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15-16 January

Behind the headlines

Boris is still the “least bad option” for the Tories

The Downing Street party scandal started with reports of a few small “gatherings” and a glass of wine or two, says Sean O’Grady in The Independent. Now it turns out that over lockdown government was “a non-stop, booze-fuelled, funkadelic, superspreading knees-up”. This includes two parties on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral, for which No 10 has had to apologise directly to Buckingham Palace. Depressingly, the current spin is that the May 2020 party Johnson attended is unlikely to be judged as illegal by Sue Gray, the civil servant investigating. No matter: the public have long since made up their mind that Johnson is sleazy, selfish and entitled. Such is the PM’s predicament, “regime change” might not be far away.

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The fastest postie in the West

In 1855, an American farmhand called John Thompson saw an advert in the Sacramento Union: “Uncle Sam Needs a Mail Carrier.” The federal government wanted someone to haul letters and packages across the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains, in winter – a terrifying 180-mile round trip involving 10,000ft of steep climbs and another 10,000ft of treacherous descents. Thompson, who had skied as a child in his native Norway, built a pair of rudimentary skis and signed up.


Boris quoted 15.01

“I think he honestly believes that it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”

Boris Johnson’s schoolmaster at Eton, in a letter to the future PM’s father, in 1982


The voice of My Fair Lady

“You probably don’t know Marni Nixon’s face, but you will know her voice,” says Alexandra Pollard in The Independent. The singer’s “trilly, gleaming soprano” was dubbed over Natalie Wood’s singing in 1961’s West Side Story, and over Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady. Nixon, who initially worked in opera, became a “ghost singer” when she discovered she could eerily mimic the timbre of an actress’s speaking voice in song. But despite her work being highly successful, Nixon was “paid next to nothing”, denied credit, and sworn to secrecy.


No wonder Djokovic hates authority

The media is desperate to portray Novak Djokovic as “a bone-headed anti-vaxxer”, says James Billot in UnHerd. The reality is more complex. For a start, Djokovic grew up in communist Yugoslavia – so it’s no surprise he doesn’t like blanket rules. In his book Serve to Win, the tennis champion describes a childhood where there was “only one way of doing things”. Under communism, he explains, you were taught not to be open-minded. “If you are not open-minded, then you can be easily manipulated.” Djokovic’s family shares his anti-authoritarian streak – his father made headlines after call


quoted rls 16.01

“If your morals make you dreary… they are wrong.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

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America’s puritanical soul

“Wokism” is deeply rooted in American history, says Jean-Loup Bonnamy in Le Figaro. The US was founded by Puritan Protestants in the 17th century, who fled England to escape religious persecution. They saw their new home as a “clean slate”, an attitude that lingers on in America’s love of the “self-made man”, and with wokism’s assertion that every institution is ripe for deconstruction. Puritanism’s obsession with sin is another historical thread: literal witch hunts in Salem in the 1690s were followed, in the 1950s, by the anti-communist paranoia of McCar

The case for

Tony Blair

There are plenty of sound arguments against Sir Tony, says Stephen Daisley in The Spectator, but across a whole segment of the British public, “Blair Derangement Syndrome” has taken hold. For them, including more than a million signatories of a petition to revoke his spanking new knighthood, Blair is a “war criminal, a mass murderer, Bliar, Bush’s poodle, a bloodthirsty neocon, a Europhile traitor and the monster who introduced lying to the noble vocation of politics”.

Inside politics

Donald Trump’s Twitter ban is working in his favour, says The Wall Street Journal. Why? Because it keeps him on the sidelines, leaving the spotlight on President Biden – whose average approval rating has plummeted from 53% to 42% since taking office. I don’t know a single person in “Trump world” who regrets the ban, says one adviser. “Not a single one.” Even the former president himself can see the benefit. “I saved a lot of time,” he said in an interview last March. “Now I actually have time to make phone calls, and do other things and read papers that I wouldn’t read.”


The hideaway

This four-bedroom villa near the Italian hilltop town of Todi has three sitting rooms, a large outdoor living area, a swimming pool, an olive grove and glorious views of the Umbrian countryside. Perugia is a 30-minute drive away. £902,000.

The townhouse

This Grade II listed Georgian house on Clerkenwell’s peaceful Wilmington Square has been beautifully preserved, with original chimneypieces, shutters and floorboards still in place. It has four bedrooms, three reception rooms, a courtyard garden and a separate two-storey Victorian annexe. St Paul’s Cathedral, the Barbican Centre and King’s Cross are all within walking distance. £2.5m.