breaking news from the world of ideas

by Peter Franklin
Tuesday, 12
May 2020

Are the young turning into progressive authoritarians?

Are “authoritarian states better equipped than democracies to tackle the climate crisis?”

Astonishingly, 53% of young Europeans (aged 16-29) seem to think so. This compares to 42% for the 30-49 age group and just 35% for the 50-69 age group.

These figures come from a poll conducted by the Bertelsmann Foundation for the Europe’s Stories project at Oxford University. The project’s leader, Timothy Garton Ash, contrasts this against another finding which was that an “astonishing 71% of Europeans are now in favour of introducing a universal basic income”:

What kind of historical moment will this turn out to be, for Europe and the world? It could lead us to the best of times. It could lead us to the worst of times.
- Timothy Garton Ash

Garton Ash wasn’t the only one to be both delighted and dismayed by the poll results. For instance, here’s a reaction from Rutger Bregman, the Left-wing intellectual of the moment: ...  Continue reading

by Mary Harrington
Tuesday, 12
May 2020

Memo to the Government: we don’t all live in zones 1 to 4

Transport minister Grant Shapps has suggested that even with increased levels of service, social distancing will so radically cut public transport capacity that commuters should walk or cycle to work wherever possible.

Shapps’ utterance has been pilloried for its apparent assumption that everyone lives within London zones 1 to 4. But dig a little deeper and it offers a glimpse of the Tories’ most painful Achilles heel, at the intersection of growth, environment and the housing crisis.

When the pandemic passes, the party will face renewed demands to do the usual Tory thing and deliver a growing or at least not-too-horribly mangled economy. Additionally, it will have to be capable of raising sufficient tax receipts to service the staggering levels of pandemic-related borrowing. They must also ensure more homes are built or risk seeing the housing crisis destroy the Tory voter base. But this must all be achieved without touching house prices or the green belt, while making progress toward net zero carbon emissions. Successive governments have (to say the least) struggled to address these conflicting priorities. ...  Continue reading

by Mary Dejevsky
Monday, 11
May 2020

Is Boris extending an olive branch to Putin?

Russia’s Victory Day — the day after VE Day — could have presented the UK Prime Minister with a dilemma. Vladimir Putin was planning a huge Red Square parade and had hoped for a full-court turn-out of foreign leaders to banish memories of the Western boycott five years earlier in protest at Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

President Macron was expected to attend as the self-appointed leader of efforts to open a new European dialogue with Russia. Donald Trump might have been there. But what was Boris Johnson to do, with the shadow of the Salisbury poisoning still hanging over UK-Russia relations, but “global Britain” the watchword for foreign policy post-Brexit? In the end, both Trump and Johnson were spared any decision. Coronavirus put paid not only to foreign travel, but to Moscow’s parade, too. ...  Continue reading

by Julie Bindel
Monday, 11
May 2020

Why are we placing high-risk trans sex offenders in women’s prisons?

Female prisoners are some of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised women on the planet. Most have suffered some type of male violence and end up in prison as a result of chaotic behaviour and substance abuse, which stems from childhood sexual abuse and neglect. Disproportionate numbers have been through the care system.

The women’s estate is the poor relative of the men’s, with far fewer resources. Why was the first dedicated wing set up to contain high-risk sex transgender offenders placed in a female rather than male prison? E Wing in Downview Prison, Surrey, was set up in the wake of the Karen White scandal. E Wing prisoners sleep and shower separately from the women but are allowed to mix with the female population during some leisure activities. Why could E Wing not have been set up in the men’s estate? ...  Continue reading

by Giles Fraser
Monday, 11
May 2020

‘Stay alert’ is not precise — but it is meaningful

“Let me be perfectly clear”. Whenever a politician says that, I inwardly groan and tune out. Because I know what comes next — a word salad of precise sounding official-speak, usually intoned with mock seriousness and the sort of slow patronising lilt that you might use to address a recalcitrant five year old.

But what “being clear” is all about isn’t always a straightforward matter. For instance, a word can be both perfectly clear and yet also imprecise. If I describe someone as a “tall man” there is nothing unclear about what I am saying, despite the fact that I am unable to give you a precise definition of where short gives way to tall. ...  Continue reading

by UnHerd
Friday, 8
May 2020

Newsnight turns Covid-sceptic

An investigation by the BBC flagship current affairs programme into the projections of mass fatalities that led to the lockdowns was strikingly sceptical.

We couldn’t help noticing the lengthy legalese statement from Imperial that Emma Barnett read out at the end — seems like that institution is alert to the potential reputational damage that this ongoing story could have.

Have a watch.

by Giles Fraser
Friday, 8
May 2020

How much is a human life worth?

Reactions to Russell Lynch’s column in the Telegraph were as angry as they were predictable. “The cost of saving lives in this lockdown is too high” was the headline, under which the Telegraph’s economics editor proceeded to offer a cost-benefit analysis on the saving of human life.

Apparently, the Treasury works on the view that a human life is worth £2 million. This is the so-called VPF — the value of a prevented fatality. Mr Lynch argued that this was too high. And he brought in Mervyn King, former government of the Bank of England, to bolster his argument. King said:

The younger generations have suffered in the last 20 years. Why on earth is our future being put at stake in order to help prolong life expectancy of older people, whose life expectancy will not be very high in any event?
- Mervyn King

My own reaction to reading Lynch’s column was coloured by my just having finished watching the latest Fauda series on Netflix. This popular drama follows the work of Israeli special forces as they struggle to free a young girl kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists and taken to Gaza. And without giving too much away, suffice to say that the price of trying to get her back is particularly high, both in terms of human life and indeed, in terms of recourses. ...  Continue reading

by Nicholas Boys Smith
Thursday, 7
May 2020

To the cafe tables, comrades — bring on the al fresco revolution

Normal is broken. When it comes to shops or restaurants, those calling on the Government to ‘end the lockdown’ are missing the point. The problem won’t be the government lockdown. It will be fear. Will anyone who is old or sick or not had the dreaded virus want to wander down high streets and into corner shops? Will they ever go to restaurants again?

If they do, will they accept being cramped elbow to elbow in the way that is now common to squeeze in covers and manage the rent. Even shops and restaurants which can re-open may rapidly go to hell in a handcart.

But here’s the good news. Across Northern Europe over the last 20 years, cities with climates every bit as inclement as ours have been finding a simple way to help become more pleasant, more prosperous and yes, more economically successful places. ...  Continue reading

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