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Short Cuts

William Davies: Reasons to be Cheerful

18 July 2019
... Politics​ has never been a pursuit that requires total honesty. Nor, historically, has it been a vocation that scientists or other kinds of expert are drawn to. The New Labour era, which produced an elite career escalator linking university, think tank, ministerial advice, Parliament and finally government, was an anomaly in the longer sweep of things ...

Short Cuts

William Davies: Jordan Peterson

2 August 2018
... OK,​ we’ve been speaking for an hour and fifteen now, so you have a choice. Either we go to questions from the audience, or we carry on for another 45 minutes. It’s up to you.’ Jordan Peterson squints out into the gaping darkness of the O2 arena. ‘Everyone who’d like to go to Q&A, cheer now.’ Half-hearted cheer. ‘And everyone who’d like us to keep going, cheer now ...

Leave, and Leave Again

William Davies: The Brexit Mentality

7 February 2019
... It is​ received wisdom about referendums that ‘yes’ has an advantage over ‘no’. Alex Salmond didn’t get the wording he wanted for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum – the Electoral Commission considered ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?’ too much of a leading question – but he did at least make sure that his side would be fighting for a ‘yes ...

They don’t even need ideas

William Davies: Take Nigel Farage ...

20 June 2019
... A necessary​ principle of representative democracy is that small minorities – parties, politicians, parliaments – stand for the whole. The system works best when there is an element of illusion involved, such that the narrow range of characters and ideas on the public stage is viewed as a decent proxy for society at large. Too much scrutiny – when a dodgy expense claim comes to light, say, or an email indiscretion – and the illusion is liable to be dispelled ...

Short Cuts

William Davies: Cambridge Analytica

5 April 2018
... There is​ at least one certainty where Cambridge Analytica is concerned. If forty thousand people scattered across Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had changed their minds about Donald Trump before 8 November 2016, and cast their votes instead for Hillary Clinton, this small London-based political consultancy would not now be the subject of breathless headlines and Downing Street statements ...
2 April 2020
... What​ is society? The most notorious answer we’ve been given in the last forty years was a triumphant negation, uttered by Margaret Thatcher in an interview with Woman’s Own magazine in 1987: ‘There is no such thing!’ The left has ensured that Thatcher’s words have not been forgotten; the right has occasionally sought to remind people of her next sentence: ‘There are individual men and women and there are families ...

What are they after?

William Davies: How Could the Tories?

8 March 2018
... When​ historians examine Britain’s departure from the European Union, one of the things that will puzzle them is the behaviour of the Conservative Party. Thanks to copious demographic and geographical analysis, we are already in a position to make sense of the referendum result itself. But it remains difficult to grasp how the Tories could effectively have taken what was to everyone else a fringe issue and used it to attack the interests they had until very recently represented: the City of London, big business, the Union, even Whitehall ...
26 September 2019
... Where to start​ with the sheer strangeness, let alone the danger, of the current situation in British politics? One place would be with the three characters at the centre of events. As the tectonic plates of the British state rumble ominously, take a moment to register quite how strange it is that the headlines should be dominated by the figures of Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Dominic Cummings ...

Weaponising Paperwork

William Davies: The Windrush Scandal

10 May 2018
... Someone​ must have been telling lies about Josef K.’ We never find out whether or not the opening line of The Trial is true, or what the lies might have been. Instead we are led into a suffocating world of innuendo and gossip, which slowly builds towards a judicial decision that doesn’t in the end arrive. Unable to discover what he’s been accused of, Josef K focuses on trying to navigate a system that is as senseless as it is cruel, ultimately without success ...

Bloody Furious

William Davies: ‘Generation Left’

20 February 2020
Generation Left 
by Keir Milburn.
Polity, 140 pp., £9.99, May 2019, 978 1 5095 3224 7
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... When​ Britain left the EU on 31 January, led by a prime minister commanding a fresh eighty-seat majority in the House of Commons, a line (of sorts) was drawn under the most turbulent period in the country’s recent political history. The past four years have witnessed one historic referendum, two general elections, two major upsets at the ballot box, three prime ministers, the birth of the Brexit Party and multiple anti-Brexit groups, a Supreme Court judgment that the prime minister had behaved unlawfully, and much else along the way ...

Home Office Rules

William Davies

3 November 2016
... I recently​ took part in a research project prompted by the government-sponsored campaign of 2013, when Theresa May was home secretary, in which vans carried billboards bearing the words ‘In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest.’ In order to understand how such a thing as that billboard could have come about, we felt we needed some insight into the mindset of the Home Office and its officials ...

Reasons for Corbyn

William Davies

12 July 2017
... When​ the internet first became part of everyday life in the late 1990s, it was celebrated as a wondrous new publishing machine, an amalgam of printing press and broadcaster that would radically democratise the means of communication at virtually zero cost. As any blogger or YouTube star can confirm, this dream didn’t die altogether, but neither did it capture what would turn out to be a more distinctive characteristic of the emerging technology ...

Let’s eat badly

William Davies: Irrationality and its Other

5 December 2019
Irrationality: A History of the Dark Side of Reason 
by Justin E.H. Smith.
Princeton, 344 pp., £25, April 2019, 978 0 691 17867 7
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... About​ five years ago, in the course of studying the commercial applications of psychological research, I contacted the agent of Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University, to inquire whether Ariely might want to speak at a conference in London. It didn’t come off: I had to explain that my ‘conference budget’ didn’t stretch to the $75,000 speaker fee and first-class return airfare ...

Can the poor think?

Malcolm Bull: ‘Nervous States’

26 June 2019
Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World 
by William Davies.
Cape, 272 pp., £16.99, September 2018, 978 1 78733 010 8
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... libertarian paternalism of the Cameron and Obama governments gave us Brexit and Trump instead. As William Davies observes in Nervous States, ‘democracies are being transformed by the power of feeling,’ and ‘nostalgia, resentment, anger and fear’ appear to be taking over the world. There has been endless speculation about the reasons for ...

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