Beep-beep: how Sputnik shook America

On 4 October 1957, something momentous happened to shatter the complacency of 1950s America: a small metal sphere with four antennae began emitting a high beep-beep from far, far away1.

The Soviet Union had successfully launched the Sputnik 1 orbital satellite, delighting the world’s radio hams with its signature. Its full name Sputnik Zemlya meant ‘Companion of Earth’. Ultimately, it would revolutionise astronomy, navigation and telecommunications.

Meanwhile, the news from the US that autumn was bleak: A reluctant President Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne to Little Rock, Arkansas to protect African-American children from segregationist fanatics preventing them from attending school. ...  Continue reading

Taxing robots: a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem

Jeremy Corbyn has become the latest politician to call for a tax on robots (these personal attacks on the Prime Minister really have to stop). Assuming that robots replace human workers, the logic for a robot tax appears straightforward. This is how John Bull puts the case (before demolishing it) in a post for the ICAEW’s Economia blog:

“…job losses will be followed by declines in income tax, social security contributions and other payroll taxes. Exchequers will see healthy tax flows replaced by increased obligations to pay social benefits. So far, so simple: why not tax a robot as if it was a person?” ...  Continue reading

Life and soul of the party: Why conferences still matter

Manchester Police, who must have better things to do, have invested vast resources this week so that the Conservatives can stage their annual conference in a city where the electorate has repeatedly told them that they are not welcome.

There are urgent questions demanding the ruling party’s attention–Brexit, housing, tuition fees, low productivity, the falling pound, and many more. The Prime Minister’s authority is threadbare. She may soon be sacked by her fellow Conservatives. But in Manchester, despite the expense, nothing will be settled.

The arguments for scrapping the whole expensive carnival, this season of late nights and heavy drinking, of freebies laid on by commercial lobbyists, and children accidentally conceived in hotel rooms when the Commons is dormant for three weeks, may seem strong. And yet something valuable would be lost to political life without it. ...  Continue reading

Ten things every British Conservative should dwell upon

On the fringe of this morning’s Conservative Party Conference in Manchester I listed ten things every Conservative should know and I’ve set them out very briefly below. Charlotte Pickles will be writing about the other panellists’ reactions to my list – and also about the audience’s comments – in a separate post in the next day or two.


(1) The most important things aren’t in the news. If they were, there’s no way Jeremy Corbyn would have come close to power in June or that Donald Trump would have been elected. Both were propelled to the margins of power or to power itself by forces that were barely or inadequately covered by the mainstream media. Like Trump, himself – as the video below argues – nearly all of us spend too much time consuming the output of an industry that is obsessed with the latest things rather than the most important things (with controversy over enlightenment, with negative over positive, and with the political over the technological and cultural). As well as reading the likes of The Spectator and Wall Street Journal, politicians with an eye to the future need to be immersed in Wired, Scientific American, history books and, of course, UnHerd’s “UnPacked” column and the deeper, broader trends Peter Franklin brings to our attention via it, each and every weekday. ...  Continue reading

Kiss your privacy goodbye – CCTV is just the beginning

I know where you are. I know what you’re doing. I know who you’re with. I know how you’re feeling.

Only joking, of course I don’t – who do you think I am? Mark Zuckerberg?

But within a decade, maybe two, I’ll know all those things about you. What’s more, you’ll know all those things about me. And just about anyone else.

How can I be so sure? Well, it’s a matter of looking at the technology we’ve already got and extrapolating a little. To this end, I’d recommend two seemingly unrelated articles from the Economist. The first article is about sensors:

“The word ‘smart’ is ubiquitous these days. If you believe the hype, smart farms will all employ sensors to report soil conditions, crop growth or the health of livestock. Smart cities will monitor the levels of pollution and noise on every street corner. And goods in smart warehouses will tell robots where to store them, and how. Getting this to work, however, requires figuring out how to get thousands of sensors to transmit data reliably across hundreds of metres.” ...  Continue reading

Ireland’s abortion debate is happening without Catholic Church

On Saturday, pro-choice activists took to the streets of Dublin to campaign to ‘Repeal the Eighth’ – that is, the Eighth Amendment to the Irish constitution which extends the same right to life to the unborn child as to the mother. They want to extend to Ireland much the same abortion provision as is available in mainland Britain. The fit, the fun and the angry were out in force – 30,000 of them, by their own estimation – with slogans like, “Keep your filthy laws off my silky drawers” and “Women are Furious”. The usual.

The demonstration was led by Abortion Rights Campaign member Angela Coraccio, who said the Eighth Amendment  is “an instrument of torture” and described the country’s current abortion law as “barbaric”. That gives you a pretty good flavour of the rhetoric that characterises this campaign. ...  Continue reading

Philip Hammond – not Theresa May – holds the keys to defeat Corbynism

Those who are accustomed to seeing Britain as an essentially market-based society, home to the City of London and a redoubtable property-owning middle class, need to think again. The Labour Party just held its annual conference and, incredibly, it is winning the economic argument.

On everything from housing, to tax increases, to student loans, to redrafting PFI1 contracts, to nationalising utilities, it is Labour’s socialist vision which is chiming with the electorate, as evidenced by an alarming report on the anti-capitalist state of British public opinion by the think tank Legatum published last week (and analysed by UnHerd’s Editor, Tim Montgomerie, here). For instance, some 76% support renationalising the railways and 83% renationalising water companies. ...  Continue reading

Terror for Muslims in Myanmar, and Trump’s love-in with evangelicals. Neither story came out of nowhere.

Rohingya horror in Myanmar

The news about the current crisis of violence and displacement seemed to come out of nowhere, when it burst onto our TV screens in August. But if you follow international – and particularly humanitarian – news, you had been hearing about it for weeks before, when the Myamnar regime threatened to refuse entry to UN investigators probing Rohingya abuses.  Last year, we saw similar violence and as many as 8,000 Rohingya were believed to be stranded at sea during 2015.

The religious and ethnic tensions go back a long way, and Burma (or Myanmar, as it’s often called by humanitarian organisations) has long been a difficult place for Muslims to live. The Rohingya people are famously homeless, being acknowledged neither by Burma or Bangladesh, and the Buddhist nation refuses to acknowledge their ethnicity in official tallies.  Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had headed the Rakhine Advisory Commission, which published a 63-page report noting that the Rohingya make up the world’s largest single stateless community...  Continue reading

Margaret Thatcher needed no spin doctor

Along a narrow corridor behind the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons, in a part of the building closed to visitors, a door opens onto a staircase leading to the rooms that the Prime Minister uses as his or her parliamentary base. The suite at the far end of the corridor is traditionally allocated to the opposition. In 1987, when working for the Labour Party, I had left Neil Kinnock’s office and was heading towards the debating chamber when my way was barred in that narrow corridor by a small, sinewy woman, whose face was oddly familiar. Most of the women working on the parliamentary estate in those days were support staff who deferred to the professionals and kept out of their way, but this one stood her ground. If I had been better tuned to the rhythms of parliamentary life, I might have noted that it was that time in the afternoon on a Tuesday or Thursday when the 15-minute ritual of Prime Minister’s Questions ended. Its participants were dispersing. The person blocking my way was Margaret Thatcher. ...  Continue reading

What is the point of UKIP? Here’s a suggestion…

Whether you agree with him or not there are good reasons for recognising that Nigel Farage has been the most effective politician of his generation.  The organisers of the official Vote Leave campaign might quibble about his constant billing – not least in the US – as ‘Mr Brexit’ but it’s undeniable that for more than two decades Farage fought single-mindedly and, at times, almost single-handedly to achieve his one political objective: to get Britain out of the European Union.

The party which he helped form, lead and grow – the UK Independence Party – was the vehicle by which he pushed that policy.  By exerting political pressure at the polls – in EU elections (where UKIP grew to become Britain’s largest political bloc) and at general elections – UKIP forced David Cameron to promise a referendum on EU membership if he succeeded in returning to Downing Street at the 2015 election.  Which of course he did, with results which everybody now knows, albeit they would have seemed fantastical had anyone predicted them at the time (a fact that should make all pundits ponder). ...  Continue reading

A plan to defeat Jeremy Corbyn: provide help to the poorer Britons he has deserted

After this week’s Labour Party conference, I have one overriding, and faintly surprising conclusion: Jeremy Corbyn wants to win a general election and become prime minister.

That’s surprising because a year ago I’m not sure it was true, or at least that Mr Corbyn thought winning elections was important enough to make compromises and sacrifices for. This conference, well-organised, disciplined and even professional, confirms a change that it was first possible to glimpse in this year’s election campaign. Mr Corbyn is now doing politics in much the same way as other politicians do.

By that I mean he is deliberately taking positions that will maximise his chances of winning votes, and putting that objective above adhering to his principles. For all the noisy headlines about nationalising utilities and scrapping (at least some) PFI deals, Corbyn Labour’s policy platform is not quite the agenda of the firebreathing socialist the Daily Mail would like him to be.  ...  Continue reading

The power of political storytelling: A response to George Monbiot (part two)

Yesterday, I wrote about George Monbiot’s theory of political transformation. His argument is that the key to achieving radical change isn’t factual argument, but superior storytelling. Thus neoliberalism persists as our dominant ideology, not for the lack of evidence against it, but because its opponents have yet to advocate a sufficiently compelling counter-narrative.

Until now that is. Monbiot believes that he has the outline of just such a story. Here, from the Guardian, is his elevator pitch:

“Through restoring community, renewing civic life and claiming our place in the world, we build a society in which our extraordinary nature – our altruism, empathy and deep connection – is released. A kinder world stimulates and normalises our kinder values. I propose a name for this story: the Politics of Belonging.” ...  Continue reading