Unlike 99 per cent of my colleagues, I was quite touched by John Bercow’s comment about how fed up he is with jokes about his height. “Whereas nobody these days would regard it as acceptable to criticise someone on grounds of race or creed or disability or sexual orientation, somehow it seems to be acceptable to comment on someone’s height, or lack of it,” he said.
Okay, maybe taking the mickey out of someone for being short isn’t quite on the same level as, say, murdering them for being black or homosexual, but I think he has a point. I say this for two reasons. The first, obviously, is because I hope to become an MP one day and have a vested interest in sucking up to the Speaker. The second, though, is because I’m a bit of a short arse myself. (To read more, click here.)
Tristram Hunt, Labour's shadow education secretary, refused to condemn next week's teachers' strikes on the Andrew Marr Show earlier today. Instead, he said that trades unions were an important part of "civil society" and, as such, their decisions should be respected. "I want all teachers in the schools, teaching their, teaching the young people, but, you know, we have independent trades unions in this country and that is an important part of civil society," he said.
I don't suppose that argument will cut much ice with parents next Thursday when tens of thousands of schools are forced to close as a result of the National Union of Teachers' day of action. Christine Blower, the NUT's General Secretary, claims the union's decision to strike is a "last resort", but that's hard to believe given the union's reputation as a hotbed of Left-wing activists. "Nowadays, references to strike action are spread through the NUT conference agenda like confetti, often on issues unconnected with pay and conditions," says Fred Jarvis, the NUT's ex-general secretary who has drawn attention to the Trotskyist infiltration of his old union. In a book published last week, he condemned the influence of the "ultra Left" on the NUT's executive, pointing out that Blower stood as a candidate for the London Socialist Alliance in 2000, a hard-Left sect controlled by the Socialist Workers' Party. (To read more, click here.)
A new study by the Social Market Foundation shows that children educated privately earn more than those educated at state schools – an average of £193,700 more between the ages of 26 and 42, to be precise. This has been reported almost everywhere as yet more evidence of the advantage conferred on children who attend private schools (see this article on BBC News, for instance.)
But buried within the detail of the study – as the Telegraph has noticed – is the fact that this premium falls to just £57,653 once family background and cognitive ability are taken into account. That is to say, if you take two children from identical backgrounds and with exactly the same level of intelligence and send one to a private school and the other to a state school, the one educated privately will earn £57,653 more between the ages of 26 and 42 than the one who went to a state school. That's an average pay difference of £3,600 a year, which is considerably less than the average private school fees – £12,153 for a day school and £27,600 for a boarding school. Even if you send your child to a day school for seven years, the cumulative cost will be £85,071.
So it's official. Educating your child at a private school is a waste of money – a colossal waste of money if you send them to a boarding school. Your child would be better off if you sent them to the local state school, invested the money you would have spent on school fees in low-risk bonds and handed them a lump sum at the age of 18. If you were thinking of sending them to Eton, they might even be able to afford the deposit on a flat in Shepherd's Bush. (To read more, click here.)
The Times headline on Tuesday was rather cruel: “Stars turn down No 10 invitation.” This was a reference to the party the press dubbed “Cool Britannia II”, David Cameron’s attempt to recreate the glamour of Tony Blair’s star-studded Downing Street reception in 1997. “They wanted Daniel Craig and Benedict Cumberbatch,” said the Times. “They got Ronnie Corbett and Bruce Forsyth.”
To be fair, the guests also included Helena Bonham-Carter, Claudia Winkleman, Harvey Weinstein, Richard Curtis, Roger Daltrey, Eliza Doolittle and Kirstie Allsopp. But according to Fleet Street’s finest, who were milling about outside with their noses pressed up against the windows, it still compared unfavourably with Blair’s bash. “Seen bigger stars on ITV2 at 1.30am,” tweeted one embittered journalist.
There are several things to be said about this. (To read more, click here.)
Michael Gove won't have welcomed the news this morning that a parent is mounting a legal challenge to new rules about taking children out of school during term time, but he couldn't have asked for a better opponent. The parent in question is an American investment banker whose children missed the first six days of spring term at their primary school because he took them to America. This was after the headteacher had explicitly told him not to do it. Admittedly, he wanted to take the children to America to attend their great-grandfather's memorial service, but is that a good excuse? If he felt it was essential to fly his children to America to attend the memorial service of such a distant relative, couldn't he have taken them out of school for a couple of days rather than six? (To read more, click here.)
This isn’t a headline I was expecting to read: “Free schools could be a bigger negative for the Tories than EdM is for Labour.” Given that Miliband’s net satisfaction ratings are -39, that was quite a shock. Do the people who disapprove of free schools really outweigh the people who approve of them by a bigger margin than that?
Well, no, they don’t, obviously. The headline, which appeared on the blog of Mike Smithson, a Left-wing gadfly, was a reference to a YouGov poll on June 20. Respondents were asked whether they supported or opposed the creation of free schools and 23% were in favour, 53% opposed and 24% undecided. So that’s an approving rating of -30, not quite in Miliband territory. But not good, definitely not good. (To read more, click here.)
I'm sorry, but the notion that David Cameron has been "humiliated" by the judge in the hacking trial, following the dismissal of the jury before it had rendered its verdicts on all three counts against Andy Coulson, is just plain wrong.
First of all, Mr Justice Saunders, the judge in the trial, decided not to grant the defence's application to discharge the jury this morning in light of the comments that the Prime Minister, Ed Miliband and George Osborne made yesterday about Coulson. True, he did decide to discharge them early this afternoon, but that was because they'd failed to reach a verdict and, in his view, had no realistic chance of doing so. It wasn't because he felt the jury been tainted by those comments. (To read more, click here.)
I was on a panel yesterday at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty organised by the Centre for Policy Studies to discuss whether "the other side has won" and, if it had, whether "liberty and popular capitalism" could "fight back".
My fellow panellists were John Howard, the former Prime Minister of Australia, and Jason Kenney, a Minister in the current Canadian government, and they were both fairly optimistic, not least because of the electoral successes of their respective political parties.
I was less sanguine. As I've written in my Spectator column this week, I'm concerned that the enemies of the free enterprise system are gaining the upper hand. In part, this is due to the global financial crisis of 2007-08. Curiously, it had almost no impact on the 2009 European elections, as I wrote about here, but its aftershocks did have an impact on last month's elections, with populist, Right-wing parties doing well in Britain and France and radical, Left-wing parties doing well in Europe's crisis-hit southern states. Anti-capitalists at both ends of the political spectrum have succeeded in popularising the idea that the free flow of capital and labour causes an unacceptable level of social upheaval. In particular, it leads to ever-increasing inequality, with the top one per cent amassing more and more wealth as the remaining 99 per cent struggle to make ends meet. (To read more, click here.)
At the age of 17, after failing all my O-levels, my father suggested I spend some time on a kibbutz. One of the reasons I had done so badly was because I'd spent the previous three years in a permanent haze of marijuana smoke and I think my father was canny enough to realise that, in Israel, with its heavily guarded borders, illegal drugs would be harder to come by.
Or perhaps he just thought it would be good for me to get away from my rather unsavoury group of friends. At any rate, it turned out to be a masterstroke. Israel was the making of me.
Not smoking the wacky backy was a big help. My brain had been frozen in a state of adolescent befuddlement and, as the fog began to clear, I experienced a kind of awakening. I found myself becoming passionately interested in politics and read the Jerusalem Post every morning from cover to cover.
I moved between different kibbutzes - Ein Gedi, Degania Alef, Misgav Am - and quickly began to learn the history of Israel. I remember working on the date groves in Degania Alef and hearing about the Yom Kippur War from my supervisor. He described the dogfights he'd witnessed right above where we were standing. I also remember hurrying into a bomb shelter in Misgav Am as Katyusha rockets were fired over the border from Lebanon.
I don't know whether it was my age or the fact that my mind had finally been "switched on", but I fell in love with Israel. I loved the fact that it had the first female Prime Minister long before Margaret Thatcher, that it had no qualms about gays and lesbians serving in the military, that it had a free press in spite of being on a permanent war footing. I was captivated by the idea of a small state doing its best to remain true to its democratic values while being surrounded by enemies. (To read more, click here.)
As you’re reading this, I will still be recovering from the dinner I’m due to attend this week to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Policy Studies, the think tank founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher. Earlier the same day, I’m due to appear on a panel with various conservative grandees to discuss whether the other side has won. Classical liberals emerged victorious from the battle of ideas in the 1980s, thanks in part to the work of the CPS, but it’s beginning to look as though we’ll have to have the same arguments all over again.
One reason for concern is the hard left turn taken by the Labour Party. It has often been said that Thatcher’s greatest victory was converting her socialist opponents to economic liberalism. The arguments that she and others made in favour of free enterprise, deregulation and lower taxes were accepted by Tony Blair and -- more grudgingly -- by his successor.
The same cannot be said of Ed Miliband. As the date of the election draws near, it’s becoming clear that he rejects this consensus. He plans to resuscitate price controls, confiscate undeveloped land and impose a swinging property tax. He’s even started to talk about re-nationalising the railways. (To read more, click here.)