Earlier this week the Guardian launched ‘Brexit Shorts’, a series of monologues written by Britain’s ‘leading playwrights’ about the aftermath of the EU referendum. Now I know what you’re thinking: ‘What fresh hell is this?’ But bear with me. Watching the first batch of these short films, which are on the Guardian website, isn’t complete purgatory. Not because they’re much good, obviously — although one is, and I’ll come to that in a moment. But because the reason these writers are so anxious about Brexit is due to their uncritical acceptance of Project Fear. Perhaps they’ll become a little less hysterical once they’ve been introduced to some solid facts.
Take ‘Your Ma’s a Hard Brexit’ by Stacey Gregg, which is set among the ‘peace lines’ separating Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods in Belfast. It’s not a fully fledged drama — more a piece of agitprop. And it makes the same point over and over again, namely, that if the UK leaves the European Union there will inevitably be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. ‘We know what it means to be divided,’ says the protagonist, a ‘peace-worker’ played by Bronagh Gallagher. Then she says something a bit odd: ‘I remember the border, do you? Wasn’t much craic.’ (To read more, click here.)
I first met Nick Timothy in July 2015. He had just been appointed director of New Schools Network, the free schools charity I now run, and wanted to talk about the future of the policy. He has been portrayed in the media in the past week as a right-wing thug, as well as a swivel-eyed Brexiteer, but that wasn’t the impression he gave as he sipped his builders’ tea. On the contrary, he was trying to think of ways to weaken the association between free schools and the Tory party, particularly within the education sector. His mission, he explained, was to create cross-party support for the policy by setting up more free schools in disadvantaged areas.
He was in the job for less than a year before joining Theresa May in Downing Street, having worked as her special adviser from 2010-15, but in that short time he went some way to achieving his objective. He set up an outpost of NSN in Manchester to spread the gospel of free schools in the north. He launched numerous successful campaigns, including one to persuade teachers to set up their ‘dream school’. And he created an advisory council that boasts several Labour grandees. It’s also worth noting that NSN staff enjoyed working for him, as did many of his colleagues in politics — I only heard the words ‘arrogant’ and ‘high-handed’ from his enemies. (To read more, click here.)
Comrades. I’m going to tell you why I think Jeremy Corbyn is the right person to lead this country. First of all, I like the fact that he’s not a typical politician. There’s something refreshing about his refusal to play the media’s game. Ordinary politicians are ready with a quote when a big story breaks, but not our Jeremy. He thinks nothing of switching off his phone and spending the day working on his allotment. Instead of talking to journalists on his way into meetings, he runs them over. When he does do interviews, his refusal to be interrupted speaks of a bold, confident leader who’s comfortable in his own skin. I particularly like his catchphrase and the way his voice goes all high-pitched when he says it: ‘Can I finish?’
Secondly, he’s a man of principle. He has stuck doggedly to his brand of hard-left politics for more than 50 years. The fact that this credo has been an unmitigated disaster in every country in which it has been tried, leading to the suppression of free speech, the imprisonment of political dissidents and mass starvation, hasn’t led to the slightest sliver of doubt or one jot of revision. John Maynard Keynes said: ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’, but not Jeremy. He is as steadfast and reliable as a stopped clock. That’s the kind of man I want as the head of our government in a fast-moving world. (To read more, click here.)
A leading article appeared in Nature last week in defence of intelligence research. It lamented the fact that it is not included on the undergraduate psychology curricula of many leading US universities, and attributed this to its association in the minds of students and faculties with elitism and racism. That, in turn, is due to the misuse of intelligence research in the past by eugenicists and ‘race scientists’ to justify their poisonous beliefs. The article expressed the hope that this toxic baggage can be discarded and intelligence rehabilitated as an important strand of psychology.
This optimism is often shared by academics who study the genetic basis of human differences; not just variations in intelligence but in other personality traits too. Among evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, neurobiologists, biosocial criminologists, and so on, there is a widely held belief that the only reason their disciplines are looked on with suspicion is due to ignorance and prejudice. Clearing up these misunderstandings simply involves them mastering some elementary PR skills, after which they will be welcomed into the bosom of the academy.
It would be nice if that were true, because in today’s academic climate many of the leading researchers in these fields are finding it difficult to pursue their careers. (To read more, click here.)
My father worked as a fire warden during the Blitz, trying to contain the damage done by the Luftwaffe, and he witnessed more death and devastation than most soldiers saw on the frontline. Over a million houses in London were destroyed and nearly 20,000 civilians killed. But the horrors of the night were made more endurable by the atmosphere in the capital as day broke. All the petty distinctions that normally characterise life in a large city had fallen away. Strangers would stop and talk to each other. If anyone looked lost or confused, people would offer to help. Most adults had been up all night in makeshift air-raid shelters, often having to cope with restless children, but instead of being tetchy and short-tempered they were full of jokes and good cheer. The sense of community was so palpable, he said, it was as if you could reach out and touch it. One people united in adversity.
The resilience of Londoners during this time has been well-documented, but it’s worth repeating a few of the remarkable statistics. The psychiatric clinics opened to help people cope with the stress were closed due to lack of use. Suicides fell to below the rate they were at during peacetime. The number of work days lost to strikes in 1940 was the lowest in history. If the point of targeting civilians was to destroy morale, the Nazi bombing campaign was a failure. (To read more, click here.)
I was disappointed to read Mary Bousted’s unpleasant and divisive article about free schools. I wonder if she paused for a second to think about the impact of her words on the thousands of teachers who work at free schools and whom, in many cases, have helped set them up?
Two-thirds of free schools have been established by groups led by teachers, many of them members of the ATL or the NUT teaching unions. It cannot be great for morale to know that the soon-to-be joint leader of your union thinks the school you have been pouring your heart into is an example of “our worst fears realised”.
Mary has the gall to characterise anyone who questions her objections to free schools as indulging in “post-truth” politics, and, in the next breath, implies that free schools are more likely to be closed than other schools. In fact, in the last five years 1.71 per cent of maintained schools have closed, compared to just 1.43 per cent of free schools. If Mary is genuinely concerned about the impact of school closures on children, that would be a reason to support the free schools programme, where the rate of attrition is below average, not oppose it. (To read more, click here.)
I’m due to debate the philosopher A.C. Grayling on Saturday about whether there should be a second EU referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal. It is part of a two-day event being held at Central Hall, Westminster, on ‘Brexit and the political crash’. It is billed as a ‘convention’, an opportunity for all sides in this debate to discuss Britain’s future, but the reference to the ‘political crash’ is a giveaway. Brexit isn’t a revolt against out-of-touch elites or even a new departure that may or may not be good for the country. No, it is a ‘crash’, as in ‘car crash’ or ‘economic crash’. In reality, the ‘convention’ will be a viper’s nest of die-hard Remainiacs. The roster of speakers includes Alastair Campbell, Gina Miller, Nick Clegg, Alan Rusbridger and Ian McEwan.
I will set out the arguments against a second referendum as best as I can, but my heart won’t really be in it. By that, I don’t mean it’s something I’m on the fence about. Rather, it’s so preposterous that it’s beneath contempt. Does A.C. Grayling really think there will be enough time for Britain to agree a draft deal with the rest of the EU, organise a second referendum and, if the deal’s rejected, negotiate another deal before the two-year, Article 50 clock runs out? Or is the idea that if the deal is rejected, the clock will stop ticking and Britain will simply remain in the EU on exactly the same terms as before, with the results of the first referendum being completely disregarded? That’s not a serious political position. That’s magical thinking. (To read more, click here.)
Dear George Osborne, I thought it worth passing along some advice about your new job. I’ve never edited a news-paper, but I’ve been in the business for 32 years and I’ve seen a fair few come and go. I’ve also worked for the Evening Standard in various capacities. Indeed, my first job in journalism was doing shift work on Londoner’s Diary.
That’s not a bad place to start on Fleet Street (your predecessor did) and you could do worse than sit at the desk for a few weeks. Liz Smith, the veteran American newspaper columnist, describes gossip as ‘news wearing a red dress and running ahead of the pack’ and there’s something in that. A good diary story, like a good news story, is something that a powerful person would prefer not to be published, and they’ll often use every weapon at their disposal to stop it, from calling the proprietor to threatening a libel suit. They may also resort to bribery — and it’s worth bearing in mind that not all bribery is unacceptable. (To read more, click here.)
My heart soared when I first heard the phrase ‘progressive alliance’ in this election campaign. Not the reaction you’d expect, perhaps, but any attempt to persuade people to vote tactically on the eve of a general election is doomed to failure. A complete waste of time. I should know because I tried to get a similar venture off the ground three years ago.
Mine was a conservative version, obviously. In 2014 I was worried that the split on the right would enable Ed Miliband to become our next prime minister. So I launched a Unite the Right campaign and set about trying to persuade supporters of Ukip and the Tories to vote for which-ever candidate in their constituency was best placed to defeat the Labour candidate. Our slogan was ‘Country Before Party’. (To read more, click here.)