Students may not appreciate it, but there is an advantage in not having to pay upfront for their education or on taking their chances with the ration system direct state funding would bring. “Student loans” and “student debt” are misleading terms. In reality, graduates must pay an additional tax only when their annual income reaches £21,000. If it does, they are liable. If it does not, the taxpayer, who funded their courses, must bear the loss. Today’s young have more chances to fulfil their ambitions than any generation in history. But here’s the rub. The true scandal in higher education is that only a minority, perhaps a tiny minority, ever will.
Degree misselling is just as widespread as financial misselling, but no admissions tutor is ever arrested, and no university is ever forced to repay the money it has taken from the taxpayer or graduate. Because universities take no risks, they can recruit with abandon and condemn thousands of young people a year to disappointment.
The approval of former MI6 agent John le Carré has not guaranteed the authenticity of the BBC’s dramatisation of The Night Manager. Those who know about the Middle East could barely make it through the first episode. Continue reading →
After the massacres in Paris on November 13, the US Secretary of State John Kerry made a statement so disgraceful you had to read it, rub your eyes, and read it again to comprehend the extent of his folly: “There’s something different about what happened from Charlie Hebdo, and I think everybody would feel that,” Kerry began in the laboured English of an over-promoted middle manager.
“There was a sort of particularised focus and perhaps even a legitimacy in terms of — not a legitimacy, but a rationale that you could attach yourself to somehow and say, OK, they’re really angry because of this and that. This Friday was absolutely indiscriminate. It wasn’t to aggrieve one particular sense of wrong. It was to terrorise people.”
I have written before that the period after 9/11 has been a strange and neurotic time in Europe and North America. On the one hand, everyone knew that a murderously reactionary ideology mandated vast slaughter. On the other, actual Islamist slaughters were rare. Until the two assaults on Paris this year, there were just two large attacks since 9/11 on the rich world: in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005. Fear of violence without the experience of violence produces the ideal conditions for appeasement. You can imagine your own deaths and the deaths of those you love. But death never comes. You are not provoked into retaliation, but instead are overwhelmed by the desire to avoid danger by excusing and indulging. No one in Pakistan or Nigeria could engage in the wishful thinking of John Kerry. Only the nervous peace of a phoney war could produce the thought that we could have it all ways. We could carry on being good liberals respecting the rights of women and homosexuals, believing in freedom of speech and of religion, while conceding miles of ground to men who were against every liberal and democratic principle we avowed. As much as the admirable and essential desire to prevent our fellow citizens suffering anti-Muslim bigotry, as much as the narcissistic desire to indulge in Western guilt, the basic desire to save our skins and calm our fears has shaped contemporary culture.
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour’s pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings during General Election campaigning.
I first saw Ed Miliband at the launch of a new book by Will Hutton. It was the autumn of 2010, and he had just become Labour’s leader. The party was full of leftish writers, who might be expected to help and support Miliband. But he didn’t want to charm them, or work the room and meet and greet. He just stood there awkward and alone. “Whatever his other qualities,” I thought, “this man isn’t a politician.” Continue reading →
If you want to see the future of online news and entertainment, look at the Mail and see a future neither the Mail nor its enemies want.
If Labour is not in power after the general election, you will hear many leftists blaming the Mail for their defeat. For more than a century, they say, it has pumped out thuggish attacks against every prominent liberal and leftist, and injected its particular venom—a paranoid poison—into wider debate. To its conservative readers, by contrast, the Mail is their shield against a world that would ignore their wishes, take their money and laugh at their convictions.
The state intervenes when the principles of a liberal society collapse. Usually it blunders in. Invariably it destroys basic freedoms. No one except the most blinkered supporters of authoritarian government can predict with confidence that its “crackdowns” and “emergency measures” will make our lives better or safer. But there you are. When supposedly good and responsible people fail to police themselves, the government will summon the real police to do the job for them.
For years, a dizzying gulf has stretched between the principles most good and responsible liberals say they hold — beliefs in reasoned argument, democracy, and equal rights for women, gays and people of all colours and creeds — and their practical failure to oppose radical Islam. A few of us tried to persuade them to mean what they say and behave accordingly. Some of us have stayed on the Left. Others have given up on what looks an irredeemably compromised movement and attacked liberal-left orthodoxy from the right. I will not pretend that any of us have had a great deal of success.
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light,” said Max Planck, “but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
I thought that liberal values would only creep forward at the Planckian pace of “one funeral at a time”, and we would have to wait for the current generation of liberal-leftists to die out before we saw progress. I forgot that outsiders can impose changes insiders refuse to contemplate.