As a member of Bafta, I get sent about 75 ‘screeners’ during the awards season, which is always a treat at the end of the year. I was particularly excited about it this time because of the makeshift home cinema I’ve set up in our playroom. I had fantasies of sitting in there with Caroline and the four kids, munching popcorn as we worked our way through the Bafta hopefuls.
However, getting everyone to agree on a film to watch is always tricky in the Young household. On Christmas Eve, my recommendation was a French animated feature called I Lost My Body, which charts the adventures of a hand that’s become separated from its owner. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a critics’ score of 97 per cent and is described as follows: ‘Beautifully animated and utterly unique, I Lost My Body takes audiences on a singularly strange journey whose unexpected contours leads to a wholly satisfying destination.’
‘Boring,’ said Ludo, my 14-year-old, and suggested John Wick: Chapter 3. Not a bad shout, but too lowbrow to be included in this year’s bundle of screeners. The same goes for 11-year-old Charlie’s suggestions: Spider-Man: Far From Home, Midway and The Lego Movie 2. (That last one was a genuine oversight, by the way. As a one-time screenwriter, I think the writers of The Lego Movie 2 — Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Matthew Fogel — deserve a Bafta nomination for Best Original Screenplay.) In the end, we did what we’ve done on 24 December for the past eight years and watched Arthur Christmas. (To read more, click here.)
Listen to the new London Calling podcast in which James Delingpole and I discuss Ricky Gervais, the Weinstein trial, the BBC's Dracula, the Australian bushfires and why Gwyneth Paltrow should be the next leader of the Labour Patty (she’s can sell the shit out of snake oil, after all). Click here.
I had dinner with Douglas Murray a couple of days before the General Election and he said that if Labour lost – which looked likely, even with the Conservatives’ poll lead shrinking in the final week – we had a moral duty to crow about it.
“Because we’re nice people, we’ll want to be magnanimous in victory but we must resist that,” he said. “We must gloat. Spend weeks gloating – months, if possible. We need to make sure this defeat is so humiliating that Labour never again makes someone as unfit for public office as Jeremy Corbyn the leader.”
He was in deadly earnest. His main concern was Corbyn’s failure to deal with the anti-Semites that have infested Labour since he became leader in 2015, as well as his casual endorsement of numerous anti-Semitic tropes. But he was also appalled by Corbyn’s warm relationship with different terrorist organisations, his acceptance of money from Iranian state TV, his hostility to our security services, and his enthusiastic embrace of an ideology that has been responsible for the deaths of over 100 million people.
“Never again,” he said. (To read more, click here.)
Click here to listen to James Delingpole and me discussing Jolyon Maugham's unfortunate fox incident in a special bonus episode of our London Calling podcast. Also, Greta Thunberg on Radio 4, Little Women, Star Wars, Cats and the BBC’s imminent demise. Happy New Year.
In the latest episode of London Calling, James Delingpole and I argue about who is better prepared for political imprisonment if Jeremy Corbyn wins the election. We also lament the fact that a BBC disc jockey has banned ‘Fairytale of New York’ and salute our friend Greta Thunberg for being named Time’s Person of the Year. Listen here.
With less than 24 hours to go before polling day, my bum is beginning to squeak. The final YouGov MRP poll predicts the Conservatives will win a majority of 28, but a hung Parliament is well within the margin of error. That means we could be waking up on Friday to find Jeremy Corbyn heading to Downing Street as the leader of a minority government propped up by the SNP and the Lib Dems. What then?
Well, the exodus will begin, obviously. I don’t just mean Britain’s Jews – a recent survey by the Jewish Leadership Council finding that 47% would “seriously consider” emigrating if Corbyn becomes Prime Minister. Nor do I just mean the super-rich, although they would be off too. According to the founder of Phones4U, “every wealthy person” he knows is planning to leave the country if Corbyn gets in. Given that the 31,000 UK residents who comprise the top 0.1% of income earners are responsible for 12% of the total income tax take, that would be disastrous for Britain’s finances.
But what about Labour’s political enemies? Corbyn’s shock troops in Momentum have already demonstrated their willingness to physically assault their opponents – and that was before their glorious leader had seized power. Hard left protestors, styling themselves “anti-fascists”, have exhibited no qualms about trying to assault Conservative MPs like Jacob Rees-Mogg when they speak at universities. How would these same thugs behave, knowing that Diane Abbott is in charge of Britain’s police and Richard Burgon is the Secretary of State for Justice? (To read more, click here.)
In my weekly podcast with James Delingpole we discuss the forthcoming election, as well as my unpleasant experience debating at Durham University and Hugh Grant’s intervention in the contest. Finally we turn our attention to 'culture' –– specifically The Irishman, which we both hated. Listen here.
If education rather than Brexit or the NHS was the biggest issue in this election campaign, the Tories would be coasting to victory. On Tuesday, the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) published its latest rankings, based on tests taken by 15-year-olds in 79 countries, and they show the UK climbing the international league tables. In reading, we’re now 14th (up eight places from 2015); in science, 14th (up a place); and in maths, 18th (up nine places). In other words, British schoolchildren are making huge strides compared to those in other countries. And over a period where money has been pretty tight. Why, then, would you want to overhaul our education system, as the Labour party is proposing to do?
Of course, the picture is more complicated than it seems because education is a devolved area. But if you look at the UK’s four different education systems, the one doing the best is England’s and it’s no coincidence that the Conservatives have been in charge of England’s education policy since 2010 (with some interference by the Lib Dems). Across all three subject areas — reading, science and maths — English schoolchildren are now outperforming their Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts. And the further you go back, i.e. the closer you get to the period when Labour was in charge, the worse English children did. In 2009, for instance, England was ranked third among the four nations in maths and reading. Yet, incredibly, Jeremy Corbyn wants to reverse all the education reforms that have been made since 2010.
To get a sense of what England’s education system would be like under Labour, look at Wales, where the party has been in charge since 1999. Wales has been the worst performer in the UK since Pisa started testing schoolchildren in 2000 and is now the only British nation to be below the international average in all three subject areas. Andreas Schleicher, head of education and skills at the OECD, singled out Wales for criticism this year. ‘It’s not just that Wales has underperformed, it’s seen performance decline,’ he told the BBC. (To read more, click here.)
As Christmas approaches, fighting has broken out in the Young household. No, I’m not talking about my three boys, aged 11, 12 and 14, who have taken to playing a no-holds-barred version of American football in the kitchen. Rather, it’s Caroline and me who have been going at it. My sin has been to assume responsibility for the decor of one of the rooms in our house.
This has been Caroline’s domain until now. She chooses which colour to paint the walls, what furniture to buy at Ikea and how that furniture should be arranged. My role is confined to assembling desks and bookshelves and occasionally moving beds around. But I’ve always wanted a cinema room, and when my 16-year-old daughter was given a projector by her boyfriend for her birthday, I seized my chance and decided to convert the playroom.
Now, it’s important to note that Caroline never sets foot in the playroom. It has long ceased to be the part of the house where the children do puzzles and mess about with Lego. For the past couple of years it has been the exclusive preserve of Ludo, my 14-year-old, who spends the entire weekend in there playing Madden NFL 20. So I decided to take down the framed Led Zeppelin poster, move some furniture around, set the projector up at one end of the room and connect a couple of tiny speakers. Hey presto: cinema room. (To read more, click here.)
I’m in the process of setting up a new organization to defend, promote and secure free speech so I’m interested in what the two main political parties have to say about it. No prizes for guessing which one comes out best.
Let’s start with the Conservative manifesto. In the section entitled ‘World-leading universities’ it says, “We will strengthen academic freedom and free speech in universities…” That’s extremely welcome, given the parlous state of intellectual freedom in Britain’s higher education sector. I’m not just thinking of the incidents we’ve all heard about, such as the decision by Cambridge to rescind its invitation to Jordan Peterson to become a visiting fellow after he was photographed next to a man wearing a ‘proud to be an Islamophobe’ t-shirt. There’s also hard data on this. According to a report commissioned by the University and College Union in 2017, 23.1% of British academics said they’d been bullied on account of their views, compared to an EU average of 14.1%, and 35.5% admitted to self-censorship for fear of negative repercussions (EU = 19.1%). (To read more, click here.)