Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Praise for Alan Johnson

Not the minister, of course, because he's now in opposition. Anyway, the praise comes from David Aaronovitch.

But yes, this is the New Politics, brought about with amazing suddenness. And just as excellent as Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron was the outgoing Home Secretary, Alan Johnson. His quick understanding of how things have changed, his clarity on his own position, his support for electoral reform, all marked him out as a New Politician. His backing went to Miliband D., who would be, if elected, the one main party leader educated at an inner-city comprehensive.


Were Johnson himself to have run for leader (he seems to have ruled this out), the former postman would be yet another grammar school boy. Miliband went to Oxford as well, which is more or less a requirement for being PM (Clegg studied at Cambridge).

We now have an alliance of the two great middle-class parties and my assessment is that it is the middle classes who will benefit.


There's an undercurrent of class war running through the piece. Better the middle classes than the ultra rich, say I, and Dave's commitment to the great unwashed has never really convinced me -- nor New Labour's for that matter. The rich have got richer over the last 13 years. I know I didn't vote for that. (Ooh, Daily Mail not pleased: Middle classes pay price of Cameron's deal with Clegg in triple tax bombshell: NI hike to go ahead, NO inheritance tax cut and hike in Capital Gains rate. Inheritance tax affects the middle classes? Really?)

Generally, good stuff, though. This is sailing close to the wind:

Myself, crocked by a detached retina and forced to lie draped across a sofa lying on one side and one-eyed, like the ugliest odalisque, watched the whole thing play out on the 24-hour news channels, with their clinical hysteria and rotating pundits. I could take a PhD in Adam Boulton and Laura Kuenssberg studies.


Bet Dave is more a Campbell man than a Boulton one.

Cleggened Cameron marks the crushing defeat of the Telegraphiat and the Tory Right.


James Delingpole is not taking it well.

Dave, slightly surprisingly, comes out for voting reform. Labour only seem to like it when they're losing. When they win, it's a non-issue. He's happy with the AV system. Surprisingly, the Staggers wasn't, from which you would never suspect that the Jenkins Commission actually recommended AV over STV.

Still, there's plenty to nit pick. So get to it...

55 Comments:

Anonymous Phil said...

You'd be right not to guess that the Jenkins Commission preferred AV, because they didn't - they recommended AV+, which is basically "AV, only proportional".

5/12/2010 10:14:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

I really can't get enthusiastic about David Miliband, who somehow manages to come across as a public school boy type even without being one. His life post-18 has been exactly the same privileged upper middle class one that Clegg had. And telling people to stop punishing Labour for the Iraq war is just crass. Personally, I'd like Alistair Darling, but presumably another dour Scot hasn't got a chance when we can have cheery 40-something southerners leading all the parties.

5/13/2010 06:52:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I don't think David Miliband got a multi-million pound trust fund, so possibly not 'exactly'.

5/13/2010 08:09:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

I realise I am slightly territorial about public schools the way Phil is about radical Italian politics -- the price of spending time researching an arcane topic -- but I am actually hoping that, once people get bored of all the obvious monstering jokes (which IMO merely locate them in the great british affection for its own eccentric institutions), this sudden resurgence of their political visibility will mean we get to talk about their concrete social reality and presence (and history). if.... is a great film -- and the reason for my research -- but it really REALLY isn't a documentary.

Surely being the son of Ralph Milband is the equivalent of going to a thousand public schools!

5/13/2010 09:04:00 AM  
OpenID yorksranter said...

Gawd, Delingpole really is contemptible. I guess he's what happens when a movement that has prided itself for 200 years on anti-intellectualism needs some writers.

5/13/2010 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

Miliband is not exactly like those terrible posh boys, no. If you look beyond biographical anecdotalism and quota mentalities to remind yourself of his voting records or utterances on subjects dear to the heart of what DA would presumably call "leftists" , he is arguably more right-wing and repressive than either of them.

I went to Rocky IV when I was 11. I'm not proud and regret my attendance to this day, but I've never voted for wars or legalesed away acts of torture.

5/13/2010 11:44:00 AM  
Anonymous dd said...

Surely being the son of Ralph Milband is the equivalent of going to a thousand public schools!

Substitute "Sam Aaronovitch" for "Ralph Miliband" and I think we did that post. In terms of the networking advantages, DA definitely owes his success to the Old Young Communist network (via Peter Mandelson) at least as much as DC owes his success to the Old Etonian one.

5/13/2010 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"DA definitely owes his success to the Old Young Communist network (via Peter Mandelson) at least as much as DC owes his success to the Old Etonian one."
This is utter trash. DA and PM were never in the YCL together, meeting when DA was at the NUS and PM was at the British Youth Council.
One Who Knows

5/13/2010 12:37:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

If they were both Young Communists, and they were friends, and they cemented their friendship at the World Youth Festival in Havana, then I don't think the assertion that they were part of the "Old Young Communist network" can be called "utter trash", can it?

5/13/2010 01:02:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Peter:
I think if we mistake authoritarian tendencies for 'right wing' tendencies, or libertarian ones for 'left-wing' tendencies, we're going to get into terrible trouble over the next few years as Labour stake out the authoritarian end, and the ConDems stake out the libertarian end.

5/13/2010 02:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aaro wasn't in Havana. And they competed against each other for a job on Weekend World in 1982, so it's hard to see what point you're making. But for God's sake, don't let reality obscure your prejudices.
One Who Knows

5/13/2010 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Referring back to a previous topic, David T told the assembled company at Dave Osler's libel victory celebration that he had been forced to stop blogging completely by the Galloway libel action. Perhaps many might feel that if the chill stops there no harm has been done. I did mean to ask if "Lucy Lips" was still blogging though it does look as if "her" last post was in early February.

Also Jack of Kent did want it to be known that his involvement in the Osler case was due to Nick Cohen's intervention.

5/13/2010 02:20:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

It did always strike me as odd that a lawyer who flew very close to libelling people so often, and wasn't above swearily denouncing people online, would more or less use his real name while he did so. The 'Lucy Lips' thing was fairly transparent, too, especially when Toube would go onto other blogs and defend every single word of LL's postings.

Someone or other on here speculated that the libel action might have been started in order to get Toube into trouble with his employers. Whether or not it was, it seems to have had that effect and I feel sorry for the bloke - using an alias from day one probably would have solved the problem, mind you.

5/13/2010 02:41:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Aaro wasn't in Havana. And they competed against each other for a job on Weekend World in 1982, so it's hard to see what point you're making.

ahem

"Mandy: the unauthorised biography of Peter Mandelson", by Paul Routledge, p67

"Mandelson kept his media ambitions to himself, declining to tell even his close friend David Aaronovitch, a fellow-traveller on the Cuban expedition. 'Peter was a pretty regular visitor to our house' Aaronovitch remembered later. 'Yet I didn't know we were both applying for the same job on the same day'"

It's possible that Routledge got it wrong, but that's my source.

By the way, "One who knows", if you are David, just say so, we won't bite.

5/13/2010 02:44:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

James Delingpole is part of a liberal conspiracy to make right wingers look stupid. See also Mel Philips.

5/13/2010 03:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Routledge was wrong. Trevor Phillips went to Havana. And I am not Aaro but someone who was around at the time.
One Who Knows

5/13/2010 04:19:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Well that's interesting - unfortunately, while to yourself you're a first hand source, you'll understand that as far as I'm concerned you're an anonymous blog commenter so I can't really rely on you in preference to a published source.

5/13/2010 04:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think if we mistake authoritarian tendencies for 'right wing' tendencies, or libertarian ones for 'left-wing' tendencies, we're going to get into terrible trouble over the next few years as Labour stake out the authoritarian end, and the ConDems stake out the libertarian end." Cian

I think that we're making a mistake if we think that the Labour Party (or at least certain parts of it) are left-wing. Either out of conviction or out of electoral calculation, certain sections of it are neo-liberal and authoritarian. I applaud people who stay in the Labour Party to fight their corner but the party as a whole is far from left-wing. It will be interesting to see how the Party as a whole reacts to scrapping of ID cards etc.

Guano

5/13/2010 05:01:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I think if we mistake authoritarian tendencies for 'right wing' tendencies, or libertarian ones for 'left-wing' tendencies, we're going to get into terrible trouble over the next few years as Labour stake out the authoritarian end, and the ConDems stake out the libertarian end." Cian.

We may well see Labour staking out the authoritarian end. For me that makes Labour (or at least parts of it) right-wing (neo-liberal and authoritarian). There may be some people in the Labour Party who are not, and if they fight their corner all well and good. But come the next general election, I hope they don;t tell me that they areprogressive one day and then send me a "LibDems soft on crime" leaflet the next.

Guano

5/13/2010 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Guano:
No it doesn't work. I think its time to retire the terms 'left' and 'right', as they're not hugely meaningful. But by 'left' and 'right' most people mean on economic terms (pro-worker, pro-boss). 'Progressive' is one of Steve Poole's unspeak terms and needs to be taken out and shot. I don't know what the fuck I am (libertarian post-marxist anyone?), but I'm sure as hell not a progressive.

On economics Labour are the most left wing party. I say with absolutely no illusions about their economic policies, or tendencies. I just can see the Orange Bookers and Tories for what they are. If you think New Labour were neo-liberal, just wait till you meet the new boss.

There's also the possibility that Labour were authoritarian because it made sense for them electorally, just as it probably makes sense for the Tories to be more libertarian. I hope I'm wrong about that, but I'm starting to wonder if Tony Blair wasn't right and trying to work out what that means moving forward. I mean how plausible is a socialist party in what is essentially a post-union era?

5/13/2010 07:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

"libertarian post-marxist"

And you thought "progressive" was meaningless?

"On economics Labour are the most left wing party."

I beg to differ. Look at the tax proposals of the coalition (both the tax cuts and tax rises and where they fall) and compare to Labour's abolition of the 10p tax. Look at financial regulation - both coalition parties were more populist on that than Labour who made very narrow proposals.

5/14/2010 01:55:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I don't think that either left/right wing, nor the relevance of people having attended top public schools, are things we can somehow leave aside when we're looking at gigantic cuts carried out against people at the lower end of the scale by people who have always been at the other. Nor when there's lots of class war commentary coming from the privileged classes. It might be cheap, occasionally, to invoke Eton and Winchester and St Paul's, but I'm afraid people are just going to have to live with that for a bit. Fuck it, if a large and influential section of political commentary is going to centre around welfare dependency and the wickedness of people who are paid by the state, I for one am scarcely going to refrain from going on about the vast importance of public schools and inherited wealth. That's left and right, and that's the world we're living in.

I really don't think that being Ralph Miliband's son constitutes the equivalent of a thousand public schools, though obviously as a start in intellectual life it must have been pretty much as good as one can get. However - and I say this being comprehensive-and-Oxford myself - I think that the latter of the two is the more important. It's really quite hard not to succeed once you've gone through that particular door. (Though some of us managed it, har har.) Obviously this has quite a lot to do with ability, it would be stupid to deny it, but the possession of an Oxbridge degree doesn't half magnify that ability in the eye of most beholder - as well as creating the impression of a gulf between Oxbridge and non-Oxbridge which is frequently non-existent. i.e. it's really just a question of who got in on the day and who did not. And Philip Hensher can fuck off.

5/14/2010 06:00:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

"And you thought "progressive" was meaningless?"

It was meant as a joke. Never mind.
The LibDem tax cuts look quite good until you do the sums.

5/14/2010 06:46:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Also a joke: "being the son of Ralph Miliband etc etc" -- though I do think the antics of the scions of the House of Miliband and Benn and so on are telling anecdata about the Meritocracy as a family business in the modern world, as opposed to the Aristocracy. (Insert joke here about Master Young the Social Critic's Son...)

My point -- if it wasn't obvious -- is that the comments about public schools always seem to end being gags about fagging and crumpets and toffs and buggery, which is all highly sniggerworthy but has zero political content. I would like a genuine discussion of the social reality of public schools and the effects and structures of private education -- not (just) bogus cartoon ideas about what Eton must be like based on Spitting Image cliches.

5/14/2010 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

Well I know a bit about them (mother taught at one, went to Cambridge, spent too much of my adolescent years around much wealthier kids). So I'm game.

5/14/2010 01:05:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

BTw, Cohen on the lib dms

There have been times in my life when I have hated the Tory Party. But I have never hated them enough to wish Tonge, Clegg and Wallace on them.

Their fault lies deeper than mere stupidity or financial self-interest. They come from a self-satisfied and self-righteous pseudo-liberal culture, which assumes that the prejudices of the past cannot possibly exist among its friends and supporters.

http://bit.ly/csYT8U

5/14/2010 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Phil, you're quite right. I was falling asleep when I wrote that.

I really think that Oxford was much more important to the David Miliband we know than his comprehensive was.

Blimey, that Nick Cohen, eh? What a card. I get asked if I'll rejoin Labour now that the entryists are all but crushed, but reading Nick, Lib Demmery feels like my spiritual home. I'm glad that it's only liberals (sorry, capital 'L') who think "that the prejudices of the past cannot possibly exist among [their] friends and supporters". Otherwise, I'd worry that some of Nick's mates (like Richard Littlejohn) might just have a teeny weeny bit of prejudice themselves.

Actually, I suspect that the 'prejudices of the past' thing came from responses to his chat with Pascal Bruckner (which I didn't watch all of on YouTube, hence no post). Bruckner's thesis (which as Nick has already complained, has been ignored by the British press), seems to be that we shouldn't worry about the prejudices of the past, or indeed the horrible things our ancestors did, because this is the present, and it's different. And besides, who are we oppressing?

5/14/2010 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think this is Nick at his least Orwellian - he neglects to mention in the piece that Clegg humiliated Tonge in almost every other way possible *bar* stripping her of the whip - from the piece you get the impression that Clegg could barely contain his admiration for her.

The Bruckner thing just doesn't work. Unless you already agree in advance - as Nick and CFC seem to - Bruckner's thesis comes across as what it is, the same old tired examples being rehashed again andagain (Le Carre after 7/7, Mary Beard, etc etc zzz) with the same old tired, phoney 'psychoanalytical' point being made again.

I still don't understand how someone who claims to care about science and rationality can make the amount of pseudo-diagnoses which Nick does. The 'prejudices of the past' thing seems to be suggesting that we more or less ignore history because we're more enlightened now. A helpful argument to have up your sleeve if you're mates with bigots like Martin Amis and Douglas Murray, i guess.

He also seems to have completely different personae when writing for different publications. I mean from this you get the feeling he can barely type 'Liberal Democrat' without being sick, yet elsewhere he praises Evan Harris and on his Standpoint blog he has a couple of posts where he seems to be preparing ot vote Lib Dem.

5/14/2010 03:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Der Bruno Stroszek said...

It does seem to be an asset for a Decent to have flexible personae, not least because many of them have spent so long rubbing shoulders with people like Murray, Jonah Goldberg, David Horowitz et al whose views are completely repugnant to most people outside their own particular echo-chamber. There was always a gap during the 2008 US elections between what Nick was saying to people like Pyjamas Media and what he was writing in the Observer.

See also: Christopher Hitchens' review of The Bridge in the Guardian a few weeks back, which was mostly taken up with contentless waffle about whether or not Obama was a smoker and other such pressing political issues. You get the feeling that some part of Hitchens is aware that he can't vent his real feelings - that Obama is a billion times worse than Hitler and his craven refusal to bomb every country on Earth is shockingly racist - in front of an audience of the mentally capable, so he just resorts to waffle like that instead.

Nick seems to have this paranoid refusal to believe that anyone who claims not to be racist might, in fact, not be racist. He reminds me of that particular breed of pub bore you get, the ones who start off with "Everyone's a bit racist if they're honest, though, aren't they?", don't believe you when you say you're not and then spend at least half an hour trying to bully you into saying something racist so Our National Healing Can Begin, or something.

5/14/2010 03:56:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Don't leave me hanging. What do the sums, as you see them, show?

The IFS mostly gave their tax proposals the green light before the election, and reading their response to the coalition agreement, they don't seem to think the sums don't add up.

5/14/2010 06:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

Bringing this full circle, Nick Clegg was Hitchens' intern at the Nation.

5/14/2010 06:29:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Its not whether they add up, its who benefits. The very poorest get very little, if anything, from the benefit. Those on higher rate tax, but under the threshold, gain the most. Its not a progressive tax cut.

5/15/2010 08:35:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Isn't the problem with improving the lot of the low paid structural - it's stymied by means-testing. So whatever you do - raise the minimum wage, have a lower % bottom rate, increase the basic allowance - the marginal increase is always small because their effective marginal tax rate is so high.

Which is the case for taxing the (upper) middle class more. You can't change much without that, as otherwise any benefit at the lower end benefits them more.

5/15/2010 09:36:00 AM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Jenkins recommendations were PR (AV+), and in true New Labour dishonest fashion, these were hastily shelved.

AV is a sham of course - merely tweaked FPTP, possibly even less proportional. Interesting that when new parliaments are formed or reformed (Scottish, Welsh, London assemblies, Euros) PR is used, but UK national elections cling on to FPTP. There's a story there.

In other news, Laura Kuenssberg is very cute.

5/15/2010 12:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Jonathan said...

Re. Bruckner, I posted on the Observer site after CFC's review last week. A few weeks back Bruckner discussed his tome on Radio 3's Nightwaves with the Guardian's Jonathan Steele. Even in the refined atmosphere of a Radio 3 discussion programme, Steele absolutely demolished his work, leaving Bruckner quite ratty by the end. Not the least of Steele's criticisms was that Bruckner quite fails to provide systematic evidence for his claims and instead just relies on collecting a few quotes, mostly from French intellectuals and magazines. No longer available on iplayer unfortunately.

5/15/2010 01:04:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I hadn't seen that review. With slavery, the Holocaust, and colonialism behind us, we in the west like to lay claim to all that is corrupt and evil in humanity. "The Euro-American is simultaneously cursed and indispensable," writes Bruckner. "Thanks to him, everything becomes clear, evil acquires a face, the dirty rat is universally designated. Biological, political, metaphysical guilt."

CFC calls it "a work of bracing lucidity and exhilarating perception" and Nick when he interviewed Bruckner said that he thought the translation is good. That's the same old French drivel which is why their writing usually fails to cross the channel.

Quite impressed by the dig at Robert Harris in CFC's opening. I enjoyed the film, which is a slim as the book, and comes over like a two-hour BMW advert. But sod the politics, watch it for the woman from 'Sex and the City' and Olivia Williams. Oh, and I finally saw what Paul Berman looks like after I saw the film. Am shocked he doesn't look like Tom Wilkinson. That's how I'll always picture him now, anyway.

Hitchens (presumably from the introduction, as I can't find his endorsement of Bruckner online): More useful and surprising (and educational) is to compare his authentic quotations from Fanon with the currently received opinion of that author. Surely praise doesn't come much lower than "he didn't misrepresent someone else by using inauthentic quotations." I've non read Fanon, and I'm not aware of his "currently received opinion", though as far as I can the greatest distortion of his writing occurred in Sartre's introduction to 'The Wretched of the Earth' where J-PS, true to form, decided the work was about what ever Sartre was interested in at the time and freely misrepresented Fanon as advocating violence.

5/15/2010 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger Tim Wilkinson said...

Can't think of anything to say about the coalition, nor Aaro's dismal opinions, that isn't both (a) blindingly obvious to anyone not overcome with glee at the prospect of a rich new vein of op-eds and (b) riddled with rude words.

----

belle: comments about public schools always seem to end being gags about fagging and crumpets and toffs and buggery, which is all highly sniggerworthy but has zero political content

('Sup up your beer and collect your fags. There's a row going on down near Slough'...)

Yes, crumpets and buggery are primarily of interest to Stephen Fry (for) and Ben Elton (kind-of-against, in a perverse and addled Tim-nice-but-dim sense - similar to the way that some feminists were given to small willy sneers, or that the 'homophobia' idea was introduced in tandem with the imputation of repressed homosexuality. Though those were examples not only of belittling an opponent whom it's your whole point to portray as powerful, but of using insults that you shouldn't, even on the narrowest view, in all consistency regard as insults).

I had fagging down, in contrast, as a perhaps-not-indispensible, but at least emblematic, aspect of the ruling-class solidarity side of things: initiation rite, training in obeying and - particularly - giving orders (the chain of displaced revenge), and general habituation to the idea of arbitrary authority, with supplementary instruction in which side one's bread (or crumpet ho ho) was buttered on.

And seen as (if not inculcating then at least) testing the right kind of good-man 'character': taking one for the team, not rocking the boat, resisting moral 'squeamishness'. Or so I had thought.

And I would have said that historically, fagging must surely have been seen as an integral part of training in the self-conscious, militaristic, ruling-class ethos, nez pah? And the olden days are not all that olden, as watching documentaries from, say, the 80s - and certainly the 70s - reminds one.

+ The requirement to be fag before progressing to 'fagmaster' or whatever it's called is (I had speculated) like a substitute for earning your position (or working your way up from the bottom tee hee hee) - lending a sense of entitlement-by-sacrifice while also providing a conveniently lightweight conception of disadvantage.

In the same way the - no doubt now-alleviated - Spartan conditions in general were a kind of temporary (and known to be temporary) artificial substitute for real, open-ended hardship.

(insert some colour-supplement waffle about the Christian idea of what sort of sacrifices are suitably humbling for a god...)

But please, inform away!

----

BTW, re: the protestations of 'One Who Knows'. I probably don't need to point out that as ever, it's worth checking exactly what isn't contradicted.

5/15/2010 06:06:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

For belle – here are a few comments from someone who went to Oxford in the 1980s from a comprehensive. I’ve written on my blog about the advantages a certain kind of middle class upbringing gives children in getting to Oxbridge, regardless of the school they go to. But I suspect that being at Oxford was a very different experience for some people than others.

Firstly, Oxford was a big change academically from even a good comprehensive. I went from being the brightest pupil in my school to having friends whose abilities I could not hope to match. And particularly for arts students (though less so for mathematicians like me), there was a need to work out how much and what kind of study you needed to do in order to keep up. I think quite a lot of people at times worried unjustifiably that they weren’t academically up to it and that they shouldn’t really have been at Oxford.

Oxford also had amazing possibilities, especially for someone like me who’d lived a fairly sheltered life. To have money of my own (I had a full grant), the chance to join club, go to concerts and plays or be in them, or just to sit round far into the night discussing silly and profound things with silly and profound people was exhilarating. I never regret having gone there.

In career terms, though, I’m sure I wasted a lot of opportunities. Every college had its own character and I went to an unfashionable ex-girl’s college (St Anne’s), with a relatively high state school intake, and an insular outlook: a very friendly place to be, but not ideal for networking. And the people I hung out with were not particularly career-minded. We wandered down to the careers service in our third year and mostly got jobs we found interesting. But we didn’t plan in the way that students are expected to do nowadays.

I suspect things were different for the public schoolboys (I didn’t know any of them well enough to be sure). If you expect to go to Oxbridge, you don’t go round worrying if you belong there. They were more used to being away from home and having a wide range of extra-curricular activities. They had a ready-made network of friends and contacts (I knew one person at Oxford when I went there). And they probably knew more how people got into top jobs, both from better school careers services and from their parents and parents’ friends.

This didn’t mean that all the public school types went on to be successes (some came to a sticky end, but I think anyone ambitious from a public school who went to Oxford at the time I did was probably far better-placed to rise to the top than those from state schools.

5/15/2010 08:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

"The very poorest get very little, if anything, from the benefit."

Well since the very poorest don't work at all and so don't pay any income tax, of course they won't benefit. Should every tax proposal benefit the very poorest?

"Those on higher rate tax, but under the threshold, gain the most. Its not a progressive tax cut."

Yes that's true ... if you ignore where the money to pay for the tax change comes from.

5/16/2010 12:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I'd largely second magistra's analysis of the difference between comprehensive and public school alumni's experiences of Oxbridge (with the rider that unlike magistra, I loathed the place and wish I hadn't gone). Re: belle above, I think there is some value in talking about the more arcane aspects of life at the most prestigious of public schools, simply because it accentuates how completely different the experience of life is, at these schools and for the people who attend them, than for the huge majority of people. Not just because it's different, but because of the vast social ignorance that results among people who had this privileged background. About how other people live, about how small a proportion of the population share their experiences and background. I don't think this is less important today than in the past.

5/16/2010 08:46:00 AM  
Anonymous gastro george said...

Continuing the theme, today Nick has discovered inequality.

He also seems to have mislaid the facts about New Labour being part of the establishment, presiding over a significant rise in inequality, Blair going to public school and Cherie Booth's Catholicism.

Lord Adonis, one of Labour's negotiators in the frantic talks, hints strongly that a freemasonry of the privileged determined the fate of the country.

Being a Lord, he might know.

5/16/2010 09:29:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I saw the Bruckner in my local bookshop the other day - a shop that has an entire Zizek section...

Weirdly, you can read a lot of the Bruckner book on Google Books and Amazon search inside. It's pretty poor stuff - most of it is aimless ranting with more or less no recourse to actual evidence from near the present day (for example, two pages on 'the Palestinian' as 'the great Christ-like icon' which is backed up by, er, one 1974 quotation from Jean Genet). It's no surprise that Cohen likes this since it's exactly his approach in What's Left, ie diagnose a problem with 'the left today' and justify it using decades-old 'evidence'.

The material on the middle east is woeful - he genuinely does take three articles about Palestine and extrapolates the idea that when 'most intellectuals [...] speak of [Israel], the only the name [sic] that comes to mind is Hitler's' [p.69]. There's also a pretty worrying bit (not all available online, but still) about 'the invention of Islamophobia' - Tariq Ramadan is described as a 'fundamentalist preacher' and linked in a sleight of hand with the Muslim Council of Britain, etc etc.

Hitchens mentions Fanon in his endorsement - amazon 'search inside' reveals that Fanon appears on only three pages of the book, which contains only one quotation from him. Pretty faint praise from 'the hitch'. Bruckner actually seems to like Fanon - or at least to like the bit he's taken - the quotation concerns not wanting reparations for slavery. But the book is so unintellectual that you don't get much further than that. Sources are chosen based on whether a small quotation works to help Bruckner's thesis or not.

The reason Nick likes the translation is because it appears to have been quite easy to translate (error above notwithstanding) - it's just a scattergun rant. No wonder Nick likes it. I do find it odd that Decents wank on about being enlightenment fundamentalists, loving science etc, then spend their reading time on unintellectual polemics which they agree with in advance.

I'll whinge more about Nick and public schools later (yes - he has managed to conveniently forget about the background of most NuLab ministers) if i can be bothered. I went to public school AND oxbridge, so i can add a bit to the above as well.

5/16/2010 09:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

It's really quite hard not to succeed once you've gone through that particular door. (Though some of us managed it, har har.)

Yep, and see also magistra's comment. (Jesus College Cambridge, great place to spend three years, felt slightly out of it & left-behind the whole time, finished with a 2.i, was advised to go into banking, spent a year on the dole and then worked as a computer programmer. Doors did not open.)

And Philip Hensher can fuck off.

On general principles, obviously. What's he said now?

5/16/2010 10:09:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

ejh, to restate self from far above: " this sudden resurgence of their political visibility will mean we get to talk about their concrete social reality and presence (and history)." This is me agreeing with you (in advance) that is there is enormous value talking about arcane (and routine) aspects of public schools. But I would rather talk about things that actually happen at them, rather than things that stopped happening in the 1930s or the 1830s, but still infest the jokes and cliches about them. And I would like not simply to use Eton as a stand-in for all the many others, because I suspect in a lot of ways it's an outlier. I have a ton of writing to do now for a Wednesday deadline, but more later if I have a moment on my experiences and anecdotes.

The book I did the research for is here, by the way.

5/16/2010 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Hensher wrote a piece a few months back in response to an article bemoaning the preponderance of Oxbridge graduates in top positions, Hensher's commentary being along the lines of "I'm surprised the figures are as low as that, because we're the best of the best".

5/16/2010 02:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Hensher - good grief.

I'm reminded of what a lecturer at Cambridge said about the BBC's open access TV slot (now long gone) - "they'll send someone along to show you 'how to do it'; actually what they show you is how to do what you do because that's how you do it". Similarly, I don't think the brightest & best from Oxbridge are necessarily particularly bright (or good), but they are terrifically good at being good at what you need to be good at. It's a life skill more than an aptitude (let alone a talent or natural endowment), but it's one that usually takes several years to acquire.

5/16/2010 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I just wrote a comment on the latest post which mentioned Simon Heffer on Alan Sillitoe. Bizarrely, he does make the case for a Cambridge education (and not unintentionally). I think you'd like that, Phil.

5/16/2010 04:26:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

What is almost more revealing about backgrounds is when you look at what subjects the Cabinet studied. Of the Oxbridge ones, I count 8 who did PPE, 4 history, 2 economics (Laws and Cable), 1 law (Clarke), 1 social anthropology (Clegg), 1 geography (May), 1 English (Gove) and 1 philosophy (Letwin). I'm not sure what Francis Maude studied. The non-Oxbridge are mostly lawyers (3 of them), though also include agriculture (Patrick McLoughlin, who looks pretty working class to me), European studies (Spelman) and medicine (Fox).

I'm surprised by how few Oxbridge lawyers there are, but not really by the lack of STM subjects (though Cable apparently did Natural Sciences as well as Economics). But it does suggest that a substantial proportion of Oxbridge graduates (all the 'northern chemists' etc), are probably out of the running for the top prizes as well.

5/16/2010 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

What interests me about that list is (as I've said before) Kurt Vonnegut's comment on 'Howl' ("I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by/madness starving hysterical naked...") that the best minds of his generation were scientists. Politicians against all evidence clearly think it's them. I've no doubt that all the Cabinet were bright at school, but why those subjects? There's more wonder in the sciences. As for Northern chemists *cough* Thatcher *cough*. I'd like to see far more scientists in government. For one thing, I agree with Peter Medawar's apothegm "science is common sense with knobs on". For another, I think that problem solving (or puzzle solving for Kuhnians) is transferable.

5/16/2010 05:35:00 PM  
Anonymous magistra said...

I doubt there were (or are) many Oxbridge science courses you can get onto without an A grade in A level maths, and there are a lot of bright people who cannot do maths at that level, even if they can get a decent GCSE/O level in it.

To succeed in arts subjects, at least in 1980s Oxford, with two essays a week and degree class depending solely on performance in finals, you needed the ability to get to grips rapidly with an unfamiliar subject and then to sound convincing when you talk or write about it, plus the ability to perform particularly well under pressure. Above average stamina also helped as well (whereas I could never cope with over-nighters, even at that age). Those are all skills with pretty obvious relevance to political success.

As a mathematician later turned historian,I'd say the latter is far more useful training for making decisions. It took me years to get over the belief that problems should have one absolutely correct and proveable solution, and to be comfortable instead with coming to conclusions on limited and often biased information. In the same way, I suspect scientists turned politicians would struggle with having to make policy without an adequate evidence base. Why do you think they have so many problems convinving people about climate change?

5/16/2010 06:44:00 PM  
Blogger Matthew said...

Hensher's here, but 8 years ago?

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/philip-hensher/sorry-but-oxbridge-graduates-are-the-best-657237.html

"I'm surprised by how few Oxbridge lawyers there"

A large proportion of 'Oxbridge laywers' don't study law for their BA, do they? Or are you talking about lawyers as in what they actually did as a job?

5/16/2010 06:51:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Quite.

I also think the tendency to assume that differences in performance are down to differences of ability, or simply to assume that one is simply much more clever than other people - and to have a less-than-mature understanding of human character and potential as a result - is rather more common among Oxbridge's science fraternity than among its arts and social science people. The most brilliant minds may well be in the sciences, but the very fact of their brilliance seems to me to have a deleterious impact on their development.

To succeed in arts subjects, at least in 1980s Oxford, with two essays a week and degree class depending solely on performance in finals, you needed the ability to get to grips rapidly with an unfamiliar subject and then to sound convincing when you talk or write about it, plus the ability to perform particularly well under pressure.

Alternatively, you could get a Desmond on bugger all work but prodigously good essay technique.

5/16/2010 06:55:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Whoops! Matthew has separated the comment from its subject.

Hensher? I don't recall when or where his stuff appeared - it was the subject of a piece on Liberal Conspiracy a few months ago. Helpfully, I have no idea who wrote the piece, or when it appeared, or anything much at all really.

5/16/2010 06:57:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

It took me years to get over the belief that problems should have one absolutely correct and proveable solution... You're the mathematician, I'm not. I studied physics at Napier College (now a uni) for a while, though. There's a line in one of Patrick O'Brian's novels about quadratic equations having a positive and negative solution, so the scientific view is that there can be more than "one absolutely correct...etc" That's my view. While I know what you mean, I think science thinking is much broader than you allege. I have a lot of respect for historians too, BTW. I suppose my opinion is that there should be more, ahem, diversity at cabinet level. Some scientists, some historians, some PPE graduates. Different approaches to problems are good. (Though I still think scientists are broader than the straight PPE guys, no matter who has the higher IQ. Steven Weinberg writes reviews for the New York Times of Civil War history, which is pretty good, given that his degrees, and Nobel Prize, are in physics. I don't see many historians writing peer reviews on quantum chromodynamics.)

Also, I think policy made on an "adequate evidence base" is better for it. But, I do know what you mean. I'm not saying that it has no validity, I just don't agree with it.

5/16/2010 07:04:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just chipping in to say that I recognise Magistra's experience (and Phil's) as remarkably close to my own (comp, Hertford 1986, 'Modern' History, 2.i). There's a lot of us about, it would appear.

By the way, 'northern chemist' didn't actually mean 'someone from the north studying chemistry', but rather 'someone who isn't active in an Oxford arty or political set, and tends to wear jeans and trainers'. Thatch would have been an 'OUCA hack' instead. HTH.

ObFiction is probably _A White Merc With Fins_ by James Hawes, who as it happens was about five years ahead of me at Hertford (at the time seen as the meritocratic prole college), especially the bit where the narrator realises that although he's been hanging out with the upper middle class, he's actually part of the lower middle class, and this matters.

Chris Williams

5/16/2010 09:00:00 PM  

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