Episode 16: The Balance of Power

Time for a look at prospective election outcomes in close detail. The numbers haven’t moved much: if they were share prices, they would be described as ‘trading within a narrow range’. The real winning line, as I argued in my last post, is 323. At the moment no party looks even vaguely likely to get there alone. Instead, the bookies and the pollsters both have for some time had the Tories wobbling around somewhere in the range of 280 to 290 seats. Labour’s vote in Scotland has collapsed, as everyone knows; if it hadn’t, they would have a clear lead. Instead they are wobbling around the 260 to 270 level.

With numbers like this, the other parties decide the next government. More »

A Tale of Two Conferences

Earlier this month Southampton University spiked a conference on International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism, organised by an Israeli-born professor of law and philosophy at the university, Oren Ben-Dor. It had promised to explore ‘the creation and the nature of the Jewish state’ and ‘the role international law can play in political struggles’. The idea had got about that Southampton would be throwing a shindig for aspiring jihadis and Zion-deniers, thanks to the Henry Jackson Society, Eric Pickles and the Daily Express, who demanded that the event be squelched. More »

Death on Nusa Kambangan

In 2005, Australian officials learned of a plot to smuggle heroin from Indonesia to Australia. They passed the information onto the Indonesian authorities, saying they should ‘take what action they deem appropriate’. Nine people, now known as the Bali Nine, were arrested and convicted. The Australian ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were last night tied to a post and shot dead. They refused blindfolds. There were twelve marksmen for each prisoner, but to ease their consciences only three fired live rounds. More »

Charlie, encore une fois…

The frat-boy humour magazine Charlie Hebdo is unfortunately back in the news. Six writers who were scheduled to be ‘table hosts’ at the annual PEN American Center gala in New York – tickets start at $1250 – have refused to attend after it was announced that the surviving staff of Charlie was to be awarded the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award at the dinner. The response to the six has been almost uniformly negative. Salman Rushdie, for one, who has turned PEN American into his little fiefdom, charmingly tweeted that they are ‘pussies’. Others have even accused the writers of being apologists for terrorism. More »

Episode 15: Sinn Féin changes the maths

It’s that time, now traditional – traditional since 2010, anyway – when the general election is so close that people start to speculate/fantasise about a possible role for Sinn Féin in the electoral aftermath. The important role they’re most likely to play is not being there. There are 650 seats in Parliament, so the winning line is 326: that’s the number which gives a party an absolute majority. The presence, or rather absence, of Sinn Féin changes that. The Shinners, as they’re known in Ireland, currently hold five seats, and are on course to hold them all. But the Shinners don’t actually come to Westminster to take up those seats, because they won’t take the oath of loyalty to the crown. This changes the maths: 650 minus five is 645, so the real winning line is 323. Given how tight this election is, that could make the difference between Cameron being able to bodge together a minority government, and not. More »

In Baltimore

The National Guard was unleashed on Baltimore yesterday to quell unrest following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died of injuries sustained in police custody. On 12 April, Gray was pinned to the pavement by officers before being loaded into a police van. When he was taken out of it his spine was ‘80 per cent severed’, according to the family’s lawyer. He spent a week in a coma and died on 19 April.

On Saturday I went to join a protest due to start at the corner of Presbury and North Mount streets. On my way there from the subway station I passed an alleyway with four police cars in it, their lights flashing. The cops appeared to be questioning people. A group of residents, all black, stood at the entrance to the alley, their phone cameras trained on the police. More »

Episode 14: The Buy-to-Let Racket

Sometimes, when you try to do something positive, it only draws more attention to what you aren’t doing. Ed Miliband has announced a new policy in relation to private sector rentals: for three years, landlords won’t be able to raise rents above the rate of inflation. It’s not hard to spot that this policy is targeting private sector renters. This demographic is young, and strongly represented in London, the only area of the south-east where Labour have good winning chances. For all the talk about London house prices and the winners from the housing bubble there, more London households rent their homes than own them. The bubble and the rental explosion are the same thing: homes zoom up in price, and a direct result is that fewer people can afford them. More »

In Brent Cross

In Patrick Keiller’s film London (1994) there’s only one moment at which the camera moves: on the up escalator in the old central court of Brent Cross Shopping Centre, a once magical attraction for children all over north-west London. The fountain you can see in the court and the panels of rainbow-coloured ‘stained-glass’ in the cupola above aren’t there any more. They disappeared in 1996, in an ‘improvement and expansion’ scheme. More »

Episode 13: Nudge, Nudge

The Nudge Unit

The Nudge Unit

In the world of apparatchiks and backroom boys where the political parties find their leaders, there is usually a hot idea or ideas. These come in waves, obviously. Not long ago, nudging was a big thing. The idea came from Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge. Downing Street set up an in-house nudge unit. Don’t laugh – even if you’re old enough to imagine Frankie Howerd apologising for having nudged your unit. The nudge unit, whose official title is the Behavioural Insights Team, was so successful that it attracted the highest, most meaningful, most irrevocable honour in our modern democracy: it was privatised. More »

Our NHS (not yours)

The UK has introduced a healthcare surcharge for immigrants from non-EEA areas. Adults have to pay £200 a year for access to the NHS whether or not they make use of it; students have to pay £150. UK citizens who want to bring their partner to the country must apply for a 30-month residency visa: the NHS surcharge on this is £500, almost doubling the previous cost of the visa (£601). Skilled migrants can be stuck with bills of more than £1000. An applicant with a dependent spouse and three children could be charged £5000. More »

Advertisement Advertisement