JN and Theo

Last Thursday, a leaked Department for Education memo was published. Written in October 2013 by Dominic Cummings, one of Michael Gove’s special advisers, it expressed ‘serious concerns’ about the performance of Ofsted and its chief inspector, Michael Wilshaw: ‘No element of human life that works well – e.g. Silicon Valley – works on an Ofsted basis.’ More »

Brought to you by the Conservative Party

The Conservatives are largely responsible for their present plight. Ukip may profess contempt for the Tory Party, but it is one of its products. The Conservative leadership and its press supporters always believed, like many right-wing toffs in the past, that they could control any insurgency their political tactics might evoke. For the last few years the Tory Party and its cheerleaders in the Mail, the Sun, the Express and (a little more decorously) the Telegraph have cultivated a populist rhetoric – xenophobic, anti-European, anti-trade union, anti-welfare – as extreme as anything we have known. And they have assumed that such rhetoric could be managed for the benefit only of the ruling circles within the party. But for several years it has been clear – not least to David Cameron – that this assumption is wrong. More »

The Lindsay Lohan Mystery

‘Do you really like movies?’ a weary Lindsay Lohan asks another woman in The Canyons (2013), Paul Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis’s languid micro-budget thriller. ‘Maybe it’s just not my thing any more.’ Widely considered uninsurable, Lohan has had a hard time getting cast in anything for years: the footage of her social life and legal troubles has been far outstripping her film career for a very long time, and she’s still only 28. More »

The New International Brigades

No one really dwells on the question of why so many young men from Europe, Canada, Australia, even China, are going to fight in Syria and Iraq with the so-called Islamic State (Isis), or with other Islamist militias. The New York Times recently published a map showing which countries the foreign volunteers come from. The numbers are slippery and often contradictory, but the foreign presence in Syria and Iraq is reckoned at around 17,000 fighters. The biggest contingents are from Chechnya and the North Caucasus (around 9000) and Turkey (1000). There are also 400 from Kosovo. But 1900 come from Western Europe (700 from France, 340 from Britain, 60 from Ireland), 100 from the US, and between 50 and 100 from Australia. More »

In Bishkek

The PEN International Congress in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, last week was the first to be held in Central Asia. It was also the first at which the organisation resolved to oppose ‘anti-LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) legislation which restricts the right to freedom of expression’, having never before campaigned on sexuality or gender identity. More »

In Heywood

The odds show Labour still favourite to beat Ukip in the Heywood and Middleton by-election on Thursday, but that we’re even talking about it being contested is significant, given that the constituency I grew up in has been solid Labour for half a century. Polls show Labour comfortably ahead, but Ukip increasing its vote tenfold to 31 per cent. On a trip home the other weekend, I didn’t see many posters in windows and turnout will be low. More »

In Clacton

A poll at the weekend gave the Tory defector and Ukip candidate Douglas Carswell a 44-point lead in the Clacton by-election. He looks set to become Ukip’s first ever MP on Thursday.

One of the first people I saw as I came out of Clacton-on-Sea train station on Saturday was carrying a Douglas Carswell poster. He said his name was Tristan, and he’d just been at the Ukip campaign office with his son. He’d never voted before but was backing Carswell because of Ukip’s stance on immigration. He thought that David Cameron’s weak policies on immigration were to blame for the state of the country. More »

Communicating Consent

When it was announced that two-thirds of Cambridge colleges would include mandatory sexual consent workshops in their Freshers’ Week schedules, one boy complained that it was ‘just an excuse to further emasculate male students’. The Spectator worried that explicitly stated consent in sexual encounters would ‘kill off seduction’. More »

Occupy Central

The atmosphere of the student-organised, leaderless, pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last week was hopeful, even jubilant, although the police had attacked the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets on Sunday 28 September. Under torrential rain, tens of thousands of peaceful Hong Kongers made their way to Admiralty, Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok. I was volunteering at a station to distribute supplies. On Tuesday we had to refuse any more water donations, we had so much already. Food and first aid workers were abundant. Strangers quickly became friends. ‘Hong Kong people are so practical,’ one fellow outlying islander said. ‘They go to work and then come to protest.’ More »

Aphex Twin’s Genius

Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, the UK’s (arguably, but not that arguably) most innovative electronic music producer ever, has said he was suprised his record label Warp wanted to release a new album by him – the first Aphex Twin album in 13 years. I don’t know how he can have got that impression. Warp was so enthusiastic that it floated a green blimp over London with the Aphex Twin logo on it. I was so enthusiastic about it that I bought the album from an actual shop the day it came out; almost everyone I know has heard it; last week it was the eighth best-selling album in the country, which is unusual for a piece of avant-garde electronica. More »

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