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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "David Starkey"

The Critic, a new magazine which sets out to expose and ridicule bad ideas

The Criticissues 1 and 2, November/December 2019

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“We are born out of failure,” the editors of this new magazine declare. “The Critic finds itself in a world deeply imbued with bad ideas. Our purpose is to say that.”

Here is an evergreen motive for a magazine. Let the “self-regarding consensus of virtue” be confounded; the dogmas which dominate the civil service, the BBC, the courts, the churches, the arts, the quangos, business (which at least pays lip service) and the universities (which have become, in the words of these editors, “finishing schools of moral conformity”) be exposed and ridiculed.

But who is to do the ridiculing? The Critic is paid for by Jeremy Hosking and jointly edited by Michael Mosbacher, late of Standpoint magazine, where a great falling out occurred, and Christopher Montgomery, formerly of the European Research Group.

The contributors include many estimable writers who used to adorn the pages of Standpoint. The editors explain the spirit in which they want them to contribute to The Critic:

“The mid-century diarist Chips Channon said, ‘What is more dull than a discreet diary? One might just as well have a discreet soul.’ The same spirit informs our criticism. There is no point in speaking up if all the registers of criticism are not employed. It should be playful, sincere, earnest, knowing, informed, pointed, scabrous and refined all in turn.”

They add that their writers “will subscribe to no editorial line nor serve the interests of any party”. That is right: being told to toe a line would make for a dreary magazine.

But hiring good writers is only a start. You then have to induce them to do their best work for you. Journalism is littered with gifted and industrious people who, because they are gifted and industrious, get commissioned to write almost impossible numbers of pieces, and allow their standards to slip, so it is no longer possible to detect what used to be good about them.

A good magazine can be a refuge from all that. It can be the place to write about what interests you, with greater candour and wit and for a more discerning readership than you are offered by the ponderous media organisation which pays your bills.

I recently bought a second-hand copy of Horizon, edited by Cyril Connolly from 1939-50. It is staggeringly good. Brilliant people – here is a list of some of the contributors – did their best work for Connolly.

The revival of The Spectator under Alexander Chancellor in the late 1970s showed the difference a brilliant editor, with very little money but prepared to devote any amount of time to his contributors, could make.

Chancellor not only persuaded interesting people to write for him, he also gave them the intelligent appreciation that writers most desire. As a reader, you could relax in their company, and felt they knew what was going on, but were not obsessed by politics or by success, and would laugh at people who deserved to be laughed at.

So Shiva Naipaul spent several years having lunch with Chancellor before going on a journey in East Africa and writing a series of reports which could not have appeared in any other magazine, not least because no other magazine would have realised how interesting East Africa is, once you get past the clichés to which reporters on Africa are forced to resort. A wonderful book, North of South, came out of that journey.

Richard Ingrams wrote a television column for the Spectator in which he treated telly people as the self-regarding idiots they so often are. One week he watched no television at all, but heard some through the wall of a hotel room in Hay-on-Wye.

In the present general election, it seems the function of the party leaders is to demonstrate the superior intelligence and trustworthiness of their interrogators on television.

The Critic does not have a television column, but does cover books, theatre, cinema, music, art and food. The current issue, which can be bought in W.H.Smith’s and other newsagents for £5.95, has a review by Stephen Parkinson of Anthony Seldon’s book May at 10:

“As her political secretary, I saw all but the prime minister’s personal or confidential correspondence, and Sir Anthony’s regular missives to her also caught my eye. For example, the letter he sent three months after the election ‘to convey what an excellent job you are doing’, the one from the summer of 2018 in which he told her: ‘My conviction has grown that you can achieve greatness as a PM…You have the solution, the only one,’ or the one he wrote last December to say how much he was looking forward to writing his book about her premiership, ‘which I believe will have a very good story to tell’.

“I decided to make a note of them to see how they compared with the book I knew would follow. I think it would be fair to describe them as somewhat discordant.”

Here one has the feeling one is getting something one would be unlikely to get in any other magazine. One wonders what else Parkinson might be able to write for The Critic.

This is a question neither he nor his editor is likely to be able to answer in five seconds, or in a brief exchange of emails. It deserves to be tackled at that most unfashionable occasion, a long lunch, from which the answer may still not emerge, but during which other names, jokes, scraps of gossip will come to the surface, and from which new themes – or old themes which have been forgotten – will start to emerge.

The editor begins to see what, with encouragement, a particular contributor might be able to provide, while the writer reveals, perhaps after many years of suppression, what he or she is most interested in trying to say.

The exercise of editorial judgement has still only just started. You spot a promising young writer, or a neglected older one, and commission a piece. It turns out to be dull, has perhaps been worked on too much. Do you publish it, in the hope of better things to come?

At the back of The Critic, Nick Cohen has begun a column in which he promises to explain “how to go from drunk to hunk”. His grasp of the psychological obstacles to starting that journey is unrivalled.

Patrick Galbraith, editor of Shooting Times, does a column before Cohen called Country Notes, in which so far he has shot a grey squirrel and a duck. Here is a promising excursion into a world not many of us enter.

Tibor Fischer has written excellent pieces about Samuel Richardson and Frederick Raphael. Alasdair Palmer reminds us that bad people can be great artists, and instances the Pope’s unflinching support for Bernini, “a rare man, of sublime talent, born by divine disposition…to bring light to this age”, even after Bernini has had his mistress’s face slashed with a razor, and has tried to murder his younger brother, on discovering the two of them were having an affair.

David Starkey holds forth on One Nation Conservatism, and points out how much Boris Johnson has in common with Disraeli:

“he is exotic, slippery and has a gift for language and phrase-making. Can he learn to talk as convincingly about the nation as Disraeli? If so, this election and his premiership are in the bag.”

The future of The Critic is not yet in the bag. It has made a remarkably assured start, but now depends on the genius of its editors: on their ability to draw unsuspected riches from their contributors.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Iain Dale: The Prime Minister. He gets knocked down. But he gets up again.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Number Ten, it seems, has recognised that withdrawing the whip from 21 Conservative MPs and preventing them from standing as Tory candidates at the next election might just have been a teency-weency bit over the top. A bit of rowing back has gone on this week, and the MPs in question have received a letter telling them that they can either reapply for the whip or, if they think they have been treated unfairly, appeal to a panel.

Time will tell how many will avail themselves of the offer. There will be some who will refuse and revel in their martyrdom, but others who will want to return to the tribe. I suspect, however, that the conditions imposed on them will mean that most may well refuse. If this is a genuine offer by Downing Street and the Chief Whip, then the 21 need to be treated sensitively rather than presented with the equivalent of signing a total surrender document.

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Having had a five week long political honeymoon, the last ten days have seen the Prime Minister experience the political equivalent of five rounds in the ring with Anthony Joshua. He’s been pummelled onto the floor by losing six votes Commons – but hasn’t been knocked out, despite being punched in the guts by his brother Jo.

And that’s the blow that hurt the most. I’m told that the Prime Minister was reduced to tears by this as he immediately realised the implications. Forget the political effect, it was the immediate realisation that his relationship with his brother would never be quite the same again. He was knocked for six.

This may explain his shambolic performance in front of the police cadets in Wakefield, where he gave a speech which was almost incomprehensible. And that’s being kind. On a human level, I think that many people will have a lot of sympathy for him. In some ways, this was far worse than what Ed Miliband did to his brother by standing against him in 2010. This was a dagger – straight to the heart.

One thing our Prime Minister finds very difficult to cope with is people who either don’t like him or who misunderstand his motives. It’s very human in many ways, and I warm to him because of it, but in politics it’s a weakness.

It may make him a less empathetic human being, but perhaps Johnson needs to grow a suit of human body armour. As Prime Minister, it’s impossible to be liked by everyone, and you can’t avoid the fact that your political enemies will come for you when they scent blood. And, boy, have they scented blood in the last ten days.

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Last Friday, I chaired the Norfolk Police & Crime Commissioner selection hustings in Norwich. The last time I had attended a meeting at the Mercure Hotel (formerly the Hotel Norwich) on the Norwich inner ring road was in April 1987, for the adoption meeting of the then Norwich North MP, Patrick Thompson, at the start of the general election campaign.

The room hadn’t changed a bit.  There were a lot of people there I knew from my North Norfolk campaign in 2005 and the age profile of the audience was very different to that I experienced during the leadership hustings. Yes, there was a scattering of young faces, but not a single person who wasn’t white.

Norwich itself has become a much more diverse city in recent years, and that needs to be reflected in the membership of local political parties. There was four finalists for the PCC job, all of whom were in their 60s (I think). Three men and one woman.

I gave each of them quite a grilling and all of them stood up to it quite well, even if I suspect none of them had ever experienced anything like it. The eventual winner (on the first ballot) was Giles Orpen-Smellie, a former diplomat with the gift of the gab. He provided the best answer to the final question I put to each of the four candidates: “I think PCCs are a complete waste of money and should be abolished. Tell me why I’m wrong.”

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I think enough has been said and written about my appearance on the BBC’s Question Time show last week. However, I was very aware that when I next hosted an LBC Cross Question show on Wednesday, I’d be under quite a bit of scrutiny. Could I maintain control over the panellists on my show – David Starkey, Andrew Adonis, Christine Jardine and Mark Harper – in a way that Fiona Bruce had often failed to do on hers the week before?

Would I allow one panellist to dominate in the way that Emily Thornberry was allowed to? Well, you can listen for yourself on the Cross Question podcast or view it on the LBC Youtube channel.

To be honest the hour was, in my opinion, exactly what a debate should be about. Apart from Starkey calling Theresa May “a hag” (which I made him apologise for), it was conducted with utter respect, without fake rows and I think the listeners learned a lot. But while I think I maintained control I think I failed to stop Starkey dominating. But then again, I defy any presenter to do any better than I did!

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com