by James Billot
Monday, 9
December 2019

Are the Tories now the Social Democrats?

The centre-Left in the UK has taken on a very different form

Social democracy is in retreat. In the past two weeks alone, two left-wingers have taken over the German SDP and Romania’s SD Party suffered its worst electoral defeat ever.

So why have voters deserted social democrats and how could they be won back? At a Civitas talk on Friday, Labour Leaver and avowed social democrat John Mills had some suggestions:

“We have got to get the economy performing better and get the growth rate up to a better level. We need to avoid a situation where wages stagnate. Secondly, as long as we have a deficit of a £100bn a year, we are never going to get the government finances under control. We also need to reindustrialise the economy – that doesn’t mean we need to go back to the 1970s, but I think we need to get manufacturing back to 15%.”
- John Mills

It is a peculiar trend in today’s politics that as the Tories move to the Left on borrowing and spending, what remains of the centre-Left is running to the Right on the same issue. Indeed, John Mills’ talk of economic growth, deficit reduction and the 1970s sound more like something out of the 2015 Conservative Manifesto than any kind of social democratic platform. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 9
December 2019

Why chess embodies the Christmas spirit

My Confession with grandmaster Jonathan Rowson got at what Advent should really be about

I wanted to interview Jonathan Rowson for Confessions because he says such interesting things about concentration. As a chess grandmaster, you would expect as much. And in an age of constant distraction with mobile phones and advertising constantly jostling for our headspace, the need for us to separate ourselves from so much noise pollution is more pressing than ever — especially at this time of year. “Concentration is freedom,” he says. Sounds a little bit like prayer to me.

The political philosopher Matthew B Crawford begins his extraordinary take on the importance of concentration in The World Beyond Your Head by reflecting upon the way we are bombarded with attention-demanding TV screens and notice-me signs at airports — and where the only place to escape all this digital technology shouting ‘over here’ is in the quiet of the first-class lounge. His point is that the ability to concentrate has become a luxury item, a matter of privilege, a class issue. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Monday, 9
December 2019
Seen Elsewhere

Stop comparing Boris to Trump

The Prime Minister has always had a liberal streak — unlike his American counterpart

American coverage of British politics has become noticeably dreadful since 2016, so it’s always worth reading the incomparable Andrew Sullivan. Here the Sussex-born writer is repeating the theme he mentioned in last week’s podcast with Giles Fraser, that Boris Johnson is not remotely like Donald Trump and is, in fact, a liberal:

- Andrew Sullivan
“Back in 2003, Johnson was one of a handful of Tories who rebelled against Conservative Party policy, voting for an end to the Thatcherite ban on teaching about homosexuality in state schools. Like many pols, he couldn’t handle marriage equality at first, but then he adjusted, becoming in 2010 one of the first senior Tory politicians to entertain it. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Saturday, 7
December 2019
Weekend read

Competing visions for our brave, new intangible world

Two articles point to some of the thorniest issues we face in the networked age

Two competing visions of the future in this week’s bumper weekend long read double bill. Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake in City Journal propose ‘An Agenda for the Intangible Economy’ in which they outline the transformative impact of a new economy focusing not on physical goods but on ‘intangibles’ such as R&D, brands and ideas. In Jacobin, Meagan Day interviews Bernie Sanders campaign surrogate and UCal professor Ramesh Srinavasan, author of several books on big tech and community-driven alternatives.

The ‘intangible economy’, per Haskel and Westlake, comprises new offerings that leverage networks, data and the ‘internet of things’ to thread traditional sectors (such as restaurants) with new and unexpected channels such as ‘dark kitchens’, table-free restaurants where food orders can be placed online and then delivered to your door. ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Friday, 6
December 2019
Seen Elsewhere

Labour plans to squeeze out religious education

The manifesto pledge to reconsider RE classes is part of a grander plan

The closest I have ever been to religious fundamentalism was at university when I flirted with being a member of the Socialist Workers Party. We would stand on street corners alongside other more obviously religious evangelists. Like them, we would have our core texts from which we drew inspiration. And like them we would insist upon doctrinal purity — which would sometimes tip over into a kind of heresy hunting. Marxism a jealous god, and looks with barely concealed hostility on other creeds and their followers.

Which is why I share the suspicion of the blogger Archbishop Cranmer when he points out that the Labour Manifesto can be read as seeking to downgrade the place that Christianity has in our education system. At present, the law states that: ...  Continue reading

by Freddie Sayers
Friday, 6
December 2019

Finally! The Swedish ‘moderates’ agree to work with the populists

The only way for populist movements to mature is to let them in

The Swedish Moderate party have dropped their ban on working with the far-right Swedish Democrats, and have already met them to discuss co-operation on immigration, law and order and energy policy.

Finally! The situation in Sweden recently, where a successful political party that represents more than 20% of voters’ views has been frozen out of discussions with other parties because their views were deemed deplorable, has been obviously counter-productive. It is literally a core part of every populist’s appeal that the ‘establishment’ is conspiring to keep them outside the room — in this case it was true. ...  Continue reading

by Ed West
Thursday, 5
December 2019

The Lib Dems should have got my vote, but they won’t

It’s the Alien v Predator v Terminator election – whoever wins, we lose

I used to enjoy general elections but, I suppose like Bond films, they’re those big national events that just get less inspiring the older you get. The day after the surprise 2015 result was the funniest in social media history; I actually had a side I wanted to win and we did, luckily avoiding those years of chaos under Ed Miliband.

Now, I think like a lot of people, I just feel there are different variations of terrible; the Conservative slogan, “Get Brexit Done”, works a couple of times because that’s how a lot of people reluctantly feel, but after a while it just inspires a sense of gloom, because it won’t just be done. It’ll still drag on. Corbyn winning would be genuinely catastrophic and even the fact that half of the people in my city will vote for the man fills with me with despair. ...  Continue reading

by Peter Franklin
Thursday, 5
December 2019
Seen Elsewhere

Who is the world’s most typical person?

The answer might be very different in 100 years' time

That’s the fascinating question that Tyler Cowen asks in a brilliant piece for Bloomberg. And this is his answer:

“I… nominate a 30-year-old Cebu mother as the epicenter of human existence.”

Cebu City is a community of about a million people in the central Philippines. It’s not a familiar name in the West, but then the West is highly atypical of humanity.

Much more representative are places like Cebu — one of hundreds of rapidly growing cities in the increasingly urbanised developing world:

” … the most typical place should have an income not too far from the world’s median. According to Gallup, world median household income was almost $10,000 in 2013 (though it is by now somewhat higher). The average family income in the Philippines is about $5,340 at current exchange rates, but as a major city Cebu is richer, and at any rate life is especially cheap in the Philippines.

“The world’s most typical place also should have a fairly high degree of income inequality, and Cebu does. There are gleaming shopping malls and skyscrapers, but also considerable poverty.”

- Tyler Cowen

The city is getting richer thanks to new industries like business outsourcing — helped by the fact that English is widely spoken. ...  Continue reading