A selection of the writing, wittering and viewing that has caught our attention over the past week.
► George Osborne’s recent kowtowing in China reminded us of a splendid piece by Will Hutton in the Observer from October 2013, in which he took issue with one of the chancellor’s previous attempts at ‘deal making’. He described Osborne as ‘Bambi in Beijing – wide-eyed and innocent to the threats of the Chinese forest in which he was so ignorantly wandering’. One of the higher-risk gambles was the welcoming of Chinese investment in UK power generation:
Lady Thatcher boasted, when the electricity industry was privatised, that she was giving power back to the people. Thirty years later, we learn it’s become a gift to the Chinese Communist party, offering its state-owned nuclear power companies price and profit-margin guarantees that privatisation and liberalisation … were supposed to have left behind for ever.
► Isabel Hardman in the Spectator took the Liberal Democrats’ new leader Tim Farron to task for his vapid definition to his party’s conference of what makes a liberal:
A liberal is someone who looks for the best in people, not the worst. We believe everyone is of equal value and that people always achieve more together than they do when they are at each other’s throats.
There was more in the same vein. Hardman illustrated the vacuity of all this with spoof alternatives, including:
A Labourite is someone who feels profoundly misanthropic and dismisses all apparent acts of altruism as ultimately selfish. They believe some people aren’t worth very much and that it’s best to have a jolly good scrap at every opportunity.
► The start of the new academic year has brought the welcome return of historian Glen O’Hara at Public Policy and the Past. An early critic of the Labour Party’s ‘Corbyn illusion’, his absence during the final weeks of the leadership election was much lamented here at Lion & Unicorn. So it was a treat to see him kick off the new term with a bumper post, on 14 September, which combined clear-eyed scholarly analysis with a tone increasingly suggestive of a man who’d like to howl directly into the face of everyone who voted Corbyn. For example, he imagines the new leader thus:
He must feel, in his heart of hearts, the deeply sickening, sinking feeling of someone who is now going to have to bear burdens they are deeply unsuited to; of a man who is about to be vilified and humiliated beyond limits most of us can imagine; and who is going to be transformed into a figure of hate and derision by both the Conservative media and his own colleagues. Let’s face it: once the Conservatives are done with him, he will resemble an empty plastic bag floating in an abandoned canal.
A week later O’Hara was given the opportunity to test his arguments against the early data in the New Statesman. We suspect it will keep moving his way.
► Everyone knows that property prices in London are absurd, but it’s seldom been better illustrated than in this re-imagining of the Tube map, which shows average prices for the monthly rental of a one-bedroomed property in various parts of the capital.
► Amid the reams of farewell copy devoted to the art critic Brian Sewell, it is perhaps unsurprising that one of the best examples should have appeared in his old newspaper, the London Evening Standard. On Wednesday, Richard Godwin opened his reflections on Sewell’s life and work with the information that his only known spelling error related to the word ‘Wikipedia’ – he had no computer and thus no way of looking it up.
But then there’s the dawning sadness as his generation passes on and the richness of their presence cedes to Wikipedia footnotes and consensus opinions. The Battle of Britain memorial prompted similar feelings of encroaching national orphanhood.
► One of the ‘delights’ of the party conference season is the inevitable replaying on television news programmes of footage of the most famous speeches (and bust-ups) from yesteryear. Neil Kinnock’s attack on Militant and the hard left in 1985 has understandably received renewed attention over recent days. But as Jeremy Corbyn prepares to make his first conference speech as leader, we’d like to draw your attention to the debut of another silver-haired southerner. Scenes such as this provide a reminder of quite how much has changed this summer.