breaking news from the world of ideas

by Giles Fraser
Friday, 13
September 2019
12:50

Alan Johnson on the dark side of ‘community’

Those who have listened to my Confessions will know that I have a problem with the idea of liberalism. To me, it has long been associated with individualism, with the prioritisation of the solitary self and individual rights, over and against the community.

I see family and community as the most successful support structures that history has ever known – especially for the most vulnerable. Detaching the individual from his or her place within a stable community renders them vulnerable to powerful economic forces, forces that identify the primary function of an individual’s life in terms of their economic significance and usefulness. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 13
September 2019
09:51

In defence of virtue signalling

This week, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited the site of the Amritsar massacre in India and prostrated himself on the ground in a gesture of public repentance. He said he wanted to acknowledge “the sins of my British colonial history”.

Perhaps predictably, the reaction has been mixed. Critiques include people asking why he didn’t address various other current atrocities and injustices in contemporary India alongside accusations of “virtue signalling”.

Colonial history is complex and contested, and the religio-politics of contemporary India perhaps even more so, but the immediate kickback was wearyingly familiar. Doing good is difficult. Doing it in public even more so, but some roles, not least national church leaders, require at least the attempt. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Thursday, 12
September 2019
11:09

Four referendums that were never honoured

I have no idea whether Brexit will happen in the end. I still suspect so, but if the people’s will is not carried out, it wouldn’t be the first time.

While on holiday in Malta last year, I read in passing a reference to a referendum the country held in 1956 to become a fully integrated member of the United Kingdom. That would mean three Maltese MPs sitting in the Westminster Parliament. Presumably, I thought, they voted against such an insulting and bizarre idea and chose to be a free and sovereign state. Actually, it was quite the opposite: 77% of Maltese people voted to join the UK, although there was a boycott by some sections of the population. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 12
September 2019
08:44

‘Left-behind’ communities are closer than you think

A new way of measuring “left behind” communities has come up with some intriguing results. Research featured in The Economist by the same people who compile the official Index of Multiple Deprivation for the Government suggests ranking communities by positive things they are missing – like libraries and bus services – instead of by negative factors like crime. In doing so you end up identifying different problem areas:

“…Local Trust, a charity, asked OCSI to devise a community-needs index with a narrower focus. Whereas the multiple-deprivation index largely assesses the presence of negative factors like crime and unemployment, the new index highlights the absence of positives, such as civic amenities and transport links.”
- The Economist

A combination of the two indices was used to identify the most “left-behind” communities in Britain. Some of these were in “post-industrial parts of the country or unloved seaside towns”, but others were much closer to the action: “housing estates on the fringes of prosperous cities and large towns”. They concluded: ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 11
September 2019
14:52

Charles Clarke interview: what we got wrong on globalisation

Charles Clarke was home secretary in Tony Blair’s government during the crucial years of 2004-2006, during which time citizens of the new EU accession countries became eligible to move to the UK under freedom of movement. Instead of making use of the delay and control mechanisms that the UK could have implemented under EU law to slow the rate of immigration from Eastern Europe, the government had an open border policy.

I caught up with him at last week’s Big Tent Ideas Festival and asked whether he now regrets that, as some people identify a renewed hostility to the EU – and the beginning of Brexit – to that period, particularly in such as Lincolnshire with high numbers of Eastern European immigrants. ...  Continue reading

by Ella Whelan
Wednesday, 11
September 2019
08:34

Sorry Diane, you have to put up with Alan Sugar

I was disappointed to see my MP, Labour’s Diane Abbott, claiming to have reported Alan Sugar to the Twitter bosses for being repeatedly nasty about her online. This has always struck me as the adult equivalent of telling on someone — the aim is to silence the person once and for all by having them reprimanded or removed from Twitter altogether.

Diane Abbott in July (Photo by Guy Smallman/Getty Images)

As victims of online abuse go, Diane Abbott is probably the world-record holder. She gets an inordinate amount of disgusting racist and sexist abuse. It’s also true that Lord Sugar seems to have a rather pathetic obsession with the Labour MP, posting stupid poems about her shacking up with Corbyn and cracking jokes about her mathematical abilities.  ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Tuesday, 10
September 2019
17:32

Jonathan Franzen’s lesson for the end of the world

I have a friend who works on a chicken farm kibbutz at Megiddo in the Galilee. The Greek word for Megiddo is Armageddon. According to the book of Revelation, this is where the end of the world will begin, the final battle. My friend is used to excitable people making their grizzly pilgrimage up the hill hoping to witness the beginning of the end. She watches it all with a wry humour, just getting about the more prosaic business of clearing up chicken shit.  

The ‘end of the world’ used to be an esoteric footnote within Judaeo-Christian theology. But no longer. Its new name is climate catastrophe. And, increasingly, mainstream voices are speaking of this not as something to be averted, but as something that is a done deal;  we have already passed the point of no return and the end times are unavoidable. The latest of these is Jonathan Franzen writing in the New Yorker. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 10
September 2019
10:12

The nation’s twitchers are rising up

For a moment, let’s imagine a fantastical scenario in which a controversy other than Brexit becomes a big thing in British politics.

If I were the minister responsible, I’d look nervously to Minsmere on the Suffolk coast. Widely regarded as the most important wildlife reserve in the country, it’s also right next door to Sizewell B nuclear power station.

The mismatched neighbours rub along. But according to David Rose of the Mail, the proposal to build two new reactors (i.e. Sizewell C) threatens major disruption:

“Locals say years of discussions between the firm, environmentalists and local residents had been positive until EDF this year scrapped its plan to build a special half-mile-long jetty so most of the millions of tons of materials needed to build the power plants could be delivered by sea. ...  Continue reading