James Butler

27 June 2024

Les jeux sont faits

The gambling scandal seems likely to poison the last days of the election campaign and the end of Rishi Sunak’s tenure. It is an appropriate scandal for the last rites of this government: tawdry, sloppy and – most characteristic – small-time. 

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19 June 2024

New Order?

The intractable sense of exhaustion which attends British politics – not only in this election – is a signal of crisis in its institutions and ideologies. 

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14 June 2024

Small Change

Labour’s manifesto at least looks like a real programme, though it is in places evasive, unclear or underpowered. Starmer promised ‘no surprises’ between its covers: it is a conservative document, cleared of any potential traps on the way to Downing Street. Its cover promises, simply, ‘change’, but raises the question: how much?

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5 June 2024

Desperate v. Stolid

If the ITV debate between Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer was exceptional, it was only for its inanity. Two men, neither of them with much stage presence or prone to thinking on their feet, traded prepared barbs and crowbarred in their key messages. Each made sure to name audience members, Janet – or was it Paula? – as an empathetic consolation prize for dodging their actual questions. Be honest about when – or if, or how – we’ll fix the NHS? Not on your life.

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31 May 2024

Sunak’s Choice

It is difficult to explain Sunak’s decision to call an election now. The Conservatives’ chief electoral strategist has stressed the ‘enthusiasm gap’ for Labour. But it takes some elaborate self-deception to read that voters despise you more than they like the other guy and take it as good news. Sunak must know he is going to lose. Perhaps he just wants it all to be over.

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14 November 2023

Repetition Compulsion

Suella Braverman finally goaded Rishi Sunak into sacking her as home secretary yesterday morning. The nominal cause was the editorial Braverman wrote for the Times last Thursday, which libelled pro-Palestinian demonstrators as ‘hate marchers’ and criticised the police for ‘playing favourites’. Number Ten has since briefed that its suggested edits for the piece were ignored. Braverman’s baseless claim of threats to remembrance services at the Cenotaph helped mobilise hundreds of far-right counter-protesters; responsibility for the drunken violence and sporadic racist attacks against demonstrators returning home lies with her.

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11 August 2023

At One Cartridge Place

The audience of Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City is plunged into a world created in two vast warehouse spaces, one Mycenae and the other Troy, between which play out the events – more or less – of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Euripides’ Hecuba.

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25 July 2023

In Suburbia

One of Labour’s least attractive peculiarities is how restless it gets when deprived of opportunities for self-flagellation. It could have greeted last Thursday’s by-election results simply by stressing the obvious – that the country is repulsed by the Conservatives, for whom these elections were a disaster – and reciting the usual pieties about the need to supplicate further in suburbia. Instead the party has erupted in hopeless overreaction.

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9 May 2023

Nightmare Abbey

After the grovelling, thousands of troops processed in armed celebration. Somewhere beyond the cordon, the Metropolitan Police arrested a few republicans for precrime. Commentators purred that this, after all, is what Britain does best.

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21 October 2022

Short Termism

The spectacle of fringe libertarianism crashing and burning on contact with the real world would be funny if we didn’t have to live through the consequences. It isn’t clear what Conservatives think conservatism is any longer: what aspect of actually existing British society (rather than ersatz Victorian fantasy) they seek to conserve, or even what they think the roots of the country’s problems in fact are. The easy, nonsense answers – Remainer fifth columnists, decadent critical race theorists and debauched metropolitans – have their idiot adherents still, some of them sincere and dangerous rather than merely cynical. But they are fictions that won’t stand up to the very real problems of the winter now bearing down on us. 

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