breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 18
September 2019

Meanwhile in Guy Verhofstadt’s back yard…

Guy Verhofstadt, ex-Belgian PM and inexhaustible gift to pro-Brexit campaigners, got a lot of coverage for his theory of Europeanism at the Lib Dem conference, but what got less attention was the latest opinion poll from his native Flanders:

In first place is a resurgent Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest) – an outfit of hard right populists, which is allied to the likes of Marie Le Pen and Matteo Salvini. Not far behind is VB’s main rival, the New Flemish Alliance, which represents a lighter shade of eurosceptic Flemish separatism. Together, the two nationalist parties have nearly half the vote. Meanwhile the liberal and pro-federalist party that Mr Verhofstadt founded, ‘Open VLD’, is polling at just 13%. ...  Continue reading

by Ella Whelan
Tuesday, 17
September 2019

What happened to diplomatic etiquette?

Watching the pictures of Xavier Bettel circulate on Twitter last night, it struck me how much the etiquette of international diplomacy has changed. On the one hand, it’s a good thing, surely, that the public are getting to see the inner workings and dynamics of our leaders’ relationships with foreign nations. After all, within the Brexit vote was a challenge to remedy the lack of transparency within European politics.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel

But reading the celebration on Twitter of Bettel’s smug nod to the empty lectern at the press conference Boris Johnson had chickened out of, it felt less like transparency and more like a different kind of political pantomime. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Tuesday, 17
September 2019

Could the Lib Dems outflank the Tories on the Right?

New recruits Chuka Umunna and Sam Gyimah were the stars of the Liberal Democrat conference in Bournemouth, mobbed wherever they went for selfies with delegates. It marks an extraordinary up-ending of that party’s philosophy.

It wasn’t very long ago that hatred of Tony Blair, in particular the Iraq War, was an animating instinct of the Liberal Democrat Party. His slickness and ideological lightness was the opposite of the Lib Dem brand – the home of geeks and outsiders, somewhat tortured, but well-meaning and deeply sincere. I remember discovering a strong statistical correlation in 2014 between voting Lib Dem and being a fan of sci-fi fiction: it oddly made sense for people who liked to imagine a very different kind of world. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Tuesday, 17
September 2019

A dangerous moment for democracy

It is election day here in Israel. As I walk out for my morning coffee, a large banner of the Blue and White party – the main rivals to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party – has been torn down in Dizengoff Square, and flaps about in the road, waiting for the bin men to come and clear it up.

But the mess here will take more than the street cleaners to sort out. Netanyahu has three major court hearings for fraud and bribery hanging over his head. And many of the better informed Tel Avivians I speak to speculate that it won’t be today’s ballot that brings him down, but the courts, who resume their pursuit of Netanyahu in two weeks time. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Monday, 16
September 2019

Why’s Verhofstadt bigging up empire?

Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt (pictured) brought a big cheer at the Liberal Democrat conference this weekend with a speech in praise of empire. He said:

The world of tomorrow is not a world order based on nation states or countries. It is a world order that is based on empires. China is not a nation, it’s a civilisation. India is not a nation. The US is also an empire, more than a nation. And then finally the Russian federation. The world of tomorrow is a world of empires in which we Europeans, and you British, can only defend your interests, your way of life, by doing it together, in a European framework and in the European Union.
- Guy Verhofstadt

In fairness he wasn’t quite calling for Europe to become an empire, but he was certainly implying it. The word has unfortunate and almost entirely negative connotations but historically many empires have been more cosmopolitan, progressive and outward-looking than small nation-states.

The idea of the EU as a liberal empire has been suggested before, while Piers Paul Read compared it with the Holy Roman Empire, a Catholic vision which many of the Union’s founding fathers would have agreed with. The EU does, after all, give out the Charlemagne Prize, for individuals who have helped promote European integration, in commemoration of the first “Emperor of the West”. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 16
September 2019

What’s wrong with the weekend news?

I probably shouldn’t start my Sunday mornings by looking at Twitter, but that’s what I did yesterday. It’s how I saw the news that drone strikes had taken down a massive chunk (half, according to some reports) of Saudi oil production.

Not everything that gets tweeted and retweeted on Twitter is necessarily to be believed, so I went to the BBC news website – and sure enough the story was there. However, the top story was the defection of an ex-Tory MP to the Liberal Democrats.

It was the same thing throughout the day on all the BBC broadcast reports that I saw and heard: the Lib Dems given more prominence than an event of possible world-historical significance. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 16
September 2019

Watch: the lone Lib Dem speaking out against revoking Article 50

Niall Hodson is a Lib Dem councillor from Sunderland – which voted 61-39 in favour of Brexit in 2016 – and he took to the stage at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth to argue *against* the adoption of the new Lib Dem policy of revoking Article 50 and cancelling Brexit without a referendum. The policy was overwhelmingly supported and he won’t make the mainstream news reports - but it's a powerful warning which he delivered with good humour. He even got some applause at the end. Here are his key arguments: ... Continue reading
by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 14
September 2019

Weekend Long Read: Camera Above The Classroom

“The smiling face you see on a monkey in a circus is not a smile of joy, it’s a grimace of fear,” one user wrote, “Can you manage to focus in class when you know there’s someone standing behind the classroom? Let alone knowing there’s a camera.”

This week’s long read pick is Camera Above The Classroom, a sobering piece from The Disconnect in which Yujie Xue (薛钰) explores the experimental deployment of facial recognition and AI in Chinese schools.

So-called “intelligent education” tools are currently being trialled across a number of schools. Billed as a way for classrooms to notice and care for more than the outliers at the top and bottom end of the achievement range, the platforms have been popular with parents and school administrators but considerably less so with students.  ...  Continue reading