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.)
I feel honoured to have been invited to speak at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Liberty on Wednesday. This is a one-day conference to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Centre for Policy Studies, the think tank founded by Sir Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher that has played such an important part in making the case for economic liberalism.
I’m on a panel with former Australian Prime Minister John Howard to discuss whether the other side has won. With so many forces ranged against classical liberalism – the BBC, the civil service, the trades unions, the voluntary sector, the Blob – it sometimes feels as if the left’s long march through the institutions is complete. Our side won the economic argument in the 1980s, a victory complemented by the collapse of the Soviet Union, but we’re in danger of losing the culture war.
This was brought home to me last week by the reaction to the news that six schools in Birmingham had been taken over by Muslim extremists. I naively expected this story to lead to an urgent national debate about the threat posed to our way of life by Islamic Fundamentalism. Surely, with the military success of ISIS in Iraq, we all now recognise that this toxic combination of anti-Western ideology and religious fanaticism has replaced Communism as the greatest danger to freedom and democracy?
I expect all of us have said something we regret at one time or another, but not everyone does so in front of 1.5 million people. That was my misfortune when I was caught off guard by an interviewer for ITN on my way out of a television studio in Westminster on Sunday.
I’d just done a review of the morning’s papers for Murnaghan and was feeling rather chipper on account of the exchange I’d just had with Diane Abbott about Labour’s electoral chances. Live on air, I offered to bet her £100 that Ed Miliband wouldn’t win the election and, to my delight, she refused to take it. “I never bet,” she said. Not exactly a vote of confidence from someone who, until recently, was a key member of Miliband’s shadow leadership team.
Anyway, I was feeling quite relaxed when the woman from ITN asked if I could give her a few words about the recent bust-up between Gove and May. (To read more, click here.)
Imagine for a second that the Birmingham schools at the centre of the Trojan Horse plot were being run by a Christian sect. Suppose that instead of organising trips to Saudi Arabia that non-Muslim schoolchildren were excluded from, this sect organised a trip to Bethlehem that Muslims weren't allowed to go on. That instead of organising school assemblies in which Western women were described as "white prostitutes", it organised assemblies where African-Caribbean men were labelled "black pimps". That instead of encouraging children to chant anti-Christian slogans, it got them to chant anti-Islamic slogans. That instead of a non-Muslim head teacher asking Ofsted to meet her in a car park because she felt "intimidated" by her Muslim governing body, it was a Muslim head teacher who was living in fear of an all-Christian body. Finally, suppose that the attitude of this Christian group towards women was absolutely identical to that of the Islamic sect that has infiltrated these Birmingham schools. That is, girls were forced to sit at the back of the class, they weren't taught anything about sex and if any were seen chatting to boys a religious zealot would go to their homes and warn their parents that they were in danger of becoming "sluts".
I think it's a safe bet that the Left would now be united in condemnation of this group. The Equality and Human Rights Commission would justifiably be angry that children as young as seven are being discriminated against on religious (and, arguably, ethnic) grounds. Feminists like Yasmin Alibhai-Brown would be up in arms about the fact that female students are being treated as second-class citizens, instead of defending the schools as part of the rich tapestry of "multicultural Britain". The Guardian would be leading the charge against these schools, and rightly so, instead of publishing article after article dismissing their critics as racists and excusing these discriminatory practises on the grounds that the pupils concerned are "overwhelmingly Muslim". The Labour MP Diane Abbott would be shouting about this from the rooftops, instead of accusing me of conflating all Muslims with terrorists, as she did on Murnaghan on Sunday when I described this particular Islamic sect as "medieval". (To read more, click here.)
In The Wolf of Wall Street, there’s a poignant shot towards the end in which we see an FBI agent going home on the subway. This law enforcement officer – Agent Patrick Denham – will eventually bring about the downfall of Jordan Belfort, the film’s main character, and the fact that he uses public transport is supposed to be evidence of his integrity. He’s an honest, hard-working taxpayer who plays by the rules.
I’m not quite sure how it happened, but in the past 25 years I’ve gone from being an international party boy to a kind of FBI Agent. Admittedly, I’ve never plumbed the depths of debauchery that Jordan Belfort does in the film. Even in my New York heyday, I was more of a Mouse of Madison Avenue than a Wolf of Wall Street. But I aspired to be that guy. I dreamed about being whisked from party to party in a white limousine with a blonde on each arm – “cufflinks,” as Frank Sinatra used to say. A sort of WASP Puff Daddy. (To read more, click here.)
1. Theresa May is desperate to be the next leader of the Conservative Party. She knows that her best chance of achieving this will be if Labour wins the next general election and David Cameron resigns. In that scenario, she'll have no serious rivals, a point underlined by yesterday's poll in ConservativeHome showing her as the clear front runner. That explains why she has absolutely no qualms about aggressively briefing against Michael Gove this morning in spite of the fact that it torpedoed Downing Street's hopes of getting some good PR from today's Queen's Speech and comes on the eve of a critical by-election. (To read more, click here.)
I suppose I should be grateful that the liberal intelligentsia doesn’t bother to check any of the facts if an opportunity presents itself to attack Michael Gove. They have a fixed idea about him, which is that he’s a Tory philistine who wants to turn the clock back to the 1950s, and they leap on any story that confirms that view, regardless of how far-fetched it is. The reason I’m grateful is because it enables me to scratch out a living putting the record straight.
Last November, Polly Toynbee wrote a column in the Guardian claiming that Gove intended to strip English literature from the national curriculum, an act of cultural vandalism she compared to ethnic cleansing. Why had he perpetrated this terrible crime? Because he doesn’t want children to use their imaginations, of course. “Literature is to become an optional extra, and probably not a highly regarded one, for fear it might let the imagination roam dangerously free,” she wrote.
Complete balls, obviously. In the new national curriculum that’s being introduced in September, all children are required to read two whole Shakespeare plays between the ages of 11 and 14, compared to just one at the moment. Far from being an “optional extra”, literature is something all children will be expected to study as part of the new English Baccalaureate. At present, almost a third of schoolchildren don’t study any literature between the ages of 14 and 16. That will fall next year, thanks to the changes Gove has made to the school league tables that give extra weight to GCSEs in English literature. (To read more, click here.)
I'm not sure I understand this front page story in the Independent. Is it supposed to be an argument against grammar schools that they're more likely to lead to income inequality than comprehensives? Surely, if a selective education system is genuinely meritocratic – that is, if the most able children end up in the best schools, regardless of family background – then you'd expect it to lead to more inequality than a non-selective system? Usually, Left-wing newspapers criticise grammar schools for being insufficiently meritocratic. This is the first story I've read criticising them for being too meritocratic.
But let's take a step back. The Independent story is based on a research paper by three social scientists at the Institute of Education ("Selective Schooling Systems Increase Inequality") and they don't claim the reason grammar school alumni earn more than the products of secondary moderns is because they're more intelligent. Rather, they think it's because grammar schools attract better teachers. "It seems likely… that the main mechanism generating greater inequality is the sorting of the more effective teachers to the highest ability students," they write. (To read more, click here.)