Comrades. Iâm going to tell you why I think Jeremy Corbyn is the right person to lead this country. First of all, I like the fact that heâs not a typical politician. Thereâs something refreshing about his refusal to play the mediaâs game. Ordinary politicians are ready with a quote when a big story breaks, but not our Jeremy. He thinks nothing of switching off his phone and spending the day working on his allotment. Instead of talking to journalists on his way into meetings, he runs them over. When he does do interviews, his refusal to be interrupted speaks of a bold, confident leader whoâs comfortable in his own skin. I particularly like his catchphrase and the way his voice goes all high-pitched when he says it: âCan I finish?â
Secondly, heâs a man of principle. He has stuck doggedly to his brand of hard-left politics for more than 50 years. The fact that this credo has been an unmitigated disaster in every country in which it has been tried, leading to the suppression of free speech, the imprisonment of political dissidents and mass starvation, hasnât led to the slightest sliver of doubt or one jot of revision. John Maynard Keynes said: âWhen the facts change, I change my mindâ, but not Jeremy. He is as steadfast and reliable as a stopped clock. Thatâs the kind of man I want as the head of our government in a fast-moving world. (To read more, click here.)
A leading article appeared in Nature last week in defence of intelligence research. It lamented the fact that it is not included on the undergraduate psychology curricula of many leading US universities, and attributed this to its association in the minds of students and faculties with elitism and racism. That, in turn, is due to the misuse of intelligence research in the past by eugenicists and ârace scientistsâ to justify their poisonous beliefs. The article expressed the hope that this toxic baggage can be discarded and intelligence rehabilitated as an important strand of psychology.
This optimism is often shared by academics who study the genetic basis of human differences; not just variations in intelligence but in other personality traits too. Among evolutionary psychologists, sociobiologists, neurobiologists, biosocial criminologists, and so on, there is a widely held belief that the only reason their disciplines are looked on with suspicion is due to ignorance and prejudice. Clearing up these misunderstandings simply involves them mastering some elementary PR skills, after which they will be welcomed into the bosom of the academy.
It would be nice if that were true, because in todayâs academic climate many of the leading researchers in these fields are finding it difficult to pursue their careers. (To read more, click here.)
My father worked as a fire warden during the Blitz, trying to contain the damage done by the Luftwaffe, and he witnessed more death and devastation than most soldiers saw on the frontline. Over a million houses in London were destroyed and nearly 20,000 civilians killed. But the horrors of the night were made more endurable by the atmosphere in the capital as day broke. All the petty distinctions that normally characterise life in a large city had fallen away. Strangers would stop and talk to each other. If anyone looked lost or confused, people would offer to help. Most adults had been up all night in makeshift air-raid shelters, often having to cope with restless children, but instead of being tetchy and short-tempered they were full of jokes and good cheer. The sense of community was so palpable, he said, it was as if you could reach out and touch it. One people united in adversity.
The resilience of Londoners during this time has been well-documented, but itâs worth repeating a few of the remarkable statistics. The psychiatric clinics opened to help people cope with the stress were closed due to lack of use. Suicides fell to below the rate they were at during peacetime. The number of work days lost to strikes in 1940 was the lowest in history. If the point of targeting civilians was to destroy morale, the Nazi bombing campaign was a failure. (To read more, click here.)
I was disappointed to read Mary Boustedâs unpleasant and divisive article about free schools. I wonder if she paused for a second to think about the impact of her words on the thousands of teachers who work at free schools and whom, in many cases, have helped set them up?
Two-thirds of free schools have been established by groups led by teachers, many of them members of the ATL or the NUT teaching unions. It cannot be great for morale to know that the soon-to-be joint leader of your union thinks the school you have been pouring your heart into is an example of âour worst fears realisedâ.
Mary has the gall to characterise anyone who questions her objections to free schools as indulging in âpost-truthâ politics, and, in the next breath, implies that free schools are more likely to be closed than other schools. In fact, in the last five years 1.71 per cent of maintained schools have closed, compared to just 1.43 per cent of free schools. If Mary is genuinely concerned about the impact of school closures on children, that would be a reason to support the free schools programme, where the rate of attrition is below average, not oppose it. (To read more, click here.)
Iâm due to debate the philosopher A.C. Grayling on Saturday about whether there should be a second EU referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal. It is part of a two-day event being held at Central Hall, Westminster, on âBrexit and the political crashâ. It is billed as a âconventionâ, an opportunity for all sides in this debate to discuss Britainâs future, but the reference to the âpolitical crashâ is a giveaway. Brexit isnât a revolt against out-of-touch elites or even a new departure that may or may not be good for the country. No, it is a âcrashâ, as in âcar crashâ or âeconomic crashâ. In reality, the âconventionâ will be a viperâs nest of die-hard Remainiacs. The roster of speakers includes Alastair Campbell, Gina Miller, Nick Clegg, Alan Rusbridger and Ian McEwan.
I will set out the arguments against a second referendum as best as I can, but my heart wonât really be in it. By that, I donât mean itâs something Iâm on the fence about. Rather, itâs so preposterous that itâs beneath contempt. Does A.C. Grayling really think there will be enough time for Britain to agree a draft deal with the rest of the EU, organise a second referendum and, if the dealâs rejected, negotiate another deal before the two-year, Article 50 clock runs out? Or is the idea that if the deal is rejected, the clock will stop ticking and Britain will simply remain in the EU on exactly the same terms as before, with the results of the first referendum being completely disregarded? Thatâs not a serious political position. Thatâs magical thinking. (To read more, click here.)
Dear George Osborne, I thought it worth passing along some advice about your new job. Iâve never edited a news-paper, but Iâve been in the business for 32 years and Iâve seen a fair few come and go. Iâve also worked for the Evening Standard in various capacities. Indeed, my first job in journalism was doing shift work on Londonerâs Diary.
Thatâs not a bad place to start on Fleet Street (your predecessor did) and you could do worse than sit at the desk for a few weeks. Liz Smith, the veteran American newspaper columnist, describes gossip as ânews wearing a red dress and running ahead of the packâ and thereâs something in that. A good diary story, like a good news story, is something that a powerful person would prefer not to be published, and theyâll often use every weapon at their disposal to stop it, from calling the proprietor to threatening a libel suit. They may also resort to bribery â and itâs worth bearing in mind that not all bribery is unacceptable. (To read more, click here.)
My heart soared when I first heard the phrase âprogressive allianceâ in this election campaign. Not the reaction youâd expect, perhaps, but any attempt to persuade people to vote tactically on the eve of a general election is doomed to failure. A complete waste of time. I should know because I tried to get a similar venture off the ground three years ago.
Mine was a conservative version, obviously. In 2014 I was worried that the split on the right would enable Ed Miliband to become our next prime minister. So I launched a Unite the Right campaign and set about trying to persuade supporters of Ukip and the Tories to vote for which-ever candidate in their constituency was best placed to defeat the Labour candidate. Our slogan was âCountry Before Partyâ. (To read more, click here.)
According to a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published today, the Department for Education is spending âwell over the oddsâ on free schools and wasting money it should be spending on refurbishing and maintaining existing schools.
Letâs break that claim down into two parts.
First, is it true that free schools are an expensive way of creating new places? The PAC says we need an additional 420,000 places in Englandâs schools between now and 2020, so it is important that the Department for Education does not waste its capital budget. Luckily, itâs not. According to a National Audit Office report published in February, the construction costs of a newly built free school are 29% lower per square metre than the schools rebuilt under Labourâs Building Schools for the Future programme. (To read more, click here.)
On the Today programme this morning I debated Meg Hillier, the Labour chair of the Public Accounts Committee which has just issued a damning report on free schools.
The report is wrong in almost every particular. It says the free schools programme offers âpoor value for moneyâ, but earlier this year the National Audit Office pointed out that free schools cost a third less than new schools built under Labourâs Building Schools for the Future programme.
The report says many free schools are in âinadequate premisesâ and âthe learning environmentâ is âless effectiveâ. In fact, 29pc of those inspected by Ofsted so far have been ranked âOutstandingâ compared to 21pc of all schools, and their exam results are top of the class. In the free school sixth forms that posted results last year, for instance, 27.8pc of pupils got A/A/B or better, compared to a national average of 19.9pc.
The PAC report says free schools arenât creating new places where theyâre needed most and questions the Department for Educationâs âgripâ. But over 80pc of the free schools opened or approved to open since 2014 have been in areas where thereâs a demographic need for new places. Some do create a small number of surplus places, but without that parents wouldnât have any choice about where to send their children. As the National Audit Office report said, âSome spare capacity is needed to allow parents to exercise choice.â (To read more, click here.)