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What Starmer doesn’t understand about Diane Abbott

🔥 Voting: hot AF | 🛹 Skateboarding GCSE | 😛 Tongue myth

In the headlines

The Tories have vowed to rewrite equality laws so that protections related to someone’s sex apply only to biological sex. Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said the policy, which could result in transgender women being legally barred from female-only spaces, would tackle confusion and protect women’s “privacy and dignity”. Mexico has elected its first female president. Claudia Sheinbaum, a former mayor of Mexico City, won about 60% of the vote in yesterday’s election, in what has been described as a sea change for women in a country known for its macho culture. Rugby league star and campaigner Rob Burrow died yesterday aged 41. The former Leeds Rhinos player raised millions for motor neurone disease charities after he was diagnosed with the illness in 2019.


Diane Abbott in 1979. Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty

What Starmer doesn’t understand about Diane Abbott

Keir Starmer is a “late, but fervent convert” to the view that a successful Labour leader must suppress the party’s hard left, says Charles Moore in The Daily Telegraph. “So why is the case of Diane Abbott different?” I knew her slightly at Cambridge “as a warm, ebullient person”. In later decades, that “twinkle” diminished: I sense that her relentless “identification with victimhood” has damaged her own happiness. Nevertheless, “it is something to be Britain’s first black woman MP”, and now the longest-serving black MP. Abbott “is what you could call pre-commemorated”. Her portrait already hangs on the Westminster walls; some of her speeches are anthologised. This has come with an exceptional torrent of online abuse.

Somehow, Starmer missed all this. “He misread how others react when a powerful white man seems to pick on a black female icon.” Until last week, the 70-year-old Abbott was “quite prepared to retire”. But then she was “dishonoured” by the Labour leadership, which briefed the press that she couldn’t stand for the party at this election, despite her regaining the Labour whip after an anti-Semitism row last year. So Abbott announced that she wanted to be an MP “for as long as possible”, her cause won public support, and Starmer eventually backed down. The fiasco has made the Labour leader look “ungracious, even vindictive”, and ultimately “weak”.

📺 🤝 One “unlikely source” of support for Abbott was Jonathan Aitken, the once-disgraced Conservative minister “now redeemed as a clergyman”. The pair have been friends since 1983, when she was an obstreperous union representative at the broadcaster TV-AM and he was its chief executive. Aitken, now the family pastor, is godfather to Abbott’s son, and a close enough pal to visit her when she was in hospital and chat frequently on the phone.

Inside politics


Two-fifths of Britons think people who vote are more attractive, says The Times. In a YouGov poll of 2,400 people aged 18 to 24, more than half said the politically engaged were more intelligent, while 35% considered them to be more trustworthy. The findings have inspired Just Vote, an ad campaign designed by Saatchi & Saatchi to push under-35s to the polls at the general election. The emoji-laden posters boast slogans such as “Voting is hot AF” and the Tinder-inspired “Voting types get more swipes”.


Skateboarding has been added to the physical education GCSE curriculum in Northern Ireland, says BBC News. Two pupils in the region have become the first in the UK to study the sport as part of the qualification, with marks awarded for dismantling and fixing skateboards; for landing tricks like ollies, a jump triggered by hitting the back end of the board into the ground; and for making those tricks look effortless.


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Tomorrow’s world

The Chinese army’s newest recruit is a robot dog with an assault rifle strapped to its back, says the FT. The debut of the horrifying hound was a “major highlight” of joint exercises carried out by the People’s Liberation Army and Cambodia last month, according to Chinese state television. The weapon is based on a mechanised mongrel made by the tech firm Unitree Robotics, which says it does not sell products to the Chinese military and has no idea how the PLA got hold of the dog.

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Catching up on some reading at the Hay Festival in 2004. Christopher Jackson/Getty

The muddled thinking behind book festival boycotts

Literature is full of gratifying moments when protagonists “chuck dirty money back in the face of a would-be benefactor”, says Martha Gill in The Observer. Pip refusing Magwitch; Will Ladislaw “disdaining the charity of George Eliot’s corrupted Bulstrode”. It’s an appealing moral statement: “There is a price at which I, too, cannot be bought.” Yet in these great works, tensions are drawn out – is it a bit rich of the uppity Pip to sneer at the reformed Magwitch? Is Ladislaw a hypocrite to accept money instead from the pompous Casaubon, or wise to observe that “in a hard world, pragmatism has its place”? Sadly, such nuanced thinking appears to elude today’s art world anti-capitalists.

The activist group Fossil Free Books has successfully pressured both Hay and the Edinburgh international book festival to sack their main sponsor, Baillie Gifford. They claim the Scottish investment firm is “destroying the planet by investing in fossil fuels”, and is linked to firms that “profit from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide”. Eh? Just 2% of Baillie Gifford’s assets are invested in businesses with links to fossil fuels, well below the industry average of 11%. And the apparently genocidal holdings in the Israeli war machine turn out to be shares in Amazon, Alphabet and the chipmaker Nvidia. If they are complicit, “so is almost everyone else”. It’s not as though these festivals will magically become “fossil free” without Baillie Gifford’s generous sponsorship, at least until people stop driving there, using their smartphones and, you know, buying books. All this boycott will do is deprive the cash-starved book world of a deep-pocketed ally.



You probably remember a diagram from biology textbooks showing how taste buds are arranged on the human tongue, says The New York Times: sweet sensors at the tip, bitter at the back, and so on. But the idea that specific tastes can only be detected in certain areas is a total myth. What the diagram is supposed to show is how the different parts of the tongue differ in sensitivity – the tip is just better at sensing sweetness than the sides.

Election watch

🗳️ 31 days to go...
One common criticism of our politicians is that they “say whatever it takes to get elected”, says Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. But it’s worth remembering what happens when our leaders tell the truth. In the 2017 election, Theresa May tried to address the soaring cost of social care bills for the elderly by proposing a new system, under which some care would be funded after the person’s death from the value of their property. Labour immediately dubbed it a “dementia tax”, the Tories’ vast poll lead disappeared almost overnight – and since then neither of the parties has “dared even to discuss this most intractable of problems”.


Snapshot answer

It’s Elena Zhukova, a retired Russian biologist who, on Saturday, became Rupert Murdoch’s fifth wife. The Aussie news tycoon, 93, is believed to have met Zhukova, 67, at a dinner party hosted by his third wife Wendi Deng. Zhukova was previously married to Russian oil billionaire Alexander Zhukov, and their daughter Dasha was married to the oligarch Roman Abramovich until 2017. So if Dasha and Roman hadn’t divorced, old Rupert would now be the former Chelsea owner’s step-father-in-law. Small world.


“To be interesting in one beautiful sentence after another. To be interesting; not to change the world.”
Henry James on his aim as a writer

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