Win vouchers to spend at any Tesco store

Competition No 3859

Set by Harry Barker, 22 November

You were asked to justify the description of Julius Caesar's death as "the most untimely murder since the world began", or think of an alternative.

Report by Ms de Meaner

Wow: the numbers who sent in That Bird! £20 each to the winners, the best of whom is Bill Greenwell, so an additional Tesco moment for you. Oh, and an hon mensh to J Seery for the death of Abel.

Always driven to succeed, but tempering his ambition with clemency, Julius Caesar attracted the bitter envy of lesser men, who plotted his death. The assassination provoked further civil war and the eventual division and dissolution of the empire. Three centuries after Caesar's death, Constantine embraced Christianity, a harbinger of further strife and bloodshed in its role as a state religion. The Reformation attacked a debased and corrupt Church, but substituted for its institutional rituals a hard, narrow individualism. Exported to America on the Mayflower, this formed the basis of a national ideology, a blend of unctuous, sentimental piety and ruthless conquest. Supported by huge economic power, the US took over the world, invading other countries as it pleased, killing or enslaving their people and stealing their wealth. All this as a consequence of a single murder two millennia earlier.

G M Davis

It has been proved that the loss of one creature can upset the balance of nature, and if the chaos theory is to be given credence, the whole globe may suffer. However, in one particular case, a more visible impact has been had on human history. Humans, following the famous example set by nature, have sacrificed thousands of young men, women and children in order to appease their gods, and the idea of a sacrifice to save all humankind has led to the development of one of the major religions. One has only to imagine what the world would be like without the influence of Christianity. Thus the killing of Cock Robin, which at first glance may seem to have had little effect on the world at large, reveals a deep impression on human history.

Katie Mallett

So Caesar isn't murdered. So Caesarion becomes his successor. So Cleopatra doesn't get the needle. So Egypt flourishes. So the Ptolemys gain global power. So there is no need to conjugate Latin. So the fashion for wearing green and black eye make-up becomes widespread. So the year begins in mid-June, with five holidays. So the people of the world turn away from beards. So Judaism and Islam come to a shaven end. So women and men have equal legal rights. So cats are worshipped wherever they go. So there is no hunting with dogs. So the sun is bisexual, and there is no need for sexual bigotry. So there is no riddle of the Sphinx. So there is no need for 1967. So there is no need for feminism, post-feminism, crypto-feminism. Or the Spice Girls. A zigazig ha.

Bill Greenwell

The killing of Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse in 212BC stands out for its symbolic and chillingly prophetic brutality. The Roman soldier could not have known the identity of the irritating old man with the diagrams in the sand; his superiors would have disowned the deed and offered protestations of regret - the soldier had disobeyed orders; no harm was intended to non-combatants; collateral damage is inevitable; and, well, stuff happens. But we know that those for whom it is an article of faith that the whole world is crying out for branches of McDonald's are seldom comfortable with intellectual free spirits; and no authoritarian regime will tolerate the kind of flaky guy who runs naked through the streets shouting: "Eureka!" Where, for one thing, is he going to keep his ID card?

Keith Norman

No 3862 Set by John O'Byrne

William Skidelsky (22 November) referred to the book Rita's Culinary Trickery: how to get dinner on the table even if you can't cook. We want extracts from similar vade mecums: The Anti-DIY Guide: home improvements without kit, for example? Over to you.

Max 150 words by 6 January 2005. E-mail:

Show Hide image

No, David Cameron’s speech was not “left wing”

Come on, guys.

There is a strange journalistic phenomenon that occurs when a party leader makes a speech. It is a blend of groupthink, relief, utter certainty, and online backslapping. It happened particularly quickly after David Cameron’s speech to Tory party conference today. A few pundits decided that – because he mentioned, like, diversity and social mobility – this was a centre-left speech. A leftwing speech, even. Or at least a clear grab for the liberal centre ground. And so that’s what everyone now believes. The analysis is decided. The commentary is written. Thank God for that.

Really? It’s quite easy, even as one of those nasty, wicked Tories, to mention that you actually don’t much like racism, and point out that you’d quite like poor children to get jobs, without moving onto Labour's "territory". Which normal person is in favour of discriminating against someone on the basis of race, or blocking opportunity on the basis of class? Of course he’s against that. He’s a politician operating in a liberal democracy. And this isn’t Ukip conference.

Looking at the whole package, it was actually quite a rightwing speech. It was a paean to defence – championing drones, protecting Britain from the evils of the world, and getting all excited about “launching the biggest aircraft carriers in our history”.

It was a festival of flagwaving guff about the British “character”, a celebration of shoehorning our history chronologically onto the curriculum, looking towards a “Greater Britain”, asking for more “national pride”. There was even a Bake Off pun.

He also deployed the illiberal device of inculcating a divide-and-rule fear of the “shadow of extremism – hanging over every single one of us”, informing us that children in UK madrassas are having their “heads filled with poison and their hearts filled with hate”, and saying Britain shouldn’t be “overwhelmed” with refugees, before quickly changing the subject to ousting Assad. How unashamedly centrist, of you, Mr Prime Minister.

Benefit cuts and a reduction of tax credits will mean the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm for “equality of opportunity, as opposed to equality of outcome” will be just that – with the outcome pretty bleak for those who end up losing any opportunity that comes with state support. And his excitement about diversity in his cabinet rings a little hollow the day following a tubthumping anti-immigration speech from his Home Secretary.

If this year's Tory conference wins the party votes, it’ll be because of its conservative commitment – not lefty love bombing.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.