Long before he became Emperor and retired to Capri to devote himself to whatever passed for hard porn in the first century AD, Tiberius was a brilliantly successful Roman general. His troops did not like him (no one did: he had half the warmth and charm of Alan Sugar). But they were willing to die for him, because while he was a fearsome taskmaster, he never asked anything more of them than he was prepared to endure himself. If they had to sleep in the open air and eat vile, maggoty food, he slept beside them and ate the same rations, and he always charged into battle at the head of the vanguard. Whatever it happened to be, in other words, he and his men were all in it together.
In troubled times that lend themselves to mutinous resentment, there is everything to be said for leading from the front. Our masters might ponder this as they reflect on the fall-out from the Budget.
If David Cameron and George Osborne made themselves hostages to fortune on Wednesday, the specific fortune in each case is their own. They may not be vast fortunes by the standards of their social sets, yet neither would be foolish enough to deny that he is extremely well off, nor be so naive as to doubt the damage that the perception of wealth has the potential to inflict.
Please find me a pensioner who, as a result of the Budget’s freezing of pensioner tax allowances and this year’s increase in the state pension combined, will be worse off. If you can’t, then please shut up.
I don’t believe you can. Of course, there may well be pensioners who will be worse off because of the Budget for other reasons – they will have to pay more stamp duty if they sell their £2 million house, or they must cough up (mot juste) more for cigarettes – but, in virtue of being pensioners, they are fine.
Because of the “triple lock”, the state pension now rises by the rate of wage increases or price increases or 2.5 per cent, whichever is the higher. This is a much better deal than in the past. No “granny tax” has been invented: it is simply that age-related tax allowances, more favourable to the old than to working people, are being frozen. But the reason for this is that the personal allowance for everyone – the threshold at which people start to pay income tax – is shooting up. By the next election, it will almost certainly have attained for all the level which, until now, has applied only to pensioners.
Liberals of various descriptions make so much noise in British public life that it’s easy to overlook the fact that liberalism has run into deep trouble on the world stage. For an illustration, consider a joint interview given this week by Tony Blair and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Mrs Sirleaf is asked about the fact that homosexuality is illegal in her country. She replies: “We like ourselves just the way we are.” Pressed on the point, she confirms that she will not sign any legislation decriminalising “sodomy”.
Mr Blair is a champion of gay rights, so you’d expect him to take issue with this statement. Not a bit of it. “The President’s given her position, and this is not one for me,” he says.
Here’s another interesting vignette, again involving a Labour politician, but this time on his home turf. This week Ken Livingstone was accused by Jewish Labour supporters of telling them at a private meeting that since Jews tended to be rich he wasn’t expecting them to vote for him. In a letter published in the Jewish Chronicle, they also accused Livingstone of using the word “Jewish” in a pejorative manner. And this just weeks after he described the%
For centuries the Turin Shroud, regarded by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, by others as the most elaborate hoax in history, has inspired extraordinary and conflicting passions. Popes, princes and paupers have for 700 years been making pilgrimages the length of Europe to stand in its presence while scientists have dedicated their whole working lives to trying to explain rationally how the ghostly image on the cloth, even more striking when seen as a photographic negative, and matching in every last detail the crucifixion narrative, could have been created. And still a final, commonly agreed answer remains elusive, despite carbon-dating in 1988 having pronounced it a forgery.
“That’s what first attracted me,” says Thomas de Wesselow, an engagingly serious 40-year-old Cambridge academic. “I’ve always loved a mystery ever since I was a boy.” And so he became the latest in a long line to abandon everything to try to solve the riddle of the Shroud.
Eight years ago, de Wesselow was a successful art historian, based at King’s College, making a name for himself in scholarly circles by taking a fresh look at centuries-old disputes over the attribution of masterpieces of Renaissance painting.