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23 August

In the headlines

A Whitehall memo leaked to Bloomberg reveals President Biden promised Boris Johnson and other G7 leaders in June that he would keep enough troops in Kabul to protect allies’ embassies. On top of this broken promise, the government is furious that the US withdrawal opens the door for Isis to surge back in Afghanistan, posing a far bigger threat to Europe than to America. “Summer has finally burst back,” says the Daily Star. A “hot air blob” passing over the UK will kick off 12 days of glorious sunshine from today, with the mercury reaching 27C in Cumbria in time for the bank-holiday weekend. 

Comment of the day


Inside politics

Tony Blair’s criticism of President Biden’s “imbecilic” withdrawal from Afghanistan glosses over his own failures, says Sky’s Deborah Haynes on Twitter. He mentions that “we made mistakes, some serious”. But those mistakes “set the stage for failure and retreat” – most gravely, diverting attention and resources from Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Contrary to his new maxim that “intervention requires commitment”, Blair pulled troops out of Iraq when that war became politically unpopular. And in all his criticism of “radical Islam”, there’s “no mention of his pals, the Saudis”, tweets journalist Mehdi Hasan. “Funny that.”


Nicholas Huzan visited the same nightclub, G-A-Y in central London, for 1,000 nights (nearly) in a row. Christmas Day aside, the fiftysomething computer technician had made it to night 998 when Covid struck, did 999 during the lockdown lull last July and reached 1,000 last month. “As soon as I got in, I was right back into the swing of it – jumping and spinning as if nothing had changed,” he told The Guardian. He says that dancing to Abba, Kylie Minogue and Madonna rescued him from a life of depression and loneliness. 


Climate change doesn’t explain all of southern Italy’s wildfires, says Quentin Raverdy in Le Point. The police see “the hand of the mafia” in at least half of the blazes, the latest of which were brought under control last week. Powerful crime families make fortunes in land management, selling wood and site security. Arson clears land and opens up real-estate opportunities. And nothing says “power” and “control” like cooking up a raging inferno.

On the money

Female board members at FTSE 100 companies are paid 40% less than men, says the FT. Women in executive roles received £1.5m on average last year, while their male counterparts took home £2.5m.

Quirks of history

The electric car debate is “as old as the automobile itself”, says Tom Standage in Slate. In 1897 the bestselling car in the US was electric: the Pope Manufacturing Company’s Columbia. But a lack of charging points and the rise of the internal combustion engine saw electric “adventure machines” marketed to housewives. “She who drives a Babcock Electric has nothing to fear,” ran a 1910 ad. The implication was that women, unable to drive and maintain tricky petrol vehicles, should opt for electric cars instead.


Quoted 23-08

“These are the last days of the Americans. Next it will be China.”

An Afghan tribal elder in 2009, quoted by historian William Dalrymple in Return of a King

Snapshot answer

It’s Angela Merkel, fashioned into a 14cm wooden incense diffuser. The figurine shows the Chancellor performing her trademark “diamond hand” gesture and looking suitably calm. The mini Merkels were handmade in the Ore Mountains to raise money for last month’s Rhineland floods. They dispense incense through the doll’s hair and sell for €69 a pop. The first production run sold out in days.