In The Purple Revolution, Nigel Farage describes how he prepared for his second debate against Nick Clegg last year: "I spent the next five days off the booze, I took some long country walks near the house in Downe – in my job I rarely have time to exercise – went to the steam room a few times and had some early nights. Normally, I go to bed at about 1am and then up at 5am or so. I was determined not to feel and look like a wreck in the next debate. I wanted to be in the position for once in my life where I did not feel completely shattered."
It’s a safe bet that David Cameron and Ed Miliband haven’t been preparing for tonight’s leaders’ “debate” on Sky News and Channel 4 by going for long country walks. While Cameron has been busy running the country, Miliband has been holed up with an American debate “coach”. Michael Sheehan, who helped prepare Barack Obama for his televised encounters with Mitt Romney, charges up £15,000-a-day and specializes in turning lemons into lemonade. Sheehan’s corporate clients include Google, Facebook and Amazon, all of whom have been criticized by Miliband for avoiding tax, as well as Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company that was fined $1.415 billion for illegally marketing an unapproved drug to dementia sufferers. So much for Miliband’s attack on “manufactured, polished and presentational politics”. (To read more, click here.)
A strange ritual takes place on twitter most evenings at around 10.30pm. Hundreds of political anoraks start tweeting the results of the YouGov daily tracker poll that’s due to be published in the following day’s Sun. Some of them are neutrals, but the majority are politically aligned and will only tweet those results that show their party in front.
I often wonder what the point of this is, even though I’m guilty of it myself. It’s not as if anyone is going to see the tweet and say, “Ooh, I wasn’t going to vote Conservative, but now that YouGov has them two points ahead I’ve changed my mind.” I can think of only two sensible reasons for doing this, both quite weak.
The first is it has a mildly demoralising effect on your opponents Occasionally, I get replies from enraged lefties saying, “Well, what do you expect from a Murdoch rag?” That counts as a successful bit of trolling in my book. The second is it steadies the nerves of the people on your side. For both Labour and the Conservatives, it’s essential that discipline is maintained during the election period and there’s no better backbone-stiffener than a four-point lead, even if it only lasts 24 hours.
But anyone giving these reasons for crowing about good polls is engaging in post hoc rationalisation.(To read more, click here.)
Civitas has just published an interesting book called The Ins and Outs of Selective Secondary Schools. Edited by Anastasia de Waal, it’s a collection of essays by all the usual suspects in the never-ending argument about grammar schools.
In her introduction, de Waal points out that the two sides in this debate have more in common than you’d think. In particular, they share a common goal, which is to sever the link between a child’s socio-economic status and his or her attainment. In 2009, according to the OECD, the variance in the PISA test scores of British children that could be explained by their backgrounds was 13.8 per cent. By this measure, the best-performing region in the world is Macao China (two per cent) and the worst is Peru (27.5 per cent). Britain is close to the OECD average of 14 per cent.
As you’d expect, those who believe in school selection, like the Conservative MP Graham Brady, argue that clever children from poor families are likely to do better at grammars than comprehensives. Exhibit A in the case for the defence is the dominance of the professions by the products of independent schools, something that wasn’t true before Tony Crosland set out “to destroy every fucking grammar school in England”. In response, Fiona Millar and others point out that the number of working class children at grammars rarely climbed above the 15 per cent mark, even in their heyday, and the proportion of children on free school meals in in the 164 that remain is just two per cent. Today, as before, the main beneficiaries of selective education are the middle classes. (To read more, click here.)
My son Charlie was scouted by QPR last week. I say “scouted”, but that’s not quite accurate since he’s only six. Rather, a man claiming to be a member of the club’s coaching staff suggested I bring him along to the QPR pre-academy in Willesden.
At first, I was suspicious. The man in question teaches football at the local leisure centre and I was worried that this “pre-academy” would turn out to be an expensive, fee-paying affair with no official links to QPR. When the man first introduced the idea, I had to ask if he’d got the right boy. Charlie’s quite small for his age and not exactly lion-hearted. His method of winning the ball is to go in for the tackle, fall over, accuse the other player of committing a foul and then demand a penalty, no matter where the “foul” has occurred. He then positions the ball inches from the goal, takes a massive run-up and, as often as not, falls over when he makes contact. To my untrained eye, he doesn’t look like a future star of the Premier League. (To read more, click here.)
David Cameron has announced that 500 new free schools will open in the next Parliament if the Conservatives win the election. That’s on top of the 408 free schools that have opened – or been approved to open – so far. That’s good news for parents and children, particularly in areas of social deprivation where parents often have little choice when it comes to their children’s education.
Opponents of the policy, such as Alastair Campbell’s partner Fiona Millar, have long argued that free schools will only benefit middle class families and have a negative impact on poorer children because they’ll “cream skim” the brightest kids and “weed out” the most deprived. See this article by Millar in 2010, for instance. (To read more, click here.)
Last night, the BBC broadcast The Great European Disaster Movie, a "documentary" set in the future about the calamitous consequences of Britain's exit from the European Union. According to the makers of the film, this would create a domino effect, prompting more and more countries to withdraw until, in 2022, the European Union collapses. By then, Nigel Farage has become Prime Minister and begun to repatriate anyone who arrived in Britain since 2007, widespread civil disorder has broken out in Greece, Italy and Spain, a state of emergency has been declared in France and ISIL has begun its "unstoppable" advance across the European mainland.
The film was made by Bill Emmett, an ex-editor of the Economist, and Annalisa Piras, an Italian journalist who writes for the Guardian. Europhiles often portray their opponents as swivel-eyed fanatics who are impervious to reason, but The Great European Disaster Movie wasn't exactly a model of dispassionate, evidence-based analysis. On the contrary, it was an example of the scaremongering often engaged in by pro-Europeans, except instead of merely claiming that Brexit would cause the economy to collapse, it threw in Western civilisation for good measure. As the Conservative MEP Dan Hannan pointed out, the only thing it left out of this apocalyptic scenario was flesh-eating zombies.
In the course of 75 minutes, Emmett and Piras managed to shoehorn in all the usual myths about the European Union. In no particular order, they were:
1. Winston Churchill believed Britain's place was inside a United States of Europe
Towards the beginning of the film, we hear a recording of Churchill's 1946 speech [http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/astonish.html] in which he called for the creation of "a kind of United States of Europe". This is played out against a backdrop of European cities reduced to rubble by the Second World War. (Hint, hint.) What Emmett and Piras neglect to tell us is that Churchill believed Britain should remain [itals] outside [itals] this supranational structure. (To read more, click here.)
Last year, I had an exchange with Hugo Rifkind on Twitter in which I bet him dinner at Clarke’s that his father would stand down before the next election. My reasoning was that at the age of 68 his dad wouldn’t want to serve another five years in the House of Commons and would be happier in the Lords. I hadn’t anticipated he would depart as a result of a cash-for-access scandal.
I’ve always rather fancied running in Kensington myself. Rifkind has a majority of 8,616, which makes it a safe seat, and it’s only a 15-minute cycle ride from my house. But I’m not going to throw my hat into the ring because I still have numerous responsibilities in connection with the three schools I’ve helped set up. Indeed, my group is currently consulting about setting up a fourth in Kensington. I don’t think I’d be able to discharge those responsibilities and do a good job as a Member of Parliament.
I also find the current censoriousness about MPs earning a bit of extra money off-putting. Ed Miliband has already said he intends to ban them from taking second jobs if Labour wins in May and he may well succeed in bouncing David Cameron into making a similar commitment. It’s all very well for them to get up on their high horses – as Leader of the Opposition Miliband is paid £132,387, while Cameron’s salary is £142,500 – but what about those poor backbenchers earning £67,000? (To read more, click here.)