Election Diary: Episode One

The general election campaign started today, which is strange, because it already feels as if it’s been going on for ever. The reason for that lies in the electoral rules set up in 2000, which set limits to spending during the festivities. The ‘long campaign’ began on 19 December 2014. During it, candidates can spend £30,700 per constituency plus 9p per constituent in the countryside or 6p per constituent in town. Today, 30 March, is the start of the ‘short campaign’, during which the respective limits are £8700 plus 9p/6p. This long/short campaign thing explains why it feels as if the election has been running since the dawn of time, and yet nobody’s said anything interesting and nothing has happened. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that between now and 7 May, every political party in the UK is allowed to spend 6p on me. You can’t buy much with 6p, not even a vote, which is no doubt part of the point. More »

Labour Mugs

Who needs Ukip?

For sale at the Labour Party shop. Who needs Ukip?

Name Calling

A one-nation Tory

‘You know what people say about you,’ Jeremy Paxman said to Ed Miliband on Thursday. ‘They see you as a North London geek.’

‘Who cares?’ Miliband replied. Then he asked: ‘Who does?’

Paxman dodged the question.

‘I have to be frank, I suppose I am a one-nation Tory, yes,’ Paxman said at the Chalke Valley History Festival shortly after he left the BBC last year. Disraeli, the originator of one-nation Conservatism as well as Britain’s only Jewish prime minister (Miliband would be the second), was born in Bloomsbury and went to school in Walthamstow. What would Paxman have called him?

The Prince’s Secrets

The UK Supreme Court yesterday ruled that 27 ‘black spider’ memos sent to the government by Prince Charles in 2004-5 may be published. Judges overruled a bid by Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, to gag publication. Thoughts that Charles has previously shared only with his mother’s ministers and sympathetic root vegetables may now see the light of day. In response to the Supreme Court decision, the prime minister shared his ‘disappointment’ with a grieving nation, while the prince’s office said that ‘Clarence House is disappointed that the principle of privacy has not been upheld.’ More »

Can’t vote, won’t vote?

A large majority of students across the UK may not be registered to vote on 7 May. Most of the students I’ve spoken to in the last week said they wanted to vote but had no idea they weren’t automatically registered. Until last year, when voter registration was done by household, they would have been: students living in university accommodation were enrolled en masse to vote in local and national elections.

The coalition government’s policy of individual voter registration, which received royal assent in early 2013, came into force last summer. It has resulted in a nationwide drop in voter registration levels, especially in cities with large numbers of students. More »

Boom!

A five-foot, one-thousand-pound unexploded Second World War bomb was found on Monday on a building site near where I live in Bermondsey. Several streets were closed, causing traffic chaos, and 1200 residents were evacuated. None of the police I spoke to knew how long we would have to leave for: we were told to prepare for ‘at least 48 hours’. In the event, I was allowed to return to my flat at 9 p.m., but the police, wanting to speak about evacuation plans for the following morning, when the bomb was scheduled to be moved, hammered on my door three times between midnight and 7 a.m., when I finally gave up on sleeping and left the area.

The army detonates the Bermondsey bomb.

The army detonates the Bermondsey bomb.

More »

Advice from Robert Frost

Occasionally at the LRB we receive emails from would-be contributors asking how to go about writing a piece for us. It isn’t an easy question to answer: every writer’s different, each subject requires a different approach… I’m often tempted to give them the advice on writing record reviews that my first editor gave me when I worked at the Wire magazine: ‘Tell us who made the record, then say something interesting about it.’

In future I’m going to send people to Robert Frost. More »

Am I on the domestic extremist database?

On 4 March the UK Supreme Court ruled that police surveillance of John Catt, a law-abiding 90-year-old peace campaigner, was legal, and that a detailed record of his movements would remain in the national domestic extremist database. ‘The composition, organisation and leadership of protest groups,’ Lord Sumption said, ‘is a matter of proper interest to the police even if some of the individuals are not themselves involved in any criminality.’ Using the data protection act, Catt obtained a copy of his police file in 2010. At one protest, it recorded, he ‘sat on a folding chair… and appeared to be sketching’. At another, ‘he was using his drawing pad to sketch a picture of the protest and police presence.’ Another entry noted he was clean-shaven. The Network for Police Monitoring said that the ruling ‘allows the police extraordinary discretion to gather personal information of individuals for purposes that are never fully defined’. More »

The Enron Fallacy

Last month Amsterdam students occupied the Bungehuis building on Spuistraat, in protest against the university’s ‘Profiel 2016’ plan to shred jobs and academic programmes. Hardest hit is the humanities faculty, rated in the top thirty globally in 2011, where around 100 staff face the axe. Within humanities, ‘small’ languages such as Arabic, Polish and Italian will no longer exist as majors. Falling enrolment is blamed, though humanities admissions rose from 1417 in 2006 to 1875 in 2010. The cuts aim to save €7 million from 2017; other humanities programmes may be ‘consolidated’ into a generic liberal arts structure. More »

Iran’s Physicists

The Iran University of Science and Technology in Tehran was founded in 1929 as a school of engineering. It became a general technological institute in 1972. It now has more than a dozen departments with thousands of undergraduate and postgraduate students. Few if any American universities have a more complete list of undergraduate physics courses. Looking at the faculty reveals an interesting split. The senior professors all did much of their degree work abroad. One of them for example was an undergraduate at Columbia. The junior faculty, including one woman, all did their degree work in Iran. In another generation, it may be that all of Iran’s physicists will have been educated in Iran. No other country in the Middle East would show a demographic like this. Taken in the large this means that Iran has a serious scientific infrastructure, which must be taken into account in any negotiations over its nuclear programme. The notion that the country can be negotiated into a scientific stone age is nonsense. More »

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