from the Perm region, how cold I could expect Moscow to be in December. She made a hum-haw noise. ‘Actually you can’t know. Sometimes it can be pretty warm. It may even get up to minus five.’ She wasn’t trying to be funny. The great refrain of Chekhov’s Three Sisters has the advantage of not needing a Cyrillic keyboard to reproduce: ‘B Mockby!’ In English lettering, though, it sounds less like a cri de coeur than the name of a bureaucrat in an experimental novel of the 1950s. What does Bernard Mockby do with his life, I wonder? To what drab brown home in Metroland, to what stolid housecoated wife, does he return of an evening? ‘Talk to Russian writers,’ Linor said matter-of-factly as we sat before the event in the Cvet Nochi bar, ‘and the conversation will always turn to dead dogs and drunkenness.’ The other Russian writer appearing with us — Alexander, a winner of the Russian Booker Prize — announced that he doesn’t normally drink but intended to make an exception tonight. A man of his word, he was good and zonked by the time he was helped to his stool onstage, announcing genially that he was too hosed to read in English. He said something about dead dogs, at one point, and Linor grinned at me. The salon was, by all of our estimations, a roaring success. I asked Alexander whether he was conscious of writing in a tradition. He announced that the Soviet era had produced no literature, and that by the end of the 20th century there were only two writers worth reading. Unfortunately, he went to have a lie-down before I could get him to write down their names.
Iwas last here two decades ago, when I was studying Russian for A-level and lived for a couple of weeks with a family in the suburbs. My memories are of hulking residential tower-blocks standing isolated in a landscape of brown mud and grey slush, beneath a blank white sky. All around, as if only recently and tentatively invaded, were birch forests. Indoors, we drank a lot of black tea while a babushka circulated from room to room carrying jars of pickle. I was never able to figure out where, or if, she slept. Reading what we do about the
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email@example.com, www.duxiana.com encroachments of hypercapitalism, I expected the centre of Moscow to look like midtown Manhattan these days. It doesn’t. Sure, you can buy Gucci in GUM. But the vibe, to the outsider, is the same: buildings and roads on a greaterthan-human scale, greyness, cold, nullity overhead. The principal innovation seems to be the traffic jam: eight lanes of gridlock everywhere you look — like Los Angeles with sleet and no ready access to anti-depressants. ‘The city is not userfriendly,’ one lifelong Muscovite, whose commute by car takes two-and-a-half hours, told me. ‘It welcomes nobody.’
One of the most unsettling things about post-Soviet Russia is the way in which the country’s past is recycled as kitsch. At Ismailovo — the giant tourist-trap flea-market in the shadow of the grotesque hotels erected for the 1980 Olympics — there’s row on row of matryoshka dolls. Lenin nested in Stalin nested in Krushchev nested in Brezhnev nested in Andropov nested in Gorbachev is the old joke. Now, under the thin snow, you can get Osama bin Laden with a succession of other terrorists nesting in him. Or, adding copyright infringement to bad taste, SpongeBob SquarePants. An array of pewter busts — Lenin having been the essential desk ornament for the 1980s student — contains Marx, Trotsky, Stalin and a figure that at first I take for Dobby the house-elf from Harry Potter. Oh.Vladimir Putin. In all this I detect not commentary, but the absence of it.
We left Moscow on the day of the elections. As we nosed through the traffic, the subject came up with our taxi driver. Was he going to vote? My command of the language is hopelessly decayed but I know the words ‘Sovyetski Soyuz’ — Soviet Union — when I hear them, and the language of the body is universal — he was managing the very Russian-seeming trick of driving and shrugging at the same time. His line: why vote when the outcome is already decided? It was, he said with grim good humour, like old times. B. Mockby lives.
Sam Leith’s most recent book is You Talkin’ to Me?, a guide to rhetoric.
the spectator | 14 January 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk