I was surprised to see Gary Linker's name earlier today among the nine new visiting fellows appointed to Lady Margaret Hall, the Oxford College. Could it be because LMH Principal Alan Rusbridger shares Gary's views on Brexit? My take for the Spectator's Coffee House blog.
I have just returned from Minneapolis after attending the annual conference of the International Society for Intelligence Research. That’s ‘intelligence’ in the sense of general cognitive ability rather than spooks. It’s the third time I’ve gone, having been asked by the society to give a lecture in 2017 (a different journalist is invited each year to talk about how to improve the public understanding of the field). There are a lot of myths floating around about intelligence, such as the belief that IQ isn’t real. In fact, it is possible to measure intelligence using standardised tests, people’s scores don’t change much after childhood and they help to predict a huge range of lifetime outcomes, such as academic attainment, income, occupation, health, even how long you’re likely to live. The existence of a measurable intelligence quotient is probably the single most robust finding in the entire field of psychology, yet for some reason the public is more likely to believe in complete bunk that’s failed to replicate, such as growth mindset theory.
In retrospect, I feel a bit of a fraud for offering these academics advice about how to communicate their findings without becoming embroiled in controversy. Six months after my first lecture, I was targeted by a left-wing mob, in part because I’d written some supposedly outrageous things about intelligence. One of my sins, as enumerated at great length in the Guardian and elsewhere, was having attended an intelligence conference at UCL — not one organised by this society, I should say, but by the psychologist James Thompson, who was then hounded out of his university. (To read more, click here.)
Some of my Trump-supporting friends have been defending the President’s racist tweets by claiming that they’re clever politics. By forcing senior members of the Democratic Party, including the leading contenders for the Presidential nomination, to defend the four hard Left Congresswomen known as “the Squad”, he is tainting them by association. If they’re willing to stand up for people like Ilhan Omar, the Democratic Congresswoman from Minnesota’s fifth district, even if it’s for noble reasons, it will look as though the entire party stands behind all the idiotic things she’s said, including her anti-Semitic remarks.
I’m not convinced. First of all, that explanation attributes a degree of strategic calculation to the President’s social media activity that is just wishful thinking. As the American writer Jonah Goldbderg says, Trump tweets like an escaped monkey from a cocaine experiment. (To read more, click here.)
Fourteen years ago, almost to the day, Lloyd Evans and I received a note from Boris. It was the press night of Who’s The Daddy?, our play about the various sex scandals that had engulfed The Spectator in the previous 12 months, and we were terrified about how he’d react. As the editor of the magazine, he would have been within his rights to sack us, given how disloyal we’d been. We had portrayed him as a sex-mad buffoon with a portrait of Margaret Thatcher on his office wall that turned into a pull-down bed — in constant use throughout, needless to say. Not only that, but we’d sent up numerous other members of staff, including Kimberly Fortier, the publisher, Petronella Wyatt, the deputy editor, and Rod Liddle, the magazine’s star columnist. (Of the three, only Rod survives at The Spectator.) At that time, Lloyd and I were sharing the drama critic beat and if we’d behaved this badly at any other magazine we would have been crucified. How would Boris respond?
I’ll get to that in a minute, but first a bit of background. The Spectator found itself in the news in the second half of 2004 thanks to a string of scandals. First, Rod fell in love with Alicia Monckton, a 22-year-old staff member, and left his wife Rachel Royce, who vented her rage in the Daily Mail. Then the News of the World revealed that Kimberly was having an affair with the home secretary, David Blunkett. (To read more, click here.)
It is fair to say that the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming the next prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has not been universally welcomed on this side of the Atlantic. The 55-year-old Conservative member of Parliament is often described as a “Marmite figure,“ a reference to a salty, waxlike substance that some British people like to spread on their toast. You either love Marmite or you hate it, and the same goes for Johnson. About half the nation breaks into a smile whenever the bumbling, self-deprecating, overgrown schoolboy heaves into view. The other half breaks out in hives.
Having known Boris since 1983, when we were at Oxford together, I am a fan. He has been described as looking like a sheepdog peeping out from under an upturned colander of spaghetti — he has a thick mop of blond hair that Donald Trump would kill for — and that was as true then as it is today. The striking thing about him as a 19-year-old student is that he was already the finished article, whereas the rest of us were still works in progress. It is not just that he was comfortable in his own skin. He had a Churchillian sense of his own destiny. He gave the impression that at some point in Britain’s future, at a time of national crisis, he would sweep in and save the day. We are about to find out if that was a narcissistic self-delusion or a historical premonition. (To read more, click here.)
In our latest podcast, James Delingpole and I discuss the scandal of the British ambassador and the blond, as well as Big Little Lies and Stranger Things, and pay tribute to Christopher Booker and Norman Stone. Click here to listen.
I’ve contributed a chapter to an education book published this week by the Institute of Economic Affairs. I was asked by the editors, Pauline Dixon and Steve Humble, to assess the impact of Britain’s education reforms, beginning with the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, extending through the creation of league tables in 1992 and culminating with the opening of academies and free schools from 2002.
The first challenge was finding a reliable way to measure the effect of these initiatives. The introduction of the National Curriculum coincided with the replacement of O-levels and CSEs with GCSEs, making it difficult to compare before and after. In addition, the steady, year-on-year improvement in GCSE grades between 1988 and 2012 has to be taken with a large dose of salt, with most of it due to grade inflation. The positive spin New Labour put on its own record in education was belied by a 2009 Sheffield University study which found that 22 per cent of school leavers were functionally innumerate and 17 per cent functionally illiterate. (To read more, click here.)
Dr Noah Carl, the young conservative academic who was fired from his Cambridge college after being targeted by a left-wing outrage mob, has decided to fight back. He is launching a campaign to crowdfund a legal action against St Edmund’s College, not just to restore his own reputation but to protect the rights of other scholars who find themselves being persecuted for challenging the prevailing orthodoxy.
‘This isn’t about whether you agree with my research or my political views,’ he says. ‘This is about protecting freedom of speech, and standing up to the activists who are trying to control our universities. Hardly a week goes by without another case of someone being fired, or disinvited, or deplatformed, just for holding a certain viewpoint. It needs to stop. Let’s show St Edmund’s College that they can’t get away with this.’
Noah Carl’s difficulties began last November after he was awarded the prestigious Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellowship. A group of hard left academics circulated an ‘open letter’ condemning the appointment and accusing him of ‘racist pseudoscience’, although they were unable to produce any evidence to back up that charge. (To read more, click here.)
You have to admire the Sutton Trust’s PR skills. For those who don’t know, the Sutton Trust is a social mobility thinktank that is constantly drawing attention to just how unmeritocratic contemporary Britain is. Every time it produces a report about the dominance of the privately educated Oxbridge elite, the media slavishly regurgitates it, even though the Trust has been churning out essentially the same report every year since it was founded in 1993, and even though, according to the Trust, 40 per cent of people in the media went to independent schools and 39 per cent to Oxbridge. You’d think the stubborn survival of the English class system wouldn’t come as a shock to them, but apparently it does, judging from their breathless, scandalised reaction each time the Sutton Trust points it out.
In the latest report, released on Tuesday, we’re told that two-fifths of Britain’s ‘elite’ attended private schools, including 43 per cent of the England cricket team, 48 per cent of FTSE 350 CEOs and 59 per cent of permanent secretaries. This in spite of the fact that only 7 per cent of British adults were educated privately. For Oxbridge, the discrepancy is worse. A measly 1 per cent of the population went to one of those two universities, yet their alumni account for 44 per cent of newspaper columnists, 57 per cent of the cabinet and an eye–watering 71 per cent of senior judges.
Cue howls of outrage from the usual suspects. ‘Our top professions are a closed club, dominated by a wealthy and privileged elite who attended the same private schools,’ thundered Jeremy Corbyn. ‘Labour will give every child the chance to flourish and radically transform society — to break the cycle of entrenched privilege.’ Needless to say, Corbyn did not add that, as a privately educated person himself, he would be stepping aside in favour of Angela Rayner, and there was no mention of John McDonnell, who went to a private Catholic boys’ school. (To read more, click here.)