breaking news from the world of ideas

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 6
September 2019

Harry Potter can be a sacred text

I was listening to an episode of one of my favourite podcasts recently, which had the cheery theme of Apocalypse. Harry Potter and the Sacred Text is presented by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper Ter Kuile, two non-religious Harvard Divinity graduates, who discuss the Rowling books as though they were sacred texts. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

For them, it is how a text is read that makes it sacred, not its literal content. So if we can read a book expecting it to help us get better at loving — with rigour and within a community —  it can be sacred. Their podcast provides a space where, they hope, a generation of millennials — millions of whom know which Hogwarts house they belong to but feel no affiliation with organised religion — can find a way to make meaning.  ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 5
September 2019

Toryism is not conservatism

I agreed with most of Ed West’s brilliant defence of the 21 rebel Tories. Indeed, I have an interest to declare: I used to work for one of them, Greg Clark. Greg, as well as deserving his reputation as the “nicest man in Westminster”, is also one of the most intelligent and principled. He wouldn’t have voted the way he did if he didn’t believe it to be in the best interests of the country.

Nevertheless, there’s a narrative settling around the 21 that I have to take issue with. It’s the idea that the Conservative Party is divided between swivel-eyed libertarian revolutionaries on the one hand, and a beleaguered remnant of pragmatic, traditional Tories on the other – and that furthermore it’s the latter that keep the flame of true conservatism alive. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Thursday, 5
September 2019

The truth about lies

Boris is a liar. Politicians all lie. We hear complaints like this all of the time. Wouldn’t it be great if we could wire them all up to a perfect lie-detector? Imagine how this would improve our politics.

Well, be careful what you wish for.

There is a terrific long read in the Guardian today about the history of the lie detector test. At one time we would once dunk women in rivers to ascertain the truth about them being witches; whereas waterboarding in the twentieth century was not much better, we also developed more scientific-sounding means – Polygraphs for instance – though they too were often highly unreliable. Indeed, many of these were useful to the police or the military not because they worked but because many people feared that they worked. Imagine the power we would grant to the authorities if such a machine could be developed. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 5
September 2019

Tom Tugendhat interview: is ‘National Conservatism’ coming to the UK?

What constitutes a “real” Conservative? This is a question that people have been asking this week, since the expulsion of 21 Tory MPs from the parliamentary party.

For anyone minded to take a moment out from the hourly procedural dramas, here’s an interview I did with Tom Tugendhat over the weekend about the future of Conservatism. He’s an interesting character in all this – thought of as on the ‘wet’ side on Brexit, but not as dramatically so as Rory Stewart (he didn’t join the rebels this week). He’s one of countless ambitious Tory MPs who are desperate to get past Brexit so they can start talking about other things. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Wednesday, 4
September 2019

The Tory rebels are the true conservatives

Last night’s purge of 21 Tory rebels was perhaps inevitable, sad as it is that the living legend Kenneth Clarke is no longer a Conservative MP. Among the other members of the Tory ‘rebel alliance’, to use the cringeworthy name given to the party’s last few Remainers (I prefer ‘Athenians’, as a counter to the ERG’s ‘Spartans’, but I don’t imagine it will catch on) are Nicholas Soames and Rory Stewart. All have now lost the whip, after voting against the Government.

Some are happy to see them go – Guido’s Tom Harwood, for instance, wondered how Churchill’s grandson could be such a ‘leftie’, while others have accused Rory Stewart of being part of an effete, out-of-touch elite. ...  Continue reading

by Ella Whelan
Wednesday, 4
September 2019

Should MPs do what they’re told?

In among last night’s caterwauling of queasy-looking Johnson supporters and indignant anti-Brexit MPs, one quote stood out. Ian Blackford, the Scottish Nationalist Party leader and chief Brexit hater gave more away than he perhaps realised when he declared: “The Prime Minister has tried to rob the people of their power. Now it’s our time to rob him of his.” What Blackford meant was that Johnson’s move to prorogue Parliament had robbed power away from Parliament, and now that Parliament was going to steal the power back from the Prime Minister by undermining the executive.

Edmund Burke

This is not just a parliamentary parlour game. Blackford’s point raises an important question about the nature of British politics: who holds the power in a democracy? True, Johnson’s move to prorogue was a sore reminder to all republicans (myself included) that the monarchy still plays an outdated roll in political decision making. But it is difficult to listen to Remainers complain about the Prime Minister abusing democracy when their motives are to stop a democratic mandate in the shape of Brexit. The real question here is, how much power do MPs truly have, and how should they use it? ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 4
September 2019

Is this a long-term age of discord?

As you may have noticed, politics has got a tad heated of late.

But is this because of ‘accidents’, that in slightly different circumstances might easily not have happened; or is our present discord the inevitable consequence of deeper historical trends?

Image credit: State Star Index

Scott Alexander of State Star Codex has a fascinating book review of Ages of Discord by Peter Turchin, which argues that there are decades-long cycles in American history – i.e. “long spells of equitable prosperity and internal peace [that] are succeeded by protracted periods of inequity, increasing misery, and political instability.” ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Tuesday, 3
September 2019

Lisa Nandy: Why I don’t regret not supporting the deal

Lisa Nandy has been one of the voices from the Labour benches most in favour of finding a compromise over Brexit. Representing the overwhelmingly pro-Leave constituency of Wigan, she was one of a group of Labour MPs that those of us who supported Theresa May’s deal had hoped would eventually swing behind it and get the deal through parliament. Famously, she never quite got there, and we are where we are.

Does she now regret it?

I sat down with her at the Big Tent Ideas Festival over the weekend, and asked her. In fact, I virtually implored her to say she regretted it, but no such luck. Her answer was somewhat surprising – and hinges on a technicality: although it is commonly said that the deal was rejected by parliament three times, these were only the “meaningful votes” that the government was mandated to introduce, prior to introducing the bill itself. These she voted against, but say she would have supported the bill once the details had been thrashed out in “second reading.” ...  Continue reading