In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke warned that ‘pure democracy’ was as dangerous as absolute monarchy. ‘Of this I am certain, that in a democracy the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority whenever strong divisions prevail,’ he wrote. He compared demagogues to ‘court favourites’ — gifted at exploiting the -insecurities of the powerful, whether the people or the monarch.
For Burke, the risk of democracies being captured by demagogues then degenerating into tyrannies was a good argument against universal suffrage. The multitude would always be susceptible to being swayed by feeling rather than reason; they could no more be trusted with absolute power than a king or a queen. The answer, he believed, was a mixture of democracy and aristocracy, the one acting as a counterweight to the other. (To read more, click here.)
As someone who still entertains hope of becoming a member of parliament one day, I’d better come clean about my own tax affairs. It’s a torrid tale, as you’d expect, but rather than wait for my political opponents to winkle the story out of me, bit by bit, I thought I’d get it all out in the open.
I blame the Cub Scouts for starting me on the wrong path. As a boy of eight, I was an eager participant in bob-a-job week, which involved going from door to door on my street offering to do odd jobs. I turned all the money over to my Cub pack, but I realised I could earn extra pocket money from then on by washing cars and weeding gardens. Before long, I’d earned enough money to buy my own portable, black-and-white television – about £40 if I recall. But reader, I have a confession to make: I didn’t declare that income to the taxman.
It was all down hill from there. (To read more, click here.)
ON the face of it, Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn are the Laurel and Hardy of international politics.
One wants to build "a big, fat beautiful" wall between the US and Mexico, the other wants to send out our nuclear subs without any nukes in them.
They are less like serious politicians and more like court jesters offering a little light relief in an otherwise gloomy political climate. Most of us sleep easy in our beds certain they don't have a hope of winning.
But the truth is they are just one economic crisis away from power. (To read more, click here.)
Yesterday at the Conservative Party Spring Forum, David Cameron admitted: "It's not been a great week" – and that was before he'd been forced to publish his tax returns for the last six years.
If this establishes a precedent and all senior politicians will be expected to disclose the details of their personal finances from now on, even fewer talented people will enter public life than they do at present.
No one can seriously doubt the Prime Minister's integrity. He's never taken any backhanders, he's a loving and devoted husband, and he's always been scrupulously honest.
OK, he and his wife made a £19,000 profit from selling the shares they owned in his father's offshore company in 2010, but they paid income tax on that in full.
Yet to hear his political opponents talk, you'd think he'd just admitted to masterminding the Hatton Garden robbery. (To read more, click here.)
Something odd happened at the Guardian on Monday as the paper’s editorial staff were basking in the glow of their just-published splash about the Panama papers. They were understandably excited, having sat on the revelations for months, and were about to put flesh on the bones of the stories that had broken on Sunday evening about the elaborate tax-avoidance schemes of assorted Tory bigwigs. The Guardian was one of 107 media organisations that had been secretly going through the cache of 11.5 million documents stolen from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca last August and these were the golden nuggets: disclosures guaranteed to cause the government maximum embarrassment and — an added bonus — give a much-needed boost to Jeremy Corbyn. With a bit of luck, the paper’s associate editor Seumas Milne, who is widely disliked on the editorial floor, would remain on secondment to the Labour leader’s office for some time to come.
But even allowing for all that, what happened next was still perplexing. They gave themselves a round of applause. That’s right, the Guardian’s editorial staff put down their cups of fair-trade coffee and started clapping. In their eyes, these revelations about the use of offshore tax shelters by various grandees were a cause for self-congratulation.
Now, I can think of three possible explanations. (To read more, click here.)
When Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were sharing a flat together in Chelsea’s Edith Grove in 1963 they could not have imagined that more than 50 years later that same apartment would be immortalised in an exhibition at one of London’s most famous art galleries.
Yet that’s exactly what’s on view at the just-opened Rolling Stones exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery in the Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea.
In addition to the bands’ instruments, tour posters, album covers, clothes and assorted memorabilia, four whole rooms are given over to recreating the squalor of their swinging sixties bachelor pad, complete with piles of unwashed dishes, overflowing ashtrays and a half eaten tin of Heinz chicken soup. (To read more, click here.)
Marking a departure from tradition, England fans going to watch Tuesday night's clash with the Netherlands at Wembley were told to leave their football shirts at home.
"We would love anyone attending to wear pink," said the Football Association's website. "The entire England home end will raise their flags to create an enormous pink St George's Cross during the game. There'll also be pink corner flags, pink volunteers, and a pink Wembley arch, all making it a very memorable, and pink, occasion."
What was the reason for this explosion of colour? (To read more, click here.)
As someone who believes in limited government, I feel conflicted about universal macadamisation. I'm a fan of the academies policy because it reduces the involvement of politicians and bureaucrats in taxpayer-funded education, but there's something a little Stalinist about the state forcing all local-authority schools to become academies. It's using socialist methods to bring about a conservative goal. It reminds me of that paradox first-year philosophy students struggle with: is it right to force a slave to be free?
Jeremy Corbyn and the teaching unions have decided that this is a good issue for them and are planning a national campaign against "forced macadamisation". But the emphasis on the word "forced" is curious because that's the bit of the policy you'd think they'd like. Last week, as I did a tour of TV and radio studios to defend academies, I found myself facing left-wing opponents who were complaining about central government diktat and one-size-fits-all schools. Suddenly, diversity of provision and parental choice had become good things. Hang on, I thought. That's exactly what I was arguing in 2009. It was as though I had switched places with the anti-education reform campaigner Fiona Millar. (To read more, click here.)
According to figures obtained by BBC Breakfast last week, more than 500 people were arrested in England and Wales in 2014–15 for leaving children unattended. In the majority of cases, the children concerned were aged ten or under, but some parents got into trouble for leaving their 15-year-olds home alone. It’s hard not to conclude that the police are being a bit heavy-handed, trying to take on responsibility for something that properly belongs to parents.
As regular readers will know, Caroline and I have four children aged 12 and under and we don’t see eye to eye about this. Her level of anxiety about the various disasters that might befall them is about average for a west London yummy mummy, whereas I’m at the intensely relaxed end of the spectrum. (To read more, click here.)
As one of six children I’ve always wanted a large family, so I sympathise with Jamie and Jools Oliver. Indeed, I would like to have a fifth, but my wife has drawn the line at four.
Caroline qualified as a solicitor shortly after we got married but found the work so boring she was happy to become a mum at the age of 28 rather than wait until she’d established herself in her career. After that, persuading her to have more wasn’t as difficult as I’d feared. Her attitude was, it’s easier to justify being a full-time mum if you’ve got three or four children rather than just one or two. With one or two it might look as if you’re using the children as an excuse not to go back to work. But if you’ve got three or four, no one can accuse you of slacking off.
There’s also a degree of competitiveness about it, although I’m more guilty of that than her. I wanted to put clear blue water between me and my male friends who had only three children, as if to prove I was a bigger man. A large family is a high-status indicator. When people see me in the park with four children in my wake they assume I must be rich and important. At least they do until the little buggers start running amok and I’m completely unable to control them.
That makes me sound a bit insecure —and I am, obviously —but having four kids is therapeutic in that respect. If you have only one or two, the pressure is on to get them into top public schools, Russell Group universities, etc. But you can’t send all four to fee-paying schools unless you’re an investment banker or a celebrity chef, so you can justify not sending any on the ground that it might cause sibling resentment.
If you have as many children as I do on a freelance journalist’s income, and your wife doesn’t work, you can pretty much guarantee your children are going to be downwardly mobile socially. Not having to worry about my children keeping their foothold in the middle class is quite relaxing.
That’s one of the reasons I wanted a fifth — so I could just completely give up worrying about my children’s future. But Caroline pointed out that we can’t afford to buy shoes for our existing children let alone go on holiday, so having another isn’t very sensible. At 41, she also didn’t fancy going through another pregnancy. We worked out that during one five-year period she was pregnant more than 50 per cent of the time. So four months ago we got a hungarian vizsla instead.
I often complain that looking after the puppy is just as much work as having a newborn, but Caroline isn’t convinced. “For you, maybe,” she says. She’s right, of course. I should be grateful she agreed to have four and not push my luck.