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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Thursday 26th March 2015

A bluffer's guide to dismissing unfavourable opinion polls

A strange ritual takes place on twitter most evenings at around 10.30pm. Hundreds of political anoraks start tweeting the results of the YouGov daily tracker poll that’s due to be published in the following day’s Sun. Some of them are neutrals, but the majority are politically aligned and will only tweet those results that show their party in front.

I often wonder what the point of this is, even though I’m guilty of it myself. It’s not as if anyone is going to see the tweet and say, “Ooh, I wasn’t going to vote Conservative, but now that YouGov has them two points ahead I’ve changed my mind.” I can think of only two sensible reasons for doing this, both quite weak.

The first is it has a mildly demoralising effect on your opponents Occasionally, I get replies from enraged lefties saying, “Well, what do you expect from a Murdoch rag?” That counts as a successful bit of trolling in my book. The second is it steadies the nerves of the people on your side. For both Labour and the Conservatives, it’s essential that discipline is maintained during the election period and there’s no better backbone-stiffener than a four-point lead, even if it only lasts 24 hours.

But anyone giving these reasons for crowing about good polls is engaging in post hoc rationalisation.(To read more, click here.)

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Sunday 22nd March 2015

Bellyaching, paranoia, self-pity. It’s... Nigel's barrage

Of all the party leaders going into the general election, Nigel Farage is probably the most talented.

He’s a more gifted debater than Nick Clegg, a better manager than David Cameron and has a clearer sense of purpose than Ed Miliband.

Thanks to his relentless drive, he’s transformed a party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” into a formidable fighting machine.

At first glance, The Purple Revolution reads like a celebration of this success.

The year in question is 2014-15 and you’re supposed to come away with the idea that UKIP is poised to make a major breakthrough this May.

But the book is surprisingly amateurish, full of repetitions, and Farage ends up revealing more than he probably intends about himself.

It’s as though he dictated it to some scribe in between speaking engagements and it has been published without having gone through any sort of editorial process. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 19th March 2015

Selective education and the problem of meritocracy

Civitas has just published an interesting book called The Ins and Outs of Selective Secondary Schools. Edited by Anastasia de Waal, it’s a collection of essays by all the usual suspects in the never-ending argument about grammar schools.

In her introduction, de Waal points out that the two sides in this debate have more in common than you’d think. In particular, they share a common goal, which is to sever the link between a child’s socio-economic status and his or her attainment. In 2009, according to the OECD, the variance in the PISA test scores of British children that could be explained by their backgrounds was 13.8 per cent. By this measure, the best-performing region in the world is Macao China (two per cent) and the worst is Peru (27.5 per cent). Britain is close to the OECD average of 14 per cent.

As you’d expect, those who believe in school selection, like the Conservative MP Graham Brady, argue that clever children from poor families are likely to do better at grammars than comprehensives. Exhibit A in the case for the defence is the dominance of the professions by the products of independent schools, something that wasn’t true before Tony Crosland set out “to destroy every fucking grammar school in England”. In response, Fiona Millar and others point out that the number of working class children at grammars rarely climbed above the 15 per cent mark, even in their heyday, and the proportion of children on free school meals in in the 164 that remain is just two per cent. Today, as before, the main beneficiaries of selective education are the middle classes. (To read more, click here.)

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Friday 13th March 2015

Could my son become a Premier League footballer?

My son Charlie was scouted by QPR last week. I say “scouted”, but that’s not quite accurate since he’s only six. Rather, a man claiming to be a member of the club’s coaching staff suggested I bring him along to the QPR pre-academy in Willesden.

At first, I was suspicious. The man in question teaches football at the local leisure centre and I was worried that this “pre-academy” would turn out to be an expensive, fee-paying affair with no official links to QPR. When the man first introduced the idea, I had to ask if he’d got the right boy. Charlie’s quite small for his age and not exactly lion-hearted. His method of winning the ball is to go in for the tackle, fall over, accuse the other player of committing a foul and then demand a penalty, no matter where the “foul” has occurred. He then positions the ball inches from the goal, takes a massive run-up and, as often as not, falls over when he makes contact. To my untrained eye, he doesn’t look like a future star of the Premier League. (To read more, click here.)

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Monday 9th March 2015

Why 500 news free schools are good news for England

David Cameron has announced that 500 new free schools will open in the next Parliament if the Conservatives win the election. That’s on top of the 408 free schools that have opened – or been approved to open – so far. That’s good news for parents and children, particularly in areas of social deprivation where parents often have little choice when it comes to their children’s education.

A report published today by Policy Exchange, the centre-right think tank, puts paid to many of the myths surrounding free schools.

Opponents of the policy, such as Alastair Campbell’s partner Fiona Millar, have long argued that free schools will only benefit middle class families and have a negative impact on poorer children because they’ll “cream skim” the brightest kids and “weed out” the most deprived. See this article by Millar in 2010, for instance. (To read more, click here.)

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Monday 9th March 2015

How a Cameron and Miliband TV Election debate might go

THE final TV debate between David Cameron and Ed Miliband, chaired by Jeremy Paxman, is due on April 30.

However, Cameron has ruled out any debates during the election campaign, so it is unlikely to happen.

Here is how it might have gone...(To read more, click here.)

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Monday 9th March 2015

The trials and tribulations of doing Question Time

I was on Question Time last week. Click here to read my Spectator article about how nerve-wracking the build up to it is and click here to watch it on BBC iPlayer.

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Tuesday 3rd March 2015

Nine EU myths peddled by The Great European Disaster Movie

Last night, the BBC broadcast The Great European Disaster Movie, a "documentary" set in the future about the calamitous consequences of Britain's exit from the European Union. According to the makers of the film, this would create a domino effect, prompting more and more countries to withdraw until, in 2022, the European Union collapses. By then, Nigel Farage has become Prime Minister and begun to repatriate anyone who arrived in Britain since 2007, widespread civil disorder has broken out in Greece, Italy and Spain, a state of emergency has been declared in France and ISIL has begun its "unstoppable" advance across the European mainland.

The film was made by Bill Emmett, an ex-editor of the Economist, and Annalisa Piras, an Italian journalist who writes for the Guardian. Europhiles often portray their opponents as swivel-eyed fanatics who are impervious to reason, but The Great European Disaster Movie wasn't exactly a model of dispassionate, evidence-based analysis. On the contrary, it was an example of the scaremongering often engaged in by pro-Europeans, except instead of merely claiming that Brexit would cause the economy to collapse, it threw in Western civilisation for good measure. As the Conservative MEP Dan Hannan pointed out, the only thing it left out of this apocalyptic scenario was flesh-eating zombies.

In the course of 75 minutes, Emmett and Piras managed to shoehorn in all the usual myths about the European Union. In no particular order, they were:

1. Winston Churchill believed Britain's place was inside a United States of Europe

Towards the beginning of the film, we hear a recording of Churchill's 1946 speech [] in which he called for the creation of "a kind of United States of Europe". This is played out against a backdrop of European cities reduced to rubble by the Second World War. (Hint, hint.) What Emmett and Piras neglect to tell us is that Churchill believed Britain should remain [itals] outside [itals] this supranational structure. (To read more, click here.)

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Thursday 26th February 2015

If you think Britain’s corrupt now, watch what happens if we ban second jobs for MPs

Last year, I had an exchange with Hugo Rifkind on Twitter in which I bet him dinner at Clarke’s that his father would stand down before the next election. My reasoning was that at the age of 68 his dad wouldn’t want to serve another five years in the House of Commons and would be happier in the Lords. I hadn’t anticipated he would depart as a result of a cash-for-access scandal.

I’ve always rather fancied running in Kensington myself. Rifkind has a majority of 8,616, which makes it a safe seat, and it’s only a 15-minute cycle ride from my house. But I’m not going to throw my hat into the ring because I still have numerous responsibilities in connection with the three schools I’ve helped set up. Indeed, my group is currently consulting about setting up a fourth in Kensington. I don’t think I’d be able to discharge those responsibilities and do a good job as a Member of Parliament.

I also find the current censoriousness about MPs earning a bit of extra money off-putting. Ed Miliband has already said he intends to ban them from taking second jobs if Labour wins in May and he may well succeed in bouncing David Cameron into making a similar commitment. It’s all very well for them to get up on their high horses – as Leader of the Opposition Miliband is paid £132,387, while Cameron’s salary is £142,500 – but what about those poor backbenchers earning £67,000? (To read more, click here.)

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Wednesday 25th February 2015

The great luvvie love-in: Why do the Oscars ignore the films most of us want to watch?

Ever since I wrangled my way into the Vanity Fair Oscar Party one year and rubbed shoulders with the A-listers inside, I’ve made a point of trying to stay up for the Academy Awards.

The live ceremony is the equivalent of the World Cup final for movie-lovers. In my weaker moments, I still fantasise about what I’ll say when I collect my Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

But fending off sleep is becoming harder and harder, and not just because the programme seems to get longer each year. It’s mainly due to the gulf between the popular films I enjoy and the politically correct fare that is celebrated at the Oscars. (To read more, click here.)

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