breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 27
January 2021
Response
11:53

George Monbiot’s ‘Ministry of Truth’ is a dangerous idea

Lockdown sceptics? I’m sceptical of them. Indeed, I’m a lockdown hardliner: I’m pro maskanti mass air travel and believe that pandemic disease poses an existential risk to humanity.

I also thought that the claim that the ‘lockdown mentality’ was a permanent threat to our way of life was wildly overblown. But suddenly I’m not so sure. The fact is that some of my fellow hardliners are going off the deep end.

This morning The Guardian published a column by George Monbiot, which calls for Government restrictions on free speech:

“We have a right to speak freely. We also have a right to life. When malicious disinformation – claims that are known to be both false and dangerous – can spread without restraint, these two values collide head-on. One of them must give way…”
- George Monbiot, The Guardian

The one he want us to give way on is free speech: “When governments fail to ban outright lies that endanger people’s lives, I believe they make the wrong choice.” ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 26
January 2021
Idea
11:00

Are we about to witness a cloning boom?

This year marks the 25th anniversary of a scientific milestone: the birth of Dolly the Sheep at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute. Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell.

At the time, there were fears that the breakthrough would open the floodgates to a Brave New World scenario of cloned human beings. The nightmare was of a future in which certain individuals would be picked out on the basis of intelligence, looks or some other attribute — and then endlessly replicated.

But as far as we know that’s never happened. The first primates (a pair of crab-eating macaques) were cloned in 2017, but from embryonic, not adult, cells. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 22
January 2021
Response
11:47

Brexit was not a ‘Whiggish’ project

Is Brexit really a Whiggish project? James Hawes seems to think so, judging from his review of Robert Tombs’ new book (This Sovereign Isle: Britain, Europe and Beyond) in The Spectator.

He mocks Tombs for comparing the campaign for Brexit to the Glorious Revolution. It’s this sort of thing which contradicts Tombs’ otherwise Tory take on British history, he argues.

But Hawes makes some rather dodgy historical comparisons of his own: “England is indeed well governed and peaceful — so long as its elite remain united. Whenever they split (the Reformation, the Civil War, 1715, 1909) the result is bitter strife.” ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 22
January 2021
Explainer
07:00

The basic flaw in British Government

There are many things wrong with the way we’re governed, but the core contradiction is identified today in a new report from the Institute for Government.

Despite being one of the most centralised countries in the western world, the innermost part of the UK’s central government is pathetically weak.

That’s not a comment on any particular Prime Minister, but rather on the structures that support Prime Ministers in their role as head of government. The report’s author, Alex Thomas, argues that the bit of the civil service that is meant to do this — the Cabinet Office — is woefully underpowered. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 21
January 2021
Idea
07:00

Does good taste excuse grand corruption?

It’s been called ‘Putin’s secret palace’ — a £1billion complex built upon on the Black Sea coast. But contrary to the impression given by the latest set of breathless reports, the existence of the palace is not a secret. It’s been known about (though shrouded in mystery) for several years.

As to its ownership, the Kremlin denies it was built for the use of the Russian President — or that he has any relationship to the project. That is disputed by opposition activists — most recently Alexei Navalny, who was detained on his return to Russia this week.

At first sight, a palace might not seem to be the smartest way of hiding ill-gotten gains. If secrecy is of the essence, then a store of value that can be seen from space isn’t exactly subtle. A Swiss bank account is discreet; a private estate 19 times the size of Monaco, not so much. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 15
January 2021
Response
14:56

Stop stat-shaming the public

There’s no denying it. The sight of those miserly free school meal ‘hampers’ is truly rage-making. Of all the items on display, the most pathetic were what Sam Freedman (writing for PoliticsHome) described as “vegetable fragments” — half a tomato, a third of a pepper — individually wrapped in plastic. If we can’t even allow people the unthinkable luxury of a whole onion, then how do we expect them to ever hold down a job?

This is not treating the poor with dignity — and Freedman is quite right to point that out. However, he then goes to blame the ignorance of the general public for the shortcomings of welfare policy. Harshness is politically popular, he says, because the public believe “myths” about poverty: ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 13
January 2021
Reaction
17:04

Donald Trump was America’s first post-modern President

With the Trump administration now in terminal disgrace, the President’s allies are coming under attack. Not literally, of course — not like, say, the Capitol last week — but any public figure who gave him any support at any point over the last few years can expect a rough ride from the media. 

Peter Thiel, the billionaire tech entrepreneur, is the target of an Axios piece this week by Dan Primack. Specifically, Primack criticises something that Thiel said in an interview shortly before Trump’s election. You can listen for yourself here (starting at the 34.30 mark), but the nub of Thiel’s argument is the media takes what Trump says literally but not seriously, while his supporters take his words seriously but not literally.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 12
January 2021
Response
15:00

Does the Government still care about levelling up?

Getting Brexit done. Beating Covid. Levelling up. These are the Government’s top three priorities. Except that the third is in danger of being forgotten.  

Yes, they’ve already announced more spending on things like transport links. There’s also a determination to make sure that the whole country benefits from public investment, not just the South-East.

But levelling up isn’t just about concrete and tarmac. Last year, the Onward think tank published a report showing that the social fabric of our nation is fraying. Across a variety of metrics, family and community relationships were found to be significantly weaker in some parts of the country than others. And that was drawing on evidence gathered before the devastating impact of the pandemic — and multiple lockdowns — upon our private and public lives. ...  Continue reading

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