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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Monday 2nd May 2016

Is it ‘Islamophobic’ to draw attention to Sadiq Khan’s links with extremists?

Zac Goldsmith came in for a fair amount of criticism yesterday after writing a piece in the Mail on Sunday that, among other things, pointed out that Sadiq Khan criticised Labour’s decision to suspend Ken Livingstone in 2006 when he compared a Jewish Evening Standard journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Reviewing the papers on Marr, Owen Jones called it ‘another example’ of a ‘poisonous’ and ‘disgraceful’ campaign that had tried to brand Khan as an extremist simply because he’s a Muslim. He called it ‘an attempt to tap into anti-Muslim prejudice’ and urged Conservatives to tackle Islamophobia as vigorously as his own party is tackling anti-Semitism.

But is the Conservative mayoral candidate’s campaign, which is being run by Crosby Textor, guilty of Islamophobia? The accusation isn’t that Goldsmith or anyone linked to the campaign has said anything overtly Islamophobic. Rather, they’re been accused of ‘dog whistle’ politics – of trying to play on people’s anxieties about Islamism and terrorism by posing questions about Khan’s links to Islamist extremists. (To read more, click here.)

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Saturday 30th April 2016

What would happen if Rupert Murdoch owned the BBC?

A new book published today by the Institute of Economic Affairs called In Focus: The Case for Privatising the BBC includes a chapter by the economist Ryan Bourne on the BBC’s left-of-centre bias. As you’d expect, Bourne’s contribution includes plenty of fascinating data, such as the fact that ‘Thought for the Day’ contributors are eight times more likely to offer a negative view of market-based and capitalist activity than a positive view.

However, Bourne doesn’t accuse the Beeb of straightforward left-wing bias. Its partiality is more subtle and complicated than that. He cites an example of the BBC’s coverage of immigration provided by Roger Mosey, a former editorial director. In his recent memoir about working for the broadcaster (Getting Out Alive), Mosey recalls overseeing an evening news report about the impact of immigration in a racially diverse part of Britain. The package featured only one white working-class voice, who said he was ‘perfectly happy’ about current levels. Mosey asked the reporter whether this was representative of the white working-class people he’d interviewed and the reporter admitted it wasn’t. The problem was, all the other vox pops had been ‘fairly rabidly racist’ so couldn’t be used. (To read more, click here.)

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Saturday 30th April 2016

It will take more than Labour’s ‘inquiry’ to deal with the left’s anti-Semitism problem

Anyone concerned about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party should welcome the appointment of Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of Liberty, to lead an internal inquiry into the matter, but it’s a little late in the day to be addressing this issue. And will the inquiry’s terms of reference allow her to investigate the leader of the party?

The Jewish Chronicle drew attention to Jeremy Corbyn’s links to a rogues gallery of “Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites” back in August of last year. Among other dubious acts, Corbyn donated money to an organisation run by Paul Eisen, a self-confessed Holocaust denier who boasts of links to the Labour leader dating back 15 years. Corbyn’s own brother has strayed dangerously close to anti-Semitism, such as the time he described Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman as a “Zionist” who “can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”. When questioned about this, Corbyn insisted his brother “was not wrong”. (To read more, click here.)

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Wednesday 27th April 2016

If Jeremy Hunt can defeat the junior doctors, he can become Prime Minister

Jeremy Hunt’s star has fallen somewhat since the days when he was being talked about as a future Conservative leader. On the face of it, his dispute with the junior doctors won’t do much to restore his reputation.

This seems like another nail in his coffin, the first being his handling of the various scandals that led to the Leveson Inquiry as Culture Secretary. That’s certainly the view of the British Medical Association, which has done its best to blame him – not the Prime Minister or the government, but Hunt – for the first full-scale strike in the NHS’s history. They believe the wounded Cabinet minister is an asset for their side.

But fortune’s wheel may be about to turn for the Member of Parliament for South West Surrey. Back in January, an Ipsos MORI poll found that 66 per cent of the public backed industrial action by the junior doctors. This week’s 48-hour all-out strike, by contrast, is supported by 57 per cent of the public, according to a second Ipsos MORI poll for the BBC. (To read more, click here.)

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Monday 25th April 2016

Britain’s proud voters don’t take well to empty threats, Mr President

In 1941, when Britain stood virtually alone against Hitler, President Roosevelt dispatched a diplomat called Harry Hopkins to London to help him decide how much support to give the United Kingdom.

Was this a country that America should stand beside in its darkest hour?

On the night before he returned home, Hopkins quoted a Bible passage to Winston Churchill: ‘Whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’

President Obama came to Britain this week with a very different message. (To read more, click here.)

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Saturday 23rd April 2016

Obama joins Project Fear

The debate about whether Britain should remain in the European Union or leave (“Brexit”) took a dramatic turn Friday when President Obama broke off from wishing Queen Elizabeth II a happy 90th birthday to lecture the British people about how to vote in the EU referendum on June 23.

In a joint news conference with Prime Minister David Cameron, who has staked his political future on Britain’s voting “Remain” rather than “Leave,” Mr. Obama was full of surprises.

For one thing, he admitted that it had been his call to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office when he first became president. That was a jaw-dropper, because until now the White House has maintained that the decision was taken before Mr. Obama took up residence and was no reflection on the president’s attitude toward Britain or its “special relationship” with the United States. Only a month ago, Ted Cruz was accused of “lying” when he repeated this story. So it was good of the president to clear that up, although unlikely to endear him to his British audience.

The biggest shock, though, was his affirmation of something the pro-EU camp has been claiming and which is usually dismissed as typical of “Project Fear”—the disparaging name the Leave side has given to the Remain campaign. (To read more, click here.)

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Friday 22nd April 2016

There’s nothing ‘racist’ about Boris Johnson’s Obama comments

Nick Cohen is predictably over-the-top in his response to Boris Johnson's piece about President Obama's intervention in the Brexit debate in today's Sun.

He begins by claiming he's approaching this subject "with the caution of a lawyer and the deference of a palace flunkey". He then goes on to reprimand Boris for suggesting Obama has an "ancestral dislike of the British empire" on account of his "part-kenyan" heritage and links this to his support for the Remain campaign. We'll come to that comment in a minute, but Cohen goes on to conflate these remarks with the worst excesses of the birther movement:

I'm not someone who throws accusations of racism around – it's too serious a charge to devalue. But, come now, the fantasy that Obama is the heir of the Mau-Maus with no right to govern is a racist lie that appeals to deep, dark traditions in the US. From slavery, through the Civil War, the backlash against Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, the argument has been the same: blacks have no right to vote, and black politicians have no right to rule.

If that's Cohen being cautious and deferential, I hate to think what he'd be like if he let himself off the leash. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 21st April 2016

I debate the government's universal acadamisation policy with Lisa Freedman in Prospect

The best argument for converting local authority schools to academies is that it shifts power over what's taught in the school and how away from politicians and bureaucrats and towards headteachers and school governors.

Many critics of academies point to a lack of evidence that they outperform local authority schools, but the schools that have converted to academies so far weren't selected at random so it's impossible to make meaningful comparisons. However, international evidence compiled by the OECD suggests that granting more autonomy to taxpayer-funded schools raises standard, provided you have the right regulatory regime in place.

What is incontestable is that far more children are taught in good or outstanding schools in England today than in 2010 and far fewer in failing schools. Whether that rise in standards is due, in part, to academisation is more controversial, but the Commons Education Select Committee concluded it probably was in its report on academies and free schools last year.As a conservative, I'm ambivalent about universal macadamisation. I'm in favour of reducing state control over public education, but conflicted about whether the government should force schools that don't want more autonomy to embrace it nonetheless.

The best argument for it is that the direction of travel since academies were first introduced by the last Labour government is towards universal macadamisation – nearly 65 per cent of taxpayer-funded secondary schools in England are now academies – and if that's where we're going, why not speed up the process? We're currently at an intermediate stage in which state schools broadly fall into two categories and that system is less efficient and more expensive to run than a unitary system would be.

I accept that many of these arguments depend upon accepting the position we're in after six years of education reform and if you're someone who's opposed those reforms from the beginning you're unlikely to be convinced. But we are where we are, standards are improving and Labour still hasn't come up with an alternative education policy. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 21st April 2016

Long may we Brits laugh at our absurd demagogues

In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke warned that ‘pure democracy’ was as dangerous as absolute monarchy. ‘Of this I am certain, that in a democracy the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority whenever strong divisions prevail,’ he wrote. He compared demagogues to ‘court favourites’ — gifted at exploiting the -insecurities of the powerful, whether the people or the monarch.

For Burke, the risk of democracies being captured by demagogues then degenerating into tyrannies was a good argument against universal suffrage. The multitude would always be susceptible to being swayed by feeling rather than reason; they could no more be trusted with absolute power than a king or a queen. The answer, he believed, was a mixture of democracy and aristocracy, the one acting as a counterweight to the other. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 14th April 2016

Confessions of a Tory tax dodger

As someone who still entertains hope of becoming a member of parliament one day, I’d better come clean about my own tax affairs. It’s a torrid tale, as you’d expect, but rather than wait for my political opponents to winkle the story out of me, bit by bit, I thought I’d get it all out in the open.

I blame the Cub Scouts for starting me on the wrong path. As a boy of eight, I was an eager participant in bob-a-job week, which involved going from door to door on my street offering to do odd jobs. I turned all the money over to my Cub pack, but I realised I could earn extra pocket money from then on by washing cars and weeding gardens. Before long, I’d earned enough money to buy my own portable, black-and-white television – about £40 if I recall. But reader, I have a confession to make: I didn’t declare that income to the taxman.

It was all down hill from there. (To read more, click here.)

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