Let’s not deceive ourselves, Great British Bake Off will never be the same again

So, is that it? The end of sweetness, and the end of taste? Physically speaking, those things will no doubt carry on, when The Great British Bake Off moves to Channel 4 next year. We’ll still take vicarious pleasure in the mouthwatering sweetness of someone’s ‘crème pat’. The taste of lavender will still ‘come through’ in a contestant’s 12 identical puff pastry miniatures. But I’m referring to the abstracts: the sweetness, and the taste. I fear that those might have gone for ever.

With Britain tearing itself apart this summer and autumn, one half being sarcastic and nasty about the other half all the time, the weekly hour-long patch of sweetness and taste that is the BBC’s Great British Bake Off has become something to treasure, and indeed to live for. It’s not only the perpetually intriguing chemistry of the baking, it’s also, crucially, the life-enhancing chemistry between the four hosts that holds our attention and makes us crave and love the programme. Not just a few of us, either: 11 million of us each week; and not just National Trust old dears in flowery armchairs, but highflyers and cynics of all ages, all of whom are disarmed, relaxed and somehow made nicer by the programme’s innocence and charm.

Telling us that the GBBO might be just as good with new hosts is like telling a child that the Christmas holidays will be just as nice when Mummy and Daddy get divorced. We know it’s not true. And, like those children, we ask ourselves, ‘Why do grown-ups always have to mess things up?’ The programme was trundling along perfectly well until adult greed gripped the souls of the people at Love Productions, who refused to accept the BBC’s offer of £15 million and went for Channel 4’s offer of £25 million. It’s depressing that the delicate edifice of the GBBO should crumble due to money. So utterly out of character! One of the Bake Off’s blissful aspects was that it seemed to have nothing to do with money. No prizes: just flour, butter, caster sugar, a trophy and lashings of honour.

That age of innocence is now over. Never again will we hear Sue Perkins make a joke so unfunny that it’s funny. (Eg, in ‘Tudor week’, ‘As Anne of Cleves said: you’re two-thirds of the way through.’) Never again will we hear Mel Giedroyc pronouncing a French cake name in an exceedingly French accent, or see the look of compassion and alarm on her face on watching a contestant’s pastry case crack apart on exit from the tin. Never again will we savour the affectionate, teasing relationship between Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, who are as different from each other, but as strangely compatible as the Queen and Harold Wilson. A country longing for old certainties to cling to has now lost those ones.

Only the BBC could have got such an unpromising programme off the ground. The corniness of assembling ‘a baker’s dozen’ of homely contestants in a bunting-hung marquee in the grounds of a country house complete with bleating lambs; the Reithian quaintness of including a short educational ‘historical interlude’ in the middle of each episode; the very idea that watching other people bake could be remotely interesting in the first place: you can see why it began as minority BBC2 entertainment aimed at the elderly. The first newspaper reviews of series one in 2010 were mocking and scathing.

But word of mouth, that infinitely more powerful arbiter than any television critic, worked its gradual magic. One by one, reluctant family members were dragged to the television to discover the addictiveness and the sheer small-scale drama of it all. The tiny downward twitch of a contestant’s eyebrow on being told that his or her creation is ‘spot on in terms of flavour, but…’ speaks volumes about human striving and disappointment. None of us would want our creation to be the butt of Paul Hollywood’s devastating ‘but’.

He is the brutal judge, and the programme needs his ruthless frankness. He’s off to Channel 4. But Mary, Mel and Sue (who declined to go with him) provided the necessary gentle, lightening touch. You only need to hear about what Bake Off is like in some of the 196 territories that have imported it to dread what Channel 4 might do. In France each episode goes on for two dismal, humourless hours. In Australia a judge once stalked the tent to the theme tune from Jaws, making coarse remarks like ‘I am too old to waste calories on a lacklustre bake.’ Mary would never have said a thing like that. Sweetness and taste: please don’t leave us for ever.

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The Project Fear backtracking isn’t over yet

Another day, another backtracking in the doom-laden predictions of what would happen as a result of a vote for Brexit. Back in May, World Trade Organisation (WTO) chief Roberto Azevedo told the Financial Times that Britain would not simply be allowed to ‘cut and paste’ its terms of membership with the WTO. We would, he suggested, effectively have to negotiate from scratch – a process which could take years, as it did when Liberia joined.

Today he has recanted, somewhat. ‘The UK is a member of the WTO today, it will continue to be a member tomorrow,’ he told Sky News. ‘There will be no discontinuity in membership. They have to renegotiate but that doesn’t mean they are not members. Trade will not stop, it will continue and members negotiate the legal basis under which that trade is going to happen. But it doesn’t mean that we’ll have a vacuum or a disruption.’

This all rather begs the question: so why was it all going to be so much of a problem back in May? Then, Mr Azevedo was effectively campaigning. He was just tagging along with all the other heads of NGOs in their attempt to persuade us to vote to remain in the EU. The message they all seemed to want to give us is that we would be punished if we dared to leave the EU. Referendum over, the WTO in common with the IMF, OECD, World Bank and all the others have realised that adopting a punitive attitude wouldn’t just hurt Britain; it would hurt the whole world. The WTO’s remit is to facilitate world trade and if it is going to fulfil that it is going to have to co-operate.

Forget the talk about being ‘back of the queue’ and so on. You don’t get pushed to the back when you are the world’s fifth biggest economy. Not that there needs to be a queue anyway. Surely, Barack Obama has enough officials at his disposal to conduct several trade negotiations simultaneously. With the collapse of the US-EU trade deal, and of that between Canada and the EU, Obama’s successor may find it pays to drop the threatening language and deal with us ahead of the EU, which has shown itself pretty useless at doing trade deals with other large economies. I wouldn’t mind betting that Britain will have trade deals in place with the US, Canada, China and Japan long before the EU does so.

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PMQs Sketch: Why Jeremy Corbyn is a lousy politician

Today it became clear why Corbyn is a lousy politician. He’s too interesting. The variety of life is simply too fascinating for him to prosper on the public stage. In a word, he’s not dull enough to be a statesman. A key attribute of leadership is the readiness to bore oneself, and everyone else, by repeating the same phrase over and over again. Successful politicians are happy to recite their favourite soundbites day in day out knowing that only at the thousandth repetition will the vital syllables grind their way into the public consciousness. Mr Corbyn has a great soundbite — shambolic Tory Brexit — which he needs to reiterate all the time. His advisers have no doubt nagged him about this.

He should say it when he wakes up and when he falls asleep. ‘Shambolic Tory Brexit’. He should say in his dreams and in his nightmares. ‘Shambolic Tory Brexit.’ When he greets the postman or orders his lunch. ‘Shambolic Tory Brexit’. At party meetings he should sing it to the tune of ‘The Internationale’ and on New Year’s Eve to the tune of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. (It fits the latter rather well). And when he summons his wife to bed with that special look in his eyes. ‘Shambolic Tory Brexit’.

But Mr Corbyn refuses to do so. At PMQs, today, he might have bashed it out at least 15 times. He managed it once.

Mrs May by contrast is a world-class bore. Her favourite soundbites are particularly admired by Westminster-watchers because they’re classified as ‘obfuscations’. An obfuscation, by the way, is itself an obfuscation whose true meaning is lie. When Corbyn asked her to rehearse her Brexit negotiations in public, with him playing the role of Brussels, she declined. ‘I’ve been very clear,’ she said ten times over, meaning, ‘I’m telling you nothing.’

Russia featured heavily in today’s session. Angus Robertson, (who writes a private diary entitled ‘Things to do when I’m Secretary-General’) asked about peace hopes in Syria. Mrs May liked the sound of this and revealed that she’d floated the issue at a recent EU summit. She had even encouraged Brussels to make a declaration of principle. Here it is. ‘Should atrocities continue we will look at all available options to put pressure on Russia to stop bombing civilians.’ That’ll shake the Kremlin to its roots. ‘All available options’ are being ‘looked at’ by a lot of pompous EU half-wits. The Kremlin, in stark contrast to Brussels, is full of heavily-armed realists who know that the only ‘options’ available to Europe’s weaponless bureaucrats are a) spouting guff and b) passing by-laws. So this thunderous ultimatum from Brussels means, in effect, that if Russia continues to kill Syrians the EU will fly Donald Tusk to Moscow where he’ll give President Putin a leaflet about how to label tinned apricots. Then he’ll make a speech about it. Then he’ll fly back and accept a peace prize.

Angus Robertson has an alternative peace plan which is admittedly rather convoluted and risky. He wants Spain to deny oil to a fully-armed Russian battle-group currently bound for the eastern Mediterranean. President Putin, interpreting this as an act of war, will retaliate against NATO and trigger nuclear Armageddon just before Christmas. The survivors, including Angus Robertson no doubt, will be able to make peace around a campfire in the blasted ruins of Planet Earth some time next summer. Naturally Mr Robertson will complain that the deal is unfair on Scotland.

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How the Mormons dumped Trump

Evan McMullin is running for president of the United States. A Mormon from Utah, a former CIA undercover agent, he represents what the Republican Party ought to look like this year but does not. Convinced, like many of his co-religionists, that Donald Trump is a disgrace, he speaks with quiet confidence about restoring dignity and respect to American conservatism.

So far he’s on the ballot in just eleven states, and showing most strongly in the Rocky Mountains. He may actually win in the Mormon stronghold of Utah. He’s just forty years old and his running mate, Mindy Finn, a Jewish high-tech entrepreneur and conservative feminist, is only 36. They won’t win the whole thing, of course, but they’re enjoying themselves by telling the truth and deploring Trump and Clinton with equal vigour.

Among all the normally solid Republican voting groups, the Mormons have shown the strongest aversion to Trump. One of their own, Mitt Romney, was the Republican candidate in 2012, exhibiting most of the typical Mormon attributes of hard work, sobriety, and prosperity, while espousing traditional family values. Trump, in their view, represents a horrible decline. Their church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News, recently condemned the ‘hucksterism, misogyny, narcissism and latent despotism that infect the Trump campaign’. A Utah congressman said, after the release of the notorious groping tape, that he would be unable to look his fifteen-year-old daughter in the eye ever again if he continued to support Trump.

Ironically, McMullin has more political experience than Trump, who’s never worked in government and never run in any election. McMullin served as a CIA officer in Jordan and other middle-eastern countries, then became a Republican foreign-policy advisor on Capitol Hill. He’s savvy about the benefits of free trade, has a nuanced (as opposed to rabble-rousing) approach to immigration reform, and favours lower income taxes. On the other hand, he’s still a virtual unknown, with zero name-recognition in most of the Eastern states. His shoestring funding, a few thousand dollars here and there, is almost comically insufficient side-by-side with the tens of millions pouring into the major parties’ treasure chests.

It makes sense that the challenge should come from Utah. Mormon history is chock full of suffering and conflict in the name of an unbending faith. The most distinctive of all religions started in the USA, its full name is the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. It began when an upstate New York farm-boy named Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni in 1823. Moroni gave Smith a set of golden tablets whose writings, when translated into English from ‘Reformed Egyptian’, comprised the Book of Mormon. The book tells of how Jesus, after his life, death, and resurrection in Roman Palestine, lived again in America, where an ancient civilisation thrived.

The early Mormons, polygamists, hated and reviled by their neighbours, moved repeatedly to escape persecution. When Smith was killed by an Illinois lynch-mob in 1844 his successor, Brigham Young, groom to fifty-one brides, vowed he would lead them to a place where they would never be molested again. He chose the edge of the Great Salt Lake, a blisteringly hot, dry, arid, and seemingly dead land. Through fanatical hard work, and under Young’s stern theocratic tutelage, the Mormons created Salt Lake City, an irrigated oasis that has thrived now for 170 years.

Abandoning polygamy in 1890, the Latter Day Saints proceeded to convert themselves into ultra-patriotic, ultra-conservative Americans. Wholesome, virtuous, and philanthropic, they offer individuals special religious duties at every stage of the life cycle. Young men, either just before or just after college, are expected to undertake missionary work, at their own or their families’ expense, for two years. (McMullin, the presidential candidate, spent two years after high school in southern Brazil, learning Portuguese and trying to convert the local people.) As a result, many of them get to know people from different parts of the world, making them sensitive to the plight of refugees and war-victims rather than xenophobic.

Teenagers, before their missions begin, participate in vicarious baptisms, in which they temporarily take on the identity of now-deceased non-Mormons, in order that these souls can aspire to enter Heaven. The practice caused ill feeling in the early 1990s when Mormon teens were surrogates for Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust and for its perpetrators: not only Anne Frank but Adolf Hitler too was given a Mormon baptism in this way.

The church places an extraordinarily high value on family life, and organizes most of its events around families. Birth rates are high, big families common, and divorce rates low. Church membership requires the donation of ten per cent of pre-tax annual income to the church, which runs a comprehensive welfare system for its less fortunate members. Abstemious, eschewing coffee, tea, tobacco, and all other stimulants, Mormons are repaid with greater longevity than the rest of the American population—an extra seven or eight years each, on average.

Mormonism demands complete commitment from its members—in that respect it’s at the opposite pole from the lukewarm Church of England. Latter Day Saints are either all the way in, or all the way out—there are no half-measures. Drop outs are shunned, and the memoirs of disillusioned ex-Mormons are a familiar staple of American literary history.

Still, it’s difficult in October 2016 not to admire the Mormons’ principled abandonment of Donald Trump and their gathering behind McMullin. That’s particularly true since they must know they’re increasing the chance that Hillary Clinton will win, a candidate whose pro-choice, big-government principles most of them deplore. McMullin himself speaks of throwing off the incubus of bureaucracy, of restoring liberty, and of taking seriously the rights of America’s diverse minority groups.

By a quirk of the electoral system, it is technically possible that McMullin could become the next president. If neither of the major candidates achieves a majority and McMullin wins Utah, the election would have to be decided by the House of Representatives, a contingency that was only ever put to the test once, back in 1828. If the Congressmen, disliking both the major candidates, sought a compromise figure, McMullin would be that man—eligible because his Utah victory would have given him at least a few votes in the all-important electoral college. He’s too level-headed, and has too firm a grip on reality, to think it’s actually going to happen, but the possibility keeps hope alive among his faithful followers.

The Republican loser from 2012, Mitt Romney, could probably do more to make this fantasy come true than anyone else. If he made a strong statement in support of McMullin (something he’s hitherto failed to do), he would sway tens of thousands of Utah voters. He made a scorching denunciation of Trump in March, but party loyalty, and concern for the prospects of his politically ambitious son, have kept him out of the McMullin camp.


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Was my friend murdered for being a Tory?

Six months ago an old friend of mine was murdered on his doorstep. This week his killer was sentenced to life imprisonment. In both cases, the first I heard of it was when someone I follow on Twitter posted a joke with a link to a news story. Both jokes were whimsical rather than callous — both were, in fact, musing on which Sunday evening television detective would most likely solve the crime — but whimsy in these circumstances feels like callousness. The tweets made me very angry.

I read the reports of the trial. The murderer had made a spreadsheet of his potential victims, for robbery or kidnap, with their names in one column, planned modus in another and ‘reason’ in a third. The reasons varied — often it was ‘Tory’, at other times ‘scum Tory’. But while many reports noted that his only other attack was against a well-known Conservative donor whose wife raised the alarm before he was able to force entry, this detail, that the murderer considered being ‘scum Tory’ a reason for premeditated violence, was only mentioned in one report. This, too, made me angry.

Just imagine that someone had been killed by a right-winger. A murderer who thought that socialists — or Remainers, perhaps — were scum, or that being on the other side of a divisive political issue made them a legitimate target for violence, and had put this in writing. It does not take much imagination, actually, because this is exactly what has happened in this country.

I was at a dinner party last week, and one of the other guests announced that he was so fed up with the toxic political climate after Brexit, and racism becoming mainstream within political discourse, that he was moving to France. France. And I am quite sure that he genuinely believed that he would be more comfortable in a country where the Front National is polling around 28 per cent; in other cases, the panic seems less innocent.

Stephen Kinnock spoke in the Commons after another senseless murder of another good person. ‘Rhetoric has consequences,’ he said. ‘When insecurity, fear and anger are used to light a fuse, then an explosion is inevitable.’ And we all knew what he meant, and who he was talking about. Since then, news sources have insisted upon the link between the vote for Brexit and the increase in hate crimes.

But, I would argue, the link between the referendum vote and any rise in hate crime is no stronger — and probably (depending on what you think motivated Brexit voters) a whole lot weaker — than the link between my friend’s death and the people who call Tories ‘scum’. Rhetoric has consequences. So why is one a part of the national political narrative, and the other a passing comment in a single crime report? Why do people who would be (rightly) shunned for joking about a Labour MP’s murder feel that there is nothing problematic in joking about the killing of an Oxford-educated antiques dealer?

There is, at least, an explanation for the jokes — the Chris Rock formula that you must always ‘punch up, never punch down’. By any current system of classification, my white, middle-class, well-educated friend was ‘up’. But ‘punching up’ is, however you romanticise it, still punching. And the question of who is ‘up’ and who is ‘down’ is more complicated than you might think.

The only way in which the white working classes who voted overwhelmingly for Brexit are ‘up’ — and thereby deserving of mockery and opprobrium — is in relation to newly arrived immigrants, which is why Remainers are so keen to insist that immigration was the only possible consideration for voting Leave. (I listened to a friend of mine holding forth about how all Brexit voters ‘hated brown people’, and that was why they had voted as they did. When someone pointed out that ending freedom of movement would only affect the numbers of mainly white, European immigrants, he replied — without missing a beat — ‘Aha! But they’re stupid racists.’)

With Tories, of course, it’s easy — they’re always ‘up’. Toryism is, as we know, standing up for the overdog, and Tories can therefore be ‘punched’ or insulted as much as you like. They can be called words that would be horrible in relation to migrants — scum, for example, or vermin. For the most part it seems like a harmless enough trope — amusing, in fact. My wife went to the Labour conference and bought me (all copies of Poems for Jeremy Corbyn having sold out) a mug printed with Aneurin Bevan’s words ‘Tories are lower than vermin’ and a picture of a rat. It is of such poor quality that a week later it was cracked, split down the middle, and no longer held water. It functions far better as metaphor than as crockery.

This week the trope does not seem quite so harmless to me. It seems mainstream now. Bevan may have used the word ‘vermin’ in 1948, but when he did he was slapped down by our greatest Labour prime minister, who wrote that he should ‘be a bit more careful, in your own interest’ — which, given Attlee’s habitual understatement, is the equivalent of a modern politician ‘destroying’ an opponent. Now those mugs are on sale at fringe meetings of the Labour conference.

I am sure that part of this is due to the echo chamber of social media. I work in the arts, so most of my friends are left-liberal, bien-pensant group-thinkers who post in furious and trenchant agreement with each other. Several of my friends boast of purify-ing their social media of right-wingers or anyone who could possibly interfere with their world view. Usually I am tolerant of my friends dismissing me as scum, or mocking people I know; this week it angered me.

But then I stopped, stepped away from the keyboard, and thought about it. I had to remind myself that my anger was, in fact, anger about a decent, gentle, funny friend of mine being viciously murdered. I had felt that something so meaningless and stupid had to be part of a bigger political narrative. But it isn’t. And letting that anger seep into our political discourse can only increase the ugly polarisation. I know you would rather read an article about how Tories are the real victims here; but there is only one victim. And he deserves better than that.

Which is why I have not written his name in this article, or mentioned any details that would make the case easily Google-able. The only place I have written his name is on the list at the back of my church, where the names are being collected for prayers on All Souls’ Day; which is the only place where it matters now.

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Emma Rice was never as radical as she thought she was

Towards the end of Emma Rice’s recent production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of the mechanicals decides to give us a piece of her mind. ‘It’s a visual concept!’ screams Nandi Bhebhe’s Starveling (for it is She), as the young lords and ladies mock her costume in the play within a play. ‘Why is everybody so obsessed with text?’ 

This was Rice’s gauntlet, thrown to her critics as she arrived as the controversial new artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. But Rice, as usual, was tilting at a straw man. None of her serious critics in theatreland have a problem with textual experiment, nor with Rice’s yen for cross gender casting. Yet Rice was determined to set the narrative: she was iconoclastic, courageous, radical, chopping up Shakespeare’s text and daring us to follow. It is a narrative that took hold firmly yesterday, after the sudden announcement that she and the Board will part ways by 2018. It is far too easy an explanation. 

Rice was never as radical as she thought she was. It takes little stretch of the imagination to note that Dream is a riot of sexual fantasy: I’ve seen sixth form productions with sharper erotic farce than hers. Erica Whyman’s recent RSC version was every bit as invested in British Indian culture – Blitz survivors emerged, blinking, into the happier dust of the Holi festival – but did it better. It was hardly adventurous to dress Dream’s amateur players as Globe ushers and invite a gentle mockery of both. Glyndebourne, that bastion of the elite, has been pulling such tricks for years. 

Even Rice’s commitment to cross-gender casting is behind rather than ahead of the curve. Next week, Glenda Jackson opens at the Old Vic as King Lear; Harriet Walter currently leads the cast in the Donmar’s acclaimed trilogy of cross-cast Shakespeare plays. By contrast, the gender play in Rice’s Dream often seemed poorly considered. Casting the mechanicals as women allowed her to meet her gender quota, but replaced sad male fools with dowdy female fools. That Ewan Wardrop’s Bottom, the only character who seemed to know what he was doing, was now the sole man of the group only added to unsisterly stereotype.

There has been a tone to criticism of Rice that is absent in responses to male directors. Not just from professional critics: look through Twitter, and an extraordinarily number of men seem to suddenly have expertise on how to light a Jacobean theatre. But she didn’t help herself. A poorly-worded interview to the Guardian left her defined forever as the director who’d rather listen to The Archers than read Shakespeare. Few noticed that she’d put her difficulties with Shakespeare in context, describing the importance of making meaning explicit. (‘Sometimes in rehearsal we come across something and I think: “No 14-year-old from Nottingham is going to work out what that means.” It doesn’t mean I cut it or am disrespectful of it, but it does mean I admit I don’t understand it.’) She remains a director of extraordinary energy; I gave her one of her better reviews at the Times, for the exhilarating Michael Morpurgo adaptation, 946. No coincidence, however, that it was a modern text, not a work of Shakespeare.

Rice seemed to view Shakespeare’s texts as obstacles to be avoided, rather than challenges to be solved. In a recent production, director Matthew Dunster was invited by Rice to take on Cymbeline. Dunster knows his stuff on early modern drama; his Faustus at the Globe was superb, and he recently revived Love’s Sacrifice for the RSC, though in that case he didn’t get to grips with the play’s misogyny. Working with Rice, he reworked Cymbeline to put Imogen, the play’s heroine, centre stage. Like many of Shakespeare’s women, Imogen drifts into an awkward silence in the final scene, assumed to be content with a ‘happy ending’ arranged for her by men. She reunites with Posthumous, the husband who has ordered her honour killing (after Trumpesque ‘locker room talk’ has abusive consequences). So Dunster provided a new speech for Maddie Hill’s Imogen, confronting in modern terms a man foolish enough to bet on her body. It was gloriously well intentioned and utterly jarring. Where other productions have emphasized Imogen’s taciturnity, registering their own protest in her clear reluctance, Imogen Reclaimed let Shakespeare off the hook. Why probe a Jacobean playwright’s blindspots if you can just rewrite them?

These are the quibbles appropriate to theatre criticism – a discipline which normally enjoins us to dispute and engage with a director’s work, rather than demand her head after a bad first season. To see a director leave so swiftly after bad reviews is unusual (and not everybody agrees with the Times, or with me – see Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard, or Andrzej Lukowski of Time Out). One of the legacies of Rice’s departure will be a worsening of the already bad relationship between critics and the industry. At the very least, critics should afford some self-reflection. When an institution’s director heads in the wrong direction – or so we think – what is our end goal? Are we there to nudge and persuade her into changing course? Or are we hacks demanding a scalp? 

Ironically, the last time I made my case against Emma Rice’s Dream, I was fiercely argued down by my companion – a member of the Globe’s Board. Even in private, well after last month’s supposedly ‘stormy’ board meeting, members of the Globe’s Board have passionately defended Rice’s radicalism, though they had little say in her appointment. It includes women like Jenny Topper, the hard-left former head of the Hampstead Theatre, who has also defended Rufus Norris against conservative critics at the National; or Professor Laurie Maguire, whose academic work is feminist to her core. Mutterings have been heard about private donors enforcing traditionalism at chequebook point. I can’t speak for all of them, but Iraj Ispahani, the Parsi-Bengali tea-heir who has fundraised for the Globe since the days of Sam Wanamaker, and now acts as vice chairman, is a man utterly dedicated to opening up Shakespeare to global and non-white audiences. These are not your guilty line up of middle-aged white men. 

Few will give them such credit. Rice’s narrative – of a progressive, betrayed – had taken hold on Twitter within an hour of the news release. Traditionalists, too, have jumped on it, citing it as a victory. But like most crises, this sounds more like interpersonal failure than culture war. Whatever went wrong, went wrong recently. An announcement was made to Globe staff yesterday morning only as the press office were hitting ‘send’ on the press release. There is talk of resignations from the board. 

Perhaps Rice’s use of modern lights and microphones was – as suggested in the release – a crunch point. The Globe was built to allow directors and researchers to play with the unique acoustics and natural light. More crucially, the Globe has just invested a great deal of capital in building an indoor winter theatre, designed to allow directors to explore Jacobean candlelight performance. A director uninterested in using it for such a purpose would seem particularly ungracious to a board who had exhaustively fundraised for it.

Yet was this not discussed during Rice’s recruitment? The Globe appointed her, and until very recently, they still backed her. It was not her politics, nor her experimentalism, that changed. Split or united, the board now face the difficult task of finding a replacement. If they want to prove Rice’s defenders wrong – and reaffirm they’re on the side of living theatre – they should look for someone who is every bit as much a firebrand. Just check they understand that Shakespeare’s texts are radical, too.

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Jeremy Corbyn lets Theresa May off the hook again at PMQs

Today’s PMQs could have been a tricky affair for Theresa May. Her decision on Heathrow has seen one Tory MP resign his seat and the Guardian’s story about a private speech she gave to Goldman Sachs during the EU referendum campaign clashes with her conference speech rhetoric about being the scourge of unaccountable global elites. But May got through the session fine, Heathrow wasn’t raised until well after 12.30 and no one mentioned her behind closed doors, Goldman’s address.

Corbyn’s delivery at PMQs has improved. But he still can’t go through the gears. He started off using the frustration of the devolved First Minister following their meeting with May on Monday to attack her lack of a Brexit plan. But he then let his questions drift on to vague musings on the question of the Irish border and the customs union which allowed May off the hook. If Corbyn had asked her how many other private speeches she had given to banks and other financial institutions that would have been potent populism.  

For his final few questions, Corbyn asked about Saudi Arabia and human rights. May, though, is always comfortable on her former Home Office turf and so turned into a question on the broader security arrangement with Saudi. 

As so often at PMQs, the question that gave May the most pause in answering came from the SNP’s Angus Robertson. He asked her to urge the Spanish government not to refuel the Russian fleet that is heading to Syria. May dodged the question, but later her spokeswoman said afterwards that the Government has raised concerns with Spain.

In a sign of how keen the Tories are to help their Birmingham Mayoral candidate Andy Street, there were two questions about the West Midlands—which enabled May to repeatedly plug his candidacy. On the opposition side, the theme of the session was mental health provision with three Labour backbenchers asking her about the issue.

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Dave’s bargain basement book deal isn’t quite the big earner he was hoping for

Poor old David Cameron. His defeat in the referendum campaign left critics saying he was the worst Prime Minister ever. Now, it seems, it’s not only his legacy which falls short of some of his predecessors. Having quit Parliament, Dave was planning to use the next year to cash in on his memoirs. When his book was first touted, there was talk of the former PM earning a multi-million pound payment. Some said his advance could even match – or beat – that of Tony Blair, who picked up £4.6m for his book ‘A Journey’.

Instead, the actual amount Cameron will earn is something of a disappointment. It’s being reported today that he’ll get an advance of £800,000 for his book. It’s hardly a small sum but compared to the amount earned by Blair, Mr S thinks Dave’s payment makes him something of a bargain basement buy-up. Dave’s advance also falls well short of the £3.5m earned by Margaret Thatcher for her best-selling book. Still, at least Dave can console himself with the fact his advance was higher than one former political figure: Peter Mandelson, whose memoirs earned him just £150,000….

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Is the Guardian’s leaked tape of Theresa May really so shocking?

The Guardian’s splash today looks like bad news for the PM. ‘Leaked recording shows Theresa May is ‘ignoring her own warnings’ on Brexit’, the paper says on its front page. The story centres around a recording of May giving a speech at Goldman Sachs in the run-up to the referendum. In the tape, which was recorded in May, the future PM tells bankers that:

 ‘I think the economic arguments (of staying in the EU) are clear. I think being part of a 500 million population trading bloc is significant for us. I think one of the issues is that a lot of people will invest here in the UK because it is the UK in Europe. And I think if we are not in Europe, I think there would be firms and companies who would be looking to say, do they need actually to develop a mainland Europe presence rather than a UK presence. So I would think there are definite benefits for us in economic terms.’

 If you feel slightly underwhelmed by what May actually said, you’re probably not alone. In fact, while this speech was made in private, it’s not all that dissimilar from the speech she made in public in April when she spelled out her views on the referendum. So what did she say during her brief spell off the fence ahead of June’s vote? On the risk of companies moving to Europe if Britain left the EU, she said:

 ‘If we were not in the European Union… London’s position as the world’s leading financial centre would be in danger.  The banks may be unpopular, but this is no small risk: financial services account for more than seven per cent of our economic output, thirteen per cent of our exports, a trade surplus of almost £60 billion – and more than one million British jobs.’

 On the size of Europe’s trading bloc, she said:

 ‘The headline facts of Britain’s trade with Europe are clear.  The EU is a single market of more than 500 million people…So the single market accounts for a huge volume of our trade’

 And she also made a similar pitch for the economic argument for staying in the EU when she said:

 ‘The economic case for remaining inside the European Union isn’t therefore just about risk, but about opportunity’

 Most of which tells us that what May was saying in public, she was also saying behind the gilded closed doors of Goldman Sachs. Admittedly, it’s something of a surprise that Theresa May – the Prime Minister who told the Tory party conference weeks ago that she wanted to take on the ‘international elite’ – was giving a private speech at Goldman Sachs. That in itself is a worthy point on which to criticise May. But her stance on Brexit ‘revealed’ in the Guardian today is not controversial. Of course, Theresa May has changed tack on the referendum. But that’s hardly news. May, the Home Secretary who backed Remain, is now the PM saying that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and vowing to make a success of leaving Europe. Yes, that’s different from what she said before the actual vote. But you don’t need a leaked recording to tell you that.

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How to talk to your builder

Television has a lot to answer for. The terrible reputation of the building trade for one. But not all builders are out to wreck your house, rob you of your life-savings and leave you in need of rescue by Nick ‘DIY SOS’ Knowles, the slightly smug TV-expert builder who goes round making good the mess other builders have left behind.

Then again, not all builders are honest, trustworthy and committed to doing a good job. Inviting builders – or any of the associated trades such as plumbers, heating engineers, electricians or carpenters – into your home is a modern minefield, pitted with bitter recriminations and empty bank accounts.

Much of this could be avoided if people knew how to talk to their builder in the first place. This means treating him if not as a friend, then certainly not as your mortal enemy. He will effectively be living with you for weeks, so for heaven’s sake show him where the facilities are. A dedicated lavatory, appropriate tea and coffee facilities, parking permits and a clear policy on use of the radio are vital if domestic harmony is to prevail.

Show your trust. When he’s working, ask questions, but don’t manifest yourself ghost-like behind him in order to scrutinise the turn of every screw.

That said, make sure that when he’s doing your job, he’s doing just that. Nothing is more frustrating than a builder who turns up, puts in a couple of hours and then escapes in his van to finish pointing a wall on the other side of town.

If you’re paying for labour on a day-rate, rather than an overall price, this is doubly important. When you’re asking around for recommendations, enquire about such misdemeanours. Also, be clear about when you expect the working day to start and finish. And be available within this working day to inspect and offer feedback. This might mean taking time off work yourself, but if you want a knock-through open-plan living area with bi-fold doors onto the garden, something’s got to give.

Hold on though. We’re getting ahead of ourselves already. First things first. Obviously, you will want to follow up personal recommendations and have two or three companies round to discuss the project.

However, before you even think about talking to the bloke with the pencil behind his ear, talk to each other. An awful lot of couples decide on a huge job – let’s say a kitchen extension – without actually managing to agree the details in advance. They leave the bickering over the butler’s sink until the builder is sitting in front of them wondering if he is going to get home for his tea before 10pm.

A clear plan, with measurements, figures and ideally visuals of what you hope to achieve is a great help. Contrary to popular belief, the builder is not there to make you spend more than you want. What would be the point? If you run out of funds, you won’t be able to pay him for the work he does.

Ah funds. You’re going to have to discuss money. When you’ve made your choice, take refuge in a contract, which is advisable anyway. If your builder is a member of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) you can use their version, or try the Joint Contracts Tribunal which produces documents for domestic use.

As well as the schedule of work, the contract should set out what you are paying and when. For a sizeable job, such as a loft conversion, it is perfectly acceptable to undertake ‘stage payments’. This means you pay the builder in chunks as you go along, subject to the work achieved being satisfactory.

Satisfactory. A word which brings with it more nuances than there are shades of white paint. It’s up to you to decide if you’re happy, but if you’re not, this is no time to be passive-aggressive. Disappearing on holiday without warning, withholding payment and sending terse text messages in lieu of face-to-face conversation is not the way to get matters rectified. Neither is allowing matters to reach such boiling point that you bring in another builder over the head of your original choice. This is never, ever a good approach and can lead to cement mixers at dawn. Sit down with your builder and tell him your concerns. If he’s any good, he’s probably spotted them already.

You might be wondering what qualifies me to speak with such authority on builders, clearly a most testing of topic. Well, I happen to live with one, so I get to talk to him every day.

Jayne Dowle is a freelance property writer

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PPI, gender gap, pensions and property

Lloyds Banking Group has set aside a further £1 billion to pay compensation for mis-sold payment protection insurance (PPI).

The extra provision was expected after the deadline for PPI claims was extended to June 2019. The announcement came as the bank announced that pre-tax profits for the three months to the end of September fell 15 per cent to £811 million, the BBC reports.

In other PPI news, the Daily Mail reports that thousands of divorced women deprived of PPI payouts by NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland will now receive compensation.

State-backed RBS-NatWest failed to pay separated and divorced women their legal share of payouts for mis-sold PPI. In an email, the bank, which is 73 per cent owned by the taxpayer, admits it was in the wrong and has changed its policy.

Gender gap

Women work on average 39 more days a year than men, according to the World Economic Forum.

The BBC reports that women work on average 50 minutes more a day than men, data from the WEF’s Global Gender Gap report suggests. The report says the prevalence of unpaid work burdens women and estimates that economic inequalities between the sexes could take 170 years to close.

The gap in economic opportunity, the WEF says, is now larger than at any point since 2008.


Hundreds of thousands of pensioners could use a little-known law to cash in rip-off annuities — but insurers are standing in the way.

Money Mail has uncovered an obscure legal loophole that enables over-55s to cash in annuities for pots worth less than £10,000.

The legislation, allegedly buried by government officials, offers a lifeline to pensioners who are locked into deals that turned their savings into a retirement income.


Want to live somewhere you actually own? Well, you’ll have to wait 121 years. That’s how long it would take for the average Londoner to save for a deposit for a flat. This is if they saved 10 per cent of their average salary each year – and had no access to the Bank of Mum and Dad or, as the housing minister would have it, the Bank of Nan and Grandad.

The research, carried out by property crowdfunding website Property Partner and reported in The Telegraph, took a Londoner’s average salary of £34,320, and calculated how long they would have to save for a deposit in each borough. This is assuming a mortgage of four times the buyer’s salary.

In Kensington and Chelsea, it would take 389 years to save a deposit for an average flat in the borough.

In other property news, Post Office Money Mortgages says that the average UK property takes 91 days to sell. Its report, which examines the average time a property takes to sell in 20 major cities across the UK, found that sellers in Bristol and Edinburgh had the least amount of time to wait, with homes spending 51 and 53 days on the market, respectively. 

Cities to the west of the UK were most likely to see a long wait with residences in Swansea and Liverpool taking the longest to be sold –  a typical property taking over 100 days (100 and 108 respectively) to sell in both of the cities.


Telecoms operator Vodafone has been fined £4.6 million by Ofcom for ‘serious and sustained breaches of consumer protection rules’.

The regulator said Vodafone had misled pay-as-you-go customers, charging them for top-up credit but ‘providing nothing in return’. It also found Vodafone had broken the rules on handling customer complaints.

Vodafone offered its ‘profound apologies’ for the failures said it was ‘determined to put everything right’.


A new study from Co-op Insurance has found that one in five Brits have been involved in a dispute with their neighbour in the last 12 months. Almost half have moved house to escape the dispute.

Of those who have experienced nuisance neighbours, excessive noise was by far the biggest single cause of residential issues nationally, with over two fifths of Brits experiencing noise related issues, including stomping around the house, loud arguments and late night parties. Nearly one in four have suffered rude or abusive neighbours and a further 21 per cent have had problems with barking dogs or wars over parking (19 per cent).


Over three quarters of homeowners will take steps to ration the amount of energy they use this winter. Energy saving tactics will include leaving it as long as possible before turning on the central heating, leaving rooms unheated and reducing the use of energy-hungry appliances.

The research, commissioned by Gocompare.com Energy, found that 32 per cent of homeowners will have to actively manage the amount of heating they use this winter, with one in 10 worried about how they will pay their fuel bills and 7 per cent expecting to make cutbacks elsewhere to be able to afford to heat their homes.

Financial support

Parents and children are banking on financial support from each other, according to the latest findings from SunLife’s Cash Happy report.

The research shows that while one in six 55-65s are expecting to be supported financially by their grown up kids when they retire, one in five adult children are relying on inheritance from their parents (up from 17 [per cent last year).

Furthermore, one in ten grown up children are relying on this inheritance so much that they think their parents are blowing too much of it.

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The Heathrow saga: What the papers are saying

Heathrow’s third runway has won the backing of the Government but the long-running saga over the airport’s expansion rumbles on. Zac Goldsmith has quit in protest and Boris Johnson said the plans are ‘undeliverable’. So will the scheme ever see the light of day?

Hopefully not, says The Times in its editorial, which suggests Boris’s view about the likelihood of planes taking off from a third runway is ‘probably right’. The paper says the need for airport expansion in the south east is clear and that ‘a decision of sorts is better than none at all’. But it says that Heathrow isn’t the place for it. The Times says expanding Heathrow ‘is the wrong decision, and history will not thank (the PM) for it’. Its damning editorial suggests Theresa May ‘surrendered too quickly to the business lobbyists’ and that she should have opted for Gatwick – where the possibility of further expansion is much more feasible – rather than sticking with the Heathrow plan.

The Daily Mail gives Theresa May its backing for yesterday’s decision. In its editorial, the paper congratulates the PM for ‘making a decision that Messrs Blair, Brown and Cameron pathetically ducked’. Yet the paper admits the 2025 estimate for when the new runway will be ready looks optimistic and says ‘the blight of uncertainty will hang over local residents’ for years to come. Instead of listening to the naysayers though, the Mail urges the PM to take inspiration from Winston Churchill and his famous ‘ACTION THIS DAY’ rubber stamp, which it says the PM should dig out to ensure a new runway does see the light of day.

There’s more praise for Theresa May’s Government in The Sun which says the decision to back expansion at Heathrow sends an ‘important and potent message to investors and companies around the world that Brexit Britain is open for business’. The paper reckons plans for a third runway will give an economic ‘boost’ to Britain, and it points to the nervousness at Heathrow’s rival Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport to show an expansion of Britain’s biggest airport will help the UK remain an important hub for airlines. The Sun admits that there are already obstacles in the way though. It describes ‘local grouches, ambitious MPs and green loonies’ as being a barrier to the third runway becoming more than a mere pilot scheme. In response, the paper urges the likes of ‘Tory quitter Zac Goldsmith’ to get out the way of the plans for expansion.

The Guardian says there are ‘many flaws’ in the ‘short-sighted’ plan to expand Heathrow and it says a ‘determined opposition’ would be able to easily ‘unpick’ them between now and the next General Election. The suggestion seems clear though: is Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party up to the task? The paper says that at its most basic level, the decision to build a new third runway at Heathrow ‘puts old-fashioned economics firmly ahead of tackling climate change’ and says ‘this is the decision of a government that is not prepared to think boldly about the implications of its commitment to reduce carbon emissions’. The Guardian’s editorial is also scathing of some of the reasons put forward by the Government for why Heathrow was the right pick, saying that many of the thousands of new jobs that will be created will be for roles like ’baggage handlers’ and baristas’

The Independent, meanwhile, is more optimistic. It admits there are environmental concerns about the plans but says ‘the economic and business case for Heathrow was overwhelming’. The paper also pours water on Boris’s suggestion that a third runway isn’t possible, saying it was clear ‘Heathrow expansion is eminently deliverable’.

And the Daily Telegraph appears to share some of the scepticism of its former columnist Boris Johnson. In its editorial, the paper says ‘given the ill-starred history of this project’ its ‘by no means certain’ planes will ever take off from a third runway at Heathrow. The paper points out, too, that the scale of opposition is already high and says that any future Governments could easily pull the plug on the project. But, The Telegraph says, after so much dithering, Theresa May deserves some credit for making a move on Heathrow so early into her time in office- something that her predecessors failed to do.

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Exit Emma Rice, and does anyone care?

The exit of Emma Rice from her position as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe is a happy day for Shakespeare and a happy day for the Globe.  Rice – for those who haven’t followed her work – is one of those directors who thinks that Shakespeare doesn’t quite cut it and needs serious intervention to be any good at all.  So for instance in her inaugural Globe production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream she chose not only to change the setting of the play (which is sort of up for grabs) but to render the work gibberish in the process.  The love-potion became a date-rape drug, thus helping to make the character motivations and plot not ‘more relevant’ but simply inexplicable.  She also chose to change the language.  So ‘Away, you Ethiope’ became ‘Get away from me, you ugly bitch.’  After which one of the mechanicals shouted ‘Why this obsession with text?’  So modern.  So edgy. So stupid. 

Rice was certainly not obsessed with text, but in simply using productions to try to work her way through her own modish, pretentious and convoluted thoughts.  She responded to bad reviews in the way any such person would – by claiming that the same reviewers would not have said this about a male director.  Doubtless we will hear more of this from her defenders in the coming days.  But rather than pretend that the theatrical profession is the last bastion of outrageous misogyny, it would be easier to concede that whatever her other skills, her appointment as a director of Shakespeare at the Globe was an awful one.  She didn’t care much about Shakespeare and didn’t care much for the text.  Her audiences – and bosses – in consequence turned out not to care very much for her.  Incidentally, anybody interested in a timely and devastating summary of Rice’s philistinism can read about it in Sohrab Ahmari’s brief polemic – The New Philistines – which is just out and which I happened to read over the weekend.  Perhaps Ahmari should chalk up Rice as an early success for the devastating argument he makes in his short book. 

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The LibDems will make the Richmond Park by-election into a referendum on Brexit

Zac Goldsmith has announced this evening that he’ll be standing as an independent in the Richmond Park by-election he has triggered over Heathrow expansion. The Tories don’t seem too alarmed and will not be fielding a candidate against him. This means that the by-election will turn into a fight between Goldsmith and the Liberal Democrats.

Goldsmith says he is asking his constituents to give him a mandate to continue his fight against Heathrow and that he wants the by-election to be a referendum on a third runway. But the Liberal Democrats will try and turn it into a vote on Brexit. Lib Dems can point out that they too oppose the third runway and that—unlike Goldsmith—they were against leaving the EU. Given that the seat voted very heavily to Remain, by about 70/30, they will hope that this message resonates. 

In 2015, Goldsmith won the seat with a 23,000 majority. But his failed London Mayoral campaign and support for Brexit will have taken some of the gloss off him locally. Not to mention the faff of holding another election. The Liberal Democrats will do everything they can to try and regain a seat they held until 2010 and the attitudes to Brexit in this seat do give them a chance. So more is at stake for the Lib Dems than the Tories –  if they can’t win their old seat back in these circumstances, it is hard to see how they will ever be a significant force in UK politics again. 

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If Zac Goldsmith is to stand again, what is the point of his resignation?

Quite a few MPs are driven by a strange need for validation, but Zac Goldsmith might be the first politician in history to ask his constituents to vote for him three times in two years. Once as Mayor (the less said about that tawdry campaign the better) and, it seems, twice as MP for Richmond Park. He always said he’d resign and trigger a by-election if the Government approved Heathrow, as it did this morning. Originally his threat had force because Richmond was a Tory-Lib Dem marginal and his resignation would mean that the Tories would probably lose a seat. It was Richmond’s way of saying to the Tories: ‘Yes, we’ll vote for you – but only if people like Cameron and Theresa May are being honest about their opposition to a third runway. And if you, Tories, then damage our quality of life with a third runway, then our support vanishes immediately.’ So Zac’s position made sense.

But now, we hear that Zac is considering whether to stand again as an ‘independent Conservative’. And one who would, I suspect, be no more or less supportive of the Government than he was before – causing the Tory whips next to no trouble at all.

So what’s the point of his resigning, with the hassle and expense that the by-election involves? The bookies have him at 10/11 to win the by-election. If he does, then the whole thing risks looking less like an act of principled protest and more like an exercise in political vanity.

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OUP and the Marlowe truthers are pandering to the lowest form of Shakespeare populism

Back in 2007, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance delivered a petition, pompously titled ‘Declaration of Reasonable Doubt’, to that august seat of learning, Brunel University. The petition was the continuation, and perhaps culmination, of centuries of debate over what is known as the ‘authorship question’, an obsessive pursuit – undertaken almost entirely outside of academia – of the real author of Shakespeare’s plays.

For conservative folk, that answer has always been, simply, Shakespeare, but for the clear-sighted geniuses of the Shakespeare Authorship Coalition, the answer has ranged from Edward de Vere to Sir Francis Bacon. Despite long being seen as the birther movement of literature, the authorship questioners have this week won their greatest victory: Oxford University Press has announced that it will be offering Christopher Marlowe a co-writer credit on Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Parts I, II and III.

It has long been established that Shakespeare’s works had regular input from others. That much is uncontentious – as is the fact that there is a singular literary voice that runs through this mystery writer’s opus. The vagueness surrounding what little we know of Shakespeare’s life has caused many serious critics (and countless more actors) to become bogged down in confusion over the Bard’s genesis. And so the authorship question began, and now, in 2016, an answer of sorts has been offered.

So why Christopher Marlowe? The short answer, I suspect, is that of all the reasonable candidates, he is the only one capable of selling books or tickets. There’s always been a seductive virility to the de Vere claim – a brilliant Earl hamstrung by his aristocratic birth – but the Marlowe camp has forever been the most ambitious. The idea that the writer of Doctor Faustus, Tamburlaine and Edward II should have shared a quill with Shakespeare is a confluence of literary greats too good to be true. And it probably isn’t: the Marlovian theory tends to fall down on the fact that Marlowe died in 1593, at which time ‘Shakespeare’ had only written a handful of history plays.

Yet, Oxford University Press have decided that there is compelling evidence of Marlowe having had a hand in Henry VI, Parts I, II and III. This idea is lent credibility by the fact that Marlowe was not deceased when these plays were being written (not being dead is a useful tip for all aspirant playwrights) between 1588 and 1591. Other than that, there is little to go on: Gary Taylor, a professor at Florida State University of all places, and editor of this new edition, stated simply that ‘We have been able to verify Marlowe’s presence in those three plays strongly and clearly enough.’ No arguing with that.

Taylor also went on to say: ‘What is Shakespeare famous for? Writing dialogue – interactions between two people. You would expect in his life there would be dialogue with other people.’ This is a claim of such facile indecency that it would be rejected from an undergraduate essay. In reality, the only leg the Marlowe truthers have to stand on is that computer-based textual analysis tools have progressed a lot in recent years, and these programmes are likely to bring to light patterns of speech that suggest collaboration or revision to the central author’s text. The idea that these will be able to pin that co-authorship to Marlowe – a writer with a relatively slight body of work to draw data from – is rather fanciful.

Which causes to me to question exactly why Oxford University Press has gone out on a limb with this co-authorship credit. This New Oxford Shakespeare edition will also, for the first time in a complete works, contain Arden of Faversham which has long been used as a literary football, kicked between the sexier Elizabethan writers like Kyd, Marlowe and Shakespeare. In including it, OUP have shown that they are willing to indulge an iconoclastic streak, which will excite the press and social media more than the world of Shakespeare academia. Every new edition of the complete works has to do something different, but this 2016 focus on the authorship question panders to the lowest form of Shakespeare populism.

And it can be no coincidence that the Marlowe attribution has been stuck on Henry VI, Parts I, II and III. These plays, loosely charting the Wars of the Roses, are among Shakespeare’s few misfires, and by far the least intellectually consequential of the plays written while Marlowe still had a pulse. The cynic in me can’t help but suspect that OUP have gone for a big headline – MARLOWE WROTE SHAKESPEARE, READ MORE INSIDE – but attached to a play without academic or theatrical reputation. As such, they will avoid the most severe hand-wringing from the academic establishment, while also managing to shift copies of this new edition that, for better or worse, we’re all talking about.

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Sooner or later, the Calais ‘Jungle’ will be back – and the British left can’t wait

The massive operation by 1,200 French riot police and gendarmes to bus the migrants in the ‘Jungle’ at Calais to reception centres elsewhere in France and to raze the illegal camp to the ground has begun. Allelujah.

You might think that the destruction of this crime-ridden and rat-infested shantytown, where up to 10,000 mainly African and Afghani migrants live in shacks and tents without running water or mains electricity, was good news. At last, those poor migrants will have a decent roof over their heads while they finally get round to applying to the French government for asylum, as nearly all are required to do by the law. But no.

Instead, the British left and the French right, joined in unholy alliance, are outraged: How dare François Hollande do such a thing! Britain, not France, must take the Calais migrants – they insist – because ‘that is where they want to go’.

But wanting to get to Britain is not yet a human right. And the law – based on the right of a real refugee to refuge in a safe country – is clear. Aspiring refugees must apply for asylum either in the first EU country they reach or, if they have not applied for asylum after five months in the EU, the country where they are currently. In the case of many of the ‘Jungle’ migrants that means Italy, Greece – or France. Not Britain.

There are a couple of exceptions: under the latest version of the EU’s Dublin Regulation, those with family connections in an EU country can apply for asylum there from another EU country. But they must stay in that country until their application is approved. Nor is it enough to say that they have an uncle in Birmingham. They must prove it. In addition, the Government has vowed to take in more unaccompanied migrant children.

But this group of unaccompanied minors are only a small minority of the total. And to get all 10,000 of those living in the ‘Jungle’ across the Channel, the Islington red rinse set and their imperial blue allies in France (Nicolas Sarkozy and Alain Juppé) need the camp to stay put for a while – at least until the Presidential elections next spring. Without this high viz simbol of ‘our’ callous indifference within sight of the promised land, their cause is doomed.

So the British left and the French right have reacted as if the ‘Jungle’ were some kind of Club Med village. Clare Moseley, co-founder of Care4Calais, compared the French operation to clear the Jungle of its migrants to round-ups of the Jews by the Nazis (although she did later apologise).

A group of charities even challenged the legality of clearing the ‘Jungle’ in a French court. While Saira Grant, chief executive of The Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, says that ‘focusing exclusively’ on the children in the ‘Jungle’ ‘creates an artificial distinction which suggests that all the others who fled war, atrocities and persecution are not worthy of our help because they are adults.’

This groupthink is summed up to a tee in this comment, signed ‘Remain Man’, which was left on the Daily Mail website yesterday:

‘Absolutely disgraceful tearing their camp down. These poor innocent refugees are fleeing a war zone. They need our help. Open the border and let them into the UK so we can look after these poor people if France is going to be this cruel.’

As for the French side of the entente? It’s unshakable: the migrants are not a French problem but a British one, and their transfer to reception centres, many in rural areas, is an assault on la France Profonde and a betrayal of the République. The migrants do not want to go to la France Profonde, of course, because they want to get to Britain. And Calais is the best place to hide in lorries and cars bound for Dover.

Two thirds of them – according to a recent aid charity survey – say that they will refuse to leave the ‘Jungle’. About 200 British anarchists from ‘No Borders’ have arrived to lend them a hand, according to the French police. So far, there has been little violence. But it is early days.

Those who refuse to leave the ‘Jungle’ will be arrested, say the police, but no migrant remains in jail for long. They also say that once in the reception centres, the migrants must claim asylum within an as yet unspecified period. Or else, they will be deported. Few ever are. Sooner or later, the ‘Jungle’ will be back. What fantastic news that will be. For the British left and the French right.

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Don’t let half-term break the bank

My niece is four-years-old. It’s no exaggeration to say that her social life is better than mine – by some considerable distance.

In the past few weeks alone she has attended two kiddie raves (don’t ask), explored the ginnels of Skipton Castle (that’s alleyways to non-Northerners), seen Disney on Ice (Frozen, naturally), made baked apples at CommuniTree in the local park, attended a badge-making course, and spent many happy hours collecting conkers.

Over the same period I have sat at my computer, binge-watched DCI Banks, sat at my desk some more, and, er, that’s it. I did go to Skipton but only because my niece was making the trip.

Of course, I realise that keeping kids entertained doesn’t come cheap. While many children’s activities are free, lots require deep pockets. My sister jokes about taking out a second mortgage for Disney on Ice tickets, and I spend my fair share of cash on Peppa Pig magazines, Paw Patrol stickers, and something extremely odd called Shopkins.

As an Aunty, half-term doesn’t mean much to me. I’ll be taking the little one for her first taste of Indian street food tomorrow in Manchester but I’m lucky in that I don’t have to take care of her all week. Then the costs would really mount up.

According to Equifax, a credit information expert, UK parents spend an average of £323 on childcare and activities during the autumn school break – that’s £144 on the former and £179 on the latter – and breaks down into more than £60 a day.

When it comes to financial outlay, mums and dads in the North East top the spending chart. Almost a quarter in the region splash out up to £150, and 19 per cent spend up to £200 during the week.

half term costs

The holiday is difficult in other ways. Equifax’s research suggests that one in five parents find the break stressful, with those in Scotland topping the anxiety list.

Lisa Hardstaff, Equifax credit information expert, said: ‘The cost of half-term is clearly taking its toll on parents, with an overwhelming 62 per cent saying that the cost of school holidays is increasing year-on-year. It is only the first half-term of the academic year, yet it is interesting to see just how quickly the costs can add up. In previous research we found that parents had to find an additional £300 to kit their child out at the start of new academic year.’

The research also highlights that, aside from the direct financial pressures facing families over the break, almost one in three feel that their child misses out on activities due to the cost. And 15 per cent of parents say that their child is envious of friends because their pals can afford to do more activities during half-term.

Michael Mercieca, chief executive of Young Enterprise said: ‘Not only is it important for parents to ensure they are prepared for the financial side of the half-term break, but they must help their children to understand the value of money. By becoming fully aware of the financial difficulties that some families can face, young people will learn to appreciate what their parents can offer which will put less pressure on them during the school holidays.’

Hardstaff added: ‘The costs of school holidays, coupled with back to school costs can really add up, which is why we encourage families to try to set aside savings over the year to help them cope with these expenses. By factoring in all additional costs, parents can ensure their kids get the most out of their breaks.’

Helen Nugent is Online Money Editor of The Spectator

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Can the Lib Dems profit from Zac Goldsmith’s resignation?

The political fallout is now coming from Theresa May’s decision to approve a third runway at Heathrow. Boris Johnson and Justine Greening have been granted the right to oppose the decision by Number 10. West London Tories are making clear that they are unhappy and Zac Goldsmith has already told his local constituency party that he’ll resign and trigger a by-election. For his part, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has made it clear he is looking at how he can be part of any legal challenge to Heathrow expansion. 

A Richmond Park by-election will be interesting, because although Goldsmith backed Brexit, the area voted heavily to Remain and was a Lib Dem seat until 2010. Expect the Liberal Democrats to go hell-for-leather in the seat; if they can’t win here, in these circumstances, they might as well go back to their constituencies and pack up their offices. 

But the bigger question is how quickly construction can actually start on a third runway? One senior Cabinet Minister thinks it will be a decade before the project is shovel-ready. If that’s the case, it will be a reminder of how costly the decades of inaction have been.

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Let the gruesome legal battle over Heathrow commence

When the history comes to be written of Britain’s descent from a democracy to a krytocracy, the story of Heathrow’s third runway will mark an important point. Is there anyone who really believes that either today’s decision by the government to make Heathrow its preferred option, or the parliamentary vote in perhaps a year’s time, will really be the last word on the matter? It is already 67 years since extra runways to the north of the Bath Road were first proposed for London Airport. It might well be another 67 years before the legal challenges have concluded.

Never have quite so many interests been lined up to challenge in the courts a decision which, until fairly recent times, would have been accepted as a political decision. All that today’s decision does is to trigger the judicial review which has been promised by Greenpeace, the Boroughs of Hillingdon, Richmond, Wandsworth and Windsor and Maidenhead. To those you can add the many thousands who can be counted upon to support an inevitable crowdfunding appeal.

If you thought the spat between Boris Johnson and Michael Gove was about as nasty as Conservative infighting got, think again. Last week, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead voted to contribute £50,000 to the judicial review – which will be based on the claim that a third runway will breach legal limits on air pollution. Yes, that is a Conservative-controlled council which covers the Prime Minister’s own constituency – and for which she has campaigned for in local elections – fighting one of her own government’s policies in the courts.

Is this really what we wanted: judges making the important decisions, with politicians and ministers reduced to mere plaintiffs and complainants? They won’t even be doing their own debating – that will be contracted out to barristers.

MPs are responsible for eclipsing their own power and effecting a huge transfer of power from Parliament to the courts. It is they who nodded through all the legislation which allowed it to happen: everything from the Human Rights Act to the Climate Change Act and every other clause by which governments have chosen to tie their own hands behind their backs. MPs may crow about being held in low esteem, but the reality is that they have made themselves less and less relevant. It is activists, barristers and ultimately unelected judges who now hold the reins in Britain – as we shall soon see over Heathrow.

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