Where’s your dictatorship button?

Where’s your dictatorship button? When is a democratic decision bad enough for you to override it, if you could, by personal fiat? Most people have such a button; those who claim not to are vulnerable to a form of the argumentum ad Hitlerum. Others are remarkably sanguine about deploying it, for example when they disagree with the result of a plebiscite about membership of a trade association. They have various button-masking props, such as citing the fact that – in an extraordinary departure from normal political practice – campaigners for the other side (and only they) were less than wholly truthful; though unlike their gullible co-electors, the button-pressers weren’t fooled. More »

Labour and ‘Traditional Voters’

Eight weeks after gaining 40 per cent of the national vote on an unapologetically forward-looking social democratic platform, Labour MPs who still perceive their majorities to be under threat are again saying that the party is failing to appeal to its ‘traditional voters’. Whether the term deployed is ‘traditional’, ‘heartlands’ or ‘white working class’, the dog-whistle is back. More »

Sylvia Plath and the NHS

When Sylvia Plath’s marriage to Ted Hughes foundered in August 1962, her family assumed that she would move herself and her children back to America. ‘The worst difficulty is that Ted is at the peak of his fame,’ she wrote to her mother on 21 October, ‘and all his friends are the ones who employ me.’ Aurelia Plath published her daughter’s Letters Home in 1975. ‘I opened a joint account in a London bank,’ she wrote in a note, ‘so she could use it in any emergency, hoping she would consider returning to the United States. We, as a family, were prepared to set her up in her own apartment here.’ More »

What have they got against the ECJ?

As posturing over Brexit has given way to negotiations, the European Court of Justice is looming large. The prospects for EU citizens resident in the UK, uncertain enough to begin with, have been obscured by the government’s insistence that ECJ judges won’t be determining their rights. Even the court’s regulatory role over nuclear research is one judicial pretension too many for London: Theresa May has committed the UK to withdrawing from the European Atomic Energy Community as well as the EU, because the ECJ sorts out Euratom disputes. More »

Unison’s Supreme Court Victory

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that employment tribunal fees are unlawful. They were cancelled immediately, and the government will have to pay back every claimant charged since fees were introduced in 2013. There are different estimates as to how much this could cost, but Unison, the public sector union which brought the litigation, puts it at £27 million. More »

Isaiah Berlin of the FO

For much of the Second World War, Isaiah Berlin worked at the British Embassy in Washington DC, where he carried out intelligence gathering for both the Ministry of Information and the Foreign Office. I recently came across a file in the archive of the Political and Secret Department of the India Office, now held at the British Library, which gives a fascinating glimpse into the nature of Berlin’s work in Washington, and into the history of US-Saudi relations. More »

The Scramble for the Horn

Evelyn Waugh, who passed through Djibouti on his way to the coronation of Haile Selassie in 1930, when it was still a French colony, said that no one voluntarily spends long there. But it’s the only major trading port on the 4000 miles of coastline between Port Sudan to the north and Mombasa to the south, as well as being strategically situated on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the narrow entrance to the Red Sea and a choke point on one of the world’s major shipping routes. The coast of Yemen is just twenty miles away. Pirates based in Somalia attacked more than 150 ships in the Gulf of Aden in 2011, costing international trade over $6 billion; the threat has been reduced but large freighters were taken in March and April this year. More »

Compulsory Purchase Orders

Kensington and Chelsea Council has said it will rehouse 68 families from Grenfell Tower in luxury Kensington Row apartments, where prices start at £1.7 million. But the housing crisis that led to the fire – the overlapping effects of underdevelopment, neglect, cuts and sell-offs of social housing stock – has left many other people in the borough homeless, or in unaffordable or substandard accommodation. Thousands languish on waiting lists for the ‘very few social housing properties available’. Meanwhile, 1399 privately owned homes in the borough lie empty. Senior Labour Party politicians have suggested that the council should use compulsory purchase orders to ‘requisition’ empty investment properties. The idea was met with outrage from people scandalised by the thought of a government ‘land grab’: ‘The state shouldn’t seize private property backed by the implicit threat of violence,’ GQ’s political correspondent, Rupert Myers, tweeted. But councils have been using compulsory purchase orders for years. More »

Nicaraguan Sign Language

Raise four fingers (the sign for ‘B’), touch your nose with your thumb and dip your hand down to mimic an elephant’s trunk. You’ve just said ‘Babar the Elephant’ in Nicaraguan Sign Language – the sign is distinct from the one for ‘elephant’. ISN (its initials in Spanish) was developed by children. Until the 1970s, there were no facilities or learning programmes for deaf children in Nicaragua, but with the Sandinista revolution came a new impetus to provide education for kids with special needs. Four hundred deaf children were identified in Managua, and two schools created for them. Teachers were brought from Europe who tried to teach Spanish using fingerspelling, which the children couldn’t grasp because they’d never learned Spanish. But they all had their own signs that they used at home. And in the classroom, the playground and the school bus they began to share them, eventually turning impromptu communication into a common language.

More »

Killing a Camel

I recently spent some time living with a refugee family in the Smara refugee camp, Tindouf Province, Algeria. The family were Sahrawis, exiles from the Western Sahara Conflict, and though they had lived a mostly stationary life in Smara for perhaps forty years, they were still culturally nomads. One day, when I had been living there for a few weeks, a relative of the family turned up in a white pick-up truck with a live camel tied to the flatbed. The camel was enormous, and gave no sign of discomfort as curious children swarmed around it. More »

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • mototom on At Mount Rushmore: On Tuesday Trump accidentally hit the nail on the head. He said this:"Many of those people were there (Charlottesville) to protest the taking down of ...
    • Stu Bry on Trump set them free: Bob Dylan playing Only A Pawn In Their Game at the March On Washington comes to mind. Time and energy would be better spent opposing the Keystone X...
    • Graucho on Trump set them free: If you thought Nixon was paranoid and vindictive, you ain't seen nothing yet https://www.theregister.co.uk/2017/08/14/feds_demand_data_on_every_visit...
    • davidovich on Labour and ‘Traditional Voters’: I remember the seventies when most of my friends hitch-hiked clean across Central Asia including Afghanistan to arrive to jobs in Britain and a vibran...
    • Sarah Klenbort on Nicaraguan Sign Language: Yes, fascinating article! I've heard of other instances of deaf children creating language on the playground in various schools in Africa when given t...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

Advertisement Advertisement