The making of a reactionary

Jonathan Swift said you couldn’t reason a man out of a position he hadn’t been reasoned into in the first place, and this is why most politics is tribal, not rational.

So it is with me, though I have built a reasonably sound superstructure of reason on the bedrock of my immovable love of certain, unchanging things. What has always, ultimately, been my politics was absorbed like the lore of a tribe, not taught to me or even suggested to me, or much discussed — just known, very deep down, as essential and desirable. Every political organisation I have ever joined has been, by comparison, cardboard, fraudulent and unsatisfactory, like a cheap hamburger. ...  Continue reading

How Britain became a Harry Potter theme park

Relations between China and Britain have often been prickly, the two countries prisoners of their shared history of imperialism, mutual respect and mutual fear. Yet, as the balance of relative strength has shifted, so the former island empire has continued to exert a psychological influence on the Middle Kingdom.

Earlier this month it was reported that Beijing was growing increasingly concerned with British-based private schools monopolising the most talented Chinese pupils.

Britain’s public schools now run 47 campuses across China, educating almost 10,000 pupils, with the total number of institutions doubling in just two years, and pupil increasing by 10% in just one. ...  Continue reading

Finally, Cornwall tells its own story

Poldark aside, Cornwall has not been the scene of many modern screen hits. The new British film Bait has changed that. There was always going to be an element of commercial risk in releasing this crackly, zero-budget film about Cornish fishermen, shot on black-and-white stock on a vintage clockwork camera and processed entirely by hand. Launching it at the fag-end of summer, when cinemas are still dominated by blockbusters, seemed unlikely to improve its prospects. What possible tag-line could reel in the masses? “If you liked Aquaman…”?

But Bait has become a surprise hit; it will be rippling out to more venues across Britain until the end of the year. As a fisherman without a boat, the gruff but drily funny Martin (Edward Rowe) is facing an existential crisis. He long ago sold the family cottage to a middle-class couple who now hawk it out as an Airbnb, the fridge ready-filled with fizz and local cheese. But he grumbles about how these London toffs have decorated the place with nautical paraphernalia (“All bloody ropes and chains — looks like a sex dungeon”) and has no time for their claims to be re-energising the community: “You pay slave wages then piss off to the Maldives,” he fumes. So whose Cornwall is it anyway? ...  Continue reading

Why the North East of England is different

As Mark Twain once put it, “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes”. This occurred to me when the first Brexit results came in from Sunderland, confirming that Wearside had voted decisively to leave the EU. For in 1951, when there was talk of Britain joining the fledgling European Coal and Steel Community, that path was closed off by the then Foreign Secretary Herbert Morrison with the famous words “no, the Durham miners will never wear it”.

Yet it’s seldom explained why the Durham miners should have been so hostile to the idea of European integration; or, indeed, why the opinion of such a body was seen to be decisive in matters of state. Even though the Labour Government was to fall in October of 1951, the six years of Attleeism had represented the triumph of a distinctively conservative socialism that prevailed in the North East coalfields, and did much to shape Labour’s agenda in the 1940s. ...  Continue reading

Woke GQ reeks of fear

Perhaps the greatest oddity of the woke moment that we are currently going through is the eagerness with which corporations and other parts of the money-making world have rushed to join in the stampede.

Time and again multinationals and public companies turn out to be as happy as junior members of the Royal Family to sign up to an ideology which will come to eat them next. If anyone is in any doubt about this trend, they should look to the men’s magazine GQ – or what we should more properly describe as the former men’s magazine, GQ.

Firstly, I should declare my prejudices at the outset. Though I have never bought a copy of GQ, I have often flicked through it at the barbers as a way to avoid conversation, and have always found it aggravating in the way that aspirational lifestyle magazines generally are. ...  Continue reading

Cuba killed my communism

I grew up in an era when social democracy in Britain was (to my naive eyes at least) indistinguishable from Thatcherism. Tony Blair, for he was PM, had recently invaded Iraq along with George W. Bush. And he would boast about Britain’s draconian trade union laws.

And so, I decided to become a communist. Initially it was more of an oppositional identity than an active political affiliation, a way of thumbing my nose at the stuffy Right-wing adults who seemed ubiquitous in  rural Somerset, where I grew up.

My youthful radicalism didn’t involve standing on picket lines chanting slogans, but I did have an answer to every question. As Arthur Koestler wrote in The God That Failed, with an ideology like communism, “the whole universe falls into pattern like the stray pieces of a jigsaw puzzle assembled by magic at one stroke”. ...  Continue reading

Don’t you dare ask my pronouns

“My name is Jeremy Corbyn and my pronouns are he/him.”

These were the opening words from the Labour Party leader at the Pink News Awards yesterday.

Corbyn hadn’t want to miss an opportunity to virtue signal — on International Pronoun Day, no less. He has impeccable trans-inclusive politics, even supporting the inclusion of men who identify as women on all-female shortlists. Corbyn’s self-appointed advisor on all things trans, Owen Jones, has made it clear to the Labour leader that in order to be on the “right side of history” one must put male-bodied trans women before actual women...  Continue reading

As a headstrong activist, I was a dangerous thing

The last few years of politics have tested loyalties and fractured tribes; for many, it’s tempting to disengage altogether. We have asked contributors to remind us of why politics matters, by reflecting on their formative years. This series of political awakenings shows how family, feelings and unlikely accidents can shape a lifetime of politics…


I’m sure there must once have been a law passed which prohibited the citizens of Barking and Dagenham from voting anything other than Labour. It would explain why, when I was growing up in the borough, I never met anyone who did such a thing. Such people did exist apparently, but whichever party they voted for never achieved the merest modicum of electoral success locally. Every MP and local councillor in Barking and Dagenham wore a red rosette. ...  Continue reading

Does the City deserve Chuka Umunna?

In many countries the political and the financial centres are located in different cities: Washington and New York, Berlin and Frankfurt, Canberra and Sydney. In the UK, they are not only in the same town, but in the same constituency. Like a fried egg with two yolks, the Cities of London and Westminster return a single Member of Parliament who is tasked with balancing the needs of these two very different centres of power. This is the seat now targeted by Chuka Umunna, newly decked out in his latest political livery.

But this constituency is not just an intersection of the great tectonic plates of democracy and capitalism — it is also, and much more prosaically, a place where ordinary people live. Around Paddington and Pimlico, for example, there are areas of significant social need. But more than any other constituency, those who represent this place end up overlooking the everyday lives of the people who live there, and end up narrowly concentrating on the needs of the financial institutions. It is actually quite odd for an MP to be far more concerned about the needs of those who pour off the train at Cannon Street at 7am — who have their own MP somewhere else — than those who wake up and live in the constituency they actually represent. Even odder, for an MP to think of their role as the representative of institutions rather than people. ...  Continue reading

Has Hungary conceived a baby boom?

When an economy booms, as Hungary’s has, with the best growth figures for more than a decade, the resulting pressures tell you something significant about the country. In Hungary’s case, it is a shortage of people that is the worry, and the first professionals feeling the heat from the economic pick-up are recruitment consultants. The most acute shortage may be among IT professionals, but the pinch is now being felt at the blue-collar end as well —  there is currently a shortfall of about 100,000 workers in the labour market. It’s all  the result of a decades-long Hungarian birth dearth. ...  Continue reading

Will Spain be held together by force?

Spain’s peaceful transition from brutal Right-wing dictatorship to thriving democracy was one of the success stories of the late 20th century. Following Franco’s death in 1975, a referendum backing change in 1978, and the rapid collapse of a reactionary coup in 1981, the country happily progressed to become a member of Nato and the EEC and, for a time, turned into one of the most vibrant and exciting of European countries. The Seville Expo and the Barcelona Olympic Games of 1992 were the crowning glories of the new Spain, a country which had finally lain the traumas and problems of its difficult and bloody past to rest. ...  Continue reading

The deluded cult of social justice

“Justice,” wrote Pascal in the Pensées, “is as much a matter of fashion as charm.” The truth of the 17th-century mathematician and theologian’s observation is richly corroborated at present. Seldom have the demands of justice been so manifestly faddish. Increasingly, justice is seen as not an attribute of legal systems but of entire societies. At the same time it is believed to be owed to groups more than individuals. In these circumstances, everything depends on whether the group to which people are deemed to be belong is in vogue.

Tibetans are no longer à la mode, though the destruction of their civilisation by the Chinese state continues, and few opinion-formers consider the persecution of Christians in the Middle East worth mentioning. Little is heard any more of the Yazidi, despite their still being a target of genocide by Isis. The Kurds are receiving media attention following their betrayal by Trump, but it will surely not be long before they are re-forgotten. Being identified as a victim of injustice has become a kind of privilege, handed out to favoured groups and denied to others according to the shifting diktats of progressive opinion. ...  Continue reading