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Best of Reaction 2018

Reaction is taking a break until January 3rd, unless there is major breaking news that needs analysing. Our daily email for subscribers returns on Monday January 7th. Until then, here's a selection of our favourite pieces from 2018.

BY Alastair Benn & Finn McRedmond   /  21 December 2018

I’m a Japanese emperor get me out of here! Philip Patrick

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko in particular are presented to the public as almost liminal figures. Like the society grandees the Van der Luydens in Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence they exist in a sort of “super-terrestrial twilight”.

Nicola Sturgeon: a failing regime bereft of achievements Gerald Warner 

Schadenfreude may be a German concept, but the Scots are its greatest exponents.

Why ‘Our Future, Our Choice’ is wrong in trying to stop Brexit Alastair Benn

Brexit is a new iteration of the old argument about British and English identity. Is England’s soul more of the Shire or the Metropole, the North or the South? Is Britain more Scotland or England?

The death of John McCain and the urgent need for America to get back to normality Iain Martin

An entire way, a style and ethic, of doing American politics is disappearing or has already gone.

Bye bye Boris and good riddance Walter Ellis

Now we must wait for his Churchillian pronouncement on why he felt impelled to leave high office in order, ever so humbly, yet proudly, to deliver a death blow to Theresa May. Expect classical allusions, and illusions, as he orates, imagining himself like Cicero excoriating the dictatorship.

The Reaction interview: Tim Waterstone brought to book Finn McRedmond

Funding the first store was a struggle of inordinate proportion. Having repeatedly failed to get any money for the venture Tim Waterstone was advised to go see a certain NatWest manager in Covent Garden. After his presentation the manager told him he was “either a madman or a genius” but “he didn’t mind much either way as he was retiring on Tuesday.” And Waterstone was given just enough for the first shop in South Kensington.

Hard Brexiteers don’t understand the consequences of a WTO deal Brexit Ben Kelly

The risks are so severe that I simply do not believe it will be allowed to happen. We have come closer to it than I had hoped or expected, and there are some dogmatic loons willing it from both extremes. Brexit headbangers want to leap off the cliff edge, and hardcore Europhiles want to see the UK squirm.

Did no-one at the Dorchester or the President’s Club notice the Weinstein cultural meltdown? Maggie Pagano

It was an unhealthily, male-dominated world in which women were only included if they behaved – and played – as one of the boys. I’ll never forget Elizabeth Sullivan, the first woman to work on the London Stock Exchange floor, telling me that her nickname was Sweaty Betty – not because of her body odour – but because she wore such strong perfume. Another of her colleagues was named Anne Boleyn, because she had a pretty body but not such a pretty face.

How to reboot Britain’s failing Brexit strategy George Bridges

Make no mistake: if the UK were to leave without any deal, the shock could be immense. Note: could. The severity would depend on the extent of the UK (and EU’s) preparedness – both logistically and politically. But however ghastly that may be, when I was a Brexit Minister I considered the prospect of not being able to leave the negotiating table even worse. In a negotiation, if one side feels compelled to strike a deal any cost, the other side will always holds the whip hand.

Constitutional crisis? Nonsense. Parliament is doing its job Mark Fox

This is not a democratic or constitutional crisis, it is the manifestation of our political process and it is a glorious thing.

Defensive and troubled EU is out of date in a fast-changing world Robert Salisbury

The French believe fervently in their own exceptionalism. However, in their disillusionment with the centrist duopolies that have dominated post-war Western Europe they are not alone.

Success of English cricket shows sport is no longer a game for specialists Allan Massie

More than a hundred years ago, Archie MacLaren, captain of England and Lancashire, declared that if you can’t win with four bowlers, you can’t win at all. But I guess this view is out of date – just as specialisation seems to be.

Nick Timothy, a propped up PM and the weird plot to make Gavin Williamson Tory leader Iain Martin

May on the campaign trail in 2017 was the wrong woman in the wrong movie.

Chorus of approval: Meet the maestro of the Met Gerald Malone

A soprano I chatted with during the intervals had been with the chorus for 24 years and held pretty fixed views on everything, from Verdi to Nancy Pelosi. Verdi hasn’t written an opera about Nancy Pelosi yet, but he tells me he’s working on it. Apparently, there’s a big problem working out the denouement in the final Act.

How EEA and EFTA can fix the Brexit mess Adrian Yalland

The UK would be unwise to retreat into isolation as a result of Brexit. A global UK is a UK engaged with the continent of Europe as well as the Commonwealth, the US and Asia.

The other casualties of 1981 – Europe’s vanished monarchies Gerald Warner

Considering the current instability of Europe, there is another casualty of the Great War that we should mourn: the fall of the ancient monarchies of Russia, Austria-Hungary and Germany. The ending of the Romanov, Habsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties in the chaos of 1918 (or 1917 in Russia) created a politico-cultural vacuum that still afflicts Europe. Over the past century Europe has been a less civilized place than it was under dynastic rule.

Britain’s European tragedy: Why we never learned to play the game Walter Ellis

Over the 45 years of our membership of the EEC/EU, we failed to understand that what happened in Brussels wasn’t all about us. We saw every decision that was taken as a sleight aimed at British pride and sovereignty by a group of nations who envied us our island story and spent most of their time engineering our downfall.

Thanksgiving used to heal America’s divisions – for how much longer? Simon Targett

By returning to the Pilgrims’ heart-warming story once a year, and particularly by recreating that first thanksgiving, Americans have been able to revisit an apparently simpler time, devoid of the antagonisms and anxieties of today. They have been able to remind themselves of what should be a self-evident truth: what unites them is greater than what divides them.

Macron is no liberal – he’s a French cultural imperialist Alastair Benn

Macron’s world view treats legitimate expressions of cultural difference as atavistic forces to be defeated. Populism is not taken as a legitimate, if flawed, form of political expression; it is an obscurantist world view that has to be beaten off. It is naive to see Macron purely as an anti-nationalist. He’s a French cultural imperialist.

Hurrah for Theresa May – sensible survivor and architect of a compromise Brexit Finn McRedmond

May’s robust, stoic, head-down character is exactly what Britain needed to hammer out this deal with the EU, who haven’t exactly made things easy for her.

Lincoln playing cards with Trump is less believable than dogs playing poker David Waywell

This is about appropriation and self-image, living in the present through the past glories of men who can no longer support nor denounce those that would claim them as their own. Trump embraces Lincoln like he embraces Kanye West.

Carillion: The questions to be answered Maggie Pagano

Cock-up or conspiracy?

BBC hires Danny Dyer to do history, signs own death warrant Iain Martin

History is a notoriously boring subject. Nothing happens in it. There have been no wars, revolutions, inventions, sex, famines, parties or wild behaviour in history. That means that broadcasters such as the BBC have to work hard to liven up history when it comes to their programming.