Brexit could leave Britain with the worst of both worlds

Norwegian daily VG 6 June, 2016

Never since the German attack on Norway in 1940 destroyed Neville Chamberlain’s premiership and brought Winston Churchill to power, has your country been so discussed in Britain. Supporters of Britain staying in the EU warn of Norway’s ‘fax democracy’. The ‘leave’ campaign denounce Norwegian politicians who tell us about the dangers of following the Norwegian example, as liars bought with EU gold.

There has been propaganda from both sides, of course, but the sheer lack of substance behind the ‘leave’ campaign is stunning. The right-wing politicians, who dominate the anti-European cause, want the British to take an extraordinarily important decision. Yet they offer us no coherent plan about what we should do if we leave the EU.
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Rainbow coalitions can never win

Standpoint April 2016
You have to go back to Victorian England to find a match for the neurotic prudishness of contemporary culture. The BBC refuses to call Islamic State “Islamic State”, even though “Islamic State in the Levant” is its name. Instead of reporting neutrally, the broadcaster breaks its own rules against editorialising by pretending that religious terror has nothing to do with religion and calling it “so-called Islamic State”, to avoid offence.

The BBC is hardly alone. Everyone everywhere apologises to everyone else. Everyone demands the banning of everyone else. Societies where citizens bite their tongues and retract honestly-meant statements are neither particularly free nor particularly happy. And I don’t think our one will last. Continue reading

The Left could take us out of Europe

Europe has opened up an unbridgeable chasm in the Conservative party. Labour remains, near as dammit, united. On the EU referendum, an opposition accustomed to defeat has a rare chance of victory. Yet when Jeremy Corbyn makes the case for staying in he speaks without conviction. Like a man called into work on his day off, his weary expression and dispirited voice tell you he would rather be somewhere else. Tory MPs, so divided that it is hard to see how they can stay in the same party, unite in laughing at him.

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Four rules for stylish writing


Arguments about grammar should be arguments about style. I do not claim to be anything more than a competent writer. On the rare occasions when I have written a book or article that does not make me shudder on re-reading, I have followed my own style guidelines, which may help you to decide when you should stick by the “rules” of English and when you should ignore them.

Carry on reading

If you are so rich, how come you are so left wing?


A few days ago the Telegraph revealed that the leader of Momentum was – inevitably – the privately educated son of a property tycoon, whose father had the wealth to fund a home in Primrose Hill, a wife, children, and allegedly a couple of mistresses on the side.

I shared the news on social media, because I have met and disliked too many of his kind. The complaints began at once. I should not judge a man by his background. He did not choose his parents. What matters are James Schneider’s beliefs. It is where you are going which counts, not where you come from. And so on.

And on.

The easy response was to say that, as Schneider’s beliefs must lead to a purge of the Labour party on behalf of the fag end of British Leninism, they provide a sufficiently target-rich environment. Continue reading

Political correctness is the enemy of art


This is a version of a speech I made to the No Boundaries conference at the Bristol Watershed Theatre on how censorship affects the arts, museums and libraries.

The organisers asked me to talk about political correctness and the arts; a touchy subject which requires enormous sensitivity to the feelings of others, and long, thoughtful discussions of whether we should use the term ‘political correctness’ at all. Unfortunately, they continued, you have only 10 minutes and there will be no time for any of that. You will just have to get on with it.

So forgive me if I belt out arguments like a machine gun, but I must get on. Continue reading