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21 October

In the headlines

“He couldn’t, could he?” asks the Daily Express, as Boris Johnson emerged as a front-runner to replace Liz Truss. Tory MPs will whittle the candidates down to a final two on Monday, then hold an “indicative vote” to determine their favourite. If the runner-up can’t be persuaded to drop out, Tory members will get the final say, with the new PM announced next Friday. Rishi Sunak is the bookies’ favourite, and Penny Mordaunt is also likely to run. But polls suggest Johnson is the most popular among Conservative members. If he’s up against Sunak, one Tory MP tells The Spectator, it’ll be “the ultimate death match”. Faking a smile boosts your happiness as much as looking at pictures of puppies and rainbows, Stanford boffins have found. So the old advice is true, says The Times: just “grin and bear it”.

British politics

Can Boris really make a comeback?

Rishi Sunak has maintained a “classy distance” since losing the leadership election, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. “No smugness, no sniping, no schadenfreude.” He predicted Trussonomics would “send the pound sprawling and interest rates spiking”, and he was right. His original agenda might have been “uninspiring”, but it looks radical compared to what Jeremy Hunt is doing. Truss overdid the low-tax, free-market stuff, but Hunt is “running too far the other way”. His fiscal plan looks set to come in at about £35bn – “one of the biggest high-tax austerity hits in half a century”. As a veteran of Goldman Sachs, Sunak has the skills to “strike a better balance”. Allies say he has the most support among Tory MPs, who want a “quick coronation” with minimum fuss. “What could possibly go wrong?”

Climate activism

The reality of an oil-free “utopia”

Just Stop Oil activists made headlines around the world last week when they hurled soup over van Gogh’s Sunflowers, says Ross Douthat in The New York Times. No damage was done, thanks to the painting’s protective screen. But it’s worth reflecting on what these and other green protesters say they want: for us to stop using fossil fuels, immediately. They seem to imagine the impact of this will fall only on the “greedy rich and consumerist upper middle class”, who will be forced to accept “a certain austerity”. Poorer folk, the activists reckon, will somehow experience the “post-capitalist, de-growth future” as more affordable, not less. But the energy crisis has revealed an “obvious crack” running through this “crystalline utopia”.

Gone viral

This video of a mountain climber fighting off a bear has racked up more than eight million views on Twitter. Not everyone is impressed, however. “That’s a female black bear at most 180 pounds,” writes one Twitter user. “Not that scary.” Watch the full clip here.

Nice work if you can get it

“Falling on her sword” will come with certain financial comforts for the outgoing PM, says the Daily Mail. Despite resigning after just 44 days in office, 47-year-old Liz Truss will enjoy an annual office allowance of £115,000, a chauffeur-driven car and an around-the-clock security detail – for the rest of her life.

Eating in

A week ago, the Daily Star set up a webcam on a 60p Tesco lettuce in a blonde wig to see if it would last longer than the prime minister. “The lettuce won,” says Helen Lewis in The Atlantic, becoming an overnight global sensation. The “saga of Liz and the lettuce” tells us many things about British political culture, “one of which is its taste for lousy jokes”. How was the Brexit convert Liz Truss brought down? “A Romaine plot.” Why did she make so many mistakes? “Just cos.” Was her decision to give a tax cut to the rich her fatal error? No, it was just the tip of the iceberg. “Be thankful there aren’t more varieties of lettuce.”

Quirk of history

In the late 19th century there was a fad in Britain for “headless portraits”. The hugely popular trick photographs involved having the subject’s head appear separated from the body, often held in the sitter’s hands – and sometimes next to an apparent murder weapon.

Inside politics

After a day of utter chaos in parliament on Wednesday, the Tory hangout Carlton Club hosted Conservative bigwigs for a dinner to mark 100 years since MPs helped oust Liberal PM David Lloyd George. When Trade Minister Kemi Badenoch arrived at the event, says Politico, she opened her car door, beheld the waiting press pack, said “nope”, closed the door again and drove off.


It’s a sculpture by Christophe Guinet, aka “Monsieur Plant”. Paying homage to the way trees can grow in weird shapes, the French artist has made a series of works which look like trunks tied in knots. To create the arboreal illusion, says the art website Hyperallergic, Guinet covers plaster sculptures with pine bark. “The final effect is double-take worthy and thoroughly defies logic, even at close view.”


quoted 21.10.22

“Democracy is the process by which people choose who to blame.” 

Bertrand Russell