Culture

On Tuesday, Members of Parliament will cast a free vote in the House of Commons on whether to allow the licensing of a procedure known variously as “mitochondrial donation”, “mitochondrial replacement therapy” (MRT) and “three-person IVF”.

A yes vote could lead to hundreds of babies born every year who would otherwise suffer from mitochondrial diseases such as Muscular Dystrophy. Mitochondria, often referred to as the “power stations” of our cells, contain maternal DNA which is passed from mother to child. When faulty mitochondria are passed on they can cause premature muscle wasting, brain damage and other ailments which sometimes only become apparent in later life. However, techniques developed at Newcastle university can remove healthy nuclei (from the embryo or the mother’s egg) from cells with defective mitochondria and place them in cells with healthy mitochondria.  Read more

Last year, the United Kingdom Independence party won more votes than any other party in Britain’s European elections. It bested the Liberal Democrats in the local elections that took place the same day. But Nigel Farage’s outfit performed poorly in England’s big cities. It won no council seats, for example, in inner London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Ukip’s urban tally was a sign of an increasingly important divide between cities and the rest of England.

That urban and rural areas have different politics isn’t of course a new observation. Tory-Whig parliamentary battles were often proxies for conflicting views between landed gentry and city dwellers. More recently, Labour has dominated northern cities and the Conservatives have won the rural south with similarly huge margins.

What is new is how big cities – especially their cores – are once again expanding and, in doing so, taking on a clearer liberal identity. Cities is where Britain’s open and cosmopolitan outlook is most apparent. But politics has so far failed to catch up. Read more

‘We love our city and belong to it. Neither of us are English; we’re Londoners, you see,” wrote Hanif Kureishi in his screenplay for Sammy and Rosie Get Laid. The film touches on a theme that has become even more powerful since its 1987 release – the idea that to be a Londoner is to transcend nationhood and, in particular, Englishness. Economically and financially, London has diverged from the rest of the country. Culturally and politically, there are signs that its 7.8m inhabitants are doing the same.
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According to the old saw, the past is a different country. But different countries are keener on their pasts than others, as this chart from IpsosMori suggests:

This is one of many fascinating findings in the pollster’s Global Trends Survey, an annual report produced from samples from 20 countries. One theme that emerges is the divergence between the US and China on issues such as how keen people are to embrace new technology, new brands, and how optimistic they are for the next generation. In general, China is looking forward while the US is looking back. Read more

Buried in a folder somewhere in my flat is a piece of paper certifying that I am not a sex offender. During university holidays I worked for a charity that tries to help young people with learning disabilities. Before I could start I had to be approved by Disclosure Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish government that maintains lists of people banned from working with children and disabled people, and advises organisations so they can “make safer and more informed recruitment decisions”.

I worked with children who had, inter alia, Down’s syndrome, autism and Asperger’s syndrome. As well as helping to run a summer school, I worked one-on-one with children in an effort to improve their confidence, learning and health. Giving parents a break was part of the job, as was taking advantage of Edinburgh’s cultural and sporting highlights. My work took me all over the capital. Physical contact was unavoidable – for example, when crossing busy roads. Some of the children I worked with liked to go swimming and some would need help getting changed. Parents needed to trust me to take care of their vulnerable children in vulnerable situations. Read more

Are we applying tougher criteria for what it means to be British? Data released on Tuesday by the British Social Attitudes Survey and NatCen suggest this is the case. It points to an increase in the number of people saying that others must speak English to be considered truly British. An article on the BSAS in the Times says that attitudes show a “hardening towards multiculturalism”. The BBC’s interpretation is similar. But before we decry the rise of little Englandism, let’s look closely at the data. This is particularly important given the ongoing, heated debate on “Britishness”.  Read more

Not content with writing brilliantly about one wizard, JK Rowling has blogged about Alex Salmond. In a post on her website the Harry Potter author explains why she is donating £1m to the No campaign – and will be voting against Scottish independence.

I encourage anyone interested in the referendum on Scottish independence to read Ms Rowling. She expresses more clearly than most unionists the idea that patriotism is compatible with scepticism of independence. Ms Rowling may also help to explain why the Yes campaign is struggling to convince women. Hers is a proud, quiet and pragmatic defence of Scotland within the UK, one that will chime with many voters.  Read more

With the honourable exception of the pupils who have to take their GCSEs in a climate of ill-informed hysteria, there is something for everyone in the Birmingham schools story. It is evidence of too much and too little central control. Religious schools are part of the problem and part of the solution. Responses by politicians tell us something (or nothing) about the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour.

On Monday, Ofsted published details of its inspections of 21 schools in and around Birmingham. The schools inspector found five of the schools to be “inadequate”, its lowest of four possible overall ratings. Deploying various euphemisms about a lack of “safeguarding” and failures in “governance”, Ofsted alleges that it discovered evidence that pupils were being exposed to extreme Islamic views, or at the very least, that they were not being encouraged to be tolerant. In some cases it received evidence from teachers who said that incompetent school governors with radical views were playing increasingly influential roles in the running of the school. Read more

“Devolution will be and is the salvation of the UK”, Tony Blair said in 1999. Fifteen years later, as Scotland prepares to vote in the referendum on its independence, some might say devolution will be turn out to be Britain’s downfall. But that is not stopping politicians from giving the former prime minister’s gambit another try.

On Monday, the Conservatives became the third of the three main Westminster parties to publish proposals for powers that could be devolved to Scotland in the case of a No vote on September 18. In part this is belated realpolitik. Further devolution, rather than independence or the status quo, is not on the ballot paper. In hindsight, Prime Minister David Cameron may come to see that decision as myopic. It is an option that remains popular with Scottish voters, as politicians from both sides know.

The prime minister’s short-termism notwithstanding, the Conservative offer should be seen as part of a response to longer-term trends. Centrifugal forces are undermining British cohesion. Scotland is the most obvious manifestation of this trend but it is also apparent in Wales, Northern Ireland, and don’t forget, England. Read more

As well as revealing how British pluralism is more popular among minorities, Tuesday’s Policy Exchange report into diversity in the UK includes data on educational performance across different ethnic groups. Two trends stand out.

First, the poor average performance of white Britons. Second, the success of Indians.


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What do the data below tell us about Britain?

The table is taken from A Portrait of Modern Britain, a report published on Tuesday by Policy Exchange, a think tank. It presents the answers of respondents from the six biggest ethnic groups in the UK to the question how would they describe their national identity given the following options: English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and Other (respondents were asked to identify what they meant by Other.)

The data, taken from the 2011 census, suggest that only about 14 per cent of whites report a “British only” identity. Respondents were allowed to list more than one identity but the figure only rises to a quarter when a dual British identity is included. Sixty-four per cent, however, say that they have an English-only identity. Read more

The Uses of Literacy (1957) by Richard Hoggart, who died on Thursday, was a book that shaped how many Britons see their culture and politics. Published the same year as Michael Young’s Family and Kinship in East London (1957), it showed the rhythm and cadence of lives in industrial communities, which had been muffled by the haughtiness of Britain after the second world war. As the historian David Kynaston tells us in Modernity Britain (2013), Alan Bennett said The Uses: “made me feel that my life, dull though it was, might be made the stuff of literature”.

Not everyone felt that way. Kynaston also quotes from Kingsley Amis’s typically lordly and disdainful review of The Uses: “It would be pleasant to say of the book written out of such obvious earnestness and decency of feeling that it represented an achievement, but it is only an attempt.” You can see where Martin gets it from. Read more

Every week or so, in my previous job as comment editor, I would chat to Sir Samuel Brittan about his column. “Sam”, as he prefers, would have two or six suggestions and he was too polite to let on whether the conversation was mere courtesy. Despite his uncanny ability to arrive at my desk five minutes before deadline, it was invariably one of my favourite moments; the FT can be a special place to work.

I would occasionally suggest to Sam that he write about, say, the latest development in the eurozone crisis or the most recent announcement by the UK government. He would give the uncanny impression of someone contemplating what I had said. But soon enough, I had been enlightened as to the irrelevance of the emphemeral. More than once, Sam explained as follows: “I’m more interested in ideas.” Read more

During an eight-day visit to London in 1862, Fyodor Dostoevsky visited The Crystal Palace, which he later described as that “terrible force that has united all the people here, who come from all over the world, into a single herd”. The Russian writer was as horrified by the glitzy universalism of the international exposition as he was by the poverty he saw along “catastrophic” Haymarket and booze-addled Whitechapel.

I thought of this indiscriminate attack on London when reading Ben Judah’s acidic op-ed on Saturday in the New York Times, which comes a few months after the grey lady published a trenchant piece by Michael Goldfarb on how overseas investment in the capital’s property has allegedly led to an exodus of the English middle classes. Judah’s London, like Dostoevsky’s, is ubiquitously effete and dreadful, a city laid supine at the foot of the Shard and its real masters, the oligarchs of Mayfair. Read more

Roger Angell is 93-years old. His body has “become sort of a table potato”. He is a “a world-class complainer”. And his essay on life as a nonagenarian is the best writing I have read in a long time. Angell gently destroys aged stereotypes about aged people, with the panache one would expect from E.B. White’s stepson. No slouch, this guy.

Beginning with his physical condition and trips to the hospital (“my human-wreckage gym”), the New Yorker writer describes life in the nineties in a way that undermines the conventional notion of ageing as decline. He is still working and, yes, loving, or at least thinking about loving. Sure, an eye is blurry and a knee is busted. But why do we think physical wear and tear means decline? Here is an old man that is living in every sense that remains possible. Decline? Try ascent.  Read more

One Sunday last year I was walking through London Fields and a pretty couple stopped and asked if I would like to buy some Camembert. They had a bicycle and a basket and a baguette and French accents. I have been offered more exotic bootleg goods in Hackney but this was a pleasant, if suspiciously stereotypical, reminder of the growth in London’s French community. Read more

At least since Michael Goldfarb’s incendiary op-ed in the New York Times, there has been discussion about a “great exodus” from London. This chart shows that there is nothing new in recent history about net internal emigration from the capital; young people come for work and to find love, and they leave – if everything goes to plan – with a job, a mortgage adviser, and a partner.  Read more

What do Britons really think about immigration? The subject is rarely away from the news, including the truth-promising BBC. But I find it hard to untangle the fabric of hysteria.

In recent report, Ipsos-Mori, a polling firm, assembles a lot of data about attitudes to immigration. It provides a clear yet nuanced account of public opinion. Below, I have selected the 20 charts I found most telling about Britain and immigration. Read more

The little known fifth series of Blackadder takes place in the department for education. Blackadder is the secretary of state. In this scene, he is joined by his two special advisers – Baldrick and George. Read more

When triumphant supporters of Colorado’s legalisation of recreational marijuana tried to organise a celebratory party, they called it Cannabition. Perhaps weed makes puns funny. Regardless, the evocation of the prohibition era is apt; there are parallels between the treatment of alcohol in the period from 1920-33 and that of marijuana today. Read more