Last week, David Cameron unveiled the weakest set of concessions a British Prime Minister has managed to extract from a European leader since Chamberlain returned from Munich in 1938.
Cameron had promised to secure a deal that would fundamentally transform our relationship with the European Union. No longer would we be treated like a poor cousin of France and Germany. Henceforth, it would be a partnership of equals.
Cameron's original list of demands included abolishing the working time directive, repatriating powers from Brussels and giving Britain a "red card" over future European laws.
What's he come back with? None of the above. (To read more, click here.)
David Cameron can be a frustrating figure at times. He wrote an article for the Sunday Times this week in which he drew attention to the under-representation of disadvantaged students in Britain's universities, which he was quite right to do. But he is wrong about the ethnicity of those students and wrong about where the problem lies. It’s working class white boys who fare the worst, not black boys, and when it comes to broadening access the track record of our tertiary education sector is pretty good. It's state schools that could be doing more.
First, a few facts. If you broaden the definition of non-white Britons to encompass all ethnic minorities, including British Asians, they're significantly more likely to go to university than white Britons, according to an Institute of Fiscal Studies report published last year. That report found that Chinese pupils in the lowest socio-economic quintile are 10 per cent more likely to go to university than white British pupils in the highest quintile. The weakest performers are not black pupils, but white Britons in the lowest quintile. They're 10 per cent less likely to participate in higher education than any other ethnic group.
Overall, 20 per cent of British students at UK universities are BME (black or minority ethnic), which is significantly higher than the percentage of the population that's BME -- 13 per cent, according to the 2011 Census. The figure for Russell Group universities is marginally lower -- 18 per cent -- and Oxford lower still, at around 14 per cent. But that figure is the same as the Russell Group average if you strip out London universities. (To read more, click here.)
“Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse,” was my motto as a teenager. Now that I’m middle-aged, I’m quite glad I failed to achieve that ambition, although I may be in a minority.
According to a study carried out by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), unhappiness peaks in middle age, with men between the ages of 40 and 59 registering lower levels of life satisfaction than men in their 90s.
“Those in this age group are struggling with the double responsibility of caring for children and elderly parents,” says Glenn Everett, the ONS director of measuring national wellbeing. “Those in their middle years may have more demands placed on their time and might struggle to balance work and family commitments.”
As a 52-year-old, I’m slap bang in the middle of the most miserable period of all according to the report – 50-54. I have four kids aged 12 and under, a father-in-law with a debilitating illness and my job keeps me so busy I struggle to fit in lunch, so I should be feeling suicidal. But the truth is, I’ve never been happier. (To read more, click here.)
When David Cameron unveiled his list of four negotiating demands last November, eurosceptics were quick to dismiss them as meaningless. “Cameron will get what he’s asking for, but since it’s trivial, who cares?” said Dominic Cummings, the director of Vote Leave.
Well, he hasn’t even got those demands! (To read more, click here.)
I applaud the Prime Minister for pointing out the scandalous lack of black students at Britain’s top universities, but he’s wrong about whose fault it is – at least when it comes to Oxford, his alma mater. Yes, it’s true that Oxford only admitted five black British Caribbean applicants in 2013, a disgracefully low number, as David Cameron points out, but there’s no evidence to suggest that the cause is ‘ingrained, institutional and insidious’ attitudes, i.e. racism, on the part of Oxford’s admission authorities.
How do I know this? Because Oxford already publishes a wealth of data about admissions – the new law Cameron is drafting to force universities to publish their data about the gender and ethnic and social background origins of students who apply for places will merely force other universities to catch up with Oxford in this regard. You can see Oxford’s data on undergraduate admissions in 2013 here. (To read more, click here.)
Are we living in a Golden Age of Protest? A bunch of aggrieved citizens only has to raise a murmur of protest, whether it's about racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia or Islamophobia, and the institution they're targeting instantly capitulates. A case in point is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. No sooner had a group of prominent African-American actors and directors complained about the lack of black Oscar nominees this year – "Whitewash!" – than the president of the Academy announced she would be taking "dramatic steps" to address the problem. The Academy will now enlarge its membership to include hundreds of entertainment industry figures from diverse backgrounds.
To date, the only note of dissent has been sounded by Best Actress nominee Charlotte Rampling, who complained that the uproar over this year's nominees was "racist to white people". Not that outrageous a comment. After all, if you're claiming that the only reason this year's acting nominees are all white is because of racial bias and not because they've actually given the best performances, that is kinda racist. Certainly, if Jeremy Clarkson claimed a black actor had only been nominated for reasons of political correctness, the same figures who've been complaining about the Whitewash – Spike Lee, Jada Pinkett Smith – would be the first to denounce him as racist. Yet, needless to say, poor Charlotte has been forced to produce a grovelling recantation, abasing herself at the feet of the professionally outraged Twitterati and begging for forgiveness. Her chances of winning an Oscar this year are now zero. (To read more, click here.)
Many people watching Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on Marr last Sunday will have been shocked by his remarks about the need to begin a “dialogue” with the leadership of the Islamic State. “I think there has to be some understanding of where their strong points are,” he said.
Afterwards, when these comments were widely reported, Corbyn’s supporters said they’d been taken out of context – the standard defence whenever he is criticized for saying something positive about Islamist terrorists, such as describing Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends” or the death of Bin Laden as a “tragedy”. But there are only so many times this excuse can be used to explain these apparently supportive remarks. It’s beginning to look as though the Labour leader really does sympathise with terrorists.
It’s particularly difficult to make allowances for Corbyn when you take the broader context into account – the historical links between the hard left and Islamism. I’m currently reading The Flight of the Intellectuals by Paul Berman which, in large part, is about the failure of the European left to see Islamism for what it is, namely, a Middle Eastern form of fascism. Herman documents in painstaking detail how Islamism was transformed into a mass movement by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s to foment anti-British insurrection in the Middle East and as an instrument for carrying out the extermination of the Jews. (To read more, click here.)
Next month sees the release of Trumbo, a biopic about Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter who was blacklisted by the Hollywood studios after refusing to testify before the House of Un-American Activities in 1947. Trumbo continued to work under a variety of pseudonyms and won two academy awards for his screenplays, neither of which he was able to receive. He wasn’t rehabilitated until 1960, some 13 years later.
I’ve seen Trumbo and it isn’t much good, but Brian Cranston has been nominated for numerous awards for his portrayal of the tortured martyr, including a BAFTA. People who work in the film industry are, of course, almost universally liberal and recognizing Cranston’s performance is a way of signaling their disapproval of McCarthyism and the blacklist. It’s safe to say that, among the progressive left, the House of Un-American Activities has no defenders.
Which makes it all the more ironic that McCarthyism is alive and well and being practiced by the liberal intelligentsia. Last week, I wrote about the punishment meted out to Napoleon Chagnon, the evolutionary anthropologist whose work on the indigenous population of the Amazonian rain forest challenged liberal pieties about the goodness of man in his prelapsarian state. Chagnon was essentially blacklisted by the people who control the anthropology industry and only rehabilitated when his cause was taken up by Alice Dreger, an American academic and free speech campaigner.
This week I want to highlight the case of another victim of liberal McCarthyism – Dr Adam Perkins, a lecturer in the neurobiology of personality at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London. (To read more, click here.)