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‘You can trust the Daily Express’

19 June 2015

THE Financial Times on Saturdays has an interview series called "lunch with the FT". The gimmick is that the interviewee gets to choose where to meet and what to eat.

Normally the game is played by picking somewhere fantastically expensive and ordering very little food, and what little there is very healthily, but subtlety is not a quality associated with Richard Desmond. The billionaire pornographer who owns the Daily Express has a reputation as grasping, and, sure enough, he suggested lunch at the Coq D'Argent, a very fancy restaurant in the city. He ordered tuna steak with a tomato salad, two bottles of water (at £4.50 each), and a bottle of claret, quite good claret. So it should have been, for £580.

Henry Mance, who conducted the interview, very properly made this bottle the centrepiece. He has to get the expenses claim through somehow. He kept and reproduced the receipt. He also reproduced an anecdote from Desmond's (ghost-written) autobiography in which "he once turned down a prostitute because he calculated that her fee was equivalent to the profit on a page-and-a-half of advertising."

Yet there is a streak of sentiment and self-delusion even in someone so calculating. "I was always slow to adopt the internet because I knew what would happen," he said, adding rather mysteriously: "It's interesting how vinyl's coming back, isn't it?" And then, wonderfully, "BuzzFeeds, SchmuzzFeeds - at the end of the day, you trust the Daily Express."

Consecutive front-page splashes in last week's Express: "Migrant invasion out of control", "How chocolate can add years to your life", "Exercise to fight misery of back pain", "How Aspirin fights cancer", and "New wave of migrants to flood Britain".

I'd put my money on Buzzfeed.

 

OVER at The Spectator, Damian Thompson had a return to more normal form with a long essay on the collapse of Christianity in England. "It's often said that Britain's church congregations are shrinking, but that doesn't come close to expressing the scale of the disaster now facing Christianity in this country.

"Every ten years the census spells out the situation in detail: between 2001 and 2011 the number of Christians born in Britain fell by 5.3 million - about 10,000 a week. If that rate of decline continues, the mission of St Augustine to the English, together with that of the Irish saints to the Scots, will come to an end in 2067.

"That is the year in which the Christians who have inherited the faith of their British ancestors will become statistically invisible. Parish churches everywhere will have been adapted for secular use, demolished, or abandoned. Our cathedral buildings will survive, but they won't be true cathedrals because they will have no bishops."

This last prediction has to be wrong. The Church of England will shrink as South American armies are supposed to do, so that the last congregation, of 4.3 people, will find itself supporting 43 bishops and several hundred communication professionals.

Thompson has a great deal of fun demolishing most of the glib reasons for optimism: immigrants will not rescue the Roman Catholic Church; neither will following the instructions of Jesus and being "a faithful presence". "This seems to me to ignore the reality that religions invariably die, at least on a local level, when no one can be bothered to attend their services."

 

THE difficulty with the Pope's encyclical, which may or may not have been leaked early, although we're told that what's out there is only a late draft, is that it's been leaked in Italian. Nothing would normally stop the instant analysis of a mere 192 pages of dense argument - in fact, one could write most of it now - but the fact that we can't even pretend to have read it has brought an unwonted thoughtfulness to the English coverage.

 

WHICH leaves a really astounding piece in The New Yorker about the poetry of jihad. So much is written about the seductive powers of internet grooming in luring young people into the mythology, and yet it turns out that there is also a thriving scene of poetry in classical Arabic, obedient to the conventions of rhyme and metre, some of it written by women.

"Unlike the videos of beheadings and burnings, which are made primarily for foreign consumption, poetry provides a window on to the movement talking to itself. It is in verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad." Robyn Cresswell and Bernard Haykel have written the most enlightening thing I have read in years about the lure of jihadi ideology.

The moral, perhaps, is that, if you want to be a world-class religious correspondent, it helps to speak languages that aren't English, since they are where the action is.

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