One of the interesting features of the Brexit debate is that it has laid bear a schism in British society that runs much deeper than the conventional Labour-Conservative divide. On the one hand, we have the prosperous, educated elite, mainly based in cities and university towns, who are liberal on social issues, pro-immigration, believers in free trade and internationalist in outlook. On the other, we have the white, working class, clustered in areas of economic stagnation, particularly seaside towns, who are socially conservative, anti-immigration, suspicious of free trade and staunchly nationalist.
This isn’t a perfect summary of the two sides. Dan Hannan, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove seem to fall more naturally into the first category, whereas Scottish and Welsh nationalists are mainly pro-EU. But it’s broadly true. In 2014, the political scientist Chris Hanretty ranked all 650 British constituencies according to how likely they were to support Brexit. The five least eurosceptic are Edinburgh South, Manchester Withington, Edinburgh North and Leith, Bristol West and Hornsey and Wood Green, whereas the five most are Clacton, Castle Point, Great Yarmouth, Christchurch and Blackpool North and Cleveleys.
On the face of it, this division is a good argument for Remain. “Clacton-on-Sea is going nowhere,” wrote Matthew Parris in his infamous Times column about UKIP’s only seat. “This is Britain on crutches. This is tracksuit-and-trainers Britain, tattoo-parlour Britain, all-our yesterdays Britain.” And Paris is right, up to a point. Brexiters are less likely to be educated – only 15 per cent of them are university graduates, according to YouGov, compared to 37 per cent of Remainers – and more likely to be old. Clacton has the highest proportion of retirees in England and Wales.
These elderly, uneducated, lumpen proles are dying off, goes the argument, so why pander to their Little England prejudices? It would be crazy to risk our trading relationship with the EU, renege on our international obligations and clamp down on immigration, just so a bunch of losers feel less out of place in the modern world. (Parris: “A Britain that has forgotten the joys of Ken Dodd, meat pies, smoking in pubs and the Bee Gees.”) A vote to Remain, by contrast, is a vote for the Britain of tomorrow: young, well-educated, multi-ethnic, pan-sexual and cosmopolitan. (To read more, click here.)
When I got an email from the Evening Standard’s education correspondent at 06.29am yesterday I had no idea that my life was about to turn to shit. She had just read an interview I’d done for a magazine called Schools Week in which, among other things, I said that I was standing down as chief executive of the group of free schools I’ve helped set up. She wanted to talk to me about why I’d made this decision.
At that point, I made a terrible mistake. I asked if I could send her an email explaining why I was stepping down rather than talk to her in person. The reason for this is that I’m in the midst of a terrible bout of summer flu. So I dashed off a quick email
It became clear just how stupid that was when I noticed that I’d started trending on Twitter at around Noon. Most of the pieces linked to an article in the Evening Standard by the journalist who’d contacted me, headlined: ‘Toby Young: Running free school was harder than I thought.’ The opening paragraph read: “Toby Young today admitted running a free school is more difficult than he thought as he prepares to step down as CEO of the West London Free School Trust.”
I gawped at this with horror. At no point had I said, either in my email or in the Schools Week interview, that “running a free school” was “harder than I thought”. Critics of free schools often claim that amateurs like me aren’t qualified to “run” schools and my response has always been that the people who set up free schools aren’t the people who run them, unless they happen to be experienced teachers. Free schools, like nearly every other type of school, are run by headteachers. But the Standard headline made it sound as if I was agreeing with the policy’s critics. (To read more, click here.)
It’s disappointing to see how many Tories are buying into Labour’s spin about Zac Goldsmith having fought a ‘dog whistle’ campaign and – even more ludicrously – blaming that for his defeat. Any Conservative candidate faced an uphill struggle getting elected in London, one of the only areas in the country where Labour did better in 2015 than it did in 2010. Even Boris, who has a rare ability to appeal to Labour voters, only beat Ken Livingstone in 2012 by 62,538 votes.
The first prominent Conservative to peddle this theory was London Assembly member Andrew Boff, who appeared on Newsnight to accuse Goldsmith of equating ‘people of conservative religious views’ with ‘sympathising with terrorism’. ‘It was effectively saying that people of conservative religious views are not to be trusted and you shouldn’t share a platform with them and that’s outrageous,’ he told Kirsty Wark. (To read more, click here.)
"Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently," said Andrew Adonis, the former Labour schools minister, and he's right. The decision by Nicky Morgan to row back on the policy of forcing all schools to become academies is sensible for a number of reasons.
First, there's the pragmatic argument. It has become increasingly clear since this policy was first unveiled that many backbench Conservative MPs are unhappy about it. They lined up to criticise Morgan at a House of Commons debate last month and had the government tried to get it through the House of Commons it might well have been defeated. (To read more, click here.)
I thought 43 out of 50 was quite respectable a score, until I told my 12-year-old daughter. “I got 46,” she said, of the test she took last year.
So where did I let myself down? Like the Schools Minister Nick Gibb, I proved unable to distinguish between a subordinating conjunction and a preposition. I did better when it came to common-or-garden conjunctions, modal verbs, subordinate clauses, the past progressive and distinguishing adjectives and adverbs. (To read more, click here.)
Tuesday’s protest against Key Stage 1 Sats was moronic on so many levels that it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, it wasn’t a ‘kids’ strike’. Did a national committee of six- and seven-year-olds get together and decide on a day of action? Even in Brighton, the centre of the boycott, that seems a bit far-fetched. The grown-up organisers of the protest clearly believed that was a cute way of packaging it for media consumption, but the thought of such young children engaging in political activism is actually a bit sinister. It’s like something out of a dystopian satire — a cross between Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Then there’s the sheer selfishness of the whole thing. Thousands of parents get to indulge in a day of virtue-signalling while schools are left to pick up the pieces. Are the organisers aware that if unauthorised absences at a school exceed a certain threshold, that school is ineligible for an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ grade? Not only that, it could be plunged into special measures if its pass rate in the KS1 Sats falls below the floor standard. Schools live or die by their Ofsted rankings, particularly in middle-class cities like Brighton, so this protest could end up doing serious damage. (To read more, click here.)
Zac Goldsmith came in for a fair amount of criticism yesterday after writing a piece in the Mail on Sunday that, among other things, pointed out that Sadiq Khan criticised Labour’s decision to suspend Ken Livingstone in 2006 when he compared a Jewish Evening Standard journalist to a Nazi concentration camp guard. Reviewing the papers on Marr, Owen Jones called it ‘another example’ of a ‘poisonous’ and ‘disgraceful’ campaign that had tried to brand Khan as an extremist simply because he’s a Muslim. He called it ‘an attempt to tap into anti-Muslim prejudice’ and urged Conservatives to tackle Islamophobia as vigorously as his own party is tackling anti-Semitism.
But is the Conservative mayoral candidate’s campaign, which is being run by Crosby Textor, guilty of Islamophobia? The accusation isn’t that Goldsmith or anyone linked to the campaign has said anything overtly Islamophobic. Rather, they’re been accused of ‘dog whistle’ politics – of trying to play on people’s anxieties about Islamism and terrorism by posing questions about Khan’s links to Islamist extremists. (To read more, click here.)
A new book published today by the Institute of Economic Affairs called In Focus: The Case for Privatising the BBC includes a chapter by the economist Ryan Bourne on the BBC’s left-of-centre bias. As you’d expect, Bourne’s contribution includes plenty of fascinating data, such as the fact that ‘Thought for the Day’ contributors are eight times more likely to offer a negative view of market-based and capitalist activity than a positive view.
However, Bourne doesn’t accuse the Beeb of straightforward left-wing bias. Its partiality is more subtle and complicated than that. He cites an example of the BBC’s coverage of immigration provided by Roger Mosey, a former editorial director. In his recent memoir about working for the broadcaster (Getting Out Alive), Mosey recalls overseeing an evening news report about the impact of immigration in a racially diverse part of Britain. The package featured only one white working-class voice, who said he was ‘perfectly happy’ about current levels. Mosey asked the reporter whether this was representative of the white working-class people he’d interviewed and the reporter admitted it wasn’t. The problem was, all the other vox pops had been ‘fairly rabidly racist’ so couldn’t be used. (To read more, click here.)
Anyone concerned about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party should welcome the appointment of Shami Chakrabarti, the former head of Liberty, to lead an internal inquiry into the matter, but it’s a little late in the day to be addressing this issue. And will the inquiry’s terms of reference allow her to investigate the leader of the party?
The Jewish Chronicle drew attention to Jeremy Corbyn’s links to a rogues gallery of “Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright anti-Semites” back in August of last year. Among other dubious acts, Corbyn donated money to an organisation run by Paul Eisen, a self-confessed Holocaust denier who boasts of links to the Labour leader dating back 15 years. Corbyn’s own brother has strayed dangerously close to anti-Semitism, such as the time he described Jewish Labour MP Louise Ellman as a “Zionist” who “can’t cope with anyone supporting rights for Palestine”. When questioned about this, Corbyn insisted his brother “was not wrong”. (To read more, click here.)