Home The government was defeated in the Lords by 252 to 237 on an amendment by the Rt Rev John Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, to the Welfare Reform Bill, removing child benefit from the proposed welfare cap of £26,000 a year per household. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said in the Commons that he wanted to see legislation to give shareholders a binding (rather than the current advisory) vote on executive pay. MPs heard that the clock tower that houses Big Ben was leaning by 0.26 degrees to the north-west, which was just visible, but that it would not become unstable for more than 4,000 years.
The Royal Navy frigate Argyll joined US and French ships in passing through the Strait of Hormuz in response to an Iranian threat to close it as the European Union adopted a boycott of Iranian oil in an attempt to force the country to stop its development of nuclear arms. Britain’s public debt rose above £1,000 billion for the first time. Britain will have to pay a European Union financial transaction tax even if it keeps outside the scheme, but will receive none of the proceeds, Algirdas Semeta, the European Commissioner for Taxation, said. Petroplus, the Swiss owner of the Coryton oil refinery in Essex, which employs 1,000, filed for bankruptcy. China Investment Corporation, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, bought an 8.68 per cent holding in Thames Water. A burst water main in Oxford Street, London, caused £1 million of damage.
With apparent disregard for the presumption of innocence, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that he and David Cameron would have to ‘take a view’ if the Crown Prosecution Service proceeded with charges over claims that Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, persuaded Vicky Pryce, his wife at the time, to take speeding points on his behalf. Asil Nadir, the former chief executive of Polly Peck International, went on trial at the Old Bailey charged with 13 counts of theft; the prosecution said he had taken £150 million between 1987 and 1990. The aurora borealis was visible as far south as Saltburn, Yorkshire, the effect of a solar flare.
Abroad Several bombs set off by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram killed at least 186 people in the northern Nigerian city of Kano. At the end of Egypt’s six-week election process, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party ended up with 235 seats out of 498, with the Salafists’ Nour party winning 121. Fighters aligned to Al-Qa’eda in the Arabian Peninsula looted weapons and broke open a prison in Radaa, 100 miles from the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. The parliament in Yemen approved the immunity from prosecution that President Ali Abdullah Saleh had demanded before he would step down next month. In Somalia, pro-government forces have launched an offensive from Mogadishu to seize territory from al-Shabab, the Islamist militants.
Syria rejected a proposal from the Arab League for President Bashar al-Assad to hand over power to his deputy in a government of national unity. In response, Gulf states withdrew from the Arab League observer mission in Syria. In Libya, Abdel Hafiz Ghoga resigned as deputy leader of the National Transitional Council after a crowd stormed its headquarters in Benghazi. Supporters of the ousted ruler Colonel Gaddafi were said to have taken control of the town of Bani Walid. During a visit by President Nicolas Sarkozy to French Guiana, nine gold prospectors died in a shootout.
No agreement with private creditors of Greece was reached in time for a summit of eurozone finance ministers. Another attempt was planned before a summit of European leaders on 30 January. The hope was to avoid a complete default on 20 March when a €14.4 billion loan is due. The International Monetary Fund said the world economy was ‘deep in the danger zone’ because of risks from the eurozone. A defeat for Mitt Romney in the South Carolina primary brought Newt Gingrich into contention for the Republican presidential nomination. Both men published their tax returns; Mr Romney had paid $3 million in taxes in 2010, 13.9 per cent of his income, and in two years had given $4.1 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Mr Gingrich had paid nearly $1 million in tax last year, a rate of about 31 per cent. President Obama again called for higher taxes on the wealthy in his State of the Union address. Maize cobs were dug up on the coast of Peru by archaeologists who said that they indicated popcorn was eaten there in 4700 bc. CSH
the spectator | 28 january 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk Alain de Botton
Ihave a book out this week and, as always, it’s a torrid time, alternating between delight at good reviews (A.N. Wilson in this magazine) and despair at the massacres (the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton in the Guardian). It was just after one such dark assessment of my future that happier news arrived from an unexpected source. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation, had just read the book (it had only been out two days) and tweeted his assessment to his 153,000 followers: ‘Just read Religion for Atheists. Great writing, thoughtful, disturbing. Highly recommend.’ At once, pandemonium broke out: Murdoch’s account is followed by pretty much every newspaper in the world. Journalists were calling from LA to Auckland — and my wife had to swing into her characteristic crisis-management mode, explaining that I was sadly on a plane to Newfoundland and couldn’t comment.
The real value of the tweet is what it tells us about one of the most powerful newspaper proprietors of the age. First, he reads and (without blowing any trumpets at all; Eagleton has smashed those up for me) not wholly unambitious works. Second, he is interested in how the world might function better by drawing on the lessons of religion. We’re dealing with a theologically alive mind. And third, he feels; he gets disturbed by books, he cares about ideas. None of this should be surprising, but people get so abstracted when you hear about them only from newspapers, you forget they are three-dimensional beings all along. The tweet also threw up one of those classic moral dilemmas: someone many of whose actions you haven’t approved of (Fox News) turns around and decides they like you (they might even invite you for dinner). What do you do? Remain ‘pure’ and maintain steadfast opposition? Or enter into a dialogue? Fortunately, I’ve read enough about the history of the Jesuits to know. Start to talk, find common ground and then slowly, subtly, draw your interlocutor towards the Good. Fox News is evidently not beyond redemption.
Itook the brave step of leaving London and went to stay with some new friends in Gloucestershire. One evening, after a requisite amount of wine, we went around the table revealing our frailties. I mentioned my cowardice, anxiety and narcissism, but three of my fellow males admitted they’d recently come through profound periods of internet porn addiction — not the mild curiosity one can expect, the sort where you can’t wait to get home to look up the latest offering and are up till 3 a.m.
Tub Antler Chair from the Guinevere Bespoke Range
574-580 Kings Road
London SW6 2DY Tel:+44 020 7736 2917 www.guinevere.co.uk every night. This makes me think that nowadays, only religions really still take sex seriously, in the sense of properly respecting its power to turn us away from our priorities. Only religions see it as something potentially dangerous and needing to be guarded against. We may not sympathise with what they want us to think about in the place of sex, but we can — though perhaps only after killing heaven-knows how many hours online — appreciate that sexual images can overwhelm our rational faculties with depressing ease. Secularists scorn religions for the way they get women to cover themselves up. Would a rational adult man really turn his life upside down because he caught a glimpse of a pair of knees? And who but a mental weakling could be seriously affected by the spectacle of a group of halfnaked teenaged girls sauntering down the beachfront? Well, quite a lot of us. We may not want to go so far as to veil people, but perhaps we can come to see the point of reducing the unchecked flow of pornography down our fibre-optic cables. Even if we no longer believe in a deity, we may have to concede that a degree of repression might be necessary for the functioning of society. Repression is not just for Catholics, Muslims and the Victorians, but for all of us.
Authors tend to get asked ‘what they’re working on now’, which is an elegant way of covering up that the questioner has never read anything you’ve ever written. At the moment, I tell them I’m writing a novel about marriage, with a particular focus on the challenges and joys of the married state. If my wife is anywhere nearby, people immediately offer sympathy and Charlotte will pull one of her most winsome and sympathetic smiles, which makes many want to rescue her from life with the beastly writer. When I protest and say that my book is a novel and has nothing to do with my life, no one believes me. I hope they will: the novel involves untimely death, religious doubt, adultery, professional failure and the death of a critic.
Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists is published by Hamish Hamilton.
the spectator | 28 january 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk guin_spec_28.01.indd 1