From Standpoint March 2016
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.
Standpoint April 2016
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
From the Observer 25 March 2016
t is easy to see how Boris Johnson could be prime minister by the autumn. “Leave” wins, and David Cameron resigns. We already know that a majority of the 140,000 or so Conservative party members, who will decide the government of a country of 64 million, back him. Give them the chance, and they will put him in Downing Street.
If countries get the politicians they deserve, the possibility of a Johnson premiership suggests that the British are now a nation of charlatans. Continue reading
From the Observer 19 March 2016
It took me 40 years to become a Jew. When I was a child, I wasn’t a Jew and not only because I never went to a synagogue. My father’s family had abandoned their religion so he wasn’t Jewish. More to the point, my mother and my grandmother weren’t Jewish either, so according to orthodox Judaism’s principles of matrilineal descent, it was impossible for me to be a Jew.
All I had was the “Cohen” name. I once asked my parents why they had not changed it. After saying, quite rightly, that you should never seek to appease racists, they confessed to thinking that antisemitism was over by the 1960s. After Hitler, humanity would surely see where the world’s most insane hatred led and resolve to put it to one side.
Bertolt Brecht said: “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
My parents did not believe Brecht, at least not in the 1960s. Nor did I for a while. I Continue reading
Spectator 18 February 2016
The Euston Manifesto appears a noble failure. It was clear in 2006 that the attempt to revive left-wing support for internationalism, democracy and universal human rights did not have a strong chance of success. Looking back a decade on, it seems doomed from the start. The tyrannical habits of mind it condemned were breaking out across the left in 2006. They are everywhere now. They define the Labour Party and most of what passes for intellectual left-wing life in the 21st century.
To take the manifesto’s first statement of principle: the left should be ‘committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures’. An easy statement to agree with, I hear you say. Not so easy when the leader of the opposition, feted by his supporters as the most ‘left-wing’ in Labour’s history, will excuse dictatorial regimes or movements, however reactionary, if and only if, they are anti-West.