breaking news from the world of ideas

by Ella Whelan
Wednesday, 4
September 2019
12:51

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Johnson’s move to prorogue was a sore reminder to all republicans (myself included) that the monarchy still plays an outdated roll in political decision making.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
10:57

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
14:21

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

by David Goodhart
Tuesday, 3
September 2019
09:57

What Bruce Springsteen tells us about Community

Blinded by the Light is not a great film but I enjoyed it for several reasons. It is loosely based on the Bildungsroman “Greetings from Bury Park,” by Sarfraz Manzoor, chronicling the turmoil of a teenage British-Pakistani boy growing up in Luton in the 1980s and his unlikely love affair with the music of Bruce Springsteen. And that book was commissioned, in part, thanks to a piece I published by Sarfraz — From Lyllapur to Luton — in Prospect magazine in December 2001, just after 9/11. The film also has a walk-on part by my nephew Leo Shirley!

But I like the film even more because of what it tells us, intentionally or unintentionally, about our modern ambivalence about the idea of community. Everybody in politics likes community in theory, one of the commonest anxieties about the modern world is that communities are weaker than they used to be. Rising loneliness, deaths of despair, mental illness are all, with some justice, blamed on weaker communities. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Tuesday, 3
September 2019
07:30

William Blake: my kind of madness

Earlier this month, a new gravestone was unveiled in Bunhill Fields. Here is one of those little and hidden patches of London, set between Old Street and the City, where the dead lie as sentinels guarding quiet open space against the encroachments of glass towers, technological progress and furious money-making.

Originally a place reserved for the burial of dissenters, it is a perfect resting place for William Blake: poet, visionary and professional Londoner. Gathered around his grave were a curious gathering of bearded clerics and heavy metal rock stars. And with a new exhibition of his paintings set to open at Tate Britain next week, we are invited to “rediscover him as a visual artist for the 21stcentury”. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 2
September 2019
13:39

Will Pakistan open talks with Israel?

From Israel

The air hangs hot and heavy over this Tel Aviv morning. An attack by Hezbollah on the northern border is already yesterday’s news – no one was killed. An Israeli election is a few weeks away, and minor skirmishes between Israel and her enemies is regarded, by some at least, as a way for the Netanyahu government to remind voters of the importance of their security agenda.

But the more interesting speculation here is that, over in Pakistan, Imran Khan is giving licence to the highly state-regulated Pakistani press to speculate on the recognition of the state of Israel. What was once a taboo subject is now being openly discussed. This is a bold move by Khan, not least because he has often been on the receiving end of anti-Semitic propaganda, having once been married to Jemima Goldsmith who – though a convert to Islam – had Jewish family. But undeterred, the Pakistani media has apparently been given free rein openly to discuss the subject of Israel. “Why can’t we openly debate pros cons of opening direct and overt channels of communication with the State of Israel” tweeted veteran Pakistani journalist Kamran Khan last week. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Monday, 2
September 2019
13:37

East Germany is fertile hunting ground for populists

Saxony and Brandenburg are neighbouring states in what used to be East Germany. In regional elections over the weekend support for the national populist AfD surged in both states, putting the party in a strong second place (to the Social Democrats in Brandenburg and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Saxony).

Fears of a populist victory in one or both elections didn’t quite come to pass. But that doesn’t mean that the established parties should breathe a sigh of relief. Support for the AfD has surged despite party’s constant in-fighting. One wonders what a more a more capable leadership might be able to achieve – think of a German Viktor Orban and shudder. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Monday, 2
September 2019
12:40

Vernon Bogdanor: it’s not the Government’s fault

Last Friday, constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor delivered his verdict in an article in the Guardian on the Government’s proroguing of Parliament. He sounded distinctly supportive of the move, and the piece was widely shared among members of the Cabinet and other prominent Brexiteers.

We caught up with him over the weekend at the Big Tent Ideas Festival to see if he stood his ground in the wake of the controversy. Spoiler alert: he does.

He doesn’t think it’s a constitutional crisis and he puts the blame squarely on those MPs who didn’t support the Theresa May’s deal at the time. Punchy stuff. ...  Continue reading