I’m writing this from the Conservative party conference where Boris’s attempt to ram home the message that he’s the only party leader capable of getting Brexit done is being drowned out by the claim by Charlotte Edwardes, a Sunday Times columnist, that he squeezed her thigh under the table at a Spectator lunch 20 years ago. In the #MeToo era, this is a bigger news story than our imminent departure from the EU. Or perhaps just a blessed respite from the relentless Brexit coverage.
I didn’t help by making a throwaway gag on Monday at a fringe meeting organised by the TaxPayers’ Alliance where I was a panellist. A blue rinse in the audience said she’d been groped by an older man two decades ago and asked the panel if we thought she needed psychological counselling. That got a big laugh and I responded by telling her that things were a lot more relaxed in the late 1990s: ‘Back then at The Spectator, in those raucous days, people complained if Boris didn’t put his hand on their knee.’
That, too, got a laugh and it was clearly a joke, not a statement of fact. But a beady-eyed hack at the back of the room started scribbling in his notepad and about an hour later I was trending on Twitter. For those unfamiliar with the po-faced digital outrage machine, that means more people in the UK were tweeting about me than any other topic. (To read more, click here.)
Fathers get a bad rap these days. We’re portrayed as deadbeats in adverts, incompetent clowns in Hollywood movies and unreliable morons in sitcoms and cartoons.
Even in Peppa Pig, a TV show aimed at young children, Daddy Pig is a good-humoured punch bag, smiling contentedly as his wife and children relentlessly take the Mickey out of him.
The point is clear: Fathers are a waste of space.
And that message was given scientific authority recently when the American Psychological Association declared that traditional masculine qualities such as bravery, independence, competitiveness, stoicism and a love of adventure are “psychologically harmful”.
Based on this, you’d think kids would be better off without being exposed to any of that “toxic” masculinity. But, incredibly, you’d be wrong. Turns out, kids with fathers in their lives are better off. Who would have believed it?
A study by King’s College, London, has found that children who don’t have a secure, loving relationship with their fathers cost the state ten times more than those who do in terms of extra lessons, counselling and social care.
Needless to say, almost every study of the subject has reached the same conclusion.
Boys with a father in their lives are less likely to fail exams, drop out of school, get in trouble with the police, go to prison, get addicted to alcohol and drugs, while girls are less likely to engage in early sexual activity, suffer eating disorders, anxiety and depression. (To read more, click here.)
In this week's London Calling, James Delingpole and I discuss the Supreme Court's power grab, Greta Thunberg's supposed "face off" with Donald Trump at the UN and the liberal bias of Rotten Tomatoes. To listen, click here.
I cannot recall a week in which Britain’s private schools have received better PR. The Labour party has pledged to scrap them because of the huge advantages they confer on their pupils — including ‘lifelong networks for the powerful’, according to Owen Jones. Presumably that’s a reference to Jeremy Corbyn, who, thanks to his private school background, has risen to the top of the Labour party in spite of getting two Es at A-level.
Laura Parker, the national coordinator for Momentum, welcomed Labour’s new policy on the grounds that ‘every child deserves a world-class education, not only those who are able to pay for it’. In other words, only private schools are able to provide a ‘world-class education’. No wonder Shami Chakrabarti, Labour’s shadow attorney-general, spends £21,246 a year on sending her son to Dulwich College.
All nonsense, of course. Since 2010, the attainment gap between private schools and state schools has shrunk considerably. This year, the percentage of A-levels taken by private school pupils that were marked A or A fell to 45.7 per cent, down from 52 per cent a decade ago. And the very best state schools are now getting better results than the best independent schools. The highest-performing sixth-form this year was King’s Maths School, a free school in Lambeth, where more than 90 per cent of students got A or A across all subjects and 25 per cent secured places at Oxford or Cambridge. (To read more, click here.)
Labour’s declaration of war on private schools, promising to withdraw their charitable status and redistribute “democratically and fairly” their “endowments, investments and properties”, will cost the taxpayer almost £7.5 billion a year.
Let me break that down. According to the Department for Education, 580,480 English children up to the age of 19 are currently at independent schools. Of those, 58,445 are under five, 194,592 are aged five to 10, 237,333 are aged 11 to 15 and 90,110 are 16-19.
An IFS report on per pupil spending per annum in England’s schools published in August of last year estimated the average spending on early years education as £1,700 per pupil, the average for a primary school pupil as £4,900, the average in secondaries as £6,300 and in sixth forms as £5,600. Applying those figures to the DfE’s numbers gives you a cost of £99.4 million per year to educate the under-fives, £953.5 million for the 5-10 year-olds, £1.5 billion for the 10-15 year-olds and £504.6 million for the 16-19 year-olds. So that’s a total of £3.06 billion. (To read more, click here.)
News that the Labour Party wants to abolish Ofsted should not come as a surprise. It’s a world-class inspectorate that provides parents with a reliable, independent guide to their local schools and a detailed, annual report to Parliament on the quality of England’s education system.
Labour knows that its wholesale reversal of the Conservative education reforms will have a catastrophic impact on school standards and is already taking steps to cover that up. Angela Rayner’s attempt to dress this up as a ‘win’ for teachers is laughable. The average English school has the Ofsted inspectors in for two days once every four years. If Rayner believes that places an unbearable burden on teachers, she should try taking a set four GCSE French class on a Friday afternoon. (To read more, click here.)
I don’t recall exactly when I first met David Cameron, but it must have been in Oxford in 1985 shortly after the beginning of Michaelmas term. I was a third year at Brasenose studying PPE and he was a first year, also doing PPE.
I remember him being friendly and down to earth and canny enough to keep his political views to himself. At the time, Brasenose was dominated by a group calling itself the ‘left caucus’ and while it wasn’t social suicide to be identified as a Tory, it was a bit infra dig. After Cameron twigged that we were both ‘in the closet’, so to speak, he confessed to me that he was a Thatcherite. ‘Dry as dust,’ he whispered. (To read more, click here.)
The Liberal Democrats’ new Brexit policy is quite audacious, to put it mildly. At the party conference last weekend, Jo Swinson, the new Lib Dem leader, announced that she wasn’t going to campaign for a second referendum any more. What would be the point, when she’s already said she’d ignore the result if it was the same as last time? No, from now on the official party policy is to simply revoke Article 50. That is, disregard the outcome of the largest democratic contest this country has ever witnessed and tell the European Union that we’ve decided to stay after all.
You’ve got to admire Swinson’s Chutzpah. She actually called for an in-out EU referendum in the House of Commons in 2008 – official Lib Dem policy at the time. Having been granted her wish, she now refuses to be bound by the outcome and, instead, wants to carry on as if her side had won. As a father of four, I’ve witnessed this kind of behaviour many times. There’s only one chocolate Hob Nob left, so the two younger boys – Freddie and Charlie – decide to toss for it. Charlie calls tails, the outcome is heads, but instead of graciously letting Freddie have the biscuit, Charlie grabs it, bolts out of the kitchen, locks himself in the loo and stuffs it down his throat. But I never thought I’d see this behaviour from the leader of one of the three main political parties. Charlie is 11. Jo Swinson is 39. (To read more, click here.)
I think my colleagues on the pro-Brexit side of the aisle have been a little unkind in their response to John Bercow’s announcement that he’ll be standing down as chief referee in the House of Commons. Yes, he’s clearly done everything in his power to make life as difficult as possible for those MPs who want to implement the result of the 2016 referendum. Yes, his attitude to parliamentary precedent has been completely inconsistent, citing obscure, supposedly binding conventions to obstruct Brexiters one minute, then casually disregarding longstanding constitutional conventions the next. And, yes, the language he uses to express his contempt for any Conservative MP who so much as grimaces at one of his nakedly partisan rulings is unparliamentary, to put it mildly. ‘I couldn’t give a flying flamingo,’ etc.
But all of this is to overlook the vital public service Bercow has performed. Not as Speaker, obviously, but as the living embodiment of Short Man Syndrome. I’m on the small side myself and am constantly at risk of developing a Napoleon complex. When asked how tall I am, I tell people I’m ‘five-foot-eight-and-a-half’ — and that ‘and-a-half’ tells you everything you need to know about how insecure I am. Someone only has to challenge my authority — my kids refusing to go to bed, for instance — and my first thought is that I’m not being taken seriously because of my height. Even if a car refuses to stop at a zebra crossing, I attribute it to my size. But to prevent myself flying into an indignant rage, all I need do is conjure up a picture of the Member of Parliament for Buckingham, spluttering with self-righteous anger like some red-faced, angry dwarf. Once I can see Bercow in my mind’s eye, I know that if I do take umbrage I will just come across as some ridiculous, shouty little twerp. (To read more, click here.)