breaking news from the world of ideas

by Freddie Sayers
Thursday, 19
September 2019

Osborne sticks it to Dave, with love

George Osborne is so steeped in politics he just can’t help himself. His review of the memoir of “my friend David” in today’s Evening Standard sends a shiver down the spine – under cover of an apparently fawning review he gently sticks the knife in.

First of all he lists all of Dave’s projects that have died a death and now feel like a lifetime ago – “the long term economic plan; deficit control; coalition with the Lib Dems; the Big Society; education reform; Tory modernisation; vote blue to go green; hug a hoodie…” It’s half wistful, half cleverly designed to draw attention to the fact that while Cameron’s life has been on hold ever since, stuck in “a kind of purgatory” as George describes it sympathetically, Osborne has most definitely Moved On. ...  Continue reading

by Elizabeth Oldfield
Thursday, 19
September 2019

A timely defence of “stubborn gladness”

Am I allowed to feel joyful? It's an argument I often have with myself. This new book of poems by Christian Wiman helps point to an answer...

Am I allowed to feel joyful? It’s an argument I often have with myself. And I recently found a book that has helped crystallise my inner debate. Christian Wiman, a lauded American poet, has collected his favourite poems on the subject but it is no “Little Book of Joy”, designed to cheer us up while defecating. On the contrary, in his opening essay he wrestles seriously with my question. Like him, saturated in the increasingly horrifying news cycle, I too often react to the idea of joy with affront:

Ruined migrants spilling over borders, rabid politicians frothing for power, terrorists detonating their own insides like terrible literal metaphors for an entire time gone wrong — ‘how with this rage shall beauty hold a plea’, as Shakespeare, staring down his own age’s accelerating grimace, wondered.
- Christian Wiman, JOY
 ...  Continue reading

by Paul Embery
Thursday, 19
September 2019

You wouldn’t think it, but David Lammy was once a thoughtful MP

Lammy’s meltdown over Brexit, his descent into the worst kind of racial politics.

There was a time when David Lammy wasn’t the provocative rabble-rouser that he is today. Elected as the MP for Tottenham at a by-election in 2000, Lammy spent the first 16 years of his parliamentary career as a thoughtful, measured public servant – someone who was prepared to defy conventional wisdom and challenge orthodox liberal thinking.

David Lammy at a pro-EU rally on September 4th 2019

His stock rose particularly during the 2011 riots, which were sparked by the death of Mark Duggan in his own constituency. Lammy did not fall into the trap of excusing the mob violence. “Just because you’re poor doesn’t mean you can’t know the moral difference between what is right and wrong,” he said at the time. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Wednesday, 18
September 2019

Tucker Carlson: America’s most important pundit

Here’s a rare “Question to which the Answer Is Yes” in a headline. In The New York Magazine Park MacDougald asks ‘Is Tucker Carlson the Most Important Pundit in America?’

It’s not just that the Fox host has the ear of the US President, but that he’s at the very centre of the conservative zeitgeist.

More than anything, he espouses the Middle American radicalism that John Judis, writing in 2016, identified as the ideological core of Trumpism. Middle American radicals (MARs) are neither fully liberal nor conservative but a blend of the two, mixing populist economics and a hostility to big business with intense nationalism, right-wing positions on race and immigration, and a desire for strong presidential leadership. Their animating idea is that the broad (and implicitly white) middle of American society — those Carlson referred to, in a podcast interview with Ben Shapiro, as people with “100 IQs making 80 grand a year” — is besieged on two sides, by a corrupt elite above it and a grasping underclass below. 
- Park MacDougald
 ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Wednesday, 18
September 2019

Report: Anarchists vs centrists is the new Left vs Right

Today the Social Market Foundation launched a report that claims to reveal an unrecognised but “critical” dimension of politics:

…while there is a clear ‘Left-Right’ dimension to the structure of the ideologies in the data, there is also another critical dimension at play. This is apparent in two ideological clusters that are defined by low confidence in societal institutions such as parliaments, major companies and the press… Based on their low trust in institutions we label these types as ‘anarchists’.
- Mirko Draca
Credit: Social Market Foundation

They then explain that by “anarchist” they’re not referring to “a particular strand of radical, syndicalist politics” but to “the questioning of existing institutions that is characteristic of current populist politics.”

The authors are right to identify trust versus mistrust in the establishment as an important dividing line in our troubled politics. However, the labels used – “anarchist”, and the opposing “centrist” – is misleading. ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Wednesday, 18
September 2019

Miranda Green’s tough love for the Lib Dems

A final word on the Liberal Democrats, from the FT’s Miranda Green. Formerly Paddy Ashdown’s press secretary, she had some tough words to share at a IPPR/UK in a Changing Europe fringe event packed with Lib Dem activists.

“What happened to the Liberal Democrats as the rational party? What of the Lib Dems as a gathering point? And the principle of compromise, where we learn to live together?”

“I am very worried about the Lib Dems ending up on one side of a polarised culture war, representing urban areas, the educated, the young, the prosperous etc.”

“This is a decision taken for election time. It’s not a decision taken in a calm, rational, what’s-best-for-the-country way.” ...  Continue reading

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