My heart goes out to Owen Jones. The left-wing journalist is one of the headliners at a Labour party fund-raiser scheduled for next Saturday and, at the time of writing, 85 per cent of tickets remain unsold. It is particularly embarrassing for Jones, given that Rod Liddle managed to sell out the London Palladium last month.
As someone who has struggled to attract audiences to these sorts of things in the past, I have a few tips for Owen. First of all, don’t give tickets away, because those who have already bought them will ask for their money back. Unfortunately, that horse has already bolted in Owen’s case. Labour has sent thousands of emails to party members offering them free tickets, as well as free coach travel there and back, which hasn’t gone down well with those who have shelled out £35. One Twitter account, describing itself as ‘Socialist Workers in Europe’, has already demanded a refund. As the Tory councillor Stephen Canning quipped, ‘Glad to be in agreement with Socialist Workers that it’s just terrible when some people get things for free that other people had to work hard for.’ (To read more, click here.)
I am currently in Brittany with the family, having made the 11-hour drive from London on Monday. It sounds like quite a lot of effort for a few days’ holiday, but my friend Wendy Steavenson invited us to stay and that so rarely happens when you’ve got four children that we felt we couldn’t turn her down. No doubt Wendy will regret this after 24 hours, as nearly all our previous hosts have.
The journey wasn’t as much of an ordeal as it sounds since Caroline did the driving and I sat in the back and read Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West. It’s a highly readable, 351-page polemical essay about the ‘miracle’ that is capitalist liberal democracy, pointing out that its survival depends upon resisting the lure of various anti-modern, romantic ideologies and remaining true to the values of the enlightenment. He’s particularly concerned about the rise of the neo-Marxist intersectionality cult that is spreading its poisonous, anti-western dogma through our most important institutions. I found the whole thing utterly convincing.
Just before this trip I bought a second-hand car, an experience that can test the faith of even the most fervent capitalist. On the one hand, the safety, reliability and affordability of modern automobiles is a great argument in favour of the free market — just compare the cars manufactured in the capitalist West with those produced in Russia and eastern Europe before 1989. (To read more, click here.)
According to a report issued yesterday by the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research, the government’s free schools policy is little short of a disaster. At least, that is the impression given by the press release, which begins: “Free schools are failing . . . ” But if you bother to read the report, you come away with a very different impression.
For instance, the researchers compared the progress and attainment of pupils in secondary free schools with that of a matched group of children with similar characteristics at other types of school and found that the former were outperforming the latter on almost every measure.
The authors of the report claim that the rationale for the policy when it was first rolled out was to promote innovation and encourage parents to set up schools. They then claim the policy has failed because only a third of free schools are innovative and only a fifth of those that have opened since 2015 are parent-led.
But those were secondary justifications. The main rationale, the one repeated by Michael Gove ad infinitum, was that free schools would raise standards, particularly for the most disadvantaged. And according to this report, they have done precisely that. (To read more, click here.)
As a conservative, I wasn’t sure what to make of the news that the BBC was adapting A Very English Scandal, John Preston’s entertaining account of the Jeremy Thorpe affair. On the one hand, it’s easy to depict Thorpe, the son of a Tory MP and an old Etonian, as a ruling class villain. Would the BBC turn his story into yet another ‘bash the rich’ tragi-comedy in the same vein as The Riot Club, a piece of left-wing agitprop in which members of the Bullingdon Club conspire to commit murder? When I heard Hugh Grant had been cast as Thorpe that confirmed my suspicions. At one stage, Grant had cornered the market in making posh British men seem sympathetic and self-deprecating, but he has ditched that act and acquired a second wind by portraying them as sulphurous and self-seeking.
But on the other hand, Thorpe was the leader of the Liberal party and campaigned for a number of causes dear to the hearts of cosmopolitan progressives — against capital punishment, in favour of unrestricted immigration — and was a bug-eyed evangelist for the EU. How would the BBC and the right-on scriptwriter it had hired to adapt it — Russell T. Davies — not to mention the director Stephen Frears, a self-confessed member of the metropolitan elite, cope with these contradictions? (To read more, click here.)
A fascinating paper about sex differences in the human brain was published last week in the scientific journal Cerebral Cortex. It’s the largest single-sample study of structural and functional sex differences in the human brain ever undertaken, involving over 5,000 participants (2,466 male and 2,750 female). The study has been attracting attention for more than a year (see this preview in Science, for instance), but only now has it been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
For those who believe that gender is a social construct, and there are no differences between men and women’s brains, this paper is something of a reality check. The team of researchers from Edinburgh University, led by Stuart Ritchie, author of Intelligence: All That Matters, found that men’s brains are generally larger in volume and surface area, while women’s brains, on average, have thicker cortices. ‘The differences were substantial: in some cases, such as total brain volume, more than a standard deviation,’ they write. This is not a new finding – it has been known for some time that the total volume of men’s brains is, in general, larger than that of women’s, even when adjusted for men’s larger average body size – but all the studies before now have involved much smaller sample sizes.
Does this paper have any implications when it comes to men and women’s intellectual abilities? The answer is yes, but they’re not clear cut. (To read more, click here.)
I created a Twitter thread about the latest Oxford admissions statistics here. Bottom line: there is no institutional bias against black British applicants or applicants from any other disadvantaged groups.
I was disappointed by the reaction of my fellow conservatives to gammon-gate. For those who haven’t been following this mini-scandal, it concerns the use of the word ‘gammons’ by those on the Corbyn-ite left to describe middle-aged, red-faced, pro-Brexit white men who vote Tory. According to the snowflakes of the right, this is a deeply offensive epithet that manages to be both racist and ageist.
‘This is a term based on skin colour and age — stereotyping by colour or age is wrong no matter what race, age or community,’ tweeted the DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly. Hard to disagree with that — and she could have thrown in snobbery for good measure. Gammons tend to be working-class or lower middle-class, whereas the Corbynistas who’ve embraced the term are university-educated and have a habit of dismissing ex-Labour voters as ignorant bigots. It’s also difficult to resist the mischievous glee of calling out left-wing puritans for being racist, ageist and classist when they’re so quick to accuse others of those thought crimes.
But ‘deeply offensive’? Come now. That feels like an attempt by the right to copy the left’s ploy of pretending they’re morally outraged by their opponents’ use of language to score political points. No doubt if there was some prominent left-wing journalist who’d come up with the term ‘gammon’, he or she would have been forced to issue a grovelling public apology by now and resign from their position as, say, head of diversity and inclusion at the Guardian branch of the NUJ. As someone who’s fallen foul of the left-wing thought police — and had to resign from several charities as a result — I hoped those on my side of the political divide would eschew this particular tactic. (To read more, click here.)
Towards the end of 2009, shortly after I announced my intention to set up England’s first free school, I debated with Fiona Millar on Newsnight about the pros and cons of allowing parents to set up schools. Fiona had been having this debate, or ones very like it, for at least 20 years and it soon became apparent that I was outmatched. I felt like an amateur who’d stepped into the ring with Mike Tyson.
After five minutes, as I lay bleeding at her feet, she turned to Jeremy Paxman and said: ‘I don’t even know why we’re bothering to have this debate. Toby’s not actually going to do this. Setting up a school is so complicated, it’s not something a group of parents is ever going to manage.’
In the two years that followed, there were moments I feared Fiona might be right, but I also had reason to be grateful to her: the thought of proving her wrong kept me going. (To read more, click here.)
In a recent blogpost, an American economics professor called Robin Hanson asked why it is that income inequality is regarded as a terrible injustice by liberal progressives, but sex inequality — the fact that attractive people generally have more sex than unattractive people — is thought of by the same people as an unalterable fact of life that no one should complain about. ‘One might plausibly argue that those with much less access to sex suffer to a similar degree as those with low income, and might similarly hope to gain from organising around this identity,’ he wrote.
Hanson was prompted to ask this question by last week’s Toronto van attack in which Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old man who described himself as an ‘incel’ (involuntary celibate), killed ten people and injured 15, the worst mass killing in Canada since 1989. In a Facebook post that surfaced after his arrest, Minassian announced that the ‘incel rebellion has already begun’ and ‘all the Chads and Stacys’ (sexually attractive men and women) would be overthrown. In that post, Minassian praised Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old American who killed six and injured a further 14 in 2014, before taking his own life. Rodger wrote an incel manifesto in which he raged about being sexually frustrated and vowed to take revenge on the women who wouldn’t sleep with him. (To read more, click here.)
The former education secretary, Justine Greening, has urged firms to discriminate against applicants from Eton on the grounds that it is easier to get good A level grades if you’ve been to Eton rather than a comprehensive. There are several odd things about her statement.
First, why single out Eton? In terms of A level passes at grade A or A, Eton is 12th in the independent school league table, behind Westminster, Wycombe Abbey, St Paul’s and City of London School for Girls, among others. Cardiff Sixth Form College is top, with 91.9 per cent of its students gaining A or A in their A levels last year. I guess urging employers to discriminate against applicants from a sixth form in Cardiff wouldn’t have generated the same headlines. (To read more, click here.)