breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 23
September 2021

On climate change, Boris Johnson is no Margaret Thatcher

The Prime Minister's speech to the UN was an exercise in bluster

In 1989 a British Tory Prime Minister gave a speech about climate change to the UN General Assembly. Yesterday, it happened again — only this time the minister in question was Boris Johnson, not Margaret Thatcher. 

Johnson made no reference to his predecessor, an inexplicable omission. Thatcher’s speech was one of the most important ever to be given at UN — arguably, the most important. It was the rallying cry that made climate change a worldwide political concern, not just a scientific one. 

Her speech was prophetic in tone as well as content. It managed to combine scientific detail and appeals to “the special gift of reason” with overtly religious rhetoric:  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 22
September 2021

Sorry, the energy crisis has nothing to do with Brexit or hippies

Ideologues are projecting their own biases

As natural gas prices rise to record levels, observers are beginning to worry about the possibility of shortages. The causes behind the energy crunch are multiple — ranging from supply problems in Russia to low levels of renewable output in the North Sea. 

Still, it’s an ill-wind that blows nobody any good. And there are two groups of ideologues for whom the energy crisis is a gift. 

First of all there are the anti-Brexiteers. As I’ve said before, there’s no problem that’s too global that some people won’t blame it on Britain leaving the EU. Just search for “Brexit” and “energy crisis” on Twitter and you’ll see the #FBPE crowd leaping to their usual conclusions.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 20
September 2021

Evergrande could trigger a global economic crisis

The real-estate bubble in China is reminiscent of 2008 — only worse

Just in case you’ve never heard of it, Evergrande is China’s second largest property development company. It has 1,300 projects spread over hundreds of Chinese cities, but more to the point it is $300 billion in debt.

Evergrande’s share price this year has fallen on fears that the company is running out of money to pay creditors. The slide has now turned into a headlong rush — and dealing in the company’s bonds has been suspended.

It’s not just the markets that are panicking. Last week, angry protesters besieged the company’s offices.

If it collapses, the consequences could extend much further than the company’s creditors and investors. Indeed, there are fears that Evergrande could be China’s Lehman Brothers — the American financial services giant whose 2008 collapse came close to bringing down the banking system. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 15
September 2021

Michael Gove is now the most important man in government

And, incidentally, I called it a year ago

You read it here first. 

Last year, I took a look at the Cabinet and concluded that Gavin Williamson and Robert Jenrick should be sacked; that Dominic Raab was in the wrong job; and that Liz Truss was flourishing at International Trade. 

I also had this to say about Michael Gove:

Allied to his knowledge of the inner workings of the Whitehall machine, Gove has become indispensable. And yet his talents could be better deployed. He is, at heart, a radical — willing to pursue reform in the face of entrenched opposition. As soon as the Covid crisis is over, he should be put in charge of solving another problem that’s been left unsolved for the last decade or more: housing.
- Peter Franklin, The Post

And lo it came to pass. Michael Gove is the new Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government (he also has cross-cutting responsibility for the levelling-up agenda and the Union). 

Never mind the other moves of the day, this is by far the most important appointment of the whole reshuffle. Nothing matters more to the future of our country — or indeed the long-term survival of the Conservative Party — than solving the housing crisis.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 13
September 2021

Emma Raducanu’s overlooked heritage

Using the tennis star for political point scoring obscures her background

Emma Raducanu’s Twitter bio lists four cities: “london | toronto | shenyang | bucharest”. Those, respectively, are where she grew up, where she was born, where her mother came from and where her father came from.

From a British perspective, we obviously all know about London. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is also pretty familiar. Bucharest, the Romanian capital, is probably less so — but at least most of us have heard of it. 

But how many of us could honestly say the same about Shenyang? Certainly, we ought to have heard of it. For a start, it’s huge — with a population of five to nine million depending on where you draw the city limits. If it were in Europe or North America, it would be world famous. But like so many other Chinese cities, it is all but unknown in the West. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Friday, 10
September 2021

How Conservatives MPs are different from their voters

The party is economically liberal, but the people who vote for them are not

With the Government putting up taxes to pay for the social care crisis, Conservative MPs are in need of some care of their own. In the Telegraph, one anonymous MP is reported as saying that he “had gone home to his partner and cried because of the decisions he had had to vote on, adding that he did not know what a Tory was any more.”

He and his colleagues should brace themselves for more ideological pain. The fact is that the Conservative Party now has a split personality. While the Parliamentary party is economically liberal — if not downright libertarian — the people who vote for them are anything but. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 8
September 2021

Meet Japan’s wannabe Margaret Thatcher

Sanae Takaichi could become Japan's first female PM

When the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced his resignation last week, the western media barely looked up. 

Which is odd, because Japan is still the world’s third biggest economy — and absolutely essential to any hope of the free world defending itself without relying on America alone. 

After just one year in office, Suga will be gone by the end of the month. The race to replace him as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — and therefore PM — is on. 

Among the declared candidates is Sanae Takaichi — who would be Japan’s first female Prime Minister. Japan has been described as a “democracy without women” — so this would be breaking the mould. Just the fact that she’s running with such heavyweight backing — including that of Shinzo Abe, a powerful former Prime Minister — represents a breakthrough.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 7
September 2021

Immortal billionaires? What could go wrong!

Silicon Valley is investing in life-extending technology — should we worry?

Picture this: a bunch of the world’s richest entrepreneurs and most brilliant scientists get together to discuss the prolongation of human lifespans. 

In a Hollywood movie, the next scene would be a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic wasteland. But in the real world, we cut to the formation of Altos Labs — a very well funded start-up dedicated to the development of treatments capable of rejuvenating animal cells and eventually, it is hoped, entire human beings. 

According to an eye-popping report in MIT Technology Review, investors in the new company include the tech billionaire Yuri Milner. The founder of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, may also be involved — though that is less clear.  ...  Continue reading

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