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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Thursday 19th November 2015

Western liberalism is no match for the Islamic Game of Thrones

As a graduate student in the Harvard Government Department in the late 1980s, I became slightly jaded about the number of visiting professors who warned about the imminent demise of the West. The thrust of their arguments was nearly always the same. The secular liberal values we cherish, such as freedom of speech and the separation of church and state, won’t survive in the face of growing, religious disenchantment with modernity unless they’re rooted in something more [itals] meaningful [itals] than rational individualism. They were talking about Islamic Fundamentalism, obviously, although sometimes they threw in Christian Fundamentalism as well in order not seem “Orientalist” or “ethnocentric”.

These political scientists were, without exception, left-of-centre and their critique of garden-variety liberalism was usually accompanied by a call for some version of utopian socialism or – its diffusion brand – “communitarianism”. I was a member of a small band of conservatives in the Department and, after the visitors’ words had been warmly received by almost everyone else, one of us would pipe up and ask how long they thought we had left. Ten years? 15? 50? If they were foolish enough to name a date, the follow-up was instantaneous: “Care to make a wager?”

There have been many occasions since then when I’ve regretted that callow reaction, with the terrorist attack in Paris being the latest example. (To read more, click here.)

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Tuesday 17th November 2015

Meet Leo, the youngest member of our household

I’m pleased to announce a new addition to the Young household – a 10-week-old Vizsla. For those unfamiliar with this particular breed of dog, they are Hungarian in origin and when fully grown are about the same size as a Lab. They make good bird dogs – they’re excellent retrievers – but can also double up as household pets. We’ve named him Leo on account of his Leonine colouring.

Caroline says it’s like having a new baby, save for the fact that she isn’t breastfeeding him, and that’s not a joke. For one thing, I had no choice in the matter, just as I wasn’t consulted on the four occasions she decided to get pregnant. She drove up to Wales one morning to “look at” some Vizsla puppies and returned in the evening with Leo under her jacket. (To read more, click here.)

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Tuesday 10th November 2015

David Cameron's EU reform package is too feeble to make any difference

I confess to finding it difficult to get beneath the spin and counter-spin emanating from the pro- and anti-EU camps following David Cameron’s speech this morning setting out his four EU reform demands. The pro camp claim that these are hugely ambitious demands that would fundamentally change Britain’s relationship with EU, while the antis have dismissed them as “meaningless”. “Cameron will get what he’s asking for but since it’s trivial, who cares?” says Dominic Cummings, the director of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 5th November 2015

Why good universities shouldn't lower the bar for state school applicants

New research showing that state school pupils are likely to do better at university than their private school counterparts may end up making it harder for children from deprived backgrounds to get in to good universities, not easier.

The research by Cambridge Assessment, published today, looks at whether there’s a correlation between As at A level and degree results and finds that students from state schools with As are more likely to get first class degrees than those from independent schools with the same A level results.

On the face of it, that should make university admissions departments more likely to admit state school applicants, but it may not. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 5th November 2015

Nature beats nurture every time

I’ve been doing some thinking recently about the findings of behavioural geneticists and their implications for education policy. For instance, a 2013 study of over 10,000 twins led by Robert Plomin, a leading light in the field, found that GCSE results are nearly 60 per cent heritable. What this means is that genetic differences between children account for almost 60 per cent of the variation in their GCSE results, with shared environmental factors, such as the schools they go to, accounting for less than 40 per cent. One very obvious implication of this research is that we may need to lower our expectations when it comes to the impact schools can make on the underlying rate of social mobility.

But the more I think about this, the more I realise that behavioural geneticists are upending our assumptions in other areas, too. Parenting, for example. Most middle class parents, myself included, believe that how you bring up your children will have a major impact on their life chances. That’s why we spend so much energy on getting them to put down their screens, do their homework, practice the piano, etc. But if you look at some of the biggest determinants of success – IQ, conscientiousness, grit – they are all far more heritable than we like to imagine. Our children’s destinies aren’t set in stone from the moment of conception, but the difference that being a good parent makes is fairly negligible. The one crumb of comfort I’ve been able to dig up is that the ability to give and receive love isn’t very heritable. Perhaps that’s something we can teach our children.

What about art? (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 29th October 2015

Why did successive governments give £46 million to Kids Company in spite of civil service warnings?

The Kids Company story looks like one of those scandals that’s metastasizing, growing ever more poisonous as more details emerge. Today, we’ve learnt from the National Audit Office that Labour and Conservative ministers were warned on six separate occasions in the last 13 years by civil servants that the charity had questions to answer about the way it was being run and how it was spending its money. Yet that didn’t stop successive governments handing over £46 million of public money in the same time period.

Until now, the issue has been whether the various government departments responsible for this largesse did sufficient due diligence before handing out grants, but it’s beginning to look as though the ministers responsible were aware of the charity’s shortcomings and decided to hand over money nevertheless. To give just one example, Matthew Hancock and Oliver Letwin, two Cabinet Office ministers, decided to award Kids Company a £3 million grant shortly before it collapsed earlier this year in the teeth of objections by their civil servants. Why? (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 29th October 2015

Sorry, but the Bullingdon Club really doesn't help your career

I’m getting a lot of abuse on Twitter for saying that having been a member of the Bullingdon is more of a hindrance than a help in contemporary Britain. My comment was a response to a piece by Charlotte Proudman in the Guardian on Monday that Oxford and Cambridge’s drinking clubs “cement the succession of power and influence in Britain among a narrow elite”.

In response to my claim, numerous people have pointed out that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Mayor of London were all members of the Bullingdon. The problem with this rebuttal is that merely pointing out that Cameron, Osborne and Johnson are successful politicians doesn’t, by itself, prove their membership wasn’t a hindrance. It could be that all the other advantages they enjoyed – high IQ, good education, devoted parents, bags of drive and ambition, etc – combined to overcome the disadvantage of being associated with Oxford’s most notorious student society.

Why do I think it was a handicap? (To read more, click here.)

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Wednesday 28th October 2015

The Daily Politics

I debate the constitutionality of the House of Lords' rejection of the tax credits statutory instrument on the Daily Politics here.

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Thursday 22nd October 2015

The government assault on arts education is a figment of liberals' imagination

At the last minute, a friend invited me to a “Distinguished Speakers Dinner” at the Oxford and Cambridge Club earlier this week. The dinner was being hosted by Christ’s College and the speaker was Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate galleries and one of the college’s alumni. His subject was “The arts in education: luxury or necessity?” which is why my friend thought I might be interested. Indeed I was.

There’s an awful lot of bunkum talked about the arts in education and I’m afraid Sir Nicholas’s speech was no exception. Nothing wrong with the overall thrust of his argument – that arts subjects in schools and universities should enjoy parity of esteem with STEM subjects, as well as academic humanities like history and geography – but he exaggerated the extent to which arts subjects have been downgraded since 2010. I should say that Sir Nicholas is hardly an exception in this regard. The view that the arts have been under attack for the past five years, particularly in schools and universities, is ubiquitous across the artistic establishment. It is part-and-parcel of the liberal intelligentsia’s [itals] haut en bas [itals] attitude towards Conservative politicians, whereby they are caricatured as ignorant philistines who lack a cultural “hinterland”.

Sir Nicholas quoted Michael Gove telling him, shortly after he’d become Education Secretary, that he didn’t think the arts should be included in the national curriculum at all. No doubt this was a misunderstanding on Sir Nicholas’s part because when the new national curriculum came into force last year the arts were no less prominent than they were in the old one. I know this because I co-authored a book on the new primary national curriculum called ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’ and I was responsible for writing the chapters on all the arts subjects, about a third of the total.

(To read more, click here.)

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Sunday 18th October 2015

Why does Simon Schama regard the word "suburban" as an insult?

Last Thursday, I, along with 2.7 million other viewers, tuned into BBC1’s Question Time, to watch award-winning historian (and BBC presenter) Simon Schama take on Rod Liddle, the outspoken columnist. It was to prove an eye-opening encounter – for reasons that go to the heart of intellectual debate in Britain today.

There was much to look forward to. Schama, the very acme of cosmopolitan sophistication, is an internationally acclaimed university professor. Liddle is a bluntly spoken Millwall FC supporter with controversial views on immigration.

Thus, about 30 minutes in, all hell broke loose when an audience member asked about the international refugee crisis. Liddle said he didn’t think it was a good idea to open our borders to those fleeing from conflict zones.

Schama gave the journalist a withering look. ‘Go back to your journalistic hackery… and turn your suburban face away from the plight of the miserable,’ he sneered. For a second, I couldn’t believe my ears. (To read more, click here.)

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Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch -
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Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Corbyn's first seven days -
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Inside Westminster's free school -
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Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair -
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Daily Mail investigation into the Leveson Inquiry - Daily Mail
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Toby Young for Prime Minister by Jake Wallis Simons -
The election that never was by Damian McBride -
JK Rowling's new novel is boring, Left-wing agitprop by Jan Moir - Daily Mail
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Gove Levels - Daily Mail
The End of Men? by Hanna Rosin -
Five conservative messages smuggled into Dark Knight Rises by John Boot -
Multiculturalism? Nonsense. The Olympics are a victory for patriotism and common British values by Dan Hannan - Daily Mail
Martin Durkin's dyspeptic view of the Olympics opening ceremony -
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Why Britain shouldn't be part of a European super-state by Charles Moore -
The shame of Britain's public school elite by Matthew Norman -
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In politics, you're either up or down by John Kampfner - The Independent
James Lovelock recants - Daily Mail
Let's give Polly Toynbee the Britain she wants by Tim Worstall -
Why Labour should support free schools by Andrew Adonis -
Free schools are breaking down barrier to decent education for all by Charles Moore -
The anti-academies campaign is led by Trots, says Michael Gove -
Profit need not be a dirty word in education by Fraser Nelson -
The Magnificent Victory at Cardinal Vaughan by Charles Moore -
Academies policy has been rapidly vindicated by Fraser Nelson - The Spectator
Mossbourne Academy's outstanding A-level results - Guardian
I blame therapy culture for the riots by Dennis Hayes -
Why I'm a Conservative by Toby Young -
The Government must crack the teaching unions by His Grace -
"Ideological" is Labour's empty insult by Dominic Lawson - The Independent
Peter Sissons dissects the BBC's leftwing bias - Daily Mail
Interview with Toby Young in Attain magazine -
Topic of Cancer by Christopher Hitchens - Vanity Fair


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