Monthly Archives: November 2013

Boris Johnson’s speech on Wednesday night to the Centre for Policy Studies is receiving attention for his comments on cornflakes. In a robust defence of free market capitalism, the London mayor argued that it is the only way to ensure cornflakes, a metaphor for humans, can “rustle and hustle their way to the top”. As ever, it is a rollicking read, perhaps the best recent defence of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy. As ever, on display is a rare example of honest vibrancy in a politician’s language. And as ever, Mr Johnson shows a tendency to come empirically adrift on a sea of his own loquacity. Read more

One of the assumptions politicians seem to make about migration is that promises to be tough and that they Share Your Concern will mollify public opinion. However, if anything, they can provoke public antipathy, according to pollsters. This is surely even more the case when policies are not seen to be working.

I worry about a vicious circle: public say they’re angry at immigration –> politicians say they’re doing something –> public gets worked up –> policy doesn’t or cannot work –> public gets even more angry and thinks it is being lied to. (Or something like that. There is probably a point when policy wonks point out the aggregate gains to migration.) Read more

One of the many popular myths about immigration is that politicians ignore the issue. On the contrary, they cannot talk enough about how they Share Your Concerns. In this morning’s FT, David Cameron Shares His Concern in a 1000 word op-ed. It has been met with the predictable fiery reactions from all sides of the debate. Read more

In 1975, the student rector of Edinburgh university wrote:

“Scottish socialists cannot support a strategy for independence which postpones the meeting of urgent social and economic needs until the day after independence. But neither can they give unconditional support to maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom – and all that that entails – without any guarantee of radical social change”.

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Britons are having less but more varied sex, according to the third installment of a large-scale national survey published today by the Lancet medical journal.

Compared with results from the first and second surveys, which were based on interviews conducted in 1990-91 and 1999-2001 respectively, the likelihood of respondents saying they had sex in the past four weeks (a tried-and-tested research question) decreased significantly. In part, this reflects changes in demographics over the period, for example more single person households. Read more

The Scottish National party today launched its white paper for an independent Scotland. It takes the form of a 670 page collection of FAQs, which on the face of it is more suggestive of a complicated electrical appliance than a manifesto for a new nation. Nevertheless, this is a historic and important moment in the history of Scotland. Read more

George Osborne has told the Today programme that he has asked the Financial Conduct Authority to use its powers to cap “the overall cost of credit” for payday loans, once the new regulator takes over responsibility for the industry in April.  Read more

Toronto may have a crack-smoking, citizen-baiting mayor whose chubby recalcitrance has caught the world’s attention but it remains the best city to be young. That at least is the finding of a new report from Youthful Cities, a (cough) Toronto-based organisation which has ranked 25 of the world’s big cities by their supposed youth-friendliness.  Read more

The news of three women held captive in south London for 30 years is a horrific reminder of the existence of modern slavery. That one woman reportedly spent her whole life as a slave suggests a trauma hitherto imaginable only via fiction. And that she was a UK citizen – the other two women were Irish and Malaysian – is a sign that the common perception of human trafficking as only an immigration issue needs updating. Modern slavery is a crime that can take place exclusively in one country. Read more

Those who say that nothing good happens after 2 a.m. have never been on a London night bus. During the day buses are ploughs, dragging their way through congested fields. But after midnight they can be louche locomotives.

On board there are the familiar smells of take-aways and broken dreams. But at least on the N38, my chosen wagon, there is also evidence of the great bustling mess of this wonderful city. Couples, whether together for hours or years, huddle together. Occasionally, a story can be heard amid a cacophony of foreign languages. Someone will always thinks it is a good idea to start singing. Of course, at times the night bus can resemble a travelling circus of all that the tabloids say is wrong with modern Britain. But more often I find it a chance to see London afresh, as a woozy dreamscape. Unlike many on board the N38, the city looks good at 3 a.m. Read more

A day late but in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, here are a couple of slides from Edward Tufte’s masterful satire on PowerPoint. Read more

In Britain we are used to talking about class and identity. Perhaps we also thought we’d put generational conflict behind us in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet while the cultural divide between generations has narrowed the economic divide has grown wider, as Mr Willetts and others have shown. As Robert Putnam has shown in the US context, this can have a detrimental affect on social trust. And as Finkelstein reminds us, it is the attitudes of today’s young people that will one day form the core beliefs of those on power. Read more

An independent Scotland would have to dramatically cut public spending or raise taxes, according to a report out today from the Institute for Fiscal Studies. As ever in the McPanglossian world of the Scottish referendum, the No side is saying this new evidence is further proof of the need for union, while the Yes camp is arguing that this is precisely why Scotland needs autonomy. Read more

In an interview with the Telegraph, Paul Skyes, a eurosceptic businessman who claims he spent nearly £5m campaigning against Britain joining the single currency, announces he is now “going to roll some guns out” for the United Kingdom Independence party. Mr Skyes, who interestingly insists “I am not in party politics,” will fund Nigel Farage’s party ahead of the European parliament elections, where UKIp is forecast to receive the most votes. Read more

Urban planning in the later 19th and 20th centuries could be considered a story of two utopias. The first was the garden city movement, which was opposed to urban sprawl, sceptical of central government, fond of local democracy and encouraging of private capital. The second was the modernism of some post-war planners, which favoured large and often tall estates in the heart of cities, or New Towns just outside, both funded by central government. This is a crude distinction but a genuine one, and its story is told well by David Kynaston in Austerity Britain, among other books. In general, conservatives are more likely to become misty-eyed about tales of Letchworth and Weleyn Garden Cities, while those on the left extol the virtues of new towns such as Milton Keynes. Read more

The supermarket self-checkout machine might look harmless but there is danger amid the bleeps. If it is not accusing the humble shopper of errant barcode scanning, inaccurate citrus fruit selections or placing unidentified items in the baggage area, then it is helping to transform the composition of the labour market. Read more

The idea that the UK government changed the date of its Autumn statement to fit with Chinese plans hurt is an understandable source of hurt for little England, even if it is quite funny to think that some people believe it is a cup final day in the political calendar rather than a hastily arranged pre-season friendly dating back to the last government. But the idea that David Cameron should not go to China at all, as Simon Jenkins argues in today’s Guardian; well that’s a good one. Read more

The South Norfolk Conservative Association’s annual dinner sounds like an event made for Alan Partridge but it is that other 1990s’ star, Sir John Major, who on Friday used it to capture the headlines. “In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. To me from my background, I find that truly shocking”, the former prime minister said. Read more

David Cameron announced the figures in the Sun, which shows a picture of him next to a snap of Margaret Thatcher promoting her Right to Buy scheme. It should not take too long to figure out the prime minister’s preferred interpretation of the first figures relating to the mortgage guarantee scheme: the only bubble Help to Buy is inflating is one of happiness in the hearts of ordinary people. Read more

In a departure from spouting errant Social Darwinist nonsense, Ernest Renan said that a nation depends for its survival on a “daily referendum”. The nineteenth century French historian meant that a country is no more and no less than an expression of collective identity. When that idea goes, so does the nation. Read more