I was in Paris last week to take part in an EU Referendum debate at Sciences Po, a French university that specialises in international relations. It’s not an exaggeration to describe Sciences Po as a finishing school for Europe’s political elite. Twenty-eight heads of state have studied or taught there, its graduates include five of the last six French presidents and the current dean is Enrico Letta, a former Prime Minister of Italy. My fellow panellists included Ana Palacio, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2002-04, and Hubert Vedrine, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1997-02. I think it’s safe to say I was the only Eurosceptic in the room.
I was listened to with polite amusement, but almost no one took the threat of Brexit seriously. For them, the advantages of staying in are so obvious they found it difficult to engage with anyone who doesn’t share that view. When I pointed out some of the EU’s deficiencies, such as its lack of transparency, the fact that laws can only be introduced by unelected European Commissioners, and the widespread corruption that has confounded its auditors for 21 years, the panellists nodded in agreement. Yes, yes, no one’s saying it’s perfect. But on balance it’s been such a success that only a swivel-eyed loon would want to leave.
I did my best to shake them out of their complacency by drawing their attention to the revolt against Europe’s political elites that’s gathering steam across the Continent, with numerous anti-EU parties on the left and right chalking up victories. In France, the National Front polled 24.86 per cent of the popular vote in the 2014 European elections, putting them in first place, while Syriza did well enough in last year’s Greek general election to form the government. The Sweden Democrats polled 12.9 per cent of the vote in the 2014 Swedish general election, the True Finns won 38 seats in the 2014 Finnish parliamentary elections and the AfD received 24.2 per cent of the vote in Saxony-Anhalt in this year’s German regional elections. Wasn’t that cause for concern? (To read more, click here.)
Leo, the Hungarian Vizsla my wife brought home unexpectedly last year, is approaching his first birthday and not getting any easier to manage. Caroline decided to buy him on the spur of the moment because she ‘liked the way he looked’, by which she means he looks like her. Not the face, obviously, but his figure — thin, athletic, muscular, big ears, big feet. Indeed, she was walking Leo in Gunnersbury Park a few days ago when another dog -walker, spotting them together, burst out laughing. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen an owner who looks more like her dog,’ he said. This may have been his attempt at flirting — always hard to tell with dog owners. She noticed he had a pug, but managed to avoid the obvious -rejoinder.
To describe Leo as a handful would be an understatement. I was walking him in Acton Park the other day when he bounded up to a small child and his mum. ‘Oh no,’ I thought. ‘Not again.’ On a previous outing, he’d wrestled a toddler to the ground and then started licking the residue of a Flake 99 off his face, which didn’t go over particularly well with the mum. But this was worse — far worse. The child was eating a sandwich and Leo had it out of his hand in an instant, whereupon he devoured it like a shark eating a raw steak.
‘How dare you?’ screamed the mother. ‘How bloody dare you?’ I instinctively threw up my hands, as if to say, ‘Nothing to do with me, Guv’, which did nothing to placate her. ‘That’s a dangerous dog you’ve got there and you should have him put down,’ she said, shaking her head. (To read more, click here.)
This is a speech I gave yesterday in Paris at Sciences Po, a French graduate school for international relations. Among those present were: Hugo Dixon, Chairman and Editor of InFacts; Enrico Letta, Dean of the Paris School of International Relations and Italian Prime Minister from 2013-14; Ana Palacio, Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2002-04; Hubert Vidrine, French Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1997-02; and Christine Ockrent, former editor-in-chief of L'Express. I think it's fair to say I was the only Eurosceptic in the room!
Charles De Gaulle
In 1942, Charles de Gaulle said, "Democracy coincides exactly, for me, with national sovereignty."
For De Gaulle, democracy and national sovereignty were indivisible.
In this, he was echoing Article III of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen: "The principle of sovereignty resides essentially in the Nation. No body, no individual can exert authority which does not emanate expressly from it."
This principle is directly contradicted by the European Union.
Pooling sovereignty between nation states inevitably means diluting democracy because you break the umbilical cord between the government and the governed; between political leaders and the people they owe their authority to.
As De Gaulle said, democracy and national self-determination go hand in hand; if the people cannot determine their national destiny, they have effectively been disenfranchised.
How is the EU is an affront to democracy? Let me count the ways. (To read more, click here.)
here are those who may feel they have heard enough from free school pioneer and writer Toby Young over the past few days – his announcement that he is stepping down as chief executive of his schools, the lessons he has learned since he entered the fraught world of education and his subsequent complaints in a Spectator column (“Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life”) about the way these two elements have been reported.
But in what has been a tumultuous few weeks for teachers, parents, pupils and politicians, with the education white paper’s plans to force all schools to become academies, the backlash and U-turn that followed, plus a string of embarrassing blunders and protests around primary school testing, Young has some interesting and unexpected insights into education policy and practice that go beyond the small media storm he triggered last week.
We meet at one of his primary free schools on a wet morning – he has a heavy cold and is coughing. We sit in the interim headteacher’s office, Young choosing his words carefully as he tries to unpick the flurry of coverage and comment that followed a recent profile in Schools Week.
The interest focused on his regrets since embarking on his educational odyssey – the tone is almost apologetic and rather unexpected given his bumptious public profile. Young admits that at the beginning he hadn’t grasped how difficult it was to bring about system-wide improvement, and how with the benefit of hindsight he would have been less critical of schools.
In the reporting that followed, his comments were directly linked with his decision to step down as CEO at the end of this academic year. “In all the pieces that ran, the gist of it was that I had imagined that running schools was far easier than it had turned out to be and that’s why I was stepping down as CEO.” Indeed, in the Mirror it was “Toby Young admits ‘running a school was harder than I thought’ in extraordinary free schools climbdown”, while the Times headlined the story, “Poster boy of free schools quits”. (To read more, click here.)
As a Vote Leave campaigner, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how even-handedly the BBC has covered the Brexit debate. It’s a big improvement on the corporation’s reporting on the European Union in previous years.
Sadly, my newfound respect for the BBC was dealt a blow yesterday when the broadcaster devoted an entire day of live programming to migration. With the hashtag #WorldOnTheMove, the BBC covered the subject from a variety of angles, including a report from Vietnam by Sarah Montague on the Today programme, an extended interview on the World at One with Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and a radio drama by the award-winning playwright James Graham entitled Where Shall I Go, What Shall I Do?
If you were looking for impartiality, you’d come to the wrong place. The entire day was like a 24-hour political broadcast for the Remain campaign. (To read more, click here.)
I’m always suspicious when middle-aged men bang on about how unembarrassed they are about being bald. If someone tells you repeatedly that they’re not bothered by some aspect of their appearance, it begins to look as though they are. Methinks they protest too much.
Baldscaping, the new craze whereby men post pictures on social media of the very top of their shiny pink heads in front of a famous landmark or dramatic landscape, is a case in point. The creator of this trend, 43-year-old marketing officer Nick Marr, is determined to let everyone know he’s not ashamed of his chrome dome. “Show the world your bald head and join the crew of proud testosterone-filled men,” he says.
To someone not consumed by the psychodrama of hair loss, this looks like a form of disguised vanity. It’s as if Marr has come up with an excuse to post pictures of his head on Instagram and Facebook by convincing himself he’s waging a moral crusade on behalf of a beleaguered minority — as though being bald is the equivalent of being black or gay.
If there really were an army of hirsute men and women out there, permanently looking down their noses at people like him, then Marr might have a point. Is there, though? Or is that just bald paranoia? (To read more, click here.)
Jonathan Platt, the 44-year-old parent who successfully challenged a £120 penalty notice for taking his daughter out of school without her head’s permission, stood on the steps of the High Court on Friday, chest puffed up with pride, and hailed the court’s decision as a triumph for the little guy.
In his eyes, he was Asterix the Gaul, Ramsay MacDonald and Mahatma Gandhi all rolled into one. He had taken on the system and won.
Thanks to his heroic efforts, it is now up to parents to decide how regularly their children should go to school. If they want to take their children to Disneyworld in Florida during term time, as Jon Platt did last year, there’s nothing schools can do to stop them.
You’ll forgive me if I don’t regard this legal victory as an unqualified blessing. As the co-founder of four free schools – as well as a parent who worries about his own children’s education – I cannot help but wonder how teachers are going to do the job we’ve entrusted them with if there are no penalties for playing truant. How can they deliver a syllabus to a class of 30 children, something that requires a good deal of careful planning, if those children can drop in and out whenever they like?
How can teachers arrange school trips if parents are at liberty to pull their children out at the last minute, as Mr Platt did last year?
How can they teach children the importance of sticking to a timetable if there’s no penalty for failing to turn up to a lesson?
In essence, the High Court has ruled that a headteacher’s view about the harmful effect of low attendance – a view based on years of professional experience – should be given less weight than that of Mr Platt. (To read more, click here.)