Thought for the Day

The current turmoil in the Holy Land is much too dangerous to take lightly.

The fear of a new Intifada is now a real possibility as Israelis have raised tensions after soldiers shot dead two Palestinian boys, the youngest aged just eleven, bringing to twenty-three the number of deaths on both sides in recent days. The age of the older boy was given by Palestinian medical authorities in Gaza variously as thirteen or fifteen.

An Israeli army spokesperson said, ‘Two boys were throwing burning tires and stones towards the soldiers.’ She insisted that troops fired warning shots in the air before shooting directly at the main instigators.

There has been a series of protests by Palestinian activists demanding that Israeli Jewish groups be stopped from visiting the compound of the Al-Aqsa mosque in east Jerusalem, the third most revered site in Islam and a trigger-point for previous clashes.

Both Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli PM, and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, have called for calm – but so far to no avail.

If this pointless and tragic situation is to continue it will add to the complex upheaval of the strife in Syria and the rest of the region. People are dying in their thousands and refugees are causing monumental problems to the European Union, who are at a loss to agree a unified strategy to deal with this humanitarian catastrophe that seems to grow and show no signs of abatement.

The UN, now a crippled institution, appears to have lost its effectiveness and is becoming a forum for propagandist tripe and hot air for the major powers of the world. The art of diplomacy is no longer the preferred option as the use of force is still considered the way forward and the sanctity of human life is no longer a major issue.

Peace, which brings no end of prosperity to the warring nations, is cast aside in a world that has failed to recognise the finer things that make life, despite its shortness, a pleasurable gift to be cherished until the day we are called upon to inhabit another sphere, where we are told the soul with its magical purity shall reside for evermore and in total harmony with its environment.

Let us pause for a moment and pray that the killing fields will cease and man will eventually discover that serenity is the elixir he has been looking for all his perishing life.

Hypocrisy in Different Attires

Meet the FFDs, as they are called, the sons and daughters in republican France in which prominent roles in politics, business and culture are passed from members of the ruling elite to their children.

The term fils et filles de has now passed into the French language as shorthand for pampered children, who are catapulted into civil service posts or star cinema roles as a result of their parentage.

The journalists Aurore Gorius and Anne-Noémie Dorion investigating the new aristocracy argue in their book, Sons and Daughters, the extent to which the practice has undermined social mobility and fuelled public discontent with an evermore entrenched ruling caste based in Paris.

The result is the creation of the equivalent of a royal court in which ‘the sons and daughters are the future princes and princesses’, the authors write. ‘How can new talents emerge if the places are already in large part occupied by the descendants of these new aristocrats?’

The book has incited debate, not only about the FFDs but more broadly the extent to which the underprivileged are being marginalised in the land that claims égalité.

‘Géneration VIP’ was how L’Express magazine described the rise of the FFDs. ‘Children of artists, politicians, bosses and sportsmen benefit fully from the notoriety and success of their parents,’ it said.

Marie de Villepin, the daughter of Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister, went from films to modelling before discovering her latest vocation as a singer and guitarist. She has raised Gallic eyebrows by complaining about the burden of being a filles de

‘The main way that France perpetuates privilege is through the grandes école, said Robert Tombs, the Cambridge professor of history and an expert in Franco-British relations. he was referring to France’s elite schools, set up as nurseries for future leaders. ‘The schools,’ he said, ‘had made France the only country in the Western world with a ruling class and, unlike Britain’s top universities, guarantee their alumni a job for life.’

One of the most striking recent examples, according to the Sunday Times, was Thomas Le Drian, the son of Jean-Yves Le Drian, the defence minister, who at twenty-nine has landed one of the top jobs in the civil service.

Nowhere are the FFDs more visible than in the cinema. French actors without a relative in the business are rare, and FFDs such as Julie Depardieu and Charlotte Gainsbourg are the toast of the César Awards, the French BAFTAs, and the Cannes Festival.

‘Some are talented, others less so,’ said Florence Darel, an actress who starred with Gérard Depardieu in The Count of Monte Cristo television series. ‘The son or daughter of somebody with a famous name has the right to a second, third, fourth or even tenth chance, whereas if it doesn’t work out first time for an unknown person then you are out.’

In politics more so than any other profession the same names have dominated for decades in provincial parliamentary seats.

In the case of Marie Le Pen, head of the far-right National Front, the party leadership post has passed from generation to generation.

What also seems to distinguish France from its neighbours is the intermingling of the political, business and cultural elites. This was clearly exemplified in President François Hollande’s relationship with actress Julie Gayet and the marriage of Nicolas Sarkozy, his predecessor, to Carla Bruni, the model and singer.

‘The children of actors, politicians and titans of business go to the same private schools,’ write Gorius. ‘They join the same clubs, go skiing in the same resorts, go to the same parties, and end up marrying each other.’ The elites, through their longevity, are becoming increasingly entrenched and inaccessible to outsiders.


Promises by the prestigious ENA or National Administration School, a nursery for future rulers, to diversify its intake beyond the children of the elite have amounted to little.

The French Revolution with all its brutality seems to have failed to eradicate the French aristocracy’s divine powers, which have mushroomed since then in a different attire.

Many talented young French people barred from the gilded court have, I understand, migrated to the more socially mobile Britain.

The jeunesse dorée, by contrast, have seldom seemed happier. Not only do they land jobs in their parents’ offices, they also have the right credentials to blossom in other domains, jumping from one elite to another.

One of Sarkozy’s sons Jean has followed him into politics but Pierre, the elder, is a rapper known as Mosey.

The authors write, in their book, ‘The name has become like an entry ticket allowing people to jump queues, start a career – regardless of whether or not there is talent.’

That’s what I call socialism par excellence. Vive la France for its double standards, which all told even surpasses the genetic hypocrisy of the British elite.

They Keep Coming…

Another tribute to Brian Sewell came as the result of an interview that ‘media mogul’ Tina Brown had with Rosamund Urwin in last Monday’s Evening Standard.

Here is the extract of what she said:

While editing Tatler she discovered by accident the Evening Standard’s art critic Brian Sewell, who died earlier this month. The magazine had run an article about Antony Blunt, the art historian and Soviet spy, and Sewell – his friend – wrote in to complain.

‘I got this postcard in spidery writing absolutely lambasting us,’ she recalls. ‘He called me everything under the sun but it was so funny, so knowledgeable about art, I said: “Why don’t we get him to be our critic?” It was like discovering Lana Turner in the chemists!’

He was, she adds, ‘A remarkable writer. So fearless.’

Brian Sewell found more fame in death than anyone else I can recall. During his lifetime, although his achievements were worthy of every superlative, his public image suffered a great deal due to his stern and waspish character that took no prisoners in his pursuit of excellence.

However, and to the amazement of all, the Establishment, which he sneered at, have come out in their droves to honour his memory, despite their being torn to smithereens by his verbal assaults as to their mediocrity and lack of real perspective on art as he saw it.

Yet his notoriety lives on, but now considered to have been a breath of fresh air in a society afraid to air its views for fear of being marginalised by the powers that be.

His legacy is rich. His books are controversial, yet extremely readable and full of outrageous anecdotes. As for his style of writing, he stands in a league of his own. Read him, and you will be enthralled and amused at the same time.

The Man Who Built the Best Car in the World is out now.

Is Kirsty up to Mischief?

Rumour has it that Kirsty Gallacher is out to sex up Strictly Come Dancing and has not ruled out the possibility of romancing her dancing partner, who now happens to be Brendan Cole.

Well she would, wouldn’t she? For his appeal to women is rather electrifying.

In her latest photo shoot, the thirty-nine-year-old Sky Sports presenter did not look like someone struggling with her body image, despite having two children and the end of her relationship with former rugby ace Paul Sampson last year.

She said, ‘The costumes on the show are the exciting bit, if you are a girly girl. you don’t want anything too bulky. You want something easy!’ She added: ‘I am single, newly single. If romance happened, would i go with it? No comment!’

As these pictures show, she is rather sexy, uninhibited and, for some, could be irresistibly enticing.

She is without doubt a siren who will follow the historical Salome and try to get her man.

So Brendan, be on your guard and prove yourself not prone to any hanky panky – if it ever comes your way…

The Formidable Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel, although currently suffering from her lowest approval ratings in four years as a result of a domestic backlash over her handling of the European refugee crisis, she is without doubt the most formidable leader within the EU if not the Free World, as I think she is.

As a woman who suffered in East Germany during the dreadful communist era, she knows what it is like to be a refugee fleeing from a dastardly regime in your own country where death and destruction of the innocent has torn to shreds every human consideration of the sanctity of life as we perceive it in a civilised and humanitarian culture.

Her empathy to the cause of the refugees is to be admired, despite the difficulties that may ensue because of the enormity of the problem – which quite frankly looks almost beyond a workable solution.

Yet her efforts are that of a woman of courage who is not easily cowed into giving up on her religiously held viewpoint of charitable deeds to alleviate the pain of others.

As a consequence, there is now mounting speculation that she will win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership on this issue.

The German Chancellor has emerged as firm favourite for the 2015 prize, the winner of which will be announced by the Norwegian Nobel Committee this Friday.

I pray that she will win it to prove that caring among politicians is not totally dead and its resurgence in the person of Angela Merkel is a good omen for the future.

Denis Healey: The Labour Giant who will be Sorely Missed

With Labour in total disarray after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, the death of Denis Healey at the age of ninety-eight – one of the most towering figures of the post-war Labour Party – reminds us all of the decline of politics in general.

He was a true Labour giant who was frequently described as the best prime minister the party never had. He was endowed with a variety of talents, a pianist who enjoyed opera, history, painting and photography. His knowledge in most things was remarkable. He defied Tony Benn and ‘the silly billies’ he fought against have now hijacked his party.

Leading politicians of all parties said his death marked the end of an era.

I was privileged to have been given the chance to interview him in 1994. I found him a man of many parts whose persona was mesmerising to say the least. To listen to him was both a joy and an education.

Unlike some politicians I interviewed, he was perhaps the most charismatic with a devastating sense of humour. He took every question I posed to him as a challenge and felt that our encounter was like a game of chess where instead his knowledge was being tested and he had to be triumphant, which he was.

Here is my interview with him in full, for the benefit of those who missed it when it was first published.

The Gift of Laughter

Laughter is indeed infectious. It has also a rumbling effect that has the same resonance upon others within its vicinity.

The old maxim that ‘if you laugh the world laughs with you and if you weep you weep alone’ is the strongest indication that laughter works. American poet, Elizabeth Wheeler Wilcox, coined the phrase in the 1880s and it had proved to be as relevant then as it is today.

A British study found that happiness is infectious, but you cannot catch misery. Scientists from Manchester and Warwick universities analysed data on two thousand high school pupils from the US. The teenagers were asked to name up to ten friends and all were then quizzed on their mental health twice, over the year. The answers revealed that happiness was contagious with someone’s good mood tending to rub off on their companions.

The effect was apparently so powerful that having a network of upbeat friends doubled the odds of recovering from depression. It could even prevent the descent into depression in the first place. The findings go to shed light on the fact that we are essentially the product of our environment. The results suggest that in head-to-head comparison, friendship would massively outperform treatments for depression such as counselling and drugs, the Royal Society Journal Proceedings B reports.

One in five Britons suffers from depression at some point in their lives and existing treatment does not help in up to a third of all cases. Anti-depressants are also expensive and can cause side effects. Manchester University researcher Thomas House said: ‘More work needs to be done but it may be that we could significantly reduce the burden of depression through cheap, low-risk social interventions. It could be that having a stronger social network is an effective way to treat depression.’

Unlike happiness, misery was not catching. In other words, the study showed that being friends with someone who is depressed will not give you the condition. However, my own feeling on the subject is you are likely to lose patience with people whose trait is bringing misery where ever they go as a result of their depression.

One’s sympathy tends to evaporate with the onset of gloom and doom, which we all try to run away from. Otherwise life becomes intolerable. When I was seventeen or so and living with my grandmother and aunt in Nazareth, I had a passion to read the books of Rafael Sabatini, sitting under the palm trees, lost in the vivid world that Sabatini conjured up. His opening line to his classic Scaramouche, says it all: ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.’

His widow chose the same sentence to adorn the great man’s gravestone in Switzerland.