breaking news from the world of ideas

by Ed West
Thursday, 24
October 2019
Idea
12:10

Five demolished buildings we should rebuild

Away from all that Brexit blather, the Government is currently launching its ‘most ambitious heritage preservation campaign for 40 years’ and is asking members of the public to nominate which buildings should be saved.

I’ve got a better idea, and one I guarantee will be popular. How about nominating buildings that were destroyed in the 20th century by cultural vandals of both the German and British variety, and rebuilding them? Plenty of continental cities have rebuilt or are actively rebuilding their lost heritage, including WarsawBerlin and Frankfurt, but Britain is way behind on this front. No one would actually care that they’re not strictly the same atoms as existed 200 years ago; the medieval Ypres Cloth Hall was entirely rebuilt. But instead British cities, when they demolish the mistakes of the 1950s, replace them with less-hideous but soulless and unloveable glass and steel things. ...  Continue reading

by Paul Embery
Thursday, 24
October 2019
Reaction
09:36

MPs can’t be crybabies

Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick revealed on the Victoria Derbyshire programme on Tuesday that some MPs had been in tears during Saturday’s parliamentary sitting, apparently overwhelmed by the “political and emotional pressure” of the occasion.

Fitzpatrick’s revelation is an illustration of the extent to which the Commons chamber is no longer just the beating heart of our democracy, but something resembling a therapy workshop in which MPs seem increasingly eager to relay their own personal tales of woe. I have to say I find it all a bit feeble.

There was a time when parliament was stocked with tough, worldly and resilient men and women who had often experienced their own personal hardships and tragedies — some had even seen the horrors of war — but chose not to go on about it. ...  Continue reading

by David Goodhart
Wednesday, 23
October 2019
Idea
12:35

Time for our political packages to be re-sorted

I have been doing some online dating recently which gives you a lot of practice both in presenting yourself and in noticing tribal politics in other people.

I was having a friendly online chat with one woman and she asked me what I thought of Boris Johnson. As this was the Guardian’s online dating site and she had described herself as a socialist I assumed there was likely to be a correct and an incorrect answer here. But as I was quite interested in her I tried to be truthful in the least off-putting manner.

I said I had voted Remain but think we should respect the Brexit vote and I would certainly consider voting Tory if Boris Johnson stood the best chance of bringing the country together around a One Nation programme, perhaps not that different from the 2017 Tory election programme (shorn of the silly bits on adult care).  ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Wednesday, 23
October 2019
Factcheck
10:10

Are Americans becoming less Christian?

One old assumption that has died a death this decade is that America is exceptional among western countries in resisting secularisation. While Britain and France are way ahead on the path of godlessness, the recent drop in Christian religious identification in the US is pretty staggering.

The rather inappropriately named Bonnie Kristian laments this coming end of Christian America in The Week, and strikes a warning that Ross Douthat and Lyman Stone have signalled before: namely, that if you don’t like the Religious Right, you’re really not going to like the Irreligious Right.

Culture wars are always about religion in a sense, and since the 18th century in France and later in England the Left has been more secular, or even anti-religious. It’s obviously true in the US, where conservatives are more religious and many flashpoint issues are over faith; today just 16 per cent of American liberals think religious faith gives them a “great deal” of meaning in life, compared to 62 per cent of “very conservative” Americans. ...  Continue reading

by Phillip Blond
Wednesday, 23
October 2019
Idea
07:00

Northern Ireland could still have MEPs after Brexit

One of the little recognised consequences of the Brexit deal currently before Parliament is that Northern Ireland could end up with a bigger say in Europe than the rest of the UK. That’s because its citizens may well have the option to petition The European Courts to have representation in the European Parliament through the continued election of MEPs.

This would be on the basis of a legal principle enshrined in EU law as a result of a petition by a UK citizen living in another British dominion — Gibraltar.

Back in 1994, Denise Matthews, a UK citizen then resident in Gibraltar, requested that she be allowed to vote in the EU elections that were coming up, this was denied as it was held that this right only applied to the UK. But in 1999 in Matthews v United Kingdom The European Court of Human Rights overturned the decision and (in what became known as the Matthews principle) it was held that any citizen being subject to a large degree of European law requires that that citizen has democratic representation i.e. the right to vote for an MEP in the European parliament. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Tuesday, 22
October 2019
17:07

Watership Down reveals the radical centre, rabbit-style

Whatever your politics, Ross Douthat has to be the most interesting columnist at the New York Times.

Inspired by reading the famous 1972 novel out loud to his daughters, he devotes today’s column to the political lessons of Watership Down.

His reading rests on the idea that the rabbits, in escaping their doomed warren and seeking to found a new one, are trying to create a new political order. On the journey there, they come across two alternative warrens, each flawed in its own way.  The first seems oddly reminiscent of liberal modernity:

The first warren, where they briefly try to settle, appears at first to be idyllic. The rabbits are sleek and well-fed, they have plenty of space (the burrows are oddly underpopulated), the lands around are completely clear of predators (“elil” in Adams’s rabbit tongue, Lapine), and best of all the local farmer just tosses leftover produce in the fields.

But soon it becomes clear that this warren has shed all the rabbit-y virtues, cunning and daring and courage and mischief, in favor of odd imitations of human culture — attempted sculptures, existentialist poetry. Its denizens are bored or irritated by tales of adventure and heroism; they cultivate a condescending skepticism about El-ahrairah, the rabbit trickster-prince of legend; they seem comfortable and smug and yet subtly depressed

- Ross Douthat, New York Times

It turns out that this decadent pleasure-world is sustained by a dark secret: the farmer keeps them fed and safe in exchange for a number of sacrifices which he takes for their pelts and meats. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 22
October 2019
Reaction
12:42

John Simpson’s two thirds idea is half-baked

Yesterday, the BBC’s John Simpson relieved himself of a tweet:

OK, let’s think this one through. First of all, what does he mean by a change to the rules? Presumably not just any change to any law or regulation. It would have to be something big and more-or-less permanent. A second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU would certainly count. But what would be the change to which the two-thirds threshold applied to? Would the super-majority be required to over-turn the result of the first referendum or would it be to approve the deal to take Britain out of the UK? That decision, whether taken by the Government, Parliament or our judicial masters, would most likely pre-determine the outcome of the referendum. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Tuesday, 22
October 2019
Idea
10:42

What will singleton society do to politics?

More than a third of households in some countries now consist of someone living alone, as shown in this chart from Branko Milanovic’s new book Capitalism Alone:

This has lots of implications but one of the least talked about is our political system. How we live has a huge impact on our politics; for example, how long a country has been Roman Catholic affects its ability to have a functioning democracy. Why? Partly because the Church’s ancient ban on cousin marriage led to the decline of clans and the rise of nuclear families. As Nottingham University’s Jonathan F Schulz explained a couple of years back: ...  Continue reading