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.)
Ever since I wrangled my way into the Vanity Fair Oscar Party one year and rubbed shoulders with the A-listers inside, I’ve made a point of trying to stay up for the Academy Awards.
The live ceremony is the equivalent of the World Cup final for movie-lovers. In my weaker moments, I still fantasise about what I’ll say when I collect my Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
But fending off sleep is becoming harder and harder, and not just because the programme seems to get longer each year. It’s mainly due to the gulf between the popular films I enjoy and the politically correct fare that is celebrated at the Oscars. (To read more, click here.)
Douglas Carswell says Enoch Powell was wrong about immigration. “He was a distinguished soldier, linguist and classicist,” he wrote in this morning's edition of the Times. “Yet in his pessimism, Powell was wrong.”
This is a potted version of an immigration speech the Ukip MP is due to give this evening at a Left-of-centre think tank, and it looks like a thinly-veiled attack on Nigel Farage. Ukip has suffered a dip in popularity in the past week following the broadcast of a satirical docudrama on Channel 4 and a fly-on-the-wall BBC TWO documentary, both of which gave the impression that Ukip is a racist party. (To read more, click here.)
I didn’t take Ed Miliband long to weaponise the latest cash-for-access scandal.
He’s written to the Prime Minister this morning to tell him that, if elected, he will pass a law banning all MPs from holding paid directorships or consultancies and placing a cap on all outside earnings.
This follows hot on the heels of Miliband’s latest vote-winning wheeze, announced yesterday, that he’s appointed John Prescott as a special advisor on climate change.
Is that the same John Prescott who writes a weekly column for the Mirror? The same John Prescott who became a rapporteur for the Council of Europe after leaving the government in 2007? The same John Prescott who became famous for driving two Jaguars?
Even by Miliband’s standards, this is breath-taking hypocrisy. (To read more, click here.)
On the face of it, the moral case against tax avoidance seems pretty straightforward. If you’re a UK taxpayer and benefit from public goods and services, then you should pay your fair share of tax. If you’re paying less than that, then you’re a free rider. You’re breaking the social contract.
But what do we mean by “fair share”? The standard defence of tax avoidance is that it’s perfectly legal – if it wasn’t, it would be tax evasion – and the social contract only obliges people to obey the law, not to pay more tax than they have to. To maintain that people are morally obliged to pay an additional amount of tax, over and above what they’re legally required to pay, is a tricky position to defend.
For one thing, it means we’re all guilty of tax avoidance. I’m not just thinking of people who buy whisky in duty free or take out an ISA. If the “fair” rate of tax is higher than the actual rate, and anyone not paying the “fair” rate is “dodgy”, then everyone who fails to make a voluntary donation to HMRC on top of their annual tax bill is at fault. (To read more, click here.)
I suppose we should be thankful that Nicola Sturgeon has acknowledged there’s a problem with Scotland’s public education system, even if she’s hit upon the wrong solution. Earlier this week, the First Minister announced that the Scottish Government would be trying out its version of “the London Challenge”, a programme carried out by the last government, to address the chronic underachievement of Scotland’s most deprived children.
In the past, the SNP has deflected criticisms of its education record by pointing out that Scottish 15-year-olds did marginally better than their English counterparts in the 2012 PISA tests. But the difference between the two groups is miniscule and both have declined dramatically since PISA first started testing in 2000. More recently, the Scottish Government has been embarrassed by the error-strewn roll-out of the Curriculum for Excellence. The Highers linked to the new curriculum were supposed to be introduced last year, but half of Scotland’s local authorities still haven’t managed it.
It’s not surprising that Sturgeon has alighted on “the London Challenge” as the model for improving Scotland’s schools since it involves giving local authorities more money, rather than schools more autonomy. (To read more, click here.)
The news that a Spitting Image spin-off will shortly hit our screens fills me with a combination of excitement and foreboding. I’m excited because there are so many ripe targets for its particular brand of satire ¬– just think what fun the programme could have with Harriet Harman’s Barbie battle bus, for instance. But I’m also worried the new version won’t be as fearless as the original and will steer clear of material that some people might find “offensive”.
Nothing was off limits when the show was first broadcast in the 1980s. I’m not just talking about political figures, who we’re told will feature just as prominently this time round. I mean religious figures like Robert Runcie and Pope John Paul II and – crucially – Islamic religious leaders like the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Ayatollah was a regular target, usually portrayed with his hands dripping with blood. In one famous sketch, he presented ‘Miss Islamic World’ in which all the contestants wore full burkas so no part of their faces were visible. (To read more, click here.)
The problem with being a pushy parent is that you often end up feeling rather foolish. I spent several weeks preparing my daughter Sasha for the egg-and-spoon race at her first sports day. The mistake that most children make, I told her, is to run too quickly. They drop the egg and have to go back to the start. “Slow but steady wins the race,” I said.
On the day, she did everything I’d taught her. The other children raced ahead, dropping their eggs almost immediately, whereas Sasha inched forward, her face a mask of concentration. What I hadn't bargained for is that the rules had changed since my day. (To read more, click here.)
I don’t understand why Myleene Klass objects to being asked to bring a cash gift to a child's birthday party. Does Klass actually enjoy traipsing round Westfield on a Saturday morning looking for a suitable gift for a child? I have four children under 12, each in a class of 30, and the custom is for each of their classmates to invite all the others to their birthday parties. So that’s 116 parties my children are invited to each year, and 116 presents I have to find. If one of their parents suggested I simply give their child £10 instead I would fall to my knees and thank god.
Come to think of it, I’m going to do exactly this when my son Ludo turns 10 next month. The amount of presents my children get on their birthdays is staggering, all of them worthless tat. And children are notoriously reluctant to part with anything once they’ve received it, so re-gifting is out. No, a place must be found for each plastic car and stuffed animal, with the upshot that their bedrooms now look like junk heaps. At the last birthday party our youngest son had, my wife and I managed to hide all the presents from him and when he went to bed I took them all to the local charity shop in a big black bin liner. He’s still none the wiser. (To read more, click here.)