On the face of it, there's something quite appealing about driverless cars. It will be like having a chauffeur-driven chariot at your beck and call, except it will be no more expensive than owning a car. Indeed, it might well be-cheaper because you'll be less likely to have an accident, so insurance premiums will be lower, and it will use fuel more efficiently. Not only that, but we're told journey times will be shorter because driverless cars don't need to keep more than a few inches apart, thereby reducing congestion. And they'll be quicker still if the inner-cities are reserved for driverless cars only. No need for traffic lights, roundabouts or three-way junctions – just a seamless flow of traffic.
Needless to say, I'm not convinced. Will it really be cheaper to own one than a regular car? I accept that insurance premiums might fall, but what about the depreciation costs? With all that state-of-the art technology, it will be a bit like driving around in a giant iPhone and, as we know, there isn't much of a market for second-hand iPhones. Indeed, out-of-date driverless cars might well be banned from the roads since the risks associated with them being unable to communicate properly with more recent models are potentially catastrophic. (To read more, click here.)
I’ve been thinking about poor Shami Chakrabarti and the drubbing she’s suffered since it was revealed she’s sending her son to Dulwich College. She joins a long line of Labour hypocrites who are opposed to grammar schools but choose to send their own children to selective schools. The list includes Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Tony Crosland, Polly Toynbee, Diane Abbott, Harriet Harman and Seumus Milne.
My issue with these Labour grandees is not so much the double standards, although that does stick in the craw, obviously, but the stupidity. Why risk their political credibility and, for those that go private, beggar themselves, when there’s little reason to suppose that their children will do better at selective schools than they will at good comprehensives? (To read more, click here.)
I’m writing this from the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham where the mood is buoyant, to put it mildly. Everyone seems delighted with the new captain and completely unfazed by the perilous waters ahead. If anyone is sad about the demise of David Cameron and some of his key lieutenants they’re not letting on. It’s a case of Le roi est mort, vive le roi!
In my spare time I’ve been reading Craig Oliver’s referendum diary, Unleashing Demons, and reflecting on the events that led to Cameron’s demise. As a Remainer, Oliver is in no doubt about why his side lost: the mendacity of the Leave campaign. His lot were honourable men, constrained by the facts and their human-decency, while the other lot were despicable liars for whom no blow was too low. And the book has a villain, someone who embodies the immorality of his opponents. No, not Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson, neither of whom he takes particularly seriously. But Michael Gove. It is Gove wot won it, according to Oliver. He regards him as a sort of evil genius, lacing the Leave campaign with a combination of-‘brilliance and-poison’ that bewitched the British public. He is the demon that the-referendum unleashed. (To read more, click here.)
I appeared on Radio 4 with Shirley Williams recently and as we were leaving I asked her if she thought Labour might split if Jeremy Corbyn were re-elected. Would the history of the SDP, which she helped set up in 1981, put off Labour moderates from trying something similar?
She thought it might, but suggested an alternative, which was a ‘non-aggression pact’ between all the left-of-centre parties. ‘We can unite around the issues we agree on and get the Tories out,’ she said. I didn’t have time to explore this in detail, but I think she meant some kind of tactical voting alliance whereby supporters of Labour, the Lib Dems, the Greens — possibly even the Welsh and Scottish Nationalists — would agree to vote for the left-of-centre candidate in their constituency who had the best hope of defeating the Tory candidate at the next election.
I’m interested in this idea because I proposed something similar in 2014, except what I had in mind was an anti-Labour pact. It seems preposterous now, but back then I thought there was a real danger that Ed Miliband would end up as our next prime minister and launched a ‘Unite the Right’ campaign to try to avoid this ghastly prospect. The plan was to persuade Conservative and Ukip supporters to put aside their differences and vote for whichever right-of–centre-candidate had the best hope of winning in each seat.
After about a year of trying to get this campaign off the ground I-concluded it wasn’t going to work and I suspect an anti-Tory alliance would founder for the same reasons. (To read more, click here.)
Forgive me if I don’t get too worked up about Momentum Kids. For those who haven’t been following Labour’s internal politics too closely, Momentum is a Trotskyist faction within the party that was instrumental in getting Jeremy Corbyn elected last year and, barring an upset, re-elected this weekend. Momentum claims the main purpose of its new kiddie wing, which will cater to three-year-olds and upwards, is to offer childcare facilities to women so they can get more involved in campaigning. But it also acknowledges that Momentum Kids will play an ‘educational’ role. ‘Let’s create a space for questioning, curious children where we can listen to them and give them a voice,’ says one of the group’s founders.
This initiative has been widely lampooned on Twitter and elsewhere because the notion of giving children as young as three a political education smacks of indoctrination and conjures up memories of Soviet school-children being forced to recite passages from the Communist Manifesto. And on one level, it is quite funny, not least because the hand-wringing leftists behind the group appear to be unaware of this historical baggage. It confirms the essential innocence of the Corbynistas, which, on another level, isn’t funny at all. It’s precisely because this new generation of left-wing idealists are so ignorant of history that they cannot foresee the potential dangers of trying to create a socialist utopia.
But the critics of Momentum Kids are also being naïve if they think the education children currently receive in this country is apolitical. (To read more, click here.)
In today’s Spectator, Rachel Wolf, the former head of the New Schools Network, cautions Theresa May against derailing everything that’s been achieved by education reformers since Margaret Thatcher first granted state schools more autonomy in the late Eighties. Her concern is that a large number of new grammar schools would undermine successful academies and free schools. “It's worth remembering,” she writes, “that academies exist because the ban on academic selection forced schools to innovate, and to offer better teaching for all abilities.”
That’s my concern too and I suspect it’s why a sizeable number of Conservative MPs have expressed reservations about new grammar schools. Few of us doubt that those children lucky enough to get into grammar schools receive a first class education and we’re willing to be persuaded that various mechanisms could be introduced to make sure more disadvantaged children are admitted, such as insisting that new grammars accept a quota of children on free school meals.
It's the impact of increased selection on those children who don't get into grammars that's the worry. (To read more, click here.)
‘It is highly unlikely the Prime Minister has read the book,’ my father harrumphed, commenting on the appropriation of the word ‘meritocracy’, which he invented to describe a dystopian society of the future in The Rise of the Meritocracy. That comment appeared in a 2001 article for the Guardian and the Prime Minister in question was Tony Blair, but I expect my late father would have been equally unhappy about Theresa May’s misuse of it in her education speech last week.
In fact, he probably would have been even more cross because the book, which was published in 1958, was a thinly veiled attack on grammar schools. Like his close friend and Labour party colleague Tony Crosland, my father was a lifelong opponent of selective education, mainly because he saw it as tool for perpetuating inequality. In a society where the brightest children are separated from their peers at the age of 11 and groomed for entry into the elite, the monopolisation of power and wealth by a tiny minority has the air of legitimacy. Perhaps not wholly legitimate, but certainly more likely to command popular consent than an aristocratic society. Not only that, but grammar schools also deprived the working class of potential leaders, plucking the most able children from their parents’ arms and turning them into Tories. (To read more, click here.)