Tories sail into stormy waters

What's going on on newstatesman.com plus devastating news of a Tory split. Or is it just a big Camer

This week on newstatesman.com the Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov writes exclusively on Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who related the terrible truth about Soviet totalitarianism in his Gulag Archipelago.

Kurkov observes: "Alexander Isaevich outlived his era and never truly accepted the new ‘post-soviet’ epoch.

"Having sincerely dedicated his life to a desperate struggle against communism, in 1991 Solzhenitsyn suddenly found himself without a battle to fight."

We hear from the great AL Kennedy who has been collecting the Austrian State Prize for European Literature...

"The Austrian Minister for Culture is charming and actually cares about culture and the Austrian prime minister gave me cake – while I tried to assure him my own prime minister would have taken my cake and told me it would be given to the destitute and cake-needy before sneaking it into the cake trough of a cake-spattered man in a mink cake-eating suit. Poor Gordon, though - perhaps soon to be replaced by one or another Miliband. They’re twins, after all. What happens if we get the evil twin? I’ve watched more than enough Hammer horror films to know this is surely a risk."

Only time will tell.

By the way you can see AL Kennedy in person at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Oh and don't miss Hugh O'Shaughnessy having fun with the Colombian statisticians who have elevated their country's president to similar popularity ratings as former Albanian dictator Enva Hoxha.

And check out our series on what Labour needs to do to put itself back on the path to popularity. We've already had contributions from Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, plus ex-ministers Denis MacShane and Barbara Roche.

Coming up Nick Raynsford, Iain Gibson and more.

Moving on to a Tory split...

It's being widely reported that the beautiful relationship between Lexus Dave Cameron and George 'Oik' Osborne has sailed into stormy waters over the thorny issue of marriage.

The Tory leader favours tax breaks for married couples, the shadow chancellor does not. The Times - and others - report a substantial disagreement.

Let's just examine this for a minute. Dave Cameron voiced his support for tax breaks for the legally bound (through marriage and civil partnerships) in a nod to tradition in his first speech as Tory leader. He's keen on research that indicates half of those who simply shack up split up before their child's fifth birthday. That's compared to one in 12 married people.

George Osborne reportedly takes the line it's not the state's job to tell people how to live their lives and that all parents should be supported regardless of family structure.

Of course the state (unless the Tories are planning some really sinister changes) wouldn't be telling people how to live their lives but merely encouraging them in a particular direction. But wouldn't it have to be a pretty fantastic tax break to get otherwise unwilling people to tie the knot?

Call me cynical but I smell a bit of a Tory PR cook-up here. Lexus Dave - much photographed family man and hero of traditional values. Oik Osborne - all that is fresh and libertarian about the Conservatives (really, all) but ultimately not in charge. And a policy proposal which is ultimately more gimmick than anything else. They publicise a stand-off. Oik in the end caves in. The leader and tradition prevail.

Is Dave Cameron is hugging the family values husky?

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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With the BBC Food’s collection under threat, here's how to make the most of online recipes

Do a bit of digging, trust your instincts – and always read the comments.

I don’t think John Humphrys is much of a chef. Recently, as his Today co-presenter Mishal Husain was discussing the implications of the BBC’s decision to axe its Food website (since commuted to transportation to the Good Food platform, run by its commercial arm), sharp-eared listeners heard the Humph claim that fewer recipes on the web could only be a good thing. “It would make it easier!” he bellowed in the background. “We wouldn’t have to choose between so many!”

Husain also seemed puzzled as to why anyone would need more than one recipe for spaghetti bolognese – but, as any keen cook knows, you can never have too many different takes on a dish. Just as you wouldn’t want to get all your news from a single source, it would be a sad thing to eat the same bolognese for the rest of your life. Sometimes only a molto autentico version, as laid down by a fierce Italian donna, rich with tradition and chopped liver, will do – and sometimes, though you would never admit it in a national magazine, you crave the comfort of your mum’s spag bol with grated cheddar.

The world wouldn’t starve without BBC Food’s collection but, given that an online search for “spaghetti bolognese recipe” turns up about a million results, it would have been sad to have lost one of the internet’s more trustworthy sources of information. As someone who spends a large part of each week researching and testing recipes, I can assure you that genuinely reliable ones are rarer than decent chips after closing time. But although it is certainly the only place you’ll find the Most Haunted host Yvette Fielding’s kedgeree alongside Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge, the BBC website is not the only one that is worth your time.

The good thing about newspaper, magazine and other commercial platforms is that most still have just enough budget to ensure that their recipes will have been made at least twice – once by the writer and once for the accompanying photographs – though sadly the days when everyone employed an independent recipe tester are long gone. Such sites also often have sufficient traffic to generate a useful volume of comments. I never make a recipe without scrolling down to see what other people have said about it. Get past the “Can’t wait to make this!” brigade; ignore the annoying people who swap baked beans for lentils and then complain, “This is nothing like dhal”; and there’s usually some sensible advice in there, too.

But what about when you leave the safety of the big boys and venture into the no man’s land of the personal blog? How do you separate the wheat from the chaff and find a recipe that actually works? You can often tell how much work a writer has put in by the level of detail they go into: if they have indicated how many people it serves, or where to find unusual ingredients, suggested possible tweaks and credited their original sources, they have probably made the dish more than once. The photography is another handy clue. You don’t have to be Annie Leibovitz to provide a good idea of what the finished dish ought to look like.

Do a bit of digging as part of your prep. If you like the look of the rest of the site, the author’s tastes will probably chime with your own. And always, always, wherever the recipe is from, read it all the way through, even before you order the shopping. There is nothing more annoying than getting halfway through and then realising that you need a hand blender to finish the dish, just as the first guest arrives.

Above all, trust your instincts. If the cooking time seems far too short, or the salt content ridiculously high, it probably is, so keep an eye on that oven, check that casserole, keep tasting that sauce. As someone who once published a magic mince pie recipe without any sugar, I’m living proof that, occasionally, even the very best of us make mistakes. 

Felicity Cloake is the New Statesman’s food columnist. Her latest book is The A-Z of Eating: a Flavour Map for Adventurous Cooks.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad