Keir Starmer says Labour are “redrawing the political map” after overturning huge Conservative majorities in two by-elections. The party won Tamworth with a 23.9% swing – the second highest in post-war by-election history – and overcame a 24,664 majority in Mid Bedfordshire, which has had a Tory MP since 1931. The party in power usually loses by-elections, says polling guru John Curtice on the Today programme, but “these were not ordinary government losses”. Egyptian diggers are trying to repair the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, as more than 100 trucks wait to deliver food, water and medical supplies to the Palestinian territory. The frontier was heavily damaged in Israeli airstrikes last week. Residents in Kent thought the world was ending yesterday morning, when the sky lit up in a mysterious glowing pink colour. The horror-inducing hue turned out to be artificial light from a massive greenhouse growing 400 million tomatoes. 👽🍅
Hamas terrorists with an Israeli tank on 7 October. Hani Alshaer/Anadolu Agency/Getty
Iran is already at war with America
When I worked for George W Bush, says William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal, the president used to remind us that “al Qaeda was at war with America long before we were at war with them”. Today, the same is true of Iran. The Islamic republic gets away with it by delegating the violence to its proxies. The Pentagon reckons some 603 American soldiers died on Iranian orders during the Iraq war. And Tehran’s lackeys in Hamas have already killed 30 Americans in the latest conflict. If any US hostages are executed, Israel’s war will fast become America’s.
The problem for Joe Biden is that he has been extremely weak on Iran. He ended Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Iranian economy, easing sanctions and freeing up billions of dollars for Tehran. And to what end? There will never be peace while Iran is allowed to get away with murder. “The good news is that much of the Arab world agrees.” Although their populations can be “easily whipped up for an anti-Israel rally”, Arab leaders “don’t fear Israel the way they fear Iran”. They are all too aware of the Iranian proxies operating in their own capitals, which is probably why not one of them has withdrawn from the Abraham Accords with Israel over Gaza. Biden is right to worry about escalating the conflict. But escalation is a certainty if that fear is read as weakness. He needs to heed the age-old lesson of the Middle East: “When people say they want to kill you, believe them.”
Photographer Nicholas Steinberg has found a way to capture the dynamic beauty of the San Francisco Bay area, says Moss and Fog, creating “iconic, peaceful visions of nature”. From his favourite vantage point in Mount Tamalpais State Park, the clouds look like ocean waves against vibrant sunrises and sunsets. See more of his pictures here.
A London banker has been sacked for expensing food for two people and claiming he scoffed it all by himself. Citibank launched an investigation after Szabolcs Fekete returned from a work trip to Amsterdam and submitted one claim for two sandwiches and two coffees, and another for two pasta dishes. After initially insisting that the hefty meals – each of which fell well within the firm’s €100 daily allowance – was due to him skipping breakfast, he later admitted that he had in fact shared the ill-gotten grub with his partner.
A fan of Il Portico: Robin, as played by Holliday Grainger in the BBC series Strike
JK Rowling knows how to thank her supporters, says Private Eye. In June last year, the Kensington restaurant Il Portico had its windows smashed after its owner publicly supported the author’s right to speak on trans issues. In Rowling’s latest Cormoran Strike novel, The Running Grave, one of the protagonists hosts a key meeting at Il Portico. “Robin is pleased to find it smaller and cosier than she’d imagined, given its upmarket location,” writes Rowling, adding that Robin’s dining companion thinks the restaurant serves “the best pasta in London”. A few pages later, we read that Robin “took one mouthful of her tagliatelle with ragu and let out a moan of pleasure. ‘Oh my God, you weren’t wrong.’”
La France profonde: Jean Dujardin at the opening ceremony of the Rugby World Cup. Franck Fife/Getty
Why Europe’s populists love rugby
Rugby’s reputation as a sport for private school kids once limited its appeal among Europe’s populists, says Charlemagne in The Economist. Not any more. Italy’s Giorgia Meloni says the oval-ball game “represents true values, pride and commitment”. In France, where the World Cup is currently being played, the far-right press lauds “La France rugby” as an idyllic land where “fans are polite, men are manly and players patriotic”. The opening ceremony harked back to the supposed glory days of the 1950s. “This is the France we love”, gushed one writer, “where young ladies didn’t wear abayas [Muslim robes], where you didn’t have riots.” Rugby has become a haven for people who think things used to be better and are anxious about losing their place in the world. “That is a powerful sentiment in Europe these days.”
Another big attraction for populists is that rugby is “the un-football”. Whereas effete footballers feign injury and howl at the referee, rugby players are “burly men” who politely address the ref as “sir”. Top rugby players earn a pittance compared to their footballing counterparts, making them “more down-to-earth role models”. And while football is often about individual brilliance, rugby is all about collective effort – the players usually don’t even have their names on their shirts. It doesn’t matter that most rugby fans “want nothing to do with the populist right”. For Meloni and co, the sport is a glorious reminder of “a supposedly more gentlemanly past”.
Reagan and Gorbachev in Geneva. Jean-Louis Atlan/Sygma/Getty
During the 1985 Geneva Summit, says Historic Vids on X (formerly Twitter), there was a moment when Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev “paused their negotiations and went for a walk”. It was only in 2009 that Gorbachev revealed what they had been discussing. “Reagan suddenly said to me, ‘What would you do if the United States were suddenly attacked by someone from outer space? Would you help us?’” The Soviet leader’s response? “No doubt about it.”
The late Silvio Berlusconi’s taste in art wasn’t up to much, says BBC News. Heirs of the former Italian PM are having to sort through the 25,000 paintings he accumulated over his life, now held in a 3,200 sq m warehouse close to his villa near Milan. The pieces, often bought “from late-night telesales programmes”, have an average value of just €800 each. In some cases, the cost of exterminating the woodworms infesting the collection “exceeds the value of the paintings”.
It’s Lavinia Valbonesi, soon to be the world’s first Gen Z first lady. The 25-year-old health and fitness influencer is married to Daniel Noboa, who won Ecuador’s elections on Sunday. They met when Noboa, the heir to a banana fortune, approached her for advice on losing weight in 2021. He was still married to his first wife at the time, and Valbonesi said it wasn’t love at first sight. “But he is a fairly persistent person,” she told Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo, “and he ended up conquering me, after many months.”
“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”
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